Sao Miguel Island Portugal: A 3-Day Guide

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Photo of Sao Miguel Island in the Azores

When planning my third trip to Portugal I wanted to shake things up a bit and not just visit the tried-and-true places I adore. “Why not spend a weekend in The Azores?” my travel companions asked. “Well sure!” I said, before I even knew what that meant. And I am so glad I said yes!

Visiting Sao Miguel Island in Portugal was an exceptional experience that gave me so many fabulous memories and a desire to return.

In this blog post I will share our 3-day itinerary, much of it expertly curated and guided by Jorge and Lisa of Holistika Azores, a tourism company based out of Ponta Delgada, the largest city on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores.

All photos © Barbara Cameron Pix

Why San Miguel Island?

Saying yes to a new travel destination without any preconceived notions is something I love to do. I rarely do advance searching except for the basics that allow for organizing logistics such as flights and accommodation.

I quickly learned that the Azores is an archipelago consisting of nine volcanic islands, each with its own unique charm and character. The islands are an autonomous region of Portugal, located approximately 1,000 miles west of mainland Europe. And they are known as a hidden gem, renowned for their breathtaking natural landscapes, including lush green valleys, volcanic craters, stunning lakes, and rugged coastlines.

That all sounded great for a weekend of exploration! But which island to choose?

Knowing that we only had the weekend to spare, my three travel companions and I chose to visit Sao Miguel Island.

Photo looking northwest on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores.

The largest and most populous island, São Miguel is known for its diverse landscapes, hot springs, and vibrant capital, Ponta Delgada. A short direct flight between Lisbon and Ponta Delgada sealed the deal. More time for adventure, less time for travel between points.

(Note: We started from Lisbon but you can book direct flights to Ponta Delgada from several major North American cities.)

“If you want to check out the Azores as part of a more extensive Europe trip, take advantage of the stopover option from Azores Airlines. You can book a flight between North America and Europe and add a stop of up to seven days in the Azores at no extra cost.”

Peter Jones, Matador Network

Weather in the Azores

My quick research indicated that the maritime climate and the islands’ location in the Atlantic means that the weather in the Azores can be unpredictable, with rapid changes. And each island has its own microclimate, with plenty of rainfall. So we packed for temperate spring weather, making sure we had rain gear handy.

Lucky for us, we enjoyed spectacular weather the entire weekend! Warm daytime temperatures hovered around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Farenheit), with sunny skies and skittish cloud cover, and some fog at elevations, but no rain at all. Both Jorge and Lisa, our guides, frequently commented that it was odd not to have some rain! It really helped to make the visit memorable (and easy to take travel photos!).

For future visits, however, I will always be ready for rain because of the lush tropical rainforest feel of the place. It’s no wonder Sao Miguel is nicknamed the Ilha Verde, or Green Island.

Photo looking southwest on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores.

Day One Itinerary: Ponta Delgada

The flight from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada’s international airport took about 2 hours and with carry-on luggage only, we quickly departed the small airport and hailed a taxi to our Airbnb destination. There are many options to choose from when searching for accommodation in Ponta Delgada; we found a well-appointed Airbnb that very comfortably housed all four of us. And its location was perfect for being quiet, yet walkable to the all the main landmarks of the city.

After a quick check-in, I didn’t take any time to unpack before I grabbed my camera and hit the cobblestone streets to explore. The first hours in a new location fill me with such excitement and awe, and I love to capture my observations without any preconceived notions of what I might see.

What I saw on that photo walk was some impressive and unique architecture—obviously historic buildings of some importance—and other well-known Portuguese elements like ceramic wall tiles (azulejos), artistic cobblestone walkways, old but colourful residence facades, and outdoor restaurant tables & chairs.

Photo of Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuítas in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island
Photo of colourful ceramic wall tiles known as azulejos in Portugal
Photo of a colourful residential facade in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island.
Photo of patterns in cobblestones on the streets of Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel Island, Portugal
Photo of Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião, a 16th-century church in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island
Photo of outdoor restaurant tables and chairs on a cobblestone street in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island, in Portugal

By the time it was fashionably ok to eat dinner, somewhere after 8 pm, we found a Portuguese restaurant called Adega do Mestre André, where we feasted on traditional fare while being served by the most attentive waiters. I recall marvelling at the low cost of the entire 3-course meal, including Portuguese wine and a tip – 22,00 € (just over $30 CAD) which is an astonishing low amount by North American standards for what we enjoyed!

I urge you to seek out and eat at traditional Portuguese restaurants when you visit! There are so many expat-run restaurants now, serving North American fare at much higher prices. And the traditional low-key restaurants sit empty.

You will eat better and for less when you eat like a local!

Day Two Itinerary: Explore the North and Eastern landmarks of Sao Miguel Island

Normally I stay away from guided tours, however, in this case it only made sense to maximize our ability to travel around and learn about Sao Miguel Island. Enter Jorge, one of the owners and tour guides with Holistika, (@azores_travel on instagram) who picked us up at our Airbnb, took us for a traditional Portuguese breakfast (gotta love their pastries and cappucinos!), and then whisked us northward from Ponta Delgado to start our adventure.

My initial impressions were of sparkling blue seas, lush greenery everywhere, and many happy cows dotting the farmland that hugs the roads. Oh, and the sound of birds! Apparently there are no predators on the island so birds are free to sing to their hearts content! I I could share a soundtrack with you here, I would.

