The mid-Atlantic archipelago of the Azores is an exemplary destination for responsible ecotourism.
The tourism season is approaching its busy days in Portugal, with a lot of holidaymakers from Europe and beyond making their way to the country’s Atlantic beaches and resorts.
But in addition to continental Portugal, the autonomous archipelago of the Azores is attracting an increasing number of visitors.
Off the western coast of Portugal and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the nine islands forming the Azores offer much in the way of natural splendor, as well as an increasing number of ways to have fun.
In addition to the usual sun and sea recreational activities, “canyoning, climbing, trekking, mountain biking, kayaking,” are all on offer, according to the archipelago’s tourism website.
The archaeological was the winner the World Travel Award for Europe’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination in 2021.
São Miguel, the largest of the lot, is the de facto center of the archipelago, and its largest city, Ponta Delgada, is the executive capital of the autonomous region.
“This island of São Miguel where we are is mountainous and covered in ravines, and it was, when we discovered it, covered in trees due to its humidity, with its water showers and ravines warm with sun,” reads the opening lines of The Seminal History of the Azores by Gasper Frutuoso.
And, fortunately not much has changed since the 16th century when these lines were written. The Azores still offers an absolute feeling of tranquility and a reassurance that nothing can go wrong—well, except the 1,766 volcanos that formed the archipelago in the first place.
Thanks to environmental protection measures, the island is largely untouched. You can imagine yourself to be in any decade: the 1950s, 1980s, or 2020s. There is no telling!
Ponta Delgada Airport, which is the only international gateway to the Azores is located on São Miguel.
Locals often recommend exploring the island in a road trip, as São Miguel’s various attractions are spread across the island and there is no easy way to move about the island relying on public transportation.
For instance, the Sete Cidades Lake, whose picture appears on almost all tourism ads for the Azores, is 25 km away from the capital, Ponta Delgada—a 30 minute drive by car.
As practically no one comes to São Miguel with their own car, many car rental businesses have opened up. There are currently over twenty car rental companies active on the island.
The presence of cars not withstanding, the island is very conscious about sustainability.
Determined not to sacrifice the ecosystem for tourism, the authorities have introduced strict sustainability practices. No one swimming in the lakes, for example, should be wearing sunscreen or have any other chemicals on their body.
The Azores, and especially São Miguel, is famous for swimming in naturally hot waters—an entirely free pastime in places such as Ponta da Ferraria thanks to the geothermal springs underneath the island.
It is possible to watch wildlife, too, though not at an oceanarium. The waters surrounding the Azores are home to whales, dolphins, and turtles. There are sea safaris which take visitors on boats to see the famous blue whales of the Azores in their natural habitat in April and May.
There is more to the Azores than São Miguel. The islands of Pico, Terceira, and San Jorge are just as worthwhile as São Miguel, but because they do not have their own international airports, getting there requires some island hopping on ferries, which in itself can be a pleasant experience.