It is hard to imagine a place better suited to nature lovers, fans of adventure sports, or anyone looking for a beacon of sustainability than the Azores. It’s an archipelago of 9 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands have a very diverse landscape with steep, rocky shores and crater lakes, and it is worth visiting each and every of them. The largest one is the island of Sao Miguel, where the capital of the Autonomous Region of the Azores is Ponta Delgada. The rest, already slightly smaller islands are: Santa Maria, Flores, Corvo, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira. 95% of the Azores territory is a patchwork of protected areas and marine reserves. Whereas you are adept of hiking, trekking, biking, jeep riding, paragliding, horse riding, canoeing, kayaking, sailing or others, you will love the Azores. It is possible to make different routes on land, in water and in the air, and with different levels of demand and difficulty. The Azores contain two of Portugal’s 15 Unesco World Heritage sites; the vineyards of Pico and the old town of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira; and three biosphere reserves: Graciosa, Flores and Corvo.
Although many have not shown life for centuries, there are 26 active volcanoes in the Azores, eight of which are submarines. Only Santa Maria has no active volcano. The third-largest volcano in the Atlantic, Pico Mountain stands in the landscape of the island with the same name.
There are more than sixty-six lakes to visit, admire and swim. These testimonies of volcanic activity are all beautiful and have clear waters, deep, sweet or salt, surrounded by flowers, forest or fumaroles. The 7 cities Lake and the Fire Lake, both on São Miguel, are the most remarkable symbols of this natural wonder. On all the islands you will find observation points called miradouros allowing you to appreciate an absolutely stunning landscape from above. Let yourself be blown by the Hell's Mouth Viewpoint, from where a few other lakes can be observed.
Another result of volcanic activity on the archipelago is thermal baths; those mineral-rich natural hot-water pools that are a delight to dive in, some open at any time of the year. There are springs with water at about 30º but, in other cases, the temperatures vary between 60 and 100º. The Poço da Dona Beija's in Furnas on São Miguel diverts the natural water from a stream and has five natural pools, one with a waterfall. The geothermal hot springs make the islands a natural pick for a wellness vacation.
The Azores are one of the largest whale sanctuaries in the world, and you can see more than twenty different species, one-third of all existing. Among the most common species to observe are sperm whales, blue whales, and common whales. There are also resident communities of common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. You should buy a whales and dolphins watching trip to spot some.
In 2018, the Azores had 39 beaches awarded the Gold Quality distinction by Quercus, the National Association for Nature Conservation. This award does not refer to the incredible beauty but to the excellent quality of the waters. In terms of beauty, you can find pristine beaches with fine white sand and dark sandy beaches. In fact, in the Azores the color of the sand varies greatly, from very light shades like cream to dark gray to reddish or greenish, due to the presence of minerals such as olivine or fayalite.
Wine lovers will also find something for themselves in the Azores. Wine has been produced on Pico Island since the 15th century, although it would seem that the volcanic islands cannot create conditions for wine producing. The stone homes and stone-walled vineyards that were built to defend the vineyard from fierce Atlantic winds and waves of salty ocean water from centuries ago can still be seen today in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Criação Velha wine region, in the municipality of Madalena. Terceira and Graciosa are also home to vineyards for the production of white wine.