Let’s Go Exploring! Please Don’t Go to the Azores

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After 2 years of having our wings clipped, we’re finally freeeeeeeee!

Before the pandemic, our passports were our most prized possessions. We never went anywhere without them, constantly worried about losing them, and every now and then took them out of their protective travel cases and flipped through their pages lovingly, admiring all the visa stamps.

In the past 2 years, they’ve been sadly gathering dust in a drawer, neglected, and forgotten. I didn’t think they’d ever see the light of day again. In fact, after we bought our plane tickets recently, I nearly tore apart my Toronto rental apartment because I’d forgotten where I put them.

Oh my poor Pass-Porty-Port, I promise to never abandon you again.

Who’s a good passport? You are. Yes you are.

Uh-hem. Anyhoo…so as you may have guessed, we’re travelling again!

After holding in the travel urge for a whole two years, I was finally able to scratch my itchy feet by heading for…

Sao Miguel island in the Azores!

Now, I have to admit, before writing this blog, I’d never even heard of the Azores. It wasn’t until a reader posted on my Iceland post, saying “if you like hot springs, you should go to the Azores” that it even entered my radar. So, thank you, awesome reader, for telling us about it.

To be honest, I debated hard about writing this post. I’m the type of person who, upon discovering something she loves, can’t help but shout about it from the roof tops. But a louder voice in my head shouted, “IDIOT, SHUT UP! Don’t TELL people! Do you want this place to be overrun with tourists like Iceland?” I desperately wanted to emphasize how much it rains here and how much you’ll hate it so I could keep it all to myself and my friends. But because I’m a dumbass who can’t even lie properly, here’s the truth:

As much as it pains me to tell you, the Azores ended up being one of the most underrated (my favourite type), best places in the world.

Here’s why:

Hot Springs

We got addicted to natural hot springs after visiting Germany, Iceland, Taiwan, and Costa Rica. So, as soon as I heard that Furnas (pronounced “fur-nah-shh”) on Sao Miguel Island was famous for its many hot springs, I immediately booked our Airbnb.  

Just to clarify for those who’ve never been there, the Azores (pronounced “Ah-ssor-esh”) is a group of Portuguese islands (or “archipelago” if you want to be nerdy about it) located between North America and Europe. We went to the biggest island called Sao Miguel and stayed in 3 different places: Ponta Delgada, Vila Franca do Campo, and Furnas.

*end geography lesson*

Now what was I saying?

Oh right. Hot springs. So, of all the hot springs in Sao Miguel we visited, here are our top three:

Terra Nostra

The biggest of all the hot springs, you can pamper yourself all day in this massive Olympic pool-sized hot spring smack dab in the middle of a fancy park made for a princess. You don’t even need to shell out 200+ a night for the 5-star hotel on site, just use their 3 thermal pools for the low low price of only 10 euros for the entire day.

The park even comes with a head gardener who lives in a mansion with his entire team of staff on site to maintain the property! Daammn! Portugese gardeners are baller.

The only weird thing is the color of the water, which is a murky yellow due to its iron content, so make sure you don’t wear a brand-new bathing suit because it will get stained. And if that’s not your jam, fear not. There are two other jacuzzi style hot springs you can use:

Even if you’re not into hot springs, Terra Nostra is worth going to, even just to walk around and admire the grounds. After travelling to nearly 50 countries, this is one of my favourite parks of all time.

Poça da Dona Beija

With its 5 thermal pools of varying temperatures, and even one with a hot waterfall you can sit and meditate behind, this place will relax you and make your skin feel smoother than a baby dophin’s bum.

For only 6 Euros, you get 1.5 hours of blissful relaxation.

Poça da Tia Silvina

This little gem is a natural foot bath that we stumped upon while walking beside a river. Clearly only the locals knew about it because we never heard English spoken once by other people every time we went there. As an added bonus, it was completely deserted in the middle of the day, so we had it all to ourselves. Perfect for soaking our feet after a long day of hiking, no admission required.

Getting to all 3 thermal pools in Furnas is easy and all within walking distance if you’re staying in Furnas. Even if you’re staying the main city of Ponta Delgata, you can still get to Furnas via the bus for 4.25 Euros/person.

Here’s the central bus station in Furnas where you can pick up a detailed map of bus routes around the island:

The other two hot springs we went to were:

Termas das Caldeira

This was the smallest, least expensive of the bunch. With only 2 pools (oh the horror!) behind what looks like someone’s house-turned-spa, it felt like going to a backyard pool party.

But at 3 Euros per hour, the price can’t be beat. The staff were even nice enough let us stay as long as we wanted when it wasn’t busy.

Getting there was a bit of pain though since it’s not close to any major attractions, so you have to drive.

