The Azores islands are a Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, located about 1,500 km (930 mi) from Lisbon and about 3,900 km (2,400 mi) from the east coast of North America. The Monchique islet on Flores Island, located at 31° 16' 24" W is regarded as the westernmost point in Europe, even though from a geological standpoint the two westernmost Azorean islands (Flores and Corvo) actually lie on the North American plate. Nowadays Azores main industries are tourism, cattle raising for milk and meat, and fishing.
The nine major Azorean islands and the eight small Formigas extend for more than 600 km (373 mi) and lie in a northwest-southeast direction. The vast extent of the islands defines an immense exclusive economic zone of 1,100,000 Km2 (420,000 square miles). The westernmost point of this area is 3,380 km (2,100 mi) from the North American continent. All of the islands have volcanic origins, although Santa Maria also has some reef contribution. Mount Pico on Pico Island, at 2,351 m (7,713 ft) in altitude, is the highest in all of Portugal. The Azores are actually the tops of some of the tallest mountains on the planet, as measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean. The archipelago forms the Autonomous Region of Azores, one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, along with the archipelago of Madeira.
The Azores islands were discovered or recognized, depending on the Historian, in 1427 by Portuguese navigators. The Azores islands were populated in the 15th century by pioneers from Portugal although small groups of Flemings settled in some of the islands. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Azores archipelago was one of the centers of trade between Europe America and India, and its ports sheltered and serviced galleons loaded with treasures.
Officially, the first islands were discovered in the fifteenth century by Diogo de Silves a Captain at the service of Infante D. Henrique. Important naval battles were fought in the waters of the Azores in that period, during the attacks by corsairs and pirates. The following centuries were calmer, but in 1829 the Azores returned to the pages of history with the role played by Terceira in the struggle against the absolutist forces, and as the base for the liberal forces invading the mainland Portugal to regain power.
The archipelago developed during the 19th and 20th centuries with the introductions of new crops, the developing of industries, and progress made with stock-breeding and fisheries. The last few years have witnessed a slow but progressive improvement in the economic and social well-being of the population. Most of this improvement is due to the inflow of capital donations from emigrants (almost all from North America), the annual leasing of the Lajes Air Field to the United States, and grants from the European Community.
The Azores archipelago is located in a region between 37° N and the parallels of latitude that pass through the Lisbon area (39° 43' / 39° 55' N), giving it generally a tepid, oceanic, subtropical climate, with mild annual temperatures oscillating from 15°C (59 °F) to 27°C (80°F). The average temperature in Azores is 18°C (64°F). Statistically the driest month is July and the wettest November. Average annual mean relative humidity is 76%. It ranges from 73% in August to 80% in December and January. Frost is non-existent in Azores.
The ocean water temperature in Azores range from 17°C (63°F) in the winter to 25°C (77° F) in the summer.
The average annual rainfall increases from east to west, with annual precipitation of 958 mm (37.7 in) or 80 mm (3.1 in) per month. The Azores high, an area of high atmospheric pressure, is named after the islands.
Light clothes, with one or two sweater or jacket pieces for the cooler days or nights, are enough all year round. In the winter slightly warmer clothing may be necessary. It is better to bring along a light raincoat, however, as there are sometimes showers followed at once by sunshine. "The days of the four seasons" as the Azoreans affectionately say are more prevalent in the months from October to April.
The official language in Azores is Portuguese. In most of the nine islands, the variety of Portuguese spoken is very similar to standard European Portuguese. The primary exception is the Portuguese spoken on the largest island, Sao Miguel, where the language has a distinct accent unlike any spoken in the Portuguese territory. English is widely used in the tourism industry and is gaining momentum in the islands due to being officially a required language in early schooling.
The main international hub is the Ponta Delgada (PDL) airport on the island of S. Miguel. Lajes field (TER) in Terceira island is also an international airport and home of an United States airforce base. Faial (HOR) and Pico (PIC) also feature airport with regional and national reach.
Azores Express - It connects New England with the Azores via Boston-Ponta Delgada and Oakland-Terceira routes. The carrier is part of the SATA Group, which connects the Azores with mainland Europe.
SATA International connects Azores with Canada and major European hubs like London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris, it also has connections to Grand Canaria and Madeira islands.
TAP Air Portugal, Portugal's flag carrier, flies between Lisbon Angra do Heroismo and Horta. It has a code share alliance with SATA thus allowing passengers to book SATA flights via its booking systems.
