Azores Travel: What To Know Before You Go
Easy to get to:
While there’s really only one major carrier that services the islands, they are only a 4.5-hour flight from Boston. For East Coasters, the Azores are almost easier to fly to than Los Angeles and certainly easier than Hawaii.
In general, the climate is very similar to San Francisco’s, meaning it’s relatively mild year-round but may be a bit more humid in summer -- winters range in the 50s and summers in the 70s. The islands have several microclimates, depending on whether you’re by the sea, at the top of a mountain or at the hot springs, so think layers. And since you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the weather can change quickly, so it’s good to be prepared for an unexpected rain shower.
Dress in the Azores is fairly casual, particularly during the day. Comfortable athletic wear is perfectly acceptable during the day; smart casual dress is recommended for dinner.
Things to pack:
- Bathing suits
- Water shoes
- Sunglasses/sun hat
- Power plug adaptor/voltage converter
- Camera and/or iPhone
- Lightweight coat/windbreaker or raincoat
- Walking shoes/sneakers (sandals or flip-flops for pool or dinners only)
- Comfortable/athletic wear/shorts
- Lightweight sack/shoulder bag for walks/hikes
The Azores use the euro, though major credit cards will work and ATMs are widely available. With tourism relatively new to the region, and a drop in airfare, it’s shockingly affordable to fly there, get a 4-star hotel stay and have decadent meal. Combined with a favorable exchange rate, it’s a memorable vacation without breaking the bank.
The islands offer a blend of Portuguese and Mediterranean food; there’s lots of seafood, but also some of the best steak in the world. The archipelago has a large population of free-range cows that produce some spectacular beef. Food is prepared with relatively mild, approachable seasoning and in general is very affordable. Must-tries:
- Cozido das Furnas (Furnas stew), cooked underground with volcanic steam
- The iconic Azorean pineapple
- Limpets -- lapas in Portuguese -- mollusks that have a conical shell
- Traditional Queijadas da Vila -- made from milk, eggs, butter, flour and sugar; originally created by nuns in an Azorean convent
- Gorreana Azorean tea -- the island of Sao Miguel is home to the only tea plantation in Europe
Upgraded in all the right ways:
While feeling like (what I imagine was) Europe 30 years ago, the islands remarkably don’t feel dramatically outdated, particularly the main island of Sao Miguel. Investments in infrastructure make driving and navigating a breeze; I’ve seen worse conditions down the street in Chicago. The increasing tourism economy has resulted in comfortable 4-star accommodation options, and every cafe and restaurant offers free Wi-Fi, delivering the best of both worlds.
A relaxing hideaway:
While the Azores are not a beach destination (they’re no Hawaii in that regard), nature lovers will find in the islands a great respite from the daily grind. With their hot springs, lakeside walks and scenic drives, they offer plenty of peace and solitude. And as a bumping nightlife is absent, long seafood and steak dinners accompanied with Azorean wine are a welcome end to the day, as is a glass of port before bed.
Don’t be fooled, though -- the region isn’t completely a sleepy hollow. The whale watching is world renowned and closely tied to Azorean culture, not to mention the opportunity to swim with dolphins in the ocean. There’s hiking and mountain biking for the novice and expert, as well as kayaking in volcano craters, rock climbing and Jeep tours. In my case it was jumping off two-story waterfalls while screaming the entire way down.