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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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