São Miguel Island, Azores – The ultimate guide to 4 days in São Miguel
Sao Miguel, the main Island of the Azores is a place like no other. It is magical, exciting and mystic. A hidden gem in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!
Things to do in Sao Miguel - read your ultimate 4 day itinerary that covers all the “MUST SEE and MUST DO” on the beautiful Island of Sao Miguel.
The weather in Sao Miguel fluctuates a lot and you will often experience all four seasons in one day. Make sure to always check your weather app before you start the day. In order to make it easier for you to decide which trip to do under what weather circumstances, I will be pointing out which sights are essential to explore on clear days, and which ones can be done on cloudy days.
Day 1 → For clear days to get the most out of the stunning views!
Lagoa Do Fogo – Caldeirha Velha – Ribeira Grande
Lagoa Do Fogo
Day 1 starts out strong with a drive up to Lagoa do Fogo. Lagoa do Fogo is a crystal clear blue crater lake in the center of the Island of Sao Miguel. Driving from Ponta Delgada (the main city on Sao Miguel) to the Lagoa will take you about 45 minutes.
Lookout point 1 About 10 minutes before getting to the top of the volcano you will be able to see the southern and northern coast at the same time. It is one of the only places on Sao Miguel from where you can view both coastlines from a single point.
Lookout point 2 Continue driving all the way to the top of the volcano. You won't miss the first viewpoint from which you can see the Lagoon. Park your car and be amazed! After soaking in the beauty of the lake continue driving on to the next viewpoint. Lookout point 3 → my favorite! Park your car, put on some comfy shoes, pack water and some snacks and hike down to the lagoon! This is a MUST – DO when on Sao Miguel – trust me it is worth the trek! It will take you about 40 – 60min to hike down. Once at the bottom of the lagoon you will find a beautiful sandy beach by this crystal clear blue lagoon. I have seen many beautiful things in my travel life, and I can assure you, walking down to this crystal clear blue water lake to find a deserted white sandy beach left me absolutely speechless.
We had an extra cool adventure on the lake, too. STAND UP PADDLING! Having an inflatable stand up paddle board, we were able to paddle on the Lagoa (of course it meant we had to carry down all the equipment, but it was sooooo worth the effort :-) )
Oh and a little side note: On the drive up to the Lagoa --> make sure you have a fully functional car. Ours broke down 10 minutes before getting to the top. We had to call the car company & they had to change the car battery in the garage all the way in Ponta Delgada. It was an interesting experience and we sure had some laughters, but I would not recommend it =)
Time / Duration Driving Ponta Delgada - Lagoa do Fogo ~45 minutes Plan about 45 minutes hiking time for each way and a generous hour to enjoy the sandy beach --> bring a picnic!!
Back at your car you can continue on the road towards Ribeira Grande (there is only one street so you can't miss it). About 15 minutes down the road you will find Caldeira Velha (Old Boiler). Guess the name doesn't sound too appealing, but it's worth stopping by. Especially after a day of hiking you will appreciate the two natural hot springs pools. One pool has a waterfall and is less crowded as it has a lower temperature of about 25°C / 75° F. The second pool is hotter (38°C / 100°C), and therefore gets more packed with people enjoying its warmth.
Cost: 2 Euros per Person
Time: plan about 1hour
Continue your trip down the hill into Ribeira Grande. Ribeira Grande is one of the bigger cities on Sao Miguel Island. Go all the way down to the waterfront. The waves are rough in the North and watching the sunset combined with the impressive strength of the Atlantic Ocean is magnificent!
The city center is nice and relaxed with a plaza, a little park and you will find some restaurants. We ate at a restaurant called Monte Verde. It was delicious! They have a wide section of fresh fish (they only serve seafood dishes). Upon arrival you will be shown the different fishes and you are welcomed to pick the one you'd like to have freshly prepared for you to savor.
Time from Caldeira Velha to Ribeira Grande ~15minutes
~ 30minutes to drive back to Ponta Delgada
Day 2 Vila Franca do Campo Islet - Lagoa do Congro - Gorreana Tea Plantation - Miradouro de Santa Iria
→ For warm days in case you would like to swim on the Islet
→ A trip you can take if it's partly cloudy
Vila Franca do Campo and Islet
Vila Franca do Campo is a cute little seaside town on the southern part of the Island. There are two main reasons why a trip to Vila Franca do Campo is worth your while: - Start of whale watching tours - The Islet of vila franca do campo
Terra Azul offers whale watching Tours from the pier, price per adult 57 Euros.
