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The Azores are a group of beautiful green Portuguese volcanic islands situated in the Atlantic ocean. They are also being called “Europe’s Hawaii” and are a nature lovers dream. In this blog post you will read all the best things to do on São Miguel island Azores combined with the best photography locations. The dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, waterfalls, thermal pools, green pastures, beautiful flowers and possibilities for whale watching, surfing and hiking makes the Azores one of the most diverse islands to visit in Europe. The Azores are a dream for nature lovers, landscape photographers, hikers and adventurers! 

Sao Miguel island weather

What is the best time to visit Azores? The best months to visit the Azores and to make the best photos are April, May, September and October. Also known as the ‘shoulder season’. The weather is fair and the islands are not too busy. The summer months, June, July and August are the warmest but also the busiest months with tourists.

During spring season all the flowers on the island are blooming and if you love whale watching and capturing them on camera, you can see a lot of different species in these months. If you’re lucky you can even spot orcas in March, April or May.

September and October still have warm temperatures but can vary more. Use the website Spot Azores to check the weather on every part of the island.

How to get to the Azores islands

By plane is the only option to get to the Azores. You can travel with a boat between the islands, but your trip has to start from the airport. You can fly with different airlines to the Azores. Check skyscanner.com for the cheapest flights.

How to get around on Sao Miguel island

Make sure you hire a car. The public transport is unreliable and you can get a lot easier around the island with your own transport. Also you can combine all the best photography locations much easier this way. We hired a car at Luso and were very happy with their service. With internet access, you can get anywhere with your best friend Google maps 🙂

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25 BEST THINGS TO DO ON SAO MIGUEL ISLAND

Learn more about the traditional products of São Miguel island

Tea Plantation Cha Gorreana

Europe’s oldest and currently only remaining Tea plantation is located on São Miguel Island Azores. The endless tea fields will remind some travelers of the Asian rice fields because of the layers of green. A photographers dream and for sure one of the best photography spots in the Azores! Especially when you have a drone. You can wander through the tea plantation to see the layers of green and also get a guided tour in the tea factory to learn more about the process of tea making.  

We made a short documentation video about the process (the first documentation we ever made!) Watch the video here.

Getting there: With your rental car, you can easily reach the tea fields as they are along the main road.

Entrance fee: Free, also the tour through the tea factory is free of charge. But don’t forget to drink a cup of tea in the restaurant, it’s delicious!

Best time to go for photos: Sunrise or sunset for the soft, orange tones above the tea fields. It’s also less crowded with tourists walking through the fields around that time.

Photo tip: If you have a drone, use it to photograph the beautiful layers of green. With your hand camera, you can walk to the top of the tea fields and take a shot sideways so you’ll see the depth of layers as well.

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Visit a pineapple plantation

Visiting a pineapple plantation is one of the things you must do when visiting Sao Miguel island. It is the only place in the world where pineapples are grown in greenhouses and along on Sã Miguel island there are over 6,000 pineapple plantations! But not many are open to the public. Arruda Pineapple Plantation in Ponta Delgada is one of the plantations which is open for self guided tours. You can scan QR codes to inform you about the growing process of pineapples. This is ideal because then you can determine your own speed through the plantation. Afterwards you can order a drink or food in the restaurant. 

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Try the typical Cozido dish in Furnas 

If you’re visiting Furnas, you can’t miss trying the typical Cozido dish. Cozido das Furnas is so unique because it is only made in this particular town, due to its geothermal conditions. “Cozido” is a traditional Portuguese dish consisting of various meats such as bacon, ribs, chicken, a typical Portuguese blood sausage and vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes and carrots. When all the ingredients are placed in a large pot it is then placed underground and cooked by the steam from the hot springs. In about five hours the meal is slowly cooked and therefore has a very soft structure. 

cozido-furnas

São Miguel island viewpoints

Look out over Sete Cidades Lake at Vista Do Rei

This natural viewpoint gives you the best unobstructed view over the crater lake of the “Sete Cidades”. One of Portugal’s 7 natural wonders, also known as one of the most beautiful landscapes of Sao Miguel island. Vista do Rei is also closely located to an abandoned hotel which you can enter easily. From that abandoned hotel you will have a beautiful view over Sete Cidades lake as well. Around Sete Cidades you will find some of the best hiking trails in Sao Miguel Azores.

Getting there: Located at the west part of the island, the Vista do Rei viewpoint over Sete Cidades can be easily reached by car. There are enough parking spots for your car or scooter.

