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Continuing where we left off last time, here are the other things about the Azores I desperately don’t want to tell you about but my stupid conscience forces me to.
Miradouro in Portuguese means “view point” and boy are there a ton of picturesque Miradouros in Sao Miguel.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
Of all the hikes we did in Sao Miguel, this one is my favourite. It also has the quintessential Azores view.
If you’re driving or taking the taxi, there’s a parking lot right across the street from the “Miradouro da Lagoa do Canario.” Park and simply walk across the street and enter the gate where you see the sign “Lagoa do Canario.” It’s not really a strenuous walk and you’ll get to Miradouro da Boca do Inferno within 30 mins.
Since you’ll pass by it anyway, take a quick detour to the Lagoa do Canario.
Lagoa do Fogo
The top two ways to do the hike around Lagoa do Fogo (aka “Lake of Fire”) start from…
- Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo
- Inicio Ruto PRC02 SMI (That’s the literal name of the hike)
The first one starts at the top of the mountain on the northwest side and the second one at the bottom on the south side.
Miradouro da Lagoa
The shorter of the two, this hike only takes 30 mins each way and it’s a basically a staircase winding down to the lake.
Inicio Ruto PRC02 SMI Lagoa do Fogo
This more challenging hike will take you a good 4 hours round trip (around 11.5km total). You’ll want to bring lots of water, a packed lunch, some trail mix, and tons of water as there aren’t any stores or restaurants along the way.
There are 3 sections to this trail. The first one is the most gruelling, taking around 45-60 mins and it’s a pretty steep climb without many interesting things to look at. But it definitely helps you feel accomplished once you conquer this section.
The 2nd section gets more interesting, with a lot of Japanese cedar trees and an aqueduct that winds around the mountain next to the trail.
The final section is the best and has the most incredible views of the mountains that makes the first section worth it.
Most people simply just drive to Furnas lake from the town, but we found a better, more challenging, secret hike way to get there. It’ll take you around 1.5 hours one way (3 hours round trip) and there is a bit of steep climb for 20 mins, but the accomplishment you’ll feel at the end will be so worth it. Plus, few people know about it. Most people drive and park near the Jardim da Lagoa das Furnas. This hike ends up at the Grena park side of the lake.
Start at the Repsol gas station in Furnas at EN1-1A street. Walk straight and head to the small street behind the gas station. Keep walking uphill on this street until you come to a clearing.
Continue walking on this circular paved road in the clearing until you see this:
Climb up this steep hill and take a left at the fork at the top of the hill. At this point you’ll be going down hill on a trail towards the water.
And voila! You’ve reached Furnas lake!
There, wasn’t that so much more satisfying than taking a cab?
The food in Ponta Delgata and Furnas on Sao Miguel completely blew my mind. Most of the time islands have way crappier food than the mainland, but not here. In fact, I ate better here than I did on mainland Portugal (and I’ve been to many cities and towns on the mainland). Here are some of the places you can get some delectable treats on Sao Miguel.
A Tasca (Tapas)
This restaurant is a complete mystery to me because it’s so popular and yet so cheap. If you don’t show up at 11:30 AM for lunch or 5 PM for dinner, the wait time will be at least an hour to get in. It’s full of locals and the food is delicious and some of the best we had on the entire island, and not only that, pretty much all of Portugal.
Some of the tasty dishes here we’ve had include…
Prego (tenderized beef sandwich): €4.20
Octopus salad: €4.80
Chicharros (fried sardines): €5
Fresh tuna steak: €5
Now, I’m not usually a fan of burgers but since my friend, Mrs. Wow, recommended it, I had to try it out.
It did not disappoint! Of all of the burgers I’ve had in my life, this was one of the best. The meat was fresh so you could order it rare, and it was so juicy and soft it melted in your mouth.
It also came with your choice of fries or salad. Both were excellent and it was €7-9 (depending on the type of burger) for a meal.
Something that’s as memorable as the food on Sao Miguel is the people. The owner, Sonia, treated us like family, and not only gave us free booze (passion fruit and pineapple liquor, which are specialties on the island), but big food portions and even bigger hugs. If only all restaurant experiences could leave you feeling this welcome and at home.
We ordered the tuna steak (€18), octopus salad (€9), chicharros (€5) and everything was delectable and in huge portions
Bolos Lêvedos – Glória Moniz Cafe
An adorable café in someone’s backyard, this place produces the best version of my favourite Azorean food of all time: Bolos.
Since my Asian genes gave me a bit of a wheat sensitivity, I can’t eat much bread without running to the bathroom every 5 mins. But this fluffy, cloud-like sweet bread made all the extra spending on toilet paper worth it!
Don’t ever leave Azores without trying their Bolo bread. It’s addictive!
Caldeiras e Vulcões Restaurant
Another unique dish you shouldn’t leave the Azores without trying (especially if you’re into Paleo diets like me) is the Cozido.
A special strew, made up of an assortment of meat and veggies such as pork, blood sausage, beef, chicken, cabbage, and potatoes, this Azorean delicacy is slow-cooked to perfection for 6-8 hours inside an actual volcano! They lower a covered pot into a hole underground and it’s steamed by geothermal heat.
Now, you’d think it would taste like sulphur, but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s tender and smoky, and one of the most unique dishes I’ve ever had and will never be able to replicate because I don’t have a freaking volcano handy every time I cook. Sigh.
Now, be careful when you order Cozido as the portions are GINORMOUS! And not only that, it came with a side of rice, potatoes, and taro. A two people portion (€22) fed 4 people for 2 meals. Make sure you bring family and friends to share!
