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The Atlantic’s best kept secret: A guide to the Azores

While recently establishing itself as a prime surfing destination, the Azores offer so much more for the traveler seeking adventure, natural beauty and incredible value for the money.

Here we share a simple guide explaining why your next trip should be to this archipelago of ex-volcanoes located in the heart of the North Atlantic.

Where is it?

The main island of Sao Miguel. Photo by Visit Azores
The main island of Sao Miguel. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Azores
The Azores is a group of eight volcanic islands located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles west of continental Portugal and 2,561 miles east of New York.

A Portuguese territory settled in the 1600s, it is a 90-minute flight from Lisbon and just four hours from Boston to the capital of Ponto Delgada on the main island of São Miguel.

Where did it come from?

A caldera in the Azores. Photo by Visit Azores
A caldera in the Azores. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Azores
The islands were born of tectonic frustration at the point where three continental plates — the Eurasian, the African and the North American — meet.

They are some of the tallest mountains on the planet, if you measure from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks.

What do they look like?

The green waters of Lagoa do Fogo, only a 15 minute drive from the capital Ponto Delgado. Photo by Visit Azores
The green waters of Lagoa do Fogo, only a 15 minute drive from the capital Ponto Delgado. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Azores
The closest comparison is that the Azores are the Hawaii of the Atlantic, being steep-sided, beautiful, wild, but with the addition of 500 years of European culture.

There are blue lakes ringed by forests of laurel and cedar, and green pastures patterning the slopes of epic calderas.

Wild rocky coasts are broken by sandy beaches, while hot springs bubble near Portuguese architectured towns. The capital Ponta Delgada features mosaic cobbled streets meandering down to a marina lined with incredible (and super affordable) seafood restaurants.

What lies beneath?

The Azores has both resident and migratory species of whales, making for sightings all year round. Photo by Visit Azores
The Azores has both local and migratory species of whales, making for sighting all year round. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Azores
Nutrient-rich water wells up from the deep and attracts marine life that include whales, dolphin, giant squid and all types of fish.

The whale-watching tours are considered some of the best in the world with day trips costing around $70.

The warm waters courtesy of the Gulf Stream and the incredible visibility also make for some of the best diving in all the Atlantic.

What else happens?

Crowds gather at the Azores Airlines Pro at Santa Barbara. Photo by WSL
Crowds gather at the Azores Airlines Pro at Santa Barbara. Photo: Courtesy of WSL
Surfing! The Azores currently hosts the ISA World Junior surf championships which follows hot on the heels of the Azores Airlines Pro.

That is an annual Qualifying Series event that sees 100 of the world’s best surfers descend to the beaches near Santa Barbara.

Outside these events, there are virtually no crowds, with less than 100 surfers living on the islands. Summer features typically fun beachbreaks, while in winter some of the more powerful reefbreaks come into play.

What other adventures are out there?

A hiking trail on Faja Grande. Photo by Visit Azores
A hiking trail on Faja Grande. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Azores
You can do the three-hour hike up Mt. Pico, at 7,713 feet, Portugal’s highest mountain.

If conditions are just right, the three-hour climb to catch sunrise or sunset is the Azores’ premier hiking experience, although with another 60 marked trails crisscrossing the islands, that’s a big call.

The mountain biking is also amazing, with challenging and spectacular descents and ascents into the volcanoes of the Azores.

What else do you need to know?

The Portas da Cidade (Gates to the City) of Ponto Delgada. Photo by Visit Azores
The Portas da Cidade (Gates to the City) of Ponto Delgada. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Azores
Coffee and beer can be bought for a dollar each. Whole fresh fish and Azorean reared steaks are more than reasonably priced, while accommodation, be it apartments or hotels, are plentiful and highly affordable.

There is also an incredible live music scene and the international Blues festival on Santa Maria is legendary.

Our advice is get there soon, before the secret is out. Head to Visit Azores for all the best ideas on accommodation, transport and activities.

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