Best time for photos: Sunset. Because this viewpoint is located on the west side of the island you will have beautiful soft sunset tones, if it’s not too cloudy of course.

Photo tip: Try to avoid the middle of the day because the light is too harsh and there are just too many tourists at that moment. Also, try to be creative with your framing though flowers for example.

vista do reis viewpoint best photography spots sao miguel Azores
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Explore the abandoned Monte Palace hotel

On the rim of the extinct volcano near Sete Cidades lake lies an abandoned eerie hotel where nature is taking over. Surrounded by vibrant green vegetation that surrounds the carcass of what must have been a luxury hotel. You can enter the abandoned building and walk around. But make sure to check where you walk. From the upper level you will have wonderful views over Sete Cidades lake. We could only imagine how beautiful the views could have been from the rooms… 

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monte-palace-hotel-sao-miguel

Boca do Inferno viewpoint

This is one of the, if not THE, most famous viewpoint of the Azores. Therefore it is also one of the best photography spots of the Azores, and in particular on Sao Miguel island. A picture perfect trail with stunning views on the several crater lakes around the Sete Cidades will give you the “Europe’s Hawaii” perfect picture. Go with sunrise or sunset for the best light.

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Getting there: The Boca do Inferno viewpoint requires a short hike from the dirt parking lot (no fee). There are two possibilities, one parking area is located on the side of the main road where the trail begins, but you also might have the chance that the iron gate with a sign for Lagoa do Canario is open. Drive through the gate all the way to the end of the dirt road. Parking there is also free and the hike to the viewpoint will be even shorter.

Best time for photos: Sunset because the viewpoint is located on the west side of the island you’ll have stunning soft light shining into the crater lake.

Photo tip: Besides coming with sunset, try several angles to challenge yourself to be more creative, and when you have a drone you’ll get the beautiful bird’s eye view of the crater lakes. Some clouds may pass by, take advantage of this by taking some moody photo’s or even shoot a time lapse of the clouds passing

We made a short video of this beautiful place. Watch it HERE!

boca do inferno azores best photography spots

Farol do Arnel viewpoint Nordeste

A great stop along the road just out of Nordeste town is at Farol de Arnel. Here you will have beautiful views once you reach the bottom of the road. A small fishing village, rugged coastline with black sand and rock beaches and a pretty waterfall (if it flows). Especially during sunrise this is a great viewpoint to enjoy the first lightrays of the day.

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Watch sunset at Mosteiros beach

Mosteiros is a lovely little parish located on the north western corner of São Miguel Island. The black sand beach and interesting volcanic rocks in the ocean are facing west, so Mosteiros is a perfect place to watch the sunset on Sao Miguel island. With a few local restaurants around you can have a great meal after spending sunset time on the beach in Mosteiros. 

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Visit Vila Franco do Campo

The small parish of Vila Franca do Campo is a great stopover when you travel between the capital Ponta Delgada and the thermal spa town of Furnas in the north-east of Sao Miguel island. It has some fun points of interest to explore such as the 15th-century church of São Miguel, Nossa Senhora and the spectacular southern shoreline. From the village you can see Villa Franca islet which is an inhabited small island formed by the crater of an old underwater volcano. The island is now classified as a nature reserve and is one of São Miguel’s main tourist attractions.

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Visit the Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias

The unique abandoned Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias situated on the west shore of the Furnas Lake is an impressive neo-Gothic building. The church was built in the 19th century by José do Canto and according to his wish, he was buried alongside his wife in the chapel. The Nossa Senhora chapel is some of the most evocative churches in the whole archipelago and absolutely worth a visit. 

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Waterfalls São Miguel island

Salto do Cabrito waterfall

This waterfall is part of a geothermal power plant station. You will find the waterfall immediately if you walk along the building of the power plant station which is located at the parking area. But you can also follow the trail of PRC29SMI towards the waterfall through the lush mountains along the pipes of the geothermal power plant station. Notice that if you go by car you need to walk the same way back to your starting point.

Getting there: There are two possibilities, or you follow the signs from the main road to the dirt road where you can park the car close to the waterfall, or you follow hike PRC29SMI over the pipelines of the Hydroelectric Power Plant until you arrive at the waterfall.

Best time for photos: In the morning for the nice sun flare.