We also ordered something called “Lapas” (pronounced “la-pah-shh”) or limpets for €10, another Azorean delicacy. They taste like tiny abalone but are way cheaper. And if you’ve never had abalone, it’s like a chewy clam, served with garlic and butter.
I would’ve thought something this beautiful, warm, welcoming, and unique would be mobbed with tourists and come with a hefty price tag. But Sao Miguel, Azores ended up being one of the places with the best value for money.
Us and 4 other Chautauquans went during shoulder season, we were able to score a 3-bedroom 2-bath apartment in Ponta Delgata. Split between 3 couples, we ended up paying only $800 USD or $1000 CAD per couple for the entire month.
The AirBnb was newly renovated, spacious, clean, and only 15 mins walk into downtown. It even came with weekly cleaning service, free of charge.
Since I needed one extra night before flying out, we grabbed a room in a 4-star hotel for just €34/night, taxes and fees included. Rooms in this hotel normally go for €165/night. Even if you’re not staying in the hotel, you can get a massage there for €35-40 for 1 hour and use their pool and hot tub afterwards.
Since Uber isn’t available in Sao Miguel, we used cabs for some trips to Furnas from Ponta Delgata, which cost €35 each way. Split across 6 people, that ended up being only around €12 per person per round trip, and we only ended up need it a handful of times. We later found a local car rental company that rented us a 7-seater van for €50 per day. Once we factored in gas, it was pretty similar in price to a cab but we had the freedom to drive to multiple sightseeing points on the island.
Travelling with friends and splitting transportation and accommodation costs helped us save a ton of money. Bonus points since those friends are Chautauquans who are great at price optimization. We also saved a buttload on exchange fees because we used our multi-currency Wise card (check out our review here) and on our low-cost travel insurance (only $42 USD per person per month) from SafetyWing (full disclosure: these are affiliate links and I will get a small commission if you use them).
Now I understand why Portuguese Canadians love to retire in Sao Miguel, Azores. Even though it’s the same latitude as Toronto, it never snows and still hovers around 8-10 degrees even in winter. So not only is the weather great, it’s got great food, amazing nature, hot springs, and fantastic value. I would put it on my list of retirement places in addition to Thailand.
Now, obviously no place is perfect and there was one big pet peeve that may cause you to think twice about going. And that’s the sidewalks. Sidewalks in Sao Miguel are virtually non-existent. Especially in Ponta Delgata, where every time a car drives past, you feel like you’re in mortal danger of losing a shoulder to its sideview mirror. So even though everything in Sao Miguel was within walking distance, it was a never-wracking experience just walking through the winding streets. Not a deal breaker for me, but (hopefully) a deal breaker for you?
If you still absolutely must go to Azores, then go during high season (June-Aug) and leave the shoulder and low seasons alone. Only idiot bloggers go to the Azores outside that time range, so promise me you won’t, k?
Here’s how much we spent on Sao Miguel island in the Azores. All numbers are per day.
|Cost in USD per couple
|Cost in CAD per couple
|We were able to use economy of scale and split the cost 3 ways with 2 other couples, which ended up working really well. We tested living together with this group by renting out a cabin for a week the previous year, so we knew everyone would get along.
|We alternated between taking turns cooking big family meals for all 6 of us and eating out. Overall, we ended up spending the most in the food category because there were so many good restaurants in Ponta Delgata. We couldn’t help but pig out! Good thing we did so many hikes or none of my clothes would fit right now.
|Our flight to Sao Miguel was paid with points, so there was no cost to get there. In fact, in the end, we actually got paid to fly there because the airline changed our flight schedule twice, so they had to compensate us.
We saved a ton by splitting the cost of taxis and rentals cars with other friends. We only needed taxis 4 times during the month, a rental car twice, and each time we could split the cost across 6 people, so the total cost of €329.25 over the month divided by 6 people average out to €1.83 ( $2 USD or $2.52 CAD) per person per day. That’s $4 USD or $5.04 CAD/couple/day. It likely would’ve cost more had it just been the two of us and if we hadn’t slow travelled, spreading out the cost out over a whole month. That being said, I did see lots of good deals on rental cars for €19 Euros per day.
Ponta Delgata and Furnas were also very walkable so most of the time we didn’t need taxis, buses, or rental cars.
|Entertainment is quite cheap or free in Sao Miguel with plenty of hikes and hot springs that only cost €3-10/person. We ended up going to the paid hot springs 5 times in total during the month and the hot ocean and foot soak bath for free. This €74 total for the month per couple averages out to only $2.70 USD/couple/day or $3.40 CAD/couple/day. You can also visit pineapple farms for free and they even give you free pineapple liqueur to try!
|We spent €60 on three 1 hour lessons to learn how to drive standard. This will be useful in helping us cut the cost of rental cars by 50% going forward since automatic cars are double the cost of manuals in Europe. We also rented a manual car for a day and added every insurance known to man and split the cost (€70) between 4 friends (€17.50 each) so we could all practice without worrying. This €95 total for the month per couple, averaged out to be $3.47 USD or $4.37 CAD per couple per day. Worth every penny.
We also bought travel insurance from SafetyWing at $84 USD/couple/month, so averaged over the month that’s $2.8 USD/couple/day or $3.53 CAD/couple/day.
Data from Airalo for the month cost us only $10 USD for 5 GB, which averages out to only $0.33 USD/couple/day or $0.42 CAD/couple/day
|Sao Miguel turned out to be astonishingly cheap! So, please don’t tell your friends and family about this to keep it that way. Tell them it’s rainy, cold, and dangerous and that the Caribbean is a much better choice.
What do you think? Would you ever go to Sao Miguel? Have you been to the other islands in the Azores?
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