How the Azores Makes It Easy to Get Back to Travel
With travel starting to reignite, the wide-open options of the world can be a little overwhelming. But as we spin the globe to try and put a finger on our next vacation spot, one destination pulls us in like a magnet: the Azores.
This Portuguese archipelago dotting the Atlantic checks off all the travel boxes: It's safe, easy, stunning and fun. Where else can you go, any time of the year, and hike around an emerald caldera, tour 15th-century fortresses, soak in thermal springs, then dine seaside with a glass of local wine?
That’s why we’re looking to the Azores for our next international trip. Read on to see why these nine islands make it easy to reawaken your love of travel.
It’s safe and ready for visitors
The Azores takes safety seriously. Over 78% of its residents have been fully vaccinated as of September 2021. And, as an autonomous region of Portugal, the islands are covered by hotels, restaurants and spas that bear the country’s Clean & Safe seal to demonstrate their adherence to strict safety guidelines.
This high vaccination rate and overall focus on hygiene has kept COVID-19 numbers low and earned the islands the title of one of Europe’s safest destinations in 2021 (European Best Destinations).
While it feels like a world away, it’s quite close, and entry requirements are a cinch
As the westernmost point of Europe, the archipelago rises from the Atlantic about 1,600 kilometres from mainland Portugal. You’ll be surprised by the Azores’ volcanic landscapes and cobblestoned European streets after flying less than six hours from Toronto.
Azores Airlines flies nonstop from Toronto Pearson to Ponta Delgada or Terceira several days a week, and, until Oct. 31, the airline is discounting flights from YYZ by 30% to make your next trip even easier.
Travelzoo Tip: Just board the plane with a negative RT-PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours before departure and there’s no need to quarantine upon arrival.
There’s no off-season — you can go any time of year
The Azores gets mild weather all year round. Average temperatures hover comfortably in the teens in the winter and in the low 20s in the summer.
With such little fluctuation, nearly all the outdoor activities that make the Azores so fun are available in the winter, just with thinner crowds and lower prices.
Its raw beauty practically demands you have fun outdoors
With deliciously green calderas, gushing waterfalls, hidden caves and enough biodiversity for three UNESCO biosphere reserves, is it any wonder Lonely Planet calls the Azores “the Hawaii of the mid-Atlantic"?
The islands have something for every kind of adventurer:
- I want nature to come to me: Hop in a whale-watching boat and let a local expert show you pods of sperm whales or frolicking bottlenose dolphins. Over 20 species of cetaceans reside in or migrate around the Azores throughout the year, so you can spot some in any season.
- Let’s build up a bit of a sweat: The Azores are an unintentional hiker’s playground. Over the past few centuries, locals formed a network of narrow footpaths as they transported goods around each of the nine islands by horse or donkey. Now, these paths weave hikers around the archipelago’s crater lakes, black sand shores and villages of whitewashed buildings with terra-cotta roofs.
Travelzoo Tip: Need a recommendation? We love the quick trail (which you’ll share with grazing cattle) that descends into the emerald caldera of Corvo, the imprint of the extinct volcano that created the Azores’ smallest island. For a real challenge, try one of the Grand Routes, a set of seven treks outlined by the government that range from 31.2-78.0 kilometres. Opt for the Faial route to walk amid the stark moonscape of Capelinhos Volcano.
- The more extreme, the better: Surf-ready waves year-round. Dozens of dive spots. World-class paragliding over volcanic craters. Let’s just say there’s a reason the Azores won the title of Europe’s best adventure travel destination at the 2020 World Travel Awards. Our favourite exhilarating Azores activity is canyoning, a growing sport in which you navigate canyons and riverbeds through a combination of hiking, rappelling, climbing and swimming.
A canyoning adventure with expert guides
It welcomes visitors with a glass of wine
Okay, not literally. But viniculture is in the region’s bones. Locals have been making wine ever since Portuguese settlers first landed in the 15th century and, at one point, all nine islands were producing barrels. But Pico vineyards are unique — to protect new vines from whipping winds and seawater, original winemakers forwent trellises for 5-foot-tall walls of lava rock in patterned corrals that are protected today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The stones absorb heat throughout the day and then use that to warm the grapes at night.
Today, you can tour vineyards in Pico, Terceira’s Biscoitos region and Graciosa, sipping vintages from traditional Azores grape varieties like Arinto dos Acores, Verdelho and Terrantez do Pico. We recommend a stop at Pico’s Azores Wine Company, a boutique winery making waves with its bold, volcanic wines.
Its thermal waters create a natural spa, perfect for unwinding after the last year and a half
After 18 months of extra-tense necks and shoulders, we could all use a spa break. The archipelago’s largest island, Sao Miguel, has so many thermal options that you can go hot springs hopping. Entry fees typically range from 3-8 euros per person, and some are free.
One particularly beautiful spot is Caldeira Velha, where you can soak in warm, iron-rich waters while gazing at the flickering white ribbon of a waterfall. We also love Termas da Ferraria — after you take a dip in geothermal pools there, you can book an on-site spa treatment or dine on fresh seafood at the restaurant. But if you can only go to one thermal pool, go to Terra Nostra. The 35- to 40-degree water feels heavenly after a walk in the surrounding park and gardens.
Travelzoo Tip: Bring water shoes and your own towel when you go. You can store your things in on-site lockers (most hot springs have those to rent).
Its rustic cuisine can wake up sleepy taste buds
One of our favourite aspects of travel is diving into a new cuisine — something we’ve been sorely missing — and Azorean fare doesn’t disappoint. Typical meals may include rich local cheeses, homestyle beef stews seasoned with wine and cloves, black sausage paired with pineapple, and grilled sea snails served with butter and garlic.
Unsurprisingly, fresh seafood plays a large role in local dishes, so expect delicacies like just-caught tuna or a type of barnacle boiled in saltwater and served chilled.
Travelzoo Tip: Don’t miss trying cozido, a hearty meat-and-veggies stew cooked within the volcanic fumaroles of Furnas on Sao Miguel Island.
If you arrive at Lago das Furnas around 12:30 p.m., you’ll be able to see local chefs retrieving their gigantic metal pots from the earth, steaming with geothermal heat and savoury flavours.