Photo tip: Make a long exposure to soften the water, and if you get there around 11 AM the sun will shine through the cove above the waterfall which can give you a nice sun flare if you love that in your pictures.

salto do cabrito waterfall azores

Salta da Farinha waterfall

Lesser known and therefore a more hidden gem. We didn’t hear about this place until we went to Poco Azul and saw the signs Salta da Farinha waterfall. We followed the signs and drove down with the car in the direction of the sea. There we saw the signs at the start of a short, beautiful trail to the waterfall. It was very quiet there, we had the place all for ourselves which was not the case with the other waterfalls.

Getting there: Follow the signs of Salta da Farinha and combine it with a visit to Poco Azul.

Best time for photos: In the rainy season there will be 2 streams of water, so it’s a bit more impressive for your photos. Of course, morning light or around sunset will do the best for soft lighting in your picture.

Photo tip: Make a long exposure or when you have a drone try to find another perspective of this waterfall! Also, try to make some photos close to the ground so you play a bit with the perspective of the waterfalls hight.

salty da farinha waterfall Sao Miguel Azores best photography spots

Ribeira dos Caldeiros park

Located right next to the main road, and part of the nature park called “Ribeira dos Caldeiros” you can’t miss this beautiful waterfall. This place is still one of the hidden gems of Portugal and well worth a visit. You don’t have to hike towards the waterfall, just park your car and enjoy the beauty of the nature park. The Ribeira dos Caldeiros waterfall creates beautiful shapes when it seeps down the rocks. Great for photos! Besides that you can explore the protected park along the cobbled path which is surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees, moss-covered cliffs and giant ferns.

Getting there: Very easy to find when you tell Google maps to go to Ribeira dos Caldeiros nature park.

Best time to go for photos: Morning because it’s less crowded with people and again the best light.

Photo tip: Try to get a nice framing with other flowers or leaves, or try to make a long exposure which will do very well at this place!

ribeira dos caldeiros waterfall Sao Miguel Azores best photography spots

Salto do Prego waterfall

You have to do something to get rewarded with this beautiful waterfall. It takes 2 kilometers hiking through the beautiful lush mountains to get to this place. After the pretty steep hike, you can take a dip in the cool refreshing waters. You can continue the hike to another waterfall if you have time and energy left!

Getting there: Located on the east side of the island you can easily combine it with a trip to Furnas. Again Google maps will show you the way to the parking lot, and the last two kilometers must be done by walking.

Best time for photos: This waterfall is more popular, so if you want the place for yourself, go early in the morning or just have some luck.

Photo tip: The sun can shine a bit through the trees which makes the light on the waterfall a bit blown out by the sun, being another reason to come in the morning or afternoon! Try to be creative with your angle at this waterfall, there is enough space!

salto do prego waterfall sao miguel azores best photography spots

Whale watching Sao Miguel island

One of the must things to do during your holidays in the Azores is whale watching in Sao Miguel. There are 24 species of dolphins and whales that you can see around the islands of the Azores. If you want to go whale watching, you can book a whale watching tour at all the islands of the Azores. We went with Moby Dick on Sao Miguel island and it was a beautiful experience!

Of course it depends on the season if you are lucky enough to see whales. The best time to spot whales is around spring and summer (April, May, June and July). Four species swim in the waters around the Azores all year long. The common-dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, the Riso’s dolphin and the sperm whale. Orcas, humpbacks, Fin whale and the Blue whale can also be seen here, but the chances are very small and you need to visit in April, May to have the biggest chance. Read everything about whale watching in the Azores in this blog post.

Getting there: Go to the pier with your own transport where you will board the boat for the whale watching experience.

Best time for photos: The morning light will give a subtile and soft glow to your photos. Also the morning might be the best option to spot whales because they are active in search of food.

Price: Between $35 en $55 depending on the company you book with.

Photo tip: It is very important to shoot with a fast shutter speed. The whales and dolphins may move pretty quick, and you don’t want blurry pictures right? Also a telelens will be your best friend during this activity as the whales or dolphins might be a bit far away.

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whale-dolphin-watching-azores-blog

Rent a kayak

Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore São Miguel island from a different perspective. There are a few spots where you can rent a kayak or do a kayak tour such as at Sete Cidades lake and at Vila Franca do Campo where you can paddle along the unique coastline.

Relax on the Sao Miguel beaches

In between all the activities that you can do on Sao Miguel island, it sometimes also is a great idea to just take it all in on the beach. Luckily there are some great beaches on Sao Miguel island. Either on the north or south coast you can find some great beaches to relax. Most of them have some facilities around such as restaurants and showers. Always keep in mind that the Atlantic Ocean can be rough, so don’t go swimming if the waves are too big. 

