We fly into Sao Miguel late the night before, waking up in The Nook Hostel, ready to explore. Eat a breakfast of bread, ham and cheese. Organise our ride for the next few days.
And we’re off.
Sao Miguel – Day One
The first day we basically drive around the island awestruck. Our hostel owner tells us at breakfast to head straight to Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), Sao Miguel’s trump card – a collection of volcanic craters that now exist as seven lakes dotting the landscape. Most iconic are the Blue and Green lake – two lakes directly adjacent, one cobalt blue, the other a bottle green, with a road intersecting where their borders meet.
Strangely though, it is the roadside foliage we drive through to reach Sete Cidades that has us exclaiming, rather than the lakes themselves. We should have known Sao Miguel is nicknamed the green island for good reason – it is so lush it seems unreal. Perhaps we have spent too much time obsessing over the lakes on Instagram and they’ve lost their wow factor, or perhaps we have never in our lives seen greenery like what we are witnessing now.
In full seriousness, I ask a team member at our hostel the next morning if the world’s greatest garden planner was given the island to play with as a creative project; he laughs and tells us the government gave money to the people years ago to beautify their plots of land. The habit stuck and now Sao Miguel is the stuff of a nature lover’s fantasy – tailor-made for road trippers, hikers or even those just needing to escape the baking heat and crowds of European cities in the summer.
After we flit from viewpoint to viewpoint situated around Sete Cidades, next on our list of incredible things to see is Ferreria, hot springs in the ocean. That’s right, Sao Miguel houses a natural spring bath open to the sea. Steam puffs out gently from the surrounding rocks as waves of cool seawater roll through the pool, bringing down its temperature at low tide from unbearable to gloriously pleasant. We loll here for hours like baby seals, gently rocking back and forth with the incoming tide.
“This is living, Barry” we breathe to each other, with glazed eyes and beatific smiles, so relaxed we practically climb out of the water backwards.
“This is living”.
The atmosphere was more pool party than relaxing hot springs, with a fair number of visitors ruining any great photo op, but we couldn’t care less. Neither will you.
That evening, we drive to Sete Cidades to check out the view at sunset. Again, our hostel owner, a wealth of all information regarding the island, gave us a tip to check out the abandoned hotel at the site. As across many European cities, the sun sets in August around 9.00 pm, so when we arrive at 8.00 pm at the hotel we are surprised – and delighted – to realise we’re the only people there.
We walk through the abandoned hotel, once known as the Monte Palace, taking in the graffiti, rubble, ripped out fittings and sludge on the ground, our hearts breaking. We stand on the same balconies the hotel’s disgustingly wealthy patrons once stood on, wondering how on earth did this hotel, in this impossibly perfect location, fail? What went wrong? It literally couldn’t fit the cliche of ‘million-dollar view’ more aptly.
And even now, where are all the people? Apart from the view from Mosteiros (a stunning beach we didn’t make it to, featuring Lagos-like sea stacks), this has to be one of Sao Miguel’s best locations for sunset – and here it is – deserted.
So we do the only thing we could do in an abandoned hotel, over one of the world’s most picturesque scenes as the sun lowers and clouds dash across the sky.
We fly Nat’s drone, Billy, for the third time in his short life.
Not many drones at his age can say they’ve flown over Sete Cidades off the top of a gutted shell of a building that was once named Portugal’s best five-star hotel, but we like to spoil him.
The colour fades from the sky, and the first day is over.
Sao Miguel, the Azores – Day Two
On Day One, we spoke to a happy couple, a slender girl with a curly blonde mop and her tall dark, and handsome partner who’d been on the island for two weeks – doing exactly what, I’m not quite sure.
I ask the question surely every traveller must tire of: “What was your favourite thing here?”
“Lagoa do Fogo” they both answered without hesitation.
Lagoa do Fogo
And with that, Day two’s itinerary was born – we would be hiking the 11 kilometre round-trip of Lagoa do Fogo, or in English, the Lagoon of Fire. As we are Australian, and therefore seem to do everything four hours earlier in the day than Europeans do, we decide to watch the sunrise from a viewpoint over Lagoa do Fogoand then drive to the starting point of the hike so as to knock the hard part over before the heat of the day.
Sadly sunrise is a bust, with a blanket of cloud over the lake and nothing much happening in the sky. Insider Tip – We’d say this is a common issue for early bird photographers. Reserve your energy for sunset rather than sunrise, or find a low point on the island for sunrise as the high points seem to be blanketed in fog until later in the day.