In most islands you can rent a car, Corvo being the exception. In addition, most islands have bus service which serves the main villages. In the smaller islands bus schedules may only have a couple of runs per day, generally one in the early morning and one in the late afternoon, and none at all in certain days such as Sundays and holidays.
There is a ferry service between the islands of Faial, Pico and S. Jorge all year-around as well as weekly service between all islands in the summer months.
The Azores being volcanic islands feature a terrain at times steep and rugged where roads wind around very steep hillsides. Cycling around the islands is a pleasant activity with a range and degree of difficulty that spans from beginner to expert.
The Azores is a great place for island hopping by boat, ferry or plane. Almost every major town is on the shore and most have ports. Horta (Faial), Angra do Heroismo and Praia da Vitoria (Terceira) and Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca do Campo (S. Miguel) are equipped with excellent marinas. Even when a marina is not present many of the larger villages have a harbor suitable for mooring a sailboat or yacht.
Portuguese currency monetary is the Euro"€". Existing coins are; €2, €1 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cent, Bank notes are; €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5. Commas are used to separate the Euros from cents for example 1.000,00 (one thousand Euros).
Visitors from countries were the Euro is not used must resort to exchanging the currency at the prevailing exchange rate. The best places to exchange your currency are the local banks which are usually open from 09:00 to 15:30 Monday through Friday. Most banks do not close for lunch.
Credit cards are accepted most anywhere as well as debit cards. All banks feature ATM machines or "Multibancos" where your debit card can be used to extract Euros as well as your credit card (make sure you bring your pin). Please note that Portuguese banks will not cash credit cards at the counter.
Commercial time tables
Shops are open at 09:00 am to 12:30 pm and 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm, except Saturdays and Sundays. On Saturdays shops close at 1:00 pm, except shopping centers and supermarkets. Gift shops are open during the weekend.
There is very little violent crime in the Azores. What little crime exists is mostly drug related. There are no reports of crimes against tourists. However, theft exists in most population centers. Like anywhere else use common sense such as making sure you lock your hotel door, your car, and keep your valuable belongings close to you. Do not leave expensive objects such as phones, iPods and cameras in full view inside your car for this attracts theft.
The Azores Islands are perfectly suited for all types of outdoor activities with its lack of pollution both in land and at sea as well as wonderful sceneries and unique and diverse terrain. The link between adventure and activities in an environmentally friendly scenario is perfect for the adventurer and the fun seeker. Activities are spent around stunning green views, crater lakes and grottos, beaches, fields of endemic vegetation, plants and birds of all varieties, all while surrounded by a clean blue ocean with pleasant water temperature that meets a pristine shoreline and a ocean fauna of priceless value.
Whale watching and swimming with dolphins
Some of the major towns offers whale watching and/or an opportunity to swim around dolphins. The most departure reliable ports/marinas are Ponta Delgada, Vila Franca do Campo, Horta, Lajes do Pico and Madalena. They take you out on small boats and often get you within ten yards of the whales. Swimming with Dolphins means to swim around these fun and audacious creatures, but contrary to the “mass-produced” captivity swimming with the dolphins around the popular places, in the Azores, one is not allowed to touch the dolphins due to environmental concerns.
Coastal Adventure Sailing
Spend time sailing between the islands and exploring what each one has to offer. The boat moors in sheltered marinas or anchors in secluded.
There are several Equestrian centers in S. Miguel, Santa Maria and Terceira for those wanting a more formal school centered program. However you may book a horse riding tour via places such as Picos da Aventura, local farms such as Quinta das Raiadas. The horse riding tours are made along the beautiful countryside.
Walking Tours / Trekking / Mountaineering
Several organizations plan walking circuits or tours along some of the most wonderful trails on the planet. Local organizations such as the “Os Montanheiros” have spent countless hours mapping and cleaning trails all about the Azores. The Mountain of Pico and the Pico is a “must climb” for those wanting a moderate exercise and a unique stunning view of 4 other islands in a cloud-free day (Terceira, Faial, S. Jorge and Graciosa).
The marinas of Ponta Delgada and Horta are world famous for those crossing the Atlantic. Horta in particular has been used along centuries by the who’s who of yachting for a well-deserved rest and a gin-and-tonic at the local pubs. Yacht leasing and rental is available via your travel agent or at local activity centers. Diving and Underwater Activities The Azores is home to some unique and fantastic sub-aquatic setting. With a variety of fish and water mammals great coastal formations, excellent water visibility and temperature, the Azores have become a must-visit place for diving aficionados. Many certified diving centers are located in the various islands. Two decompression chambers are available in S. Miguel and Terceira.
