I spent an amazing week in the Azores! And if you’re thinking of going, here are 10 things to know before you go!
But first, a bit about the Azores:
It’s an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, located about 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal and about 935 miles off the coast of Morocco. The official name is the Autonomous Region of the Azores and it’s part of Portugal. You'll also see the Portuguese name written - Açores.
The overall population of the Azores is approximately 245,000, covering roughly 900 square miles, and the islands vary in size and population from the smallest island of Corvo at only 7 square miles and a population of 430, to São Miguel at 293 square miles with about 138,000 residents. We visited three islands on our trip in March – Faial, Pico and Terceira – and over the next couple of posts, I’ll be writing about our time on those islands and the Azores generally.
It’s about a 4 hour 40 minute flight from Boston to the Azores, and a 4 hour time difference from the east coast of the U.S.. If it 9am in Boston, it's 1pm in the Azores.
So, without further ado, here are 10 things you need to know before you go!
1. The scenery is amazing:
I’ll just let the photos do the talking….
2. People are really nice:
Although a bit reserved, people were extremely nice on all three of the islands we visited. And, except for in the smallest villages, most people spoke excellent English. Even though people speak great English, if you are considering going, do yourself a favor and learn at least some basic Portuguese phrases. It will really go a long way.
3. Don’t go if you want to party:
Especially on the smaller and less populated islands (but even on Terceira, with a population of about 56,000), I noticed most places closed about 10pm. While I wasn’t looking to get my drink on, it's good to know in advance that there's no party scene if you're looking for one.
4. Nothing gets going early in the morning.
I’m used to being on the move bright and early, so I had to ramp down in the Azores. It seemed like many businesses opened around 10am, but some opened earlier, like the laundry. Still, even tourist attractions didn’t open early. For example, we went to the lava tubes or grutas (which are basically caves and super interesting - stay tuned), and they didn’t open until 2:30 p.m.! While I have zero proof of this, I suspect that the people who work at the grutas have other jobs, and manning the “grutas ticket booth” is a side gig or at least a side responsibility..
5. You’re always walking uphill – at least it feels that way.
As someone who lives at sea level, I’m clearly no mountain goat. The biggest hills we have in my neck of the woods are the bridges that connect the barrier islands that we live on. So, walking around in the Azores was a whole different experience. The upside is that you can justify indulging in all the good food because of all the exercise and hey, you’re on vacationanyway!
6. A car is key (but you need to know how to drive a manual transmission).
While we saw a lot of bus stops, especially on Terceira, we didn’t actually see many buses. Besides, we found a car to be essential for touring the island. Many of the photos I took, were off main roads and probably not within walking distance even if you could take a bus.
It’s important to note that if you do rent a car, you should probably know how to drive a manual transmission. While both my husband and I know how to drive a “stick”, we’re aware that many people do not. In addition, an automatic transmission may not be available, or if it is, you may have to order it in advance. Furthermore, an automatic drive will likely be more expensive.
7. You’re gonna eat a lot of fish, beef, cheese, wine and desserts - Is that so wrong?
We ate some pretty delicious food while we were there. Mostly grilled fish and grilled meat. We even went to a restaurant where you GYO - grill your own - meat or fish on a hot lava stone. It was our favorite meal!
One of the desserts we tried was called a Dona Amélia cake. The story goes that when the Portuguese royal family visited the Azores in 1901, the island of Terceira offered up a new cake, made with local ingredients, as a gift to the monarchs. Apparently, the queen liked the cake so much, that it became known as the Dona Amélia cake. Below is a photo of a Dona Amélia cake below - it's the round cake with powdered sugar on top. Stay tuned for a recipe for in an upcoming post!
8. Not everywhere accepts credit cards.
Most places on the island of Terceira accepted credit cards, but not everywhere. Still fewer accepted them on Faial island, with a population of about 15,000. Almost nowhere accepted them on Pico, an island with a similar population to Faial. But most tourist attractions and tours do take credit cards on all three islands. And while meals weren’t expensive, it adds up if you have to use cash. The good news is, there seems to be a fair amount of ATM’s around to get cash, but you may get socked with a transaction fee.
The takeaway: Withdraw enough cash to get you through. While everyone might not spend the same as we did, we probably took out about 170 euro (about $200 US dollars) for the trip...We like our afternoon coffee and cakes...
9. The weather is in charge.
While the temperatures are pretty mild, varying only about 20 degrees year round (between 61 °F and 77 °F), the weather is definitely in charge. We went at the end of March and had really good weather (upper 60's to low 70's), but it can go from sunny to cloudy, to drizzly and windy, and back to sunny again in fairly short order. With that in mind, it’s important to dress in layers have a rain slicker available, just in case.
10. Cows rule.
Yup, they’re everywhere. Even on the most populated island of São Miguel, there is close to one cow per person.
Are you thinking of going to the Azores? Let me know about it in the comment section below, on Facebook, and now, Traveleidoscope is on Twitter @Traveleidoscope!