Undeterred, we drive to the starting point of the hike and after a few false starts, locate our trail.
From here, day two is pure magic. The track we traipse couldn’t be more filled with wonder. Apologies for the cliches, but it’s if we are traversing Narnia’s mountains in the summertime, and around every corner we’ll stumble upon Aslan himself wandering his kingdom. Light filters through the trees as we pass thick hills of forest, a mossy channel that looks like an ancient water ride in a forgotten theme park and finally, volcanic ridges to at last reach the cool clear water of the lake itself.
Quite often when we reach a hiking destination, we snap our photos, enjoy a quick lunch and get on the road again. Why I’m not sure, but generally there is a feeling we must get moving whether it be concern about the waning daylight or fading battery life on our phones, our depleted water supply and energy levels, or the weather.
But we stay by the lake for hours. The cue to finally leave only comes in the form of other hikers arriving, and we reluctantly hit the (thankfully mainly downhill) road, ready for a hot meal and a nap.
We’ve written a full guide with EVERYTHING you need to know about this bucket list hike – a must read for anyone thinking about heading to Lagoa do Fogo. Check it here!
After some rest, it’s time to seek out another amazing spot for sunset, the much blogged about Miradoura da Grota do Inferno.
Miradoura da Grota do Inferno
Widely known as the best viewpoint on the island, this viewpoint is not hard to find, but it is hard to find clear instructions for its whereabouts. We find ourselves on the wrong track, so walk up a huge hill from where we can see the Miradoura da Grota do Inferno, and then run across a field covered in cow pooh to the correct track as the sun drops rapidly in the sky.
We make it very easy for you to find the Miradoura da Grota here on the blog. This is without doubt one of the most scenic places on the island – do not miss it!
Once again, Billy rocks the house.
We are so caught up in the sunset, we don’t leave early enough and find ourselves walking back to the car sans sunlight. You haven’t been creeped out until you’ve walked in the dark through a huge, eerily silent pine forest on top of an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Day Two is over, and our little car has never looked so good.
Sao Miguel, the Azores – Day Three
To kick things off, we drive to the village of Furnas to check out the boiling pools here, a reminder this entire group of islands were originally formed by volcanic and seismic activity. These are set on the shores of Lagoa das Furnas, an opaque, milky green lake.
Pico do Ferro – Lagoa das Furnas
After checking out the burping waterholes and makeshift ovens under the soil cooking traditional village stew we are glad to leave the smell of sulfur behind and hike to Pico do Ferro.
We wheeze our way up the steep, half-hour climb through what resembles sub-tropical rainforest with a hint of mossy English garden, cursing our lowered fitness levels, our backpacks and the several bottles of sweet Portuguese rose we gulped the night before. We reach the top of Ferro red-faced and sweaty, to be greeted by a herd of smugly grinning tourists who’ve bussed their way to the top.
“Suckers”, we can see them thinking.
“Bastards,” we are thinking.
After the significantly easier return journey down the mountain, it’s time to give our set of wheels a work out before we sadly return them to their rightful owner. We decide to find three scenic viewpoints on the island’s coastline – Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada, Miradoura da Ponto do Sossego and Miradouro de Santa Iria.
Of these three, our favourite is Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada, the first. It’s empty while we’re there except for a pregnant stray cat, who couldn’t care less about us. The others are lovely but dripping with tourists. All of these spots would be perfect to watch the sunset, but sadly our car needs to be in Ponta Delgada at 6.00 pm.
We return our car, wander down to the marina, and contemplate the last few days over a well deserved chocolate bar. When will we, if ever, see anywhere like this again?
Every activity we did on Sao Miguel, apart from car hire, was either completely free or near enough. There is an array of paid things to do as well including kayak tours, whale watching, and scuba diving. More information here.
We condensed our Day Three and Four on the Island to maximise your productivity on the island. We’ve also omitted a visit to Caldeira Velha. While this is a beautiful place and showcases some of the island’s geological activity it’s overcrowded and overrated in our opinion. After swimming at Ferraria, stewing in a very small shallow brown pool next to twenty of your newest friends just doesn’t cut it. Neither does swimming waist high in the second pool, which is a slightly (emphasis on slightly) warm waterfall. There’s also a fee, which wasn’t actually the issue – we’d be more than happy to pay for a huge number of attractions on the island. It’s just that Caldeira Velha wasn’t one of them.
We visited Sao Miguel at our own expense.