Vila Franca do Campo – a small paradise only 1km off the coast!
The Islet is a result of the crater of an ancient submerged volcano and is situated just opposite Vila Franca do Campo. You can catch the boat down at the pier in Vila Franca. The boats run during high season (June – September) every hour starting at 10am, the last leaving at 6pm. The ride is about 10minutes and costs 5 Euros return trip. The boats leave the island always 10minutes passed the hour.
The islet is classified as a Nature Reserve. The walls of its crater are lined by endemic vegetation, while inside there is an almost perfectly circular natural lake, which is linked to the sea by a narrow channel. The vegetation is beautiful and so is the crystal-clear water which is great for snorkeling. There is a small beach to lay down your towel, or even better chose a quiet place on a rock.
Price Boat is 5 Euros per person (return ticket)
For your timing
On the Island allow yourself one hour if you are just there for a walk and some pictures, if you plan to swim give yourself 2 – 3 hours.
Drive from Ponta Delgada ~30min
After returning from the Islet strengthen yourself with a good meal in one of the seafront restaurants right by the pier.
Lagoa do Congro
About 15minutes drive into the center of Sao Miguel Island you will find a beautiful lagoon called Lagoa do Congro. This lagoon isn't one of the main attractions on the Island, but we were lucky enough to come across this idyllic place. You will see a sign guiding you to the lagoon (dirt road). Park your car on the side of the street. It is an easy 10 minutes walk down to the waterfront. My recommendation is to continue for another 20 minutes on the path to the left to enjoy a beautiful stroll in the forest before going all the way to the bottom of the lake. Lagoa do Congro impressed me with its freakishly green water and the vegetation it is surrounded by. It is a peaceful place and all you will hear is the sound of the birds. Nature at its finest!
Time Drive from Vila Franca do Campo ~15min By the lake --> plan to spend about one hour
Gorreana Tea Plantation
Our next stop is Gorreana Tea Plantation. It is the oldest and currently ONLY tea plantation in Europe. From Lagoa do Congro continue driving towards the northern side of the Island. After roughly 20 minutes you will find this beautiful plantation. It is the perfect stop for a break. The views are stunning. Also, they serve free black and green tea – what more could one ask for? There is a little souvenir / snack shop if you would like to buy tea to take home or baked goods to enjoy with your tea.
Check out Gorreana.pt for more information.
Entrance is free, free black and green tea
Time: Plan to spend about one hour
Sunset at Miradouro de Santa Ira
MUST – DO!!
The perfect end to a perfect day. Be amazed by a beautiful sunset at the lookout point “Miradouro de Santa Ira”.
It is a high viewpoint so you can enjoy the sights from different angels. Sit back, relax and enjoy an epic sunset!
Drive back to Ponta Delgada ~ 30min
→ Chose the foggiest day to visit the Furnas Valley
Another of São Miguel’s outstanding visitors’ attractions is the landscape of Furnas. It comprises of a lake, a valley and a village, located inland from the south-eastern coast.
Lagoa da Furnas
Lagoa da Furnas is one of the three main lagoons on Sao Miguel (Lagoa da Fogo, Lagoa Sete Cidades).
“Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitorias” this private chapel situated on the southern bank of the Furnas Lake, opened in 1886. It was built with the purpose of burying the couple José do Canto and Maria Guilhermina do Canto. It is one of the rare examples of neo-gothic style in Portugal, unique in the region. It presents thirteen windows with beautiful stained glass representing biblical scenes. Unfortunately, one can not visit the interior.
Of course, having our inflatable stand up paddle board with us, we enjoyed a few hours of paddling on this beautiful and incredibly calm lagoon.
Time: Plan about one hour to walk around the lake, passing the gothic church. Parking is available either for free on the side of the street or for 25 cents per hour in a parking lot just behind the park.
On the opposite side of the lagoon you will see fumes coming out of the ground: Caldeiras. Here is where they cook the traditional dish called “Cozido”. It is cooked for several hours buried in the ground, with all ingredients thrown together in a pot (different meats and vegetables).
