Are you looking to photograph something in Europe that’s exotic, but think Iceland and the Canary Islands are overdone? Try exploring the Portuguese waters. In addition to the beautiful and photo-worthy Madeira, there are also the Azores. These islands have a little bit of everything, yet are very distinctive. Thanks to their remoteness, the Azores are still a safe haven from mass tourism. You will need at least one stopover when visiting any of the islands. Today, we’ll be talking about the largest and most easily accessible island, São Miguel. There are nine islands in total and all are unique. However, it is on this island where you’ll find the highest concentration of sights.
Imagine you’re a Portuguese sailor in the fifteenth century. You’ve been sailing the wild waters of the Atlantic Ocean for weeks. When you least expect it, an unknown island appears before you. Its peaks are immersed in an impenetrable fog. Feelings of curiosity and fear mingle. Is it even an island? Or the back of a giant sea monster? You’ve sailed into uncharted waters, and nothing is for certain anymore…
This is what the people who first discovered the island of São Miguel may have felt like. You can still get these feelings of something new and undiscovered in the Azores today. Many things await you in the incredible Azores.
Prepare for fog, rain, and wind. But a year-round temperature of about 20° C (68° F) makes up for the unpredictable weather. You’ll also be rewarded with an evergreen fairytale landscape that’s constantly changing due to the whims of the weather. You can come home with the same variety of photos that you’d get on a week-long mountain trek.
Large concentration of volcanoes
The biggest sights on the island are its volcanoes. There are three to choose from: Furnas, Fogo, and Sete Cidades. All three volcanoes have great viewpoints and beautiful lakes hidden inside their craters.
Furnas is the most active volcano on the island. You can walk around its crater lake which takes you to a geothermal area. Here, you’ll find many bubbling sulfur springs and pits where the local specialty, Cozido das Furnas, is prepared. You can get some interesting pictures of the always-present smoke rising from the sulfur springs. The nearby town of Furnas offers an even better smoke spectacle.
The best way to reach the top of the Fogo volcano is by car. From the top, you can descend to the lake which is home to countless birds. The opportunities for closer exploration are quite limited, but of the three volcanoes, it is the one that is least impacted by human activity.
Sete Cidades is the most famous and most visited volcano. It contains several lakes and you can spend all day hiking around its beautiful perimeter. Within its caldera, you’ll find a village of the same name. If you ever see tourism promotion photos of the Azores, they most certainly feature Sete Cidades, specifically from the Boca do Inferno lookout.
And oh, those views
I’ve already written about the beautiful views from the volcanoes. The disadvantage of these places is the high concentration of tourists. Therefore, it is best to visit them in the very early morning or just before sunset. Keep an eye on the weather because these peaks are often covered in fog in the afternoon.
Apart from the volcanoes, you will find plenty of other viewpoints on São Miguel. From the island’s highest point, Pico da Vara, you have a spectacular view of the wild Azorean landscape. You will find remnants of the native vegetation including junipers, laurels, and heather that covered the island before the arrival of the Portuguese. Plus, due to the strenuous climb to the top, there are minimal tourists.
The sea views require their very own chapter. They are everywhere and you can enjoy them on a road trip, as well as by foot along the many hiking trails. In the western part of the island, near Mosteiros, you’ll find beautiful displays of volcanic activity near the sea. In the eastern part of the island, near Nordeste, there are high jagged cliffs. There is truly something for everyone.
When you get tired of taking pictures
It’s hard to believe, but even on the island of São Miguel, you can grow tired of taking photos. Then what? Aside from sampling the excellent cuisine, I can recommend visiting the large number of thermal baths. They are all set in the beautiful Azorean countryside and very carefully complemented by Portuguese architectural art. The only downside is that instead of relaxing, you may find the need to reach for your camera once again.
Springtime that’s straight out of a fairytale
The Azores are a year-round destination, but one season stands out not only for photographers. The Azores are still beautifully green, but from approximately April to June, there is a flood of other colors, blue in particular. Hydrangeas bloom all over the island and even line the edges of the volcanic craters.
Regardless of the time of year, I recommend visiting the Azores as soon as possible. More and more people are discovering the secret beauty in these remote parts of Europe.