It is hard to believe the Azores are part of Europe. Born from the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean, this lush, green archipelago of volcanic islands is a far cry from continental Portugal. Each of the nine islands has its own characteristics, from steep craters to abundant wildlife to sites of historical interest. All, however, are best explored on foot. We visit three of the most interesting islands, walking through Unesco-listed vineyards, lava plateaux (or fajãs) and sunken volcanoes to showcase the Azores at their best.
Arrive at the hotel in Madalena, Pico, our base for the first three nights of the trip. Depending on when everyone arrives, there will be a welcome briefing either this evening or tomorrow morning. Pico is known as the Black Island thanks to the black volcanic earth used to build walls on many of the Unesco-listed vineyards. It is also home to the highest peak in Portugal, Mount Pico, which stands at 7,713ft (2,351m) and dominates the horizon.
We start the week with a transfer to Miraguaia, where we begin our three-hour hike. We descend towards the sea on a path through a vineyard landscape (part of a Unesco World Heritage site). Azorean vineyards are a sight to behold. Built to protect the vines from the harsh sea winds, they amount to row after row of black horseshoe shapes that score the lush, green coastline. What is more impressive is how the vines grow on the ground and through volcanic rock, rather than supported by a trellis. On our way to the settlement of Lajido, we see tracks left in the lava by ox carts that used to carry wine. Time permitting, we may stop by Lajido visitor centre, which provides interesting information about the history and culture of the area. Continuing the walk, we start a gentle ascent for 2mi (3.5km) until we reach the church of Santa Luzia. The trail continues within Pico Natural Park, surrounded by endemic woods and heathers. We return to the church and take a transfer back to the hotel in Madalena. Alternatively, today is the perfect opportunity to join an optional challenging trek to the top of Mount Pico. This is a very strenuous six-to-seven-hour climb, which will be led by a local mountain guide and is always subject to availability and favourable weather conditions (for further information please check the Extra Expenses & Spending Money section of the Trip Notes). Ascent: 725ft (221m)
Today, we head to the central highlands of Pico. We start our walk on the road leading to Lagoa do Capitão (Captain's Lake), which has Pico volcano towering behind it. We take a dirt trail flanked by endemic species including Azores junipers. After 1.8mi (3km), the trail arrives at the Piquinho Summit, with wonderful views over the north coast of the island. After briefly following a gravel path, we take the trail across pastureland then through endemic vegetation, before descending a steep, cobbled slope towards the Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara. We take a transfer back to the hotel in Madalena after the walk. Apart from offering unique walking opportunities, the Azores is among the best places on the planet to spot whales and dolphins. There are 80 species of whale and dolphin and 25 of them have been sighted off the coast here, with sperm whale the most common. There is also the chance to spot bottle-nose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, sei whales, Atlantic spotted dolphins and blue whales. If you choose to go on an excursion, you will have the chance to observe the behaviour of these wonderful creatures and learn more about their habitat with the help of the knowledgeable local experts on board. We observe strict protocols regarding interaction, always maintaining an appropriate distance. Moreover, during feeding and resting times, we avoid any interference with the natural habitat of the whales. Ascent: 2,526ft (770m)
This morning, we take a ferry (approximately two hours) to the fascinating island of São Jorge. Here, steep-sided cliffs seem to slice through the ocean and fajãs (low-lying areas of lava formed from the subsidence of the cliffs) attract visitors from far and wide. São Jorge is also well known throughout the Azores for producing delicious cheese, one of its main exports. We start in the small village of São João, where we can admire the narrow streets and traditional houses. We then head inland and cross agricultural fields where crops such as grapes, corn and yam grow. As we continue, the farmland gives way to woods of firetree, Australian cheesewood and white wood. Looking back, we can enjoy views of Fajã de São João. On our way to Lourais, the highest point of our walk, we cross the Ribeira do Salto stream, so named for the nearby waterfall that plunges into a pool. We continue our descent to Fajã dos Bodes and on towards Fajã dos Vimes, being sure to stop and enjoy the views across Pico and Faial islands. Returning to the coast, we end today's walk in Fajã dos Vimes, where it's possible to take a refreshing dip in the Atlantic Ocean, taste a locally produced coffee or visit a handicraft workshop where traditional quilts are made (time permitting). The coffee served at Café Nunes, in Fajã dos Vimes, is well known for having once been the only coffee produced in Europe. The owner of the café has a small coffee plantation behind his house, where the coffee is produced and prepared by his own family. The coffee is organic and has a unique texture and aroma. At the end of the walk, we transfer to our hotel on São Jorge, where we stay for two nights. Ascent: 1,575ft (480m)
Today's walk offers beautiful panoramic views of the northern coast of São Jorge, along with many points of geological and cultural interest. We begin the day close to Serra do Topo wind farm and head north on a path rich with native flora and birds – if we're lucky, we may spot Eurasian whimbrels, São Miguel goldcrests and buzzards. As we descend towards the northern coast, we come to the Caldeira de Santo Cristo Lake, a protected landscape and place of cultural and scenic interest. Known for the vast number of clams that inhabit the lake, it is an important resting place for resident species and migratory birds. Surfing and bodyboarding have also become popular here, as the lake lies directly next to the Atlantic Ocean. We follow the coast northwest until we arrive at the scenic Fajã dos Cubres, near the church of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes. We transfer back to our accommodation on São Jorge in the afternoon. Ascent: 2,329ft (710m)
This morning, we take a ferry (approximately 2hr 30min) to Faial, known as the Blue Island because of the myriad hydrangeas that bloom during summer. After arriving, we transfer to the island interior and the start of today’s hike, which goes to the volcanic ridge of Península do Cabeço, a site of geological interest with approximately 20 volcanic cones. We follow a path overlooking the coastal village of Praia do Norte, before descending to Furna Ruim, a 180ft (55m) deep lava cave. Continuing through a landscape of Azorean laurel trees and heather, we pass the impressive Algar do Caldeirão cave then take a stairway towards Cabeço do Canto, from which we will enjoy fantastic views of the Capelinhos Volcano. There will be time for an optional visit to the Interpretation Centre (entrance not included) to learn more about the volcanic eruptions of 1957-58, which changed the shape of Faial. In the afternoon, we transfer to our hotel on Faial, our base for the last two nights of the trip.
