The Azores off the coast of Portugal are one of Europe’s best-kept secrets — mass tourism has not hit this archipelago yet in the same way it has the Portuguese mainland. Known as “Europe’s Hawaii,” these nine islands are shaped by volcanic activity: beautiful black sand beaches, incredible caverns, craters and fertile soils. Add to that countless waterfalls, hot springs and geysers; flora and fauna not seen anywhere else; and guaranteed whale, dolphin and porpoise-spotting … Mother Nature is definitely in charge here. For families who love adventure paired with world-leading sustainable tourism, the Azores tick all the boxes.
Azores Family Travel 101
The best island to visit with a family is São Miguel (one of the most easterly of the group), as it is the biggest and easiest to get to, and has loads to see and do. Flights here — only three and a half hours from London and two and half hours from Lisbon — are frequent.
Seven to ten days are adequate for families to get acquainted with the island’s volcanic side and the culture of the towns, as well as to lose yourself in nature and partake in fantastic adventures like sailing, diving, surfing, paragliding and more. A typical itinerary, with a home base in Ponta Delgada (the Azores’ capital), might be built around active pursuits like kayaking, a mountain bike tour in the hills, whale-watching over the Atlantic waters and lagoon snorkeling.
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Round those out with a trip to Furnas Lake, a Jeep tour of the island, swimming with dolphins and canyoning in the Azores’ national park (Ribeira dos Caldeirões). At the geysers in Furnas, home to one of the most active volcanoes in the islands, steam escapes from deep under the ground, and you can try your hand at using it to cook a traditional cozido stew.
Natural thermal pools like Poça da Dona Beija, Caldeira Velha and Terra Nostra are surrounded by wild forests of palms and conifers, creating a surreal landscape perfect for relaxation after a long day of sightseeing. Tip: Pick the gloomiest day of your trip to go to the hot springs; warm water feels better when it’s cold and rainy outside.
If you want to venture to another of the isles, explore the Capelinhos volcano on Faial, where you can walk on the apocalyptic lava remains of a recent eruption (walking on the moon springs to mind). The Azores also hold two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the old town of Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira; and the vineyards on the island of Pico. For those who love exploring the historical side of a location, the Azores can tick this box too.
When to Go
São Miguel is at its best in the summer months of June to September (although be aware that the weather can be unpredictable, as the island sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). Temperatures in May through July are from 16-20 degrees C (60-68 degrees F), and August is a temperate 20-26 degrees C (70 to 80 degrees F). The subtropical climate and watery surroundings make it prone to occasional thunderstorms.
Families Should Know
• There is no perfect age to visit the Azores, but older children will definitely get more out of the amount of activities on offer. They also may better appreciate the beauty of the changing landscape and the sustainability of the region.
• Locals are very proud of their islands and eager to educate travelers about conservation issues; they have deep respect for nature and the ocean in particular. The people are a huge asset and are some of the friendliest in the world. Their English is impeccable, thanks to Portuguese TV not dubbing American movies into Portuguese.
• Public transportation is not the Azores’ strongest point, so getting between the islands can be time-consuming. Flying between them is definitely quicker (but costlier) than taking ferries — even a trip between São Miguel and Santa Maria, the two islands in the Eastern Group, takes at least three hours.
• Try and get here before mass tourism does. Enjoy the silence and beauty of your surrounds before you are having to queue for that Kodak moment!
Editor’s Note: Photos by Turismo Açores.