Hidden Gems: The lesser known islands of the Azores
As a first-time traveler visiting the Azores, São Miguel is usually the first choice to visit, as it offers a wonderful introduction to the destination and is the most accessible. However, when visiting the Azores for a second time, you’ll want to consider these lesser known islands to truly experience all the Azores has to offer. With otherworldly scenery, foliage, and unique lava formations, these Azores islands will make your trip one to remember.
São Jorge Island
When thinking of this island, the first thing that comes to mind is cheese. The semi-hard cheese produced on the island of São Jorge goes by its own name and is a registered trademark of the Azores. The cheese is very buttery and, as it ages, it becomes slightly spicy in taste; it is different from all the other Azorean cheeses. Also unique to São Jorge are the fajas, or small lava plains along the seaside. These are easily accessible by short hikes that also take you along trails of hydrangeas and are reminiscent of a fairytale.
With only a few hotels, this is a great island option for when you want to get away. The wild landscape offers panoramic views of the whitewashed, terracotta-tiled buildings typical of the island that are extraordinary. Take a hike or a bike around the Caldeira da Graciosa - a collapsed volcanic cone with dramatic views of a deep abyss that is the island’s signature sight. Then relax in the thermal spa town of Carapacho, where the hot springs date back to the 1750s.
All the way to the west of the Azores group - and one of the more seasonal islands due to its rough weather conditions half the year - Flores is the place to go when you want to get away from all other tourists. With a rustic, wild, and windswept vibe, this island is all about nature, hiking, rappelling waterfalls, and cute, centuries-old hamlets built of black volcanic rock. With mostly self-catering accommodation options, on Flores you create the adventure, fun, and vacation exactly the way you want it. We do recommend a short two-mile hike to the seaside village of Faja Grande where you can take a plunge into the natural ocean pools.
Home to Mount Pico, the highest point in all of Portugal, this remote island is on the must-do list of most adventure seekers but is also good for those looking for an escape. The only island that ever gets any snow (only at the peak), the island’s vineyards are also a major draw. The beautiful and relatively easy five-mile Vinhas da Criacao Velha trail cuts through desolate volcanic landscape, trails with rock walls, coastal lava rocks with waves crashing against them, black sand beaches, and natural swimming pools. On the way, you also find the fields of mineral-rich soil and tracks where wagons once carried wine barrels and grapes from the fields to the processing facilities.
Santa Maria Island
The eastern-most island and the only island with golden sand beaches, Santa Maria is often overlooked by tourists as there’s not much to do besides relax. Walk the island’s two main beaches and maybe do a little snorkeling or scuba diving, as the underwater wildlife is a draw for visitors. There are some above-ground attractions as well, including a short walk to Cascato do Aveiro, a 300-foot high waterfall that you can take a leisurely walk to and swim in the crystal waters below. If you rent a car, navigate to the island's highest point where you can park and enjoy views over the lush forest where endemic heather and Japanese cedar grow, along with the Azorean orchids and blueberries. Then take the zigzagging stairs up to the peak for views of the island’s two distinct sides. One side is mountainous and covered with vegetation, while the other is mostly flat and home to the Red Desert, where the oxidized lava takes on a scarlet hue and flows down to Anjos, one of the island's seafront villages.
Quest Travel Adventures are your Atlantic Island Specialists with over 10 years of experience in small group travel to the Azores. Some of our most popular trips include our 5 Day Taste of the Azores, 6 Day Azores Adventure Seeker and 8 Day Best of Azores. Discover your next Quest to the Azores today!