Caldeira Velha

This was the most touristy of the spas (nearly everyone around us spoke English in the pools) and the most crowded. The pricing model was also weird in that they charged 8 Euros for a 2-hour slot, but if you’re not there at the beginning of the slot, you just lose out on the time. I tried calling them ahead of time and booking online without any luck so we decided to wing it and just walk there after a hike down into Lagoa do Fogo. Since we arrived 30 mins after the start of their slot, we only got 1.5 hours. The slots for the rest of the day were completely full.

Admittedly, this one has the greenest, lushest nature surrounding it. You feel like you’re in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest and there’s even a natural waterfall you can cool off in, in additional to 3 different pools. It seems to appeal to Instragrammers and Tiktokers but wasn’t what I would call relaxing. It also wasn’t easy to get to without driving, was way too crowded, felt very rushed, and I both my friend and I got a rash from the water afterwards. Worth trying at least once but I wouldn’t go back.

And last but not least, the most unique hot spring wasn’t even a hot spring at all. It was a—get this—a hot OCEAN.

Say what?

Ponta da Ferraria

Yup. This outdoor thermal pool is literally the ocean. I’ve never heard of anything like this outside of the Azores, and it’s a natural phenomenal you need to experience at least once in your life.

In this northwest part of the island there’s a volcano under the ocean that warms up part of the water. So, when you’re submerged, you feel simultaneously hot and cold—like the lyrics of this Katy Perry song. It’s not exactly relaxing, since, you know, it’s the freaking ocean and there are waves, but if you wear water shoes or Velcro sandals some parts are shallow enough for you to stand. There are also ropes in the water for you to hold on to. If you like the feeling of being inside tossed around in a natural wave pool, this attraction is for you.

Try to go during low tide for a more comfortable experience, here’s a chart that shows the timing of the tides.

This hot ocean wasn’t as easy to get to as Furnas because you have to drive to the west most point of the island, but can easily be combined with a hike in Sete Cidades (seven cities—the location of the most scenic of all the hikes) if you rent a car.

Ok, I realize that this post has gone on for far too long, and I still have so much more to tell you about the Azores that I’ll have to break this into multiple parts.

Next time we’ll talk about the food and the value. I didn’t think an island would be cheap compared to mainland Portugal, but somehow it is. Stay tuned for Part 2 for a detailed breakdown of how much we spent.

Crap, I just realized I’m gushing way too much. That’s why I wrote this misleading title in the hopes that some of you won’t read the post and just decide not to go to the Azores.  In the interest of not ruining this underrated hidden paradise, let’s just keep it between us, k? SHHHHHHH.

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52 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Please Don’t Go to the Azores”

  1. The Azores was already on our list but now you have clinched it by talking about the hot springs! So we will eventually ignore your advice to not go 😉

    We just completed a 3 week trip to Spain…like you, it was great to dust off our passports after a 27 month hibernation. Visited Granada, Sevilla, Toledo, and Madrid. We got some good insights from your travels there….no seafood tower in Madrid! And crazy enough, in Sevilla we saw one of the same ladies performing flamenco at the Plaza de Espana that was in the video you posted.

    We’re headed back to Europe in a month to go to Germany (Munich and Berlin) and then Iceland (tackling the whole ring road). So happy to be doing international travel again!

    1. Very nice to read your experience about Spain visit. Did you take a tour or did you explore by yourselves? We are contemplating a 10 day tour to Spain and Portugal and would love to have your input about your vacation.
      Thanks a lot!

    2. “So we will eventually ignore your advice to not go”

      Damn it! Me and my big stupid mouth. *sigh* If you must, enjoy Azores, I guess.

      Glad you’re travelling again. And super cool that you saw the same flamenco dancer!

  2. The Azores is the most scenic place that I have visited. Even the cows enjoy spectacular views grazing at pasture. I could also go on at length about how wonderful my visit was. This is where we are sailing to when the world goes to shit. Should I have already left?

  3. I’m psyched for you that you got to jump back into intercontinental travel! I’ve only done hot springs once, on a random trip to Wyoming, and it was magnificent. Thanks for the tip that I will definitely ignore because nobody should go to the Azores. How tricky is it if one’s português is nonexistent?

    1. Just knowing some basic phrases of Portuguese is polite when traveling there but most people speak English, and even those who don’t are super welcoming and will explain things with hand gestures if need be. Generally, everyone we spoke to spoke English.

    1. *breathes a sigh of relief* Yes, please don’t go. It’s in the middle of nowhere anyways. You’ll hate it.

  4. Nice read. Happy to see you were able to dust off those passports. We have been touring Mexico since last June. Heading back to the U.S. to attend a wedding, then it’s off to Asia. Look forward to the rest of your report on the Azores. Safe travels.

