Get out on the water in the Azores
If your idea of a perfect holiday involves sparkling azure waters, getting active outdoors, and plenty of natural beauty, then you need to know about the Azores.
This breathtaking Portuguese archipelago is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just a four-and-a-half-hour flight from the UK. Made up of nine islands, each with its own unique landscapes, the destination remains relatively unspoilt by tourism and a perfect getaway if you're looking to escape to nature.
It's also a great destination for some nautical adventures. Here are some of our top picks of things to do in the Azores to get you out on the water (or under it).
Swim with dolphins
The Azores' position in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean makes them a permanent home and natural point of passage for a number of dolphin species. As such, these islands are one of the best places to observe them in their natural habitat.
When you hear the phrase "swimming with dolphins", most people imagine the shallow waters of a beach or a swimming pool, where dolphins have been trained to interact with humans. That's not how they do it out here.
On a dolphin excursion in the Azores, you'll be taken a few miles off shore by Zodiac boat to waters that are hundreds of feet deep. You'll then be briefed by your tour guide on safety procedures, and get snorkelling gear so you can dive right in and explore.
Although many wild dolphins in the Azores are shy, they have been known to approach humans. Listen out for their cute whistles and squeaks!
The Azores are basically Europe's version of Hawaii: the landscape is very similar, with lush forests, volcanic beaches, and North Atlantic swells that make for a surfer's paradise.
The weather is also ideal for surfing, with mild temperatures and a moderate climate all year round — so there's no off season. Water temperatures range from about 17-22°C.
The best beaches for surfing can be found on São Miguel, São Jorge, and Terceira. Beginners can also find spots with smaller swells to test out the waters.
Dive into the deep
The island of Santa Maria is known for being one of the best spots in Europe for diving, thanks to its great positioning on the edge of the Dollabarat bank and the Formigas Nature Reserve.
Ambrosio Reef, just three miles off the coast, is one of the most visited areas. Here, you can spot giant manta rays, schools of large fish, and even whale sharks.
Go whale watching
The Azores was originally a popular spot for whale hunting, back in the 1800s when ships travelling over from America would stop at the archipelago en route. They would recruit people from the islands to join their whaling excursions, and the Azores were a whale-hunting hotspot until it was made illegal in 1984.
Shortly after this decree, the Azores shifted its focus onto a much more friendly and sustainable activity: whale watching. The islands are home to one of the world's largest whale sanctuaries, and more than two dozen different types of whale and dolphin species. The best place to see them is on the largest island, São Miguel, which has a number of local tour companies that can offer excellent excursions.
Ready to start planning a trip to the Azores? Find out more here.