And this is what you want to eat for lunch!!
Tip: Make sure to have a reservation for one of the restaurants that serve Cozido for lunch (12.30pm – 2.30pm) so you can enjoy a traditional meal cooked freshly in the ground – quite an experience!
The pots are placed under the ground in the morning. The food cooks very slowly – for about 6 hours – and the only liquid used are the juices produced by all the ingredients. Try to be at Caldeiras around 12pm so you can see how they take out the pots out of the ground to take them to the different restaurants downtown.
The Thermal Springs in Furnas
After a traditional lunch continue to one of the natural hot springs.
You have two options: Poça Dona Beija
Entrance fee 4 Euros pp., several pools, small park, changing rooms available, towels at an extra cost.
7am - 11pm
Entrace fee 8 Euros pp., one huge pool in the heart of a tropical garden, changing rooms available, towels at an extra cost.
Opening hours: April – July & September – October: 10am – 7pm
August: 10am – 7.30pm
November – March: 8am - 5pm
We decided to visit Poça Dona Beija for one reason: smaller and therefore less touristy.
Still, if you have some extra time (we used ours for stand up paddling at the lake), consider a visit to Terra Nostra and take some time to enjoy the beautiful gardens.
Time: Plan about one hour if you are just bathing in the hot springs. For visiting Terra Nostra Park plan an additional hour.
Drive from Ponta Delgada to Furnas and back ~ 45minutes.
Lagoa da Sete Cidades
→ For clear days! You want to enjoy the colors and views of this stunning twin lake
Another highlight of Sao Miguel and probably the number one attraction is “Lagoa da Sete Cidades”.
The lagoon consists of two small, ecologically different lakes. They are connected by a strait and a bridge runs over it. The western side of the lagoon is green, the eastern is blue. These two different lakes form a unique scenery of great natural beauty.
How to get to Lagoa da Sete Cidades from Ponta Delgada and where to stop
Lookout point “Lagoa do Canario” You will reach the first viewpoint after a short 20 minutes drive from Ponta Delgada. At this point you will not yet see the twin lakes. You can park your car at the parking lot (not paved) and walk to the lookout point (about 20 minutes along a dirt path). Once at the lookout point you will be amazed by the view of the twin lakes, the mountains, the caldera and the sea in the far. Tip: Go on a clear day otherwise all you will see is clouds...:( Also pack warm clothes since it gets very windy up there! And if the weather isn't clear, too windy and cold go straight to Miradouro Vista do Rei.
Miradouro Vista do Rei Miradouro Vista do Rei is the most touristic lookout point. There is a proper parking lot and public toilets. Another attraction just around the corner from the lookout is an old deserted hotel.
This is a popular starting point for hiking. If you have time and energy plan a few hours and explore the different pathways on foot. → learn more about the trails
Lookout point on the way to the village of Sete Cidades Continue driving all the way down to Sete Cidades. On the way you will find another smaller lookout point which is closer to the lagoon. It is less frequented and the view is just as stunning.
Sete Cidades – the Village In Sete Cidades you will find parking by the lake or in the town center. On a warm day you can stroll around the lake and enjoy this beautiful place. Naturally, we took out our stand up paddle and enjoyed a few hours on the lake =) There are some basic restaurants around the town center. Time: driving time from Ponta Delgada to the town Sete Cidades ~40minutes. The time you spend hiking, admiring the views or by the lake is really up to you. We spent an entire day around and by the lake.
Ponta da Ferraria Drive from Sete Cidades about 30minutes out southwest and you will arrive in Ponta da Ferraria. Ponta da Ferraria is a small cove surrounded by gigantic lava rock cliffs where the ocean water is warmed up by a geo-thermal natural spring. It is quite an experience to swim in the natural pool where the water is a mix of cold and hot sea water and the best part: the waves of the ocean slosh around you!
The drive back to Ponta Delgada is about 40minutes.
Back in Ponta Delgada you can then enjoy a nice dinner in one of the many (for Sao Miguel many...) restaurants. The city is nicely illuminated by night and you can stroll around after or before dinner and enjoy a nice relaxed evening to say Goodbye to this unique place – SAO MIGUEL.
Thank you Sao Miguel!!