Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated island in the Azores. A part of the Eastern Group of the Archipelago with Santa Maria island, Sao Miguel was discovered in the 13th century. Having belonged to the French, Moors, and Jews, it has undergone major developments throughout the centuries.
Today, Sao Miguel provides the perfect balance. São Miguel is the perfect spot for those who want to experience the classic Azorean life, as well as a larger city. It’s hard to find both on any other island! Therefore, Sao Miguel is filled with plenty of activities for different tastes. Let’s take a look at the 5 best things to do in Sao Miguel, Azores.
1. Explore the capital of the Azores, Ponta Delgada
The capital of the autonomous regions of the Azores since 1546, Ponta Delgada is a cosmopolitan town that is full of history and culture. Around 70,000 people live in the capital, around half the island population.
Ponta Delgada features a fishing fleet, marina, and plenty of historical buildings, such as the largest church in the Azores. You can explore the capital entirely by foot through the unique cobbled streets.
We recommend starting out in Avenida Infante D. Henrique, a seaside promenade that runs from a military fortress to Calheta. The path has the classic Portuguese black and white cobblestoned floors.
Goncalho Velho Square is also a key point in Ponta Delgada. This is the central square of the city, named after the Portuguese navigator Goncalho Velho Cabral who is said to have discovered the island.
Make sure to also look for the City Gates or Portas da Cidade, this monument represents how the capital is like the entrance gates of Azores. These gates were built in the 18th century and are located in the old city harbor, the first line of defense of the island at the time.
2. Visit the thermal hotspot of the Azores
Furnas, the thermal hotspot of the Azores, is located on the eastern side of the island. The Furnas valley is a volcanic crater that erupted in the 17th century. Although it is now dormant and safe, the volcanic activity can be seen in the area’s thermal pools and hot springs.
Furnas is essentially a natural spa, with plenty of places to swim and relax in warm water. For example, head to the 200-year-old Parque Terra Nostra. Here you can swim in a popular orange geothermal swimming pool that’s 35ºC.
The volcanic activity in Furnas also offers a unique culinary experience with the cozido das furnas. The dish is similar to the classic Portuguese cozido, a meat stew with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, blood sausage, pork and beef.
But this is no regular stew – it’s cooked by a volcano. The dish is cooked in bubbling, steaming caldeiras (geysers) that smell of sulfur. Temperatures range from 70ºC to 100ºC, which is perfect for cooking. This dish is placed in a metal pot and buried in volcanic soil to be slow-cooked by the natural heat of the caldeiras.
We also recommend booking this night-time experience in Poca da Dona Beija thermal baths for the best of both worlds. You will get to bathe in the natural pools at nighttime, as well as try the cozido das furnas for dinner.
3. Marvel at the Sete Cidades Lagoon
If you have only seen one photo of the Azores, chances are you have seen the Sete Cidades Lagoon. This lagoon is located on the West side of the island in the municipality of Sete Cidades. The lagoon is divided by a bridge into two parts: one green and one blue. This creates a beautiful and unique contrast that is even more beautiful on a clear day.
Head to the Vista do Rei viewpoint, where you can enjoy the best view of the lagoon. Near the viewpoint, you will also find a large concrete building. This is an abandoned luxurious hotel, once the finest 5-star establishment on the island. Many enter the hotel for a unique view of the lagoon, although this is forbidden.
Even though Sete Cidades is known for this particular lake, there are over 11 lakes in the municipality that you can observe from miradouros (viewpoints).
4. Hike the official trails of Sao Miguel
If you are a nature lover, you are in for a treat. Sao Miguel not only features the most hiking trails in the Azores, but some of the most beautiful. You will get to reach remote spots on the island, filled with waterfalls and greenery.
There are over 20 “official” hiking trails in Sao Miguel that are taken care of by the Azores Tourism Board. These are adequately labeled with hiking markers, so you don’t get lost and are maintained for safety. You can check out the hiking trails here to find the one that best suits your physical ability.
Our favorite hikes in Sao Miguel are Lagoa do Fogo (11 KM, 4h00), Sete Cidades (7.7 KM, 2h00), and Lagoa das Furnas (9.5 KM, 3h00).
5. Whale watching on a cruise
The Azores is known for its marine life, especially conservation and research ever since whale hunting was banned in the 80s. Since then, thousands travel to Sao Miguel and other islands to spot both whales and dolphins.
Over twenty different species of whales live in the Azores, making it one of the best places in the world for whale-watching. The best season for whale-watching is between April to October, even though you can usually see them all year.
We recommend booking this whale watching and islet cruise, accompanied by a marine biologist so that you can spot and learn about sperm and pilot whales, bottlenose, Risso’s dolphins, and more.