Sailing, Windsurfing and Surfing
Sailing, windsurfing and surfing are popular activities in the Azores. International surfing competitions occur yearly in S. Miguel, more specifically in the northern coast.
This activity can be done in the main marinas as well as some of the lakes in S. Miguel and Flores such as Sete Cidades e Furnas.
Deep Sea Fishing
Several captains operate well equipped fishing boats for deep sea fishing between the months of April and October.
The Azores are a great place for golfing due to its pleasant weather. There 3 golf courses in the Azores. Two in S. Miguel and one in Terceira. They are fully certified and internationally recognized 18 hole courses. For more information check out Azores.com travel pages.
Surfing in the Azores had been one of the best kept secrets in the surfing world until about a decade ago. Positioned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores have plenty of swell most of the time. Now with major international events being held for both men and women in the island of S. Miguel, the Azores are slowly becoming a surfing mecca for those want to surf without getting the crowds; just you and your surfing mates. The main spots are Ribeira Grande, a powerful beachbreak with consistent waves, and Rabo de Peixe, a left hander created by the harbor development. Be aware that you are surfing in more or less unchartered and sometimes dangerous waters.
There are various signs of the volcanic origin of the islands, besides the volcanic cone and craters. Deserving special mention are sulphur grottoes, with an underground lake (Graciosa), the volcanic cones of Furnas valley (Sao Miguel), the remains of the Capelinhos volcano (Faial), the sulphur grottoes next the "caldeira de Guilherme Moniz" (Terceira), the basaltic columns of "Rocha dos Bordoes" (Flores) and the grottoes and caverns, some of them hundreds of meters long, on the islands of Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Pico, Sao Jorge and Terceira.
One may enjoy many other sports such as Hang-gliding, bicycle trips and tours, tennis, jeep safaris, moto-quad, bird watching and more.
IRC Rally Azores
S. Miguel island is part of the IRC car rally circuit happening annually
Senhor Santo Cristo
Arguably the biggest religious festivities in Azores, happens annually on the fifth weekend after Easter
Bull Fights (bull on rope)
People waiting for bull - Typical of Terceira island it happens in many places throughout the island from May to September
Limas water battles
Ponta Delgada - Traditional battle of limas happens during carnival
Flower street carpets
Traditional flower carpets adorn the way for processions in religious festivities
Festival of lights
Convento da Esperanca - One of the highlights of religious festivals are the amazing light displays
Selling the typical tremoco (lupinus) and candy
Always a hit with young and old carousels are part of the festivities fabric
Azoreans are 90+% Roman Catholic and thus have a long tradition of religious based events. The Holy Ghost Festivals (Festas do Espirito Santo) are the most popular and frequent events in the Azores. The festivals are rooted in old history and ancient tradition and are typically held on all islands between the months of April and October. The festivals are sometimes referred to outside the Azores as “feast of soup” because besides the traditional parades there large feasts where soup and bread are handed out to those in attendance. Terceira island is best known for the decorative houses called “Imperios” (empires) where they keep the crown and the flag and are used as staging points for the feedings.
The town of Ponta Delgada, is home to the largest event held the islands, the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Christ Lord of Miracles). The Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo takes place on the fifth Sunday after Easter. The faithful composed of locals and emigrants from all over the world, take part on the Sunday procession which runs through the main arteries of Ponta Delgada, walking behind the image of the Christ on a three to four hour event, along the flower decorated streets and balconies where residents come out to pay their respects to those in the parade. This religious celebration attracts many Azorean emigrants which swell the local population to a considerable and festive size.
The Sanjoaninas festivities in Angra do Heroismo are held in June honoring Saints Antonio, Pedro and John. This religious celebration also attracts many Azorean emigrants which swell the local population to a considerable and festive size. The traditional “Tourada a corda” (bull runs through streets tethered to a long rope at which end stand up to 12 men, keeping the damage to only a few severely injured patrons every year), is typical of Terceira island but also practiced in other islands to a much lesser extent. If you’re not familiar with these be careful. Some of these bulls can, in certain cases, jump small walls up to 5 feet and surpass seemingly safe obstacles. The “Touradas a corda” are held every week in different locals all over Terceira between April and September. Traditional ring bullfights are also ongoing but less frequent. Bullring fights are only held in the islands of the central group.
