Every time I think of the Azores, two things come in my mind. One: The beauty of this place was overwhelming and unlike anything I’d encountered elsewhere. Its rolling, almost neon-green hills; volcanic, black-stone cliffs; and winding roads that lead to seaside hot springs and volcanic beaches and ancient looking woods that reminds you of Jurassic Park.
Two: It was and is an adventure seeker paradise and a place I could imagine myself living – peaceful and exciting at the same time.
Back in June 2016, we were about to explore the biggest island of Azores – São Miguel. It is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about 1,360 km west of continental Portugal. I had never heard of Azores before moving to Portugal. My first flatmate happened to be from the Madeira Islands (more populated and modern autonomous region). They are located a bit more south sharing similar Portuguese dialects. After seeing the photos of Azores and finding cheap ryanair flights, I had to go there!
With 6 sunny days of adventure ahead of us we decided to spend 3 out of 7 days exploring the island on a scooter. They say it is impossible to get lost on an island. It turned out that we do impossible things.
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Two girls and a scooter
So we jumped on a rented 125cc scooter, packed with two 40l and one 20l backpack containing a tent and clothes (don´t ask me how we did it). We set off for 3 days riding up and down the hills of Sao Miguel.
Ponta Delgada is the capital city of the island. It´s the base of all the touristic activities. We headed to a more rural area – Rabo de Peixe (literally the tail of the fish) in this case the poorest district of Sao Miguel. The road network spreads out of one main highway that connects the two ends of the island leaving us with no other route option.
Because of those 3 big bags, it was an excruciating long ride. Joana was my courageous driver and also the one who got an “original” tan – nose and forearms.
A mysterious night guest in the camping
We reached our camping site, pitched up the tent and chatted with the owner of the property. A Portuguese man, environmental engineer if I reckon, divorced and a father in his 40s, was the designer and creator of every mechanism and countertop installed in the camping. For instance, water for the showers was provided from a rainwater container and the doors had a counterweight door closer mechanism. The camping had all the basic facilities and also a kitchen to cook. The land was divided into pitches, separated by lines of fruit trees.
During one of the nights, we heard someone moving near our pitch. I woke up, shook Joana and we listened, silently. Someone was approaching our tent, we stayed still. Then our tent folded inwards as if someone was laying down on top of it. A moment later it was clear, that it was a dog who came to guard us during the night and we could finally continue sleeping in peace.
Getting lost in Rabo de Peixe
The Azoren who rent out the scooter said it was impossible to get lost in Azores. It´s either water or land, he was laughing. Well, exactly, either direction you go, you are surrounded by sea, so you cannot really take it as a reference. Not only GPS wasn´t working, but we almost run out of the fuel and apparently gained some recognition among the locals. Seeing us passing must have looked hilarious.
Our camping Quinta das Laranjeiras was a new establishment in a rural area and there was hardly anyone who knew it. We asked some people in the city for directions but they knew only the big touristic camping sites in Furnas or Nordeste. We were following the GPS which was leading as back and forward the same roads, with cows grazing on all the roadsides. We reached a point when we stopped to check a map when a driver of a white Opel pulled over and asked if we were the girls who were lost. Apparently, the people from the village spread the word quickly and sent this guy after us.
He told us he knew the way. We followed the Opel until a small dirt road which he was a shortcut leading to the camping. Grateful for the stranger’s help, we said goodbye and continued along a narrow and curvy track. We were quickly moving forward when all of a sudden a horse carriage appeared in front of us. The frightened animal reared back, with his feet high up in the air. After sliding forward, we stopped the scooter just a few meters away from the horse. My heart missed a beat, to say the least. But the funny part was that the horse rider, pulling back the lead ropes was finding it an amusing incident. Such a carousel, further on we stopped before every curve to check if someone was coming.
Volcanic Landscape, highlights of the trip
On the way to Sete Cidades there are several viewpoints (miradouros). In miradouro Pico de Carvão seeing the stripe of earth between the west and east shores of the island was the moment I realised how small piece of land I was standing on. Landscapes of lush planes, hills and cows grazing all over the place. They say that cows of Azores are the happiest cows in the world. They must be, so much of land only for them.
We reached the iconic view Vista do Rei; from there, in noble contemplation, one can see two twin lakes, the Green and the Blue, paired together by a bridge. From there we took the path (which was the beginning of a hiking trail ) along the edge of the volcano crater, descending from 250 m altitude down until the village. It was a sand road that at some parts was pretty narrow and crowded and made it a bit tricky for us.
We were reaching Sete Cidades, the scooter was gasping for air and once we reached the village, we discovered that there were no gas stations (which makes sense, a village of 700 people don´t need it near the house). We prayed to god to be able to go all the way up (since Sete Cidades village is the bottom of volcano crater) and find the nearest gas station which actually was 1h ride away, in Feteiras.
On the road
Apart from all the troubles, it was a bliss riding the scooter. The fresh air hitting your face, the smell of the ocean, bird sounds. In three days we did 800 km, went until Sete Cidades, around the volcano crator, Ponta da Ferraria and Thermal pools of Caldeira Velha and also hiked one of the most scenic trails.
The last three days we went to the beach and visited Furnas, Vila Franca de Campo and other spectacular sites in the easte, however, if I did it again, I would rent the scooter for the whole week!
- I suggest renting some means of transport because the bus does not stop everywhere and you end up being dependant on their schedule.
- If you rent a scooter, you should know that there are a few gas stations in Sao Miguel. I suggest filling the tank and calculate how far you can go. Otherwise, you can stay on the road, which almost happened to us.
- If I were to repeat this trip, I would rent the scooter for the whole week and relocate to the Nordeste and explore east of Sao Miguel for more 3-4 days.
Get your road map here.
I hope I captivated you with my epic stories, so if you plan to go to
Best wishes, Kriss.
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