Sao Miguel’s an exciting, bustling place to be in the summertime; great if you like exploring new places and we can give you plenty of ways to exhaust the kids. Faial’s a very different island – it’s peaceful, relaxing; there’s a much slower pace of life on Faial, making it the ideal place to wind-down and enjoy spending time together. For me, it’s the contrast that ‘s so appealing – and what’s common to both islands is that you’ll be welcomed with open arms. If you’ve ever visited Lisbon or the Algarve, you’ll know just how friendly Portuguese people are; multiply that by ten and you’ll be somewhere close to an Azorean welcome.
We’ll include a whale and dolphin watching trip during your stay on Sao Miguel, heading to sea with the team from Terra Azul; (here’s our friend and Terra Azul founder Miguel, waxing lyrical about the amazing wealth of marine wildlife in the waters of the Azores). Canyoning’s also an exhilarating, fun-packed family day out – if you’re new to Canyoning, here’s how it works: you’ll follow a mountain stream through a narrow forest gulley as it winds its way down to the valley floor, abseiling through a series of waterfalls. As you’d expect, safety is paramount; you’ll be thoroughly briefed in advance of your first descent and our resident guide Paulo will be with you every step of the way. Of course, a visit to Sao Miguel wouldn’t be complete without a day exploring the great crater at Sete Cidades. Whilst most visitors only admire the bird’s-eye view from the famous viewpoint at Vista do Rei, wouldn’t you rather spend a day down inside the caldera, paddling a kayak on the tranquil waters of Lagoa Azul ?
The guide prices we’ve popped in below include four activities, so we can help you to pick & mix the ones that most appeal to you. They tend to be half-day excursions, so there’s still time to relax on Sao Miguel – and let’s not forget your second week of peace and quiet on Faial.
You’ll inevitably spend time in Faial’s capital Horta – home to some marvellous early 19th Century architecture. Horta was once the HQ for all telegraph communications between our side of the Atlantic and the U.S. Those days are long-gone but their legacy remains in the almost overly-grand, re-purposed buildings that seem far too big for such a sleepy little harbour town – but somehow it works. You’ll also explore Faial’s more contrasting landscapes with our resident guide Filipe – from the ever-verdurous Caldeira do Cabeço Gordo (the largest of Faial’s green volcanic craters), to the beautifully-barren landscapes of the Vulcão dos Capelinhos peninsula. Capelhinos is a huge swath of land created by a series of volcanic eruptions lasting a year-and-a-bit in the late Fifties. It’s like visiting the Colosseum or Giza – it’s history-made-real and it’s easy to see why so many Azorean children are inspired to study the volcanos that formed their island home.
Last but by no means least, you’ll head to sea with our friend, maritime-obsessive and F1 fanatic Pedro Filipe. Pedro would spend every waking moment out at sea given the chance – the Azores’ resident sperm whales are possibly his favourite species, but he’ll be taking you out to swim with wild dolphins. The waters around Faial are home to some of the Atlantic’s largest populations of common, bottlenose and spotted dolphins – it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unless you decide to visit the Azores with us again next year of course !
We’ll include a welcome hamper with some basic supplies for when you arrive - your hire car will be delivered the following day so you'll be able to drive into nearby Vila Franca to shop for supplies.
In the afternoon, you’ll head to the marina in the nearby town of Vila Franca, for a whale and dolphin watching trip from the local marina. Afternoon trips begin at 13:00 with a short briefing before heading out to sea. We normally recommend heading out to sea on a small Rigid Inflatable Boat – we find it’s a better experience as you’re close to the water (and the wildlife). However, if you have a history of back pain or are recovering from a recent injury, (or you might simply prefer a bigger boat of course), you might be more comfortable on a larger catamaran.
It’s very difficult to get lost as you stroll around the town – the streets always seem to lead you to either the main marina and the main Avenida Infante Dom Henrique (and both are nice spots for afternoon (Azorean) tea), or to Largo da Matriz which is home to the main church in the town: Igreja Matriz de Sao Sebastiao (the church of St Sebastian; patron saint of the city).
One of my favourite places to visit is the Mercado da Graca - main farmers’ market which sells fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Lookout for a small stand-alone shop on the north-east corner of the market – called O Rei dos Queijos (the King of Cheeses). It’s a wonderful shop which sells Azorean cheeses (of course), local charcuterie (Portuguese Chorizo is particularly good), fresh bread, biscuits, and wines and sweet liquors from around the islands.
Arriving at Sete Cidades by car, your first stop is normally Vista do Rei - the ‘King’s Viewpoint’ with its birds eye view the twin lakes: Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul. This famous miradouro was named in honour of King Don Carlos and his Queen Dona Amelia following their visit in 1901. The road descends down from the crater rim, through the Japanese Cedar forest down to the base of the crater and the village of Sete Cidades itself.
After spending the morning exploring the shores of the twin lakes on foot, you could spend the afternoon paddling out onto Lagoa Azul by kayak (or by stand-up paddleboard if you’d prefer).
There are over thirty springs and geysers dotted around the village. Their chemical compositions and temperatures vary, from tainted-orange iron rich streams to piped examples of mineral-rich drinking water, which were once considered to have therapeutic properties. The largest and most famous pool is at Terra Nostra Botanical Gardens. Slightly less well-known is the outdoor spa at Poca Dona Beija, where the natural-hot waters of the Ribeira dos Lameiros) have been channelled into a series of five pools, of varying depths and temperatures.
Following your walk, you might like to end the day with a dip in the geothermal pools at Caldera Velha. Like its sister pools in Furnas, Caldera Velha’s waters are coloured deep orange, from the high iron-oxided content drawn into the waters as they rise from a deep thermal aquifer below Lagoa do Fogo. What’s unique about Caldera Velha is the hot waterfall, where the 30˚C waters fall out of the forest in the bathing pools below.
You’ll head to sea from the marina in the afternoon, for a swimming with dolphins trip.
Tours normally begins with a visit to Faial’s Botantical Gardens – a fantastic project aimed at preserving the Azores’ endemic plants. Sixty-percent of the endemic and native flora species are banked so far, which represents fifty species from across the nine islands. A recent success was the discovery of Myosotis azorica: the Azorean forget-me-not – a species thought to be extinct until a small population was found in 2014.
Following your visit to the gardens, you’ll drive into the centre of the island, to Cabeço Gordo caldeira - formed around 410,000 years ago, the caldera hasn’t been active for over 200 years, although a number of small fumaroles became active during the eruption at Capelinhos; your final destination of the day.
Capelinhos is the site of the last major volcanic eruption which lasted 13 months from September 1957 to October 1958. Over 2km² of land were created during the eruption – however, more than 300 homes were also destroyed, and the eruption led to the emigration of 4000 residents (mainly to North America).
If you’d like to learn about the historical impact of Whaling, we have a tour which looks at island’s successful transition to Whale hunting to Whale tourism including visits to the preserved Whaling factory in Sao Roque and the museum in Lajes do Pico.
The island also has long history of wine production, dating back to the 15th Century, and her Adegas vineyards on the island are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We can create a tailor-made holiday to suit your budget.
What's included ? Self-catering accommodation for four (two adults and two children under 18) in a two-bedroom cottage on each island, airport transfers, a hire car on both islands (with two child seats if you need them), a whale watching trip and a swimming with dolphins trip, and a full day jeep tour of Faial. You can also add another half-day activity free of charge. With regards to the flight price, there are a few different ways of travelling to the islands - we try to include a realistic guide price and once we've had a chat regarding your holiday, we'll send you a detailed itinerary which includes an exact price based on your preferred flight option. What's not included ? Other than lunch during your island tour, we don't include any other meals. There are some excellent restaurants with easy walking distance of your hotels, and we'll let you know which are our favourites.
Firm family favourites, you'll get an equally-warm welcome at Quinta Altamira and Casal do Vulcao, and both locations have plenty of outdoor space for your children to explore.
We'll normally include a whale watching trip during your stay on Sao Miguel, and a swimming with dolphins trip and a jeep tour during your stay on Faial - and another half-day excursion is included in the price: maybe kayaking, horse riding or cycling. Of course, if you'd prefer not to head to sea we can switch the whale and dolphin trips to something land-based.
You’ll spend your first week on the main island of Sao Miguel. Being the largest island, there’s the most to see and do on Sao Miguel – around your organised trips we’ll always suggested some of or favourite things to see and do on the island. For your second week, you’ll head to the small island of Faial – famous for its contrasting landscapes of rolling green hills and desolate volcanic ash.