The Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira are popular vacation destinations for all types of travelers. While both are great destinations to visit, each has its own unique characteristics. How do you choose? Which Portuguese Island is right for you? The answer depends on what type of traveler you are. Do you prefer more sunshine, modern amenities, lots of walking trails, and a unique cable car/toboggan ride? Or is being off the beaten path, surrounded by lush nature and greenery, and a little adventure more your speed? Keep reading for a comparison of Madeira vs the Azores to determine where you’d like to travel next.
The Portuguese Madeira Islands group includes 2 inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and 2 uninhabited groups, the Desertas and Selvagens. The main island of Madeira has towering cliffs, rugged coastlines, and villages of small thatched triangular houses. The capital Funchal is famous for its beautiful waterfront, historic old town, traditional architecture, botanic gardens, and a sizable New Year's fireworks display.
Nine breathtakingly gorgeous volcanic islands make up the Azores archipelago, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There are three island groups that make up the Azores. The western group includes Flores and Corvo. The central grouping are Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Terceira, and Graciosa Islands. And the eastern group, which includes São Miguel and Santa Maria. The Azores archipelago is renowned for its natural beauty, hot springs, waterfalls, delicious cuisine, and unique wines.
You can easily find inexpensive flights to Madeira from Lisbon or Porto, as many low-cost airlines fly to the popular vacation spot. Getting to the island from Lisbon takes only about two hours. Most travel to Madeira from the United States includes a stopover in Lisbon, but there are also seasonal flights from New York, JFK. Azores Airlines also has a connection to Madeira from the US via São Miguel Island.
The best way to reach the Azores is by flying direct from Boston or JFK to Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel Island. There are also weekly flights from Boston to Terceira Island. Daily flights are also available from Lisbon and Porto in mainland Portugal, and there are a growing number of European destinations offering connecting flights.
Madeira offers a year-round pleasant Mediterranean climate. The island, which is covered with lush vegetation, receives some rain, and maintains a constantly mild temperature. The spring months call for shorts and t-shirts, with lots of sun and a nice wind off the ocean. The summer months are very sunny and anywhere from 75℉-85℉. September- October returns to a milder climate, but the island is still warm enough to swim in the ocean. And if you're looking for a winter getaway, Madeira provides a mild climate in December, January, and February, generally staying around 60℉ during the day.
The Azores have a temperate, subtropical climate with the temperature changing with the ocean seasons. The summer months of July - September are the sunniest with the hottest temperatures and the least likelihood of rain; followed by June and October. The Azores have moderate winters, with high temperatures expected to be around 60℉ degrees and low 50s overnight. Since winter experiences the most precipitation, prepare for some gray days with a stronger breeze off the ocean. Thanks to months of rain, the landscape is always green with some type of flowers in blossom at all times.
A special place to visit in Madeira is the capital city and old town of Funchal. Take the cable car from Almirante Reis to Funchal’s upper suburb of Monte and enjoy the mist-covered mountains, the beautiful palatial gardens, the cityscape, and the ocean views below. How you get down may be the best part! Slide down the mountain in a “Monte Sledge”, a wicker basket sled pushed by 2 men wearing white uniforms and straw hats, who control the sled by using their boots as brakes. This used to be the local’s form of public transportation!
There are several intriguing places to visit outside of Funchal as well, including the São Lorenço, a beautiful and challenging hike with views of Madeira’s nature reserve, immense volcanic rocks with reddish hues, and a 360 degree view of the ocean. Levada Walks on Madeira are among the most popular things to do on the island. These hikes will lead you through some of the island's most stunning and secretive landscapes. Some of the simpler hikes are perfect for beginners or for people who simply want to walk and take in the amazing outdoors.
Madeira has a range of accommodations from quaint boutiques to 5-star luxury hotels. From hotels with sea views to staying in the middle of the old town, there is a place for everyone here in Madeira. You can expect a lively nightlife in Madeira, as opposed to in the Azores. If you enjoy time out in the evening, atmospheric bars, and exciting music venues, the island's capital, Funchal, is the place to be.
The Azores are a nature and outdoors destination with breathtaking views, tasty food and wine, fantastic hiking, hot springs, waterfalls, and more. The Terra Nostra Gardens and geothermal hot springs are one of the natural highlights of the Azores, and for good reason. From soaking in the natural thermal hot pools to walking through lavish and rich botanical gardens, Terra Nostra in the village of Furnas is a great stopping point on the island and should be at the top of everyone’s itinerary.
A whale and dolphin watching boat excursion is another popular excursion in the Azores. With the central location of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean, travelers are almost guaranteed to see wildlife year-round! There are so many species that migrate through the region, making the Azores Islands one of the best places for whale and dolphin watching. For the adventure seekers out there, head into the jungle and experience one of the most beautiful and untouched areas of the Azores. Canyoning and rappelling in Ribeira dos Caldeirões Nature Reserve is an adventurous activity for all skill levels. This canyoning experience will take you out to the waterfalls on the north side of the island, where you will hike the lava-created riverbed and then rappel the waterfalls using different techniques like slides and small jumps. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can discover this unique experience at a beginner level.
The Azores are serene, eco-friendly and have less modern development, and less tourism than the sister islands of Madeira. With secluded locations and a more relaxed, slower pace, the Azores are more of a destination for nature lovers and adventurous tourists. You will undoubtedly appreciate the lovely guest houses, boutique hotels with ocean views, and apartments scattered over the island. In general, it's easy and reasonably priced to find lodging in the Azores. It is important to make reservations in advance because lodging alternatives can be limited during peak summer months.
Food and Drink
The cuisine in Madeira is a delicious fusion of traditional Portuguese cooking with a hint of maritime flavor and influence from northern Africa. The residents of the island source or grow a majority of their food locally and are incredibly resourceful. Madeira's cuisine has a strong focus on meat and fish. Foodies should try the Lapas (limpets), a dish that is loved by the locals, as well as the charcoal grilled Espetada, beef on a bayleaf skewer cooked over hot coals. Madeira wine, a tart, and sweet beverage is probably the most well-known island product.
The Azores produce half of all Portuguese cheese, whether it be buttery, soft, hard, salty, or tangy. Each island has its own dairy cow population that graze outside, freely, in nutrient-rich pastures all year round. The Azores' food has a number of recipes that focus on their local beef or pork. Don't miss the Cozido das Furnas, a stew that is slow-cooked in volcanic soil. Due to its prime location in the Atlantic, there is never a shortage of seafood in the Azores. Check out the fried mackerel, swordfish, tuna, and the ubiquitous bacalhau. Seafood stew is also on almost everyone’s menu. The volcanic environment of the Azores makes it an outstanding place for viniculture with a unique flavor. The wine grape vines are said to grow directly out of the volcanic rock. The red Vinho de Cheiro is a popular red wine, and the lemony Verdelho is a fragrant white wine that pairs well with seafood.
Madeira vs. Azores
There’s no question that both of these Portuguese islands will provide an unforgettable vacation at any time of the year, with an abundance of activities, natural beauty, delicious Portuguese food, and rich culture. You can explore both island locations on this 7-day trip to Madeira and Azores with Quest Travel Adventures.