  5. I thought you were going to say “Please don’t go to the Azores right now because of potential new volcanoes there” but I like the idea of keeping it low-key too! https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/azores-volcanic-island-hit-by-thousands-quakes-starts-evacuation-fears-grow-2022-03-24/
    I recently learned about the Azores through Diana Marcum’s wonderful travel book “The Tenth Island” which made me want to buy the next available ticket to the islands! Your post just cemented that goal. But I think I’ll wait until the earthquakes die down. 😉

    1. That’s a different island in the Azores (Sao Jorge not Sao Miguel). But yes, very dangerous. Tell all your friends and family all of Azores is dangerous so don’t go. Send them the article.

  6. How was the flight? Does anyone or everyone wear a mask? Do the flight staff wear masks? If wearing masks, do you have to drink your champagne through a straw? How do you eat an inflight meal, or do you just look at it until they take it away? And so on. Please do tell.

    1. Of course even on flights where the masks are mandatory (most flights in Europe at least up to now) you are allowed to take off your mask to eat and drink. 🙂

    2. Yes, everyone was wearing as mask (it’s mandatory) but you’re allowed to take off the mask to drink or to eat. The flight was fine. Everyone was required to do a PCR test and get negative results before boarding. I think they’ve even dropped that requirement now.

      1. Thanks for the info. We haven’t been to the Azores yet, but I’m sure when we do, I’ll stub my toe on the leg of the bed and it’ll be the worst vacation of my life!

  7. We went to the Azores in March a several years back. It was cool, and rainy but my goodness loved the hot springs, the hiking, and the cheap, fresh food. And no tourists. We used our GPS to find a restaurant after hiking near Ste Cidades. It was called No Name restaurant on No Name road. A small mom and pop place, only locals there, no English spoken. But the food was good. We always laugh when we say we’d probably never be able to find it again. I’d love to go back in April when the wild flowers are in bloom.

  8. OMG OMG I want to go! I really want to get back to international travel generally (and Portugal and Spain are at the top of my list because they have high vax rates), and to take a much needed few months off work, I browsed for flights the other day, the usually $1400 flight from Australia to Europe was $1900! There are probably better deals at other airlines, but if I don’t use the credits I have they’ll expire, so looks like I have no choice but to pay through the nose, or to just wait and hope that prices fall 😡😡😡

    1. Hopefully only the FIRE people discover it. We can scare the “normies” from going there by emphasizing how dangerous it is.

  9. 👋 maybe it was intentional (less people to come visit???) but the island is São Miguel not San (Spanish).

    indeed a beautiful place!

  10. Headed there in about a week, very excited to spend a few weeks on Sao Miguel, Pico and hopefully Sao Jorge (depending on the volcano situation, but it’s not sounding good).

    We started in Canaries for a few weeks and now are in Madeira for 10 days, also highly recommend all of these islands! Oops, did I let out more secrets (that aren’t really secrets)?:)

    1. Stop in the westernmost island of Flores, you won’t regret it. If the Azores are the crown jewel of Europe then Flores is the precious stone in the crown.

    2. Let’s just agree to tell everyone to only go to Lisbon and Barcelona. No need to visit any of the Portuguese or Spanish islands. All boring and in the middle of nowhere anyways.

  11. Hi! As an Azorean, very grateful for your experience and explanation.
    The Terra Nostra water is that colour due to the high content in iron – not sulphur. One would melt if it were sulphur.
    I would recommend visiting some of the other 9 Azorean islands as well!
    Safe and happy travels!

    1. Ahh, ok. That makes sense. My Airbnb host wrote a note that says “please only use these towels for the hot spring because of the staining from the sulphur.” Must have been a lost in translation moment. Thanks for clarifying!

      Yes, definitely going to be back and see the other islands (but will tell everyone I’m going to Lisbon so they don’t follow me :P)

  12. Not everybody knows the facts, so sulphur takes the blame… 🙂
    Well, as long as you come back and enjoy – and tell a few selected people – I’m fine with it!

  13. I loved your article and as an Azorean from Pico, you have LOTS left to see and do! The wines, liquors and cheeses alone are a whole gastronomic tour beyond the obvious seafood. Unpretentious wholesome food plus alot of history that connects New England area and Hawaii!

  14. This is 100% our FIRE destination home. We absolutely loved it and could talk about it all day long. I can’t wait to see if your food experience was the same.

    1. Shall we build a FIRE commune in the Azores? Let’s tell all everyone else that it’s terrible and to never to go there.

  15. We were going to go there for our honeymoon last year (everything was booked including flights and hotel in 2020), but COVID hit and we had to change to the Bahamas because we didn’t want to get stuck there. But looking forward to part 2.

    1. Bahamas isn’t too bad of a consolation prize. Hopefully all the tourists will go to the Caribbean instead and forget all about the Azores 😉

  16. In Portugal right now and I must agree that their gardeners here are impeccable. Looks super sunny and comfy and definitely will put in our bucket list (without telling anyone else about it)!

  17. I have lots of family in Sao Miguel and much smaller/quieter but picturesque Santa Maria and visit often. We are considering moving there.

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