Our final walk in the Azores is an impressive hike to Faial's iconic volcanic crater, Caldeira. Formed by several eruptions over the last 400,000 years, Caldeira is an important site of geological interest. We start the day's walk by taking a tunnel to the vast interior of Cabeço dos Trinta's volcanic cone, now home to an abundance of natural vegetation including heather and holly. Returning to the trail, we follow a levada (water channel) for 1.2mi (2km), before ascending via a forested path to the crater rim of Caldeira. We continue along the path with spectacular views into the crater on one side and marvellous coastal vistas on the other. We return to our hotel in Faial and the rest of the day is free for you to spend as you wish.
We enjoy our final breakfast of the tour before making our return journey home. If you’d prefer to spend a bit more time on the island, speak to your sales representative about extending your stay.
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Here at Headwater we thrive on feedback from our customers. It's the only way we can continue to develop, and where necessary improve, our services and ensure our holidays continue to be the best they can be. As this is a relatively new holiday, we don't yet have any customer reviews available from our customers, but here are the comments that have been received from previous Exodus travellers.
The Azores are beautiful, especially if you go when the hydrangeas are looking good. This trip is a great way of seeing four islands but, since you stay in only two hotels, you’re not repacking all the time. The accommodation was very good. A smart hotel in Ponta Delgada and a good enough hotel in Horta with each room having a balcony with amazing views of the harbour, Pico island and the sunrise. The breakfasts were pretty good and provided plenty of food before the walks. Both towns have plenty of interest and the nautical side of Horta is great. There were seven of us in the group plus our Sao Miguel guide (Tony) and our four islands guide (Filipe) both of whom were very good. We all got on well. If you’re fit and mobile, and strong enough going uphill and especially downhill, the walks are good exercise and not overly challenging. There’s plenty to see and photograph along the way and each walk is slightly different from the next. The group meals are the lunches with our guides having organised three picnics and three terrific restaurant lunches - local food in Sao Miguel and Pico and very good tuna in Peter’s Café on Faial. In the evenings we generally split into two or three smaller groups. Tip: it really pays off booking restaurants in advance. As The Azores are quite some way away, we decided to stay two weeks and so followed this trip with the self-guided ‘Cycling in the Azores’ on Terciera. So we ended up seeing five of the nine islands.
The weather wasn't very kind to us but we did get out walking on all the days. Bruno our guide was very good. His knowledge of the islands was excellent and he made every effort to tailor the walks to the group. He also adapted the program when we were unable to visit Sao Jorge because of the earthquake. Loved the botanical gardens and Lagoa do Fogo (although it was difficult to sit by the lake for very long because of the biting wind). I found the islands we visited very interesting. I didn't go whale watching in Horta, instead went to the whaling museum (Porto Pim Whaling) and did the circular walk on the hill (Monte da Guia) behind it. Both were excellent alternatives. The food was very good and the hotels and various restaurants. The accommodation in Ponta Delgada was very good and an excellent location.
A really lovely trip to The Azores. A packed itinerary with whale and dolphin watching and exploring the island landscape, which is one of a kind! We saw tropical dolphins, playful bottle nosed and common dolphins and the small striped dolphins. Some played around the boat racing with us across the waves. We saw pilot whales and the magnificent sperm whales. It was a rigid inflatable boat so we were close to the water and it was both fun and exciting.
This is a short but packed easy walking trip guided by the brilliant knowledgeable and fun Bruno. From the lush heights overlooking lakes and craters to swimming in natural thermal pools to whale watching this trip has it all. Bruno’s enthusiasm for his country and love of his job meant he was totally engaged with the group. He probably would have crammed more into the itinerary if time had allowed. The islands of the Azores are stunning and have to be walked to be fully appreciated .
I've been to Portugal before, and was looking forward to experiencing another aspect of this country. This was my first trip with Exodus, and it was very impressive, start to finish. The daily outings, meals together, hotel choices, etc. were A+. Each island was unique and physically beautiful. The walks took us to places off the beaten path, which was exactly why I selected this trip.