Just a short geography lesson to start with. The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal, about 1,643 km west of Lisbon and main Europe. the archipelago consists of nine islands, the biggest and main island is São Miguel. Most people do some island jumping while they are there – you can do it by ferry (only during spring/summer ) or by plane.
Anyway as I was there in February I decided to just stay in São Miguel and explore the various hiking trails around the island. ( there are more than one would expect of a 76okm² land lost somewhere in the Atlantic ocean) and would love to share my three favorite ones with you.
Short information aside, I am an experienced hiker so I usually do more the heavy, long trails. The hikes I enjoyed the most are pretty challenging sometimes and exhausting. If you feel fit enough, go ahead. But be prepared – always take good shoes, water/food, sunscreen or raincover with you!
My 3 favorite hikes
How to find the trails in the first place
The trails on the island are in general marked very well, so it is easy to follow them and chances you get lost are minimal. You can also get a map at the tourist office ( in Ponta Delgada ) where the entrance to the trails are also highlighted.
I should also mention that public transportation does exist on the Azores, it can get a little bit tricky though. There are just several buses a day and some of the hikes are not even accessible by bus without doing some extra kilometers to get to the starting point. So, all in all, it is possible to do it by public transport, I would recommend to do it by rental car. You save yourself a lot of time and waiting and searching for the bus stop. In addition, it is annoying to hike and always have to check the time to no miss the last bus.
From Agua d’ Alto to the Lagoa do Fogo and back
Starting point: in Agua d’ Alto, follow the street on the left side of the village in the woods and up the hill. It is also official marked. Don’t wonder you have to do the first 3 km on a winding road uphill and after that, you will hate me when you discover that the official trail only starts there. But I really would recommend you to get over the exhausting beginning, so you can do the secret second trail when coming back from the lake and voila it is a circle hike. (of course you can also get to the starting point up the street by car, but then you have to get back to your car. So just leave it down in Agua d’ Alto )
So this is really for the hardcore hiking lovers, the trail itself is about 16km long and you have to get up up up for the first half of it.
The beginning is pretty easy, follow the paved road to the entrance, follow the trail to the lake and enjoy ( really it is amazing ) once you’ve reached the lake just follow the path even though it might seem like you end up in the middle of nowhere. Finally, you will end up on a paved road again. Here you get two options. Just follow the paved road down and you will end up where you started or ( my recommendation ) you get the road down just a little bit until you see the marker of a new trail on your right side ( ” Quatro fábricas da Luz ” ) and follow this trail down until you reach Agua d’ Alto again. This second trail takes you to a wonderful little waterfall and broke down houses regained by nature. And it still teaches you a little bit about the islands electricity production. Believe me – it is worth it!
Portinho dos Fenais d’ Ajuda
Starting point: Directly in Fenais d’ Ajuda by the church.
The hike itself is about 5,5 km and it takes you approximately 3.30 h to get around ( smaller breaks already included )
This is a really wonderful circle hike, so it doesn’t really matter which way you start. Due some steep and slippery up’s and down’s in between make sure to bring good shoes and it might also not be recommended for smaller children.
What I really loved about this one was the change between hiking along the coastline and the cliffs and the turning back into the woods, the open land, and rural living. So you get a good impression on how life for the locals in those small villages might be like by also passing through farming fields and a village. But of course, the stunning coastline and the wild sea fighting with each other is just breathtaking.
Pico da Vara
Starting point: well there are different ways to approach the highest point of the island, personally, I recommend to get up the lane by car (there is only one ) until you reach the official entrance to the trail. Don’t worry, it takes you more or less 20 minutes to get up, due to the lane’s bad condition.
Pico de Vara is, as mentioned before, the highest point of Sao Miguel. At the top, you reach 1,103 above sea level. So the view is stunning. Just make sure to check the weather forecast, because if there is mist you won’t be able to see anything at all. This hike also might be better for at least a little-experienced hiker, the trail could be pretty muddy and narrow sometimes. The hike itself should only take you about 3h (without breaks ) and consist of around 7km.
But if you manage to get up and are lucky enough to have good weather conditions you gonna love it. The trail still starts in the woods, while climbing up you can see how the vegetation changes within a few meters until you reach the rocky top, where you can oversee nearly the whole island and the endless ocean around it.
Enjoy the hike!