Wow. Just, wow. As an avid walker, I knew I’d love hiking in São Miguel, but after my second day I already wanted to stay way longer than the week I planned. Lush green hills, oceanviews galore, and hikes that make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale — there is so much to this tiny island. My visit was over winter so no swimming for me, but everything else can be experienced year round and is just as fun.
Other than tossing in a swimsuit if you’re there for summer, here are my top prepping tips for your hiking trip to São Miguel no matter the season. Because, let me tell you, you definitely want to visit. It’s so beautiful!
1: Always keep a rain jacket handy
This is just a good idea no matter where you go, but in the Azores you can be enjoying the sunshine when BAM! the rain hits and then is gone ten minutes later. No joke, you never really know when it’s going to rain, and that’s the same between towns as well. You could head out in perfect weather and get to your destination only to wish for your wellies.
I used an app called SpotAzores that shows live videos of areas around the island so you can see what the weather’s doing before you go. But never let the rain stop you, because the fog can add a little extra magic for your walk.
2: Hiking shoes are a must
There are so many beautiful places to hike around the island and each one has its own incredible views. Take in the huge caldera of Sete Cidades, the peaks from Pico da Vara, the moss covered forest near Cascata do Porto Formoso, or simply the emerald-green farm fields seen from almost anywhere on the island. No matter what, you’ll be grateful for proper shoes when you come across the inevitable rocky and steep sections.
You can do any of the trails in running shoes but a pair of well-worn hiking boots is better, especially if you end up going when it’s muddy. There may also be poop along the way that you step in because you’re mesmerized by the blues and greens ahead as opposed to what’s at your feet… not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
3: Pack some nose plugs
Okay, you don’t actually need nose plugs because you get used to the smell quickly, but what a smell it is! One island highlight is a visit to Furnas with its many geothermal pools but the sulphur from those naturally-heated waters gives off that oh-so-familiar fart fug. Don’t worry, your senses adjust and each pool is just as interesting as the next so it’s worth every sniff.
You can’t get too close to these pools but there is a little one along the river in town known as the lava-pés where local people sit and soak their feet. It’s across from a pretty park so if you’re like me and can’t handle the heat, you can dip your feet in the river running beside it instead. Furnas has the most geothermal pools but there are a bunch of different hot spots around the island. Some even come equipped with an underground BBQ which leads happily to my next tip.
4: Bring your appetite
Food options are in no short supply here but one of the most desirable dishes is meat stew cooked underground by volcanic heat. Who wouldn’t want to brag about eating a volcanically cooked meal? If you go in summer and are lucky, you may come across a party at a public cooking ground and snag an invite.
Another popular order is a bifana, which is a pork sandwich with a seasoned garlic sauce that sounds so simple but tastes so good.
And speaking of simple, be sure to make your way to a bakery for bolos lêvedos. These sweet breads are only available on the island and are absolutely delicious! They look like a larger english muffin but taste nothing like one.
For the chocoholics out there, you must also get your hands on the heavenly fudge balls known as brigadeiros and make the Homer Simpson drool face in real life. The local O Chocolatinho shop is where you’ll find all of the Azores confections. Hot chocolate, cakes, truffles, basically whatever your chocolate craving desires.
And when you need to come down from your sugar high, stroll to a local tea farm to try some flavours grown and mixed locally. There are a few Fábrica de Chás to choose from, and if you time it right you could get a tour of the whole process. Even if you don’t, it’s worth picking up some soothing sachets to keep the island memories alive back home.
5: Prepare to moooooo-ve over
Yep, even this little island has traffic jams but probably not the kind you’d expect. On scenic drives around the island it’s pretty common to come across a cattle farmer moving their herd to a new field. Let me tell you, those cows are in no hurry to cross the road. Don’t worry though, you’ll get to where you need to be eventually so just enjoy the cows living their best lives chewing grass along the roadside.
6: Don’t forget your binoculars
Since you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelago is a great spot to keep your eyes out for dolphins and whales. Several large whale species pass by the islands on their migratory paths and sperm whales can be seen throughout the year.
The most sighted cetaceans are sperm whales, sei whales, fin whales, pilot whales, and a bunch of dolphin species like Risso’s and bottlenose. You never know when one of those wonderful creatures will surface so it’s good to keep your binoculars at the ready as you hike coastal paths.
In all honesty, if you just showed up with your toothbrush you’d be just fine hiking São Miguel. Everything is readily available at the local shops but a little preparation means you can get in even more island views, invigorating walks, and sweet, sweet chocolate.
Ready to put your boots to the scenic wonders of São Miguel? Here’s how Dina did it and a few other related tours: