It’s official: the Azores are the world’s best whale watching destination!
Well, we think so – and we all have our favorite crews that we like to head out to sea with. For me, it’s the team at Terra Azul; they took me out on my very first trip (back in 2012) and my last whale watching trip (in September). Obviously whale watching is all about wildlife, but it’s also about the people that you’ll head to. As you’ll see when you’re out with Stephanie, Catarina and Tiago – they can not hide their excitement as they give you their unique insight into the behavior of the resident sperm whales and spotted dolphins. It’s their job of course (and we all have to pay the bills), but it’s also their passion and that’s the real reason they head out to be every day.
Terra Azul came into being in March 2000, created by local naturalist and whaling historian Miguel Cravinho. It’s Miguel’s philosophy that permeates through the whole team: whale tourism that supports wildlife studies and conservation. All of their sighting data is collated to give a year-on-year record of the lives of the resident whales and dolphins, and of the migrators that pass through in the Spring (most famously the Big Blues in April / May). The MONICET program takes this date and combines it with the data from teams across the whole of the Azores. MONICET are a voluntary research organisation, so you can imagine the crucial role that your whale watching plays in supporting their continuing research.
It is also important to understand the role of whale hunting played in the history of the islands – the social, economic and ecological effects when the hunting ban was introduced, and the islands’ successful transition from whale hunting to whale tourism. You’ll have some one-on-one time with Miguel later in the week, looking at these important pieces of the Azorean jigsaw.
You will also have some time on dry land of course – time to explore some of the wonderful landscapes of Sao Miguel. Your week includes a guided tour which takes you to some of my favourite spots on the island, including the visit to the springs and geysers at Furnas for a dip in the famous geothermal pools .
It’s a great week on a great island with great people, and you get to see whales. What more could you want? Fill in one of our online forms and we’ll put together your holiday of a lifetime.
In the afternoon, you’ll head down to the local marina to meet the team at Terra Azul. After a chat through the week ahead and a safety briefing, you’ll head out to sea for the first of four whale and dolphin watching trips.
You’ll begin with a visit to the lookout point ‘Vigia da Furada’ at Ponta Garca. Whilst you’ve been looking out for whales and dolphins around the boat, your pilot Tiago has been receiving directions from his colleague Filipe, via a walkie-talkie from a high vantage point. The vigia was originally used by whaling spotters but was abandoned in 1984 once the hunting ban was in place. Terra Azul renovated and ‘re-purposed’ the vigia in 2000.
Next you’ll head to Furnas; the most easterly volcano on Sao Miguel and home to over thirty springs and geysers. You’ll have time for a dip in the outdoor spa at Poca Dona Beija, where the geothermally-heated Ribeira dos Lameiros has been channelled into a series of five pools, of varying depths and temperatures. You’ll also have a chance to taste Sao Miguel’s most famous dish at lunch: Cozido, a traditional stew which is slow-cooked in the volcanic ground around Furnas.
You’ll end the day with a drive up to the summit of Pico da Barrosa (947m), one of the highest points on the island. Weather permitting, you’ll have a wonderful panoramic view of the north and south coasts of the island, and of the Lagoa do Fogo - the youngest of Sao Miguel’s volcanoes, formed around fifteen million years ago (and she hasn’t erupted since 1563).
In the afternoon, you'll get to sit down with biologist Stephanie (or one of her colleagues), looking at the research that they're currently undertaking.
Miguel will also be on-hand to talk about the history of whaling in the Azores.
If you enjoy hiking, you might like to walk the Vista do Rei trail, from the famous miradouro (viewpoint) on the crater rim down to the twin lakes of Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde in the crater bottom.
Another great walk takes you along the Cumeiras trail - beginning at the Muro das Nove Janelas aqueduct, the trail passes by the smaller, less-visited lakes of Lagoa Canario, Lagoa Santiago and Lagoa Rasa....If you'd prefer a less-strenuous visit to Sete Cidades, you might like to include a jeep tour with our local guide.
For your final evening on the island, I'd suggest heading to the Restaurante Atlantico Vila Vinha d’Areia, or AV VA. For me, it's the best restaurant in Vila Franca, overlooking the beach at Praia de Vinha d’Areia.
From £1260 per person
We can create a tailor-made holiday to suit your budget.
What's included ? Your accommodation on B&B basis in a shared twin/double room (if you'd prefer a single room, just let us know and we'll confirm the small additional cost), airport transfers, four half-day whale and dolphin watching trips, one full day island tour (with lunch), an afternoon chatting with one of our marine biologists and our whaling history expert, and return flights. 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 breakfasts and the lunch during your island tour, we don't include any other meals. There's a great cafe on the marina where you'll naturally end up eating most of your lunches; in the evenings, Vila Franca has a great selection of restaurants and cafebars serving seasonal fresh fish and the Azorean staple: steak.
Your home for the week is the Convento Sao Francisco. It’s a stunning 16th century convent which was transformed into an elegant hotel by your hosts Jose and Manuela. The décor is minimal – imposing, rough-cut original stone doorways and cloisters are mixed with more modern, local lavastone features and beautifully polished cedar floors. It’s all brought together by Jose’s carefully chosen antique furniture and contemporary art. There’s nowhere really like it anywhere else in the Azores.
Your week will include four half-day whale and dolphin watching trips. 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), please let us know - we can build you an alternative week heading to sea on a larger catamaran (from Ponta Delgada).
You'll be staying the town of Vila Franca do Campo, on the south coast of Sao Miguel. Founded in the mid-15th Century, the town was once the capital of Sao Miguel, until the great earthquake of 1522 destroyed the town. The best contemporary account the tragic event is called ‘O romance de Vila Franca’ (http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_de_Vila_Franca) - written by Azorean priest and historian Gaspar Frutuoso seventy years after the destructive quake (in fact, Gaspar was born in Ponta Delgada in the same year as the earthquake). It’s a small, friendly town with the marina and Praia de Vinha d’Areia beach at one end, and the bustling square around the church of Igreja Matriz de São Miguel Arcanjo at the other. Look out for an impact hole in the church's bell tower, inscribed with the date 1624. The shot was fired from a Dutch West Indies Company Corsair out at sea, en-route to Brazil to attack the (Portuguese) city of Sao Salvador; the two empires were fighting over sugar exports.