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Visit Furnas Sao Miguel

Furnas is the centre of São Miguel’s geothermal activity. Here you can see the bubbling volcanic hot spring pools, small geysers, mineral springs and witness how the locals cook Cozido stew with the help of earth’s steam. Furnas has a lot of activities to offer such as hiking along the Furnas Lake, relaxing in the hot springs and visiting the volcanic sites called Caldeiras das Furnas. Here you can see the mud springs, hot water creeks and tiny geysers. It is a moon like landscape and a very beautiful sight with the contrast of the green hills. 

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Fogo lake

It’s in the name… Very often you will see a lot of fog at Fogo lake because it is located 575 meter above sea level. The fog can make your pictures interesting, however sometimes the lake isn’t even visible, so keep an eye on the Spot Azores website for the weather forecast. The lake is surrounded with beautiful pine trees and has an interesting shape. Take advantage of that for your pictures!

Getting there: The lake is very easy to reach because it is located right next to the road. You can choose to take a walk towards the water, or just stay at the viewpoint and make your shots.

Best time for photos: This really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want the soft tones you have to go for sunrise or sunset, but always keep in mind that the weather is unpredictable in the Azores.

Photo tip: If it’s cloudy or foggy, take advantage of it! Make a time-lapse of the fog or clouds rolling over the lake. Or just create a moody shot of the grey sky. There are several viewpoints where you can hike to for a different perspective of the lake. Also if you have a drone you will love the view from above!

fogo-lake

Admire the beautiful Igreja de São Nicolau

The beautiful small Catholic Church in Sete Cidades is typical for the Azores. With white walls and grey volcanic stone and flanked by pine trees along the path, this photogenic church is a must visit when you’re in Sete Cidades.

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Poco Azul emerald lake

Crystal clear blue water and jungle vibes after a 20-30 min hike to this little lake. Worth it to spend some time and taking a few shots. You can even take a dip in the water if you’re feeling overheated of the hike.

Getting there: Google maps will bring you to the parking lot, and after that, you need to walk for 20-30 min. Notice that the way towards the lake is going down, so ensure you have enough energy for the hike back up!

Best time for photos: You might see some people at this place, so again in the morning you’ll have the best chance of being alone at this spot and take all your time to make your perfect shot. There won’t be too much daylight here shining through the trees, so you don’t have to worry too much about harsh sunlight.

Photo tip: Play with the space you have, try different perspectives and angles, be creative!

poco azul sao miguel azores best photography spots

Explore the Terra Nostra garden and thermal pool

The Terra Nostra park is part of the same named Furnas boutique hotel and is a huge botanical garden spread out over an area of 12.5 hectares. It consists of a big thermal swimming pool, various plants and flowers and hundred-year-old trees. You can visit Parque Terra Nostra Gardens for 8 euro per person to enjoy the beautiful garden and swimming pool. But when you stay in Terra Nostra Garden hotel then the gardens and pool are your backyard! 

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Visit the Jardim Botânico José do Canto

In Ponta Delgada you can find a botanical garden with free entrance where you can enjoy beautiful species of trees, plants and flowers. It is a lovely walk in the picturesque city of Ponta Delgada and you can find a beautiful old tree with interesting roots. One of the great free things to do in São Miguel. 

Jardim Botânico José do Canto

Visit the peaceful Caldeira Velha

Another great hot spring pool is Caldeira Velha which is part of a Natural Monument with a short nature trail leading to the hot springs. There you can find 3 warm man-made thermal pools and 1 natural waterfall pool. Due to the iron water thanks to the volcanic activity, the water is not only warm but also has a therapeutic effect. The natural surroundings are beautiful and look as if they come straight out of a fairytale. 

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Relax at Poça da Dona Beija

Visiting some of the thermal baths is a must when you’re on Sao Miguel. Poça da Dona Beija is some of the great places where you can enjoy the therapeutic effect of the hot volcanic waters. Here you will find 4 different hot spring pools with waterfalls. The surrounding area is beautiful with lots of trees and nature around. A perfect place to relax after a day of exploring. 

Poça-da-Dona-Beija-
Poça-da-Dona-Beija

More Portugal travel inspiration

We hope you are inspired to go to the Azores after reading this complete guide about the best things to do on São Miguel island!

For more Portugal inspiration and all our travel tips, head over to our blog section about Portugal.

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