The festival of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes (Our Lady of Lourdes, patron of the whalers) also known as Semana dos Baleeiros (Whalers week) is held for a week in Lajes do Pico (not to be confused with Lajes of Terceira) beginning in the last Sunday of August. It is marked by social and cultural events connected to the tradition of whale hunting (no longer practiced in the Azores). The Festa das Vindimas (Wine Harvest Festival) takes place during the first week of September and is a century old custom ways by the people of Pico.
The locals celebrate their patron saint Nossa Senhora dos Milagres, (Our Lady of Miracles) on August 15 every year in addition to the festivals of the Divine Holy Spirit.
The Festival da Mare de Agosto (August Tide Festival) takes place every year beginning 15 August 15 in Praia Formosa. National and international musicians join the locals in a week of music, sun and fun.
The Semana do Mar (Ocean Week) is dedicated almost exclusively to water sports an takes place in August in Horta City.
Carnaval is celebrated in the Azores where it is a regional holiday unlike mainland Portugal. Parades, shows and dancing are the heart of the Carnaval festivities, with lively music, colorful costumes and floats. In S. Miguel the traditional "Batalha das Limas" (Water fights) are held in Ponta Delgada. Here you’ll find people by foot, motorcycle or truck with all kinds of water devices and “Limas” (water in wax containers) fighting their hearts out throughout the streets of Ponta Delgada. If you don’t want to get wet don’t get caught outdoors.
S. Miguel is home to the SATA Rally Azores (an IRC competition), the ASP World Tour of Surfing and the Azores Golf Open. Santa Clara of Ponta Delgada is a football (soccer) team playing in the National Liga de Honra (honor league, a notch below the main football league). Santa Clara has occasionally ascended to the main league. Other major events include Judo, Sailing, and Ocean sports.
Traditional Holy Ghost Sopas from Santa Maria
Dill & Mint
Dill is specific of Santa Maria. Mint is used in all Sopas
Lining up for Sopas
Long lines demonstrate the popularity of Sopas feasts
Sopas a tradition shared in every Azorean community
The cuisine of the Azores is varied and is derived in almost all its entirety from the mainland Portugal recipes. While Portuguese food is relatively unknown outside Portugal, Azorean cuisine is not only unknown but almost non-existent. The “Cozido das Furnas” for example is only unique on the way it is cooked as cozido is a typical mainland Portugal dish. Terceira’s Alcatra is also a knock-off o similar dish encountered throughout Portugal’s mainland. Azores food is spicier than that of the mainland and it is heavier on the meat and potatoes and lighter on vegetables. Besides the recipes for meat dishes there are those for fish and tasty shell-fish, groose barnacles, and other specialties. The region has many traditional sweets.
The cheese from the Azores is mostly from cow’s milk while the cheeses from the mainland are mostly from goat and sheep’s milk. This allowed Azoreans to master the craft and specialty and produce some of the best cheeses in Europe.
With rare exceptions, Azorean table wine is mostly sub-standard. Pico is the closest to have a wine that can compete with the average European wines. However the best casts quickly sell out.
São Jorge’s cheese, the sweet and juicy pineapples from Sao Miguel and the aperitif wine from Pico that once reached the table of the Czars, are all compulsory stopping places in a gastronomic itinerary of the Azores.
Clay and Wicker are art forms that span centuries in Azores
Bonecos are figurines made of straw and cloth
Wicker is used for many uses. More traditional for basket weave.
The Azorean archipelago, with its rich history and many traditions, is known for its arts and handicrafts. Artisan have saved and developed their workmanship techniques through the centuries.
Due to their isolated location Azorean craftsmen use primarily raw materials such as wood, fish scales, whale bone and teeth, basalt, hydrangea, piths, potter's earth and corn leaves.
Particularly noteworthy are the colorful pottery of Lagoa (São Miguel), the embroideries and lace (Sao Miguel, Terceira, Pico and Faial), the counterpanes (Sao Jorge and Terceira), the delicate works in fig tree woods, fish scales and wheat straw (Faial) and the scrimshaws, works of art carved from the teeth and jaws of the sperm whale (Pico, Terceira, São Miguel and Faial).
Azores flowers for all tastes
Pineapple of S. Miguel
Pineapples are grown in green houses and are only a product of S. Miguel
In Terceira, for example, cows outnumber people 2:1, thus the abundance of dairy and meat
Fish, abundant and varied, is an essential ingredient in the Azorean diet
Cheese - A Specialty
Cheese from S. Miguel, S. Jorge, Faial and Pico are world renowned
A variety of vegetables can be found in the Azoes including the local inhame (yam)