Miradouro de Santa Iria

Jorge stopped at this viewpoint where we were awed by the panoramic view of Sao Miguel’s northern coastline, with rolling farmland and hills that tumble into the sea via massive stone cliffs.

Paco Azul

We headed inland then and Jorge led us on the Paco Azul Trail through dense forests, past crystal-clear streams, down handmade stairways, to discover the enchanting Poço Azul, a hidden gem. This water hole is perfectly located to capture the mid-morning sun’s rays through giant forest overgrowth – and we got there at the perfect time to see the clear turquoise blue water shine.

Photo of the turquoise blue waterhole called Paco Azul on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores

Parque Da Ribeira Dos Caldeirões

Heading eastward along the winding roads of the island took us to this popular park where waterfalls and serene nature trails wind through this lush deep valley. We saw ancient water mills, and many adventurous types who were starting or ending their canyoning adventure in this nature park.

Ponta do Sossego View Point

Jorge had packed us a hearty lunch which we enjoyed in the shade of a wooden picnic structure, while feeding quite a few wild cats who seemed to like us very much! The views to the east from this location were simply breathtaking… The azure-blue waters of the Atlantic, flanked by a rocky beach at the bottom of a large overgrown cliff, with more lush farmland kissing the edge of the cliff. Spectacular!

Photo of Sao Miguel Island in the Azores
Close-up photo of wide hydrangea plants on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores

Hydrangeas are my favourite flower and I was flabbergasted to see that they grow in wild abundance all over Sao Miguel Island! Our visit was a bit too early to enjoy the flowers in full bloom, but I have vowed to return to see the splendour.

The Rocky Beach

By now we had bonded well with Jorge and he knew he could take an off-the-beaten track with us, so we were thrilled to head down, down, down to the rocky beach we had seen from the Ponta do Sossego view point. There is a “Secret Ocean Parking” lot and an easy walking trail that passes a handful of small homes, crosses a stream and then winds along the rocky shoreline. 

Photo of walking pathway in front of rustic homes on Sao Miguel Island
Photo of walkers on foot bridge on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores
Photo of a rocky shoreline on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores
photo of hikers on seaside walking path on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores

Village of Povoacao

As we wound our way from the eastern side of Sao Miguel Island to the south, we stopped at a viewpoint that peeks through lush flower and tree cover over the farmlands adjacent to the village of Povoacao. I remember being so taken not only by the rolling farmland by the sea, but by the birdsong that accompanied our short stop. Again, if I could share a recording I would!

View towards the Village of Povoacao on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores

Time for a beverage and a snack, which we enjoyed by the marina close to the Gate of Discoverers, which marks where the settlement of Sao Miguel Island began in the 15th century. It doesn’t matter where you travel in this world, “happy hour” seems to be a standard pastime. I captured these local fellows enjoying their happy hour while we did.

A photo of 4 men gathered seaside in Portugal.

Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres

After a lovely dinner at Tasquinha Vieira, a cozy tapas restaurant that offers a delightful array of local dishes, we joined thousands of locals and visitors for the “Lighting Ceremony” that Jorge had urged us to attend.

Little did we know when we chose that weekend in May for our visit, but Ponta Delgado annually hosts one of the most important and revered religious festivals in São Miguel, Azores. The festival takes place on the fifth Sunday after Easter Sunday, known as “Pentecost Sunday” or “Festa da Senhora da Esperança”.

The Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres kicks off with a spectacular lighting ceremony on Saturday evening. The streets of Ponta Delgada are adorned with thousands of colourful lights, creating an enchanting and magical atmosphere. It’s a sight to behold as the entire city comes alive with illumination, culminating in the lighting of this Catholic church in the town centre. Many oohs and ahhhhs from the large crowd capped off the lighting ceremony.

The festival really comes alive after the lighting ceremony, with throngs of people wandering and queuing for food and drinks from the many food trucks that line the waterfront. And tucked in behind the Forte de São Brás, a Coastal Renaissance fortress dating to 1552, now home to a military history museum, is a massive beer tent and lively amusement park with a carnival-like atmosphere. The lineup for the bumper cars was huge!

Photo of the amusement park at the Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island

Day Three Itinerary: Lagoa do Fogo and Furnas

Lisa was our tour guide for this day, which kept us in areas east of Ponta Delgada to continue to marvel at Sao Miguel’s beauty and tranquility. Again, we started with an early-morning pick up and breakfast at a local cafe, this time on Sunset Beach. Then we drove up and up and up, past more happy cows grazing on the long grasses of steep hilly farmland, and arrived at our first destination.

Lagoa do Fogo

The Azores archipelago was created volcanically, and there are several craters left behind that have filled with water. Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) is an iconic crater-filled lake on the island of Sao Miguel surrounded by more lush greenery. The volcano itself formed 15,000 years ago, and collapsed to create the crater 5,000 years ago. It’s now one of the most frequently visited Sao Miguel landmarks. Avid hikers can hike to its shores and be mesmerized by the natural spectacle.

Photo of Lagoa do Fogo, or Lake of Fire, on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores

Traditional Cozido at Tony’s Restaurante in Furnas

Even though we had relished a rather large breakfast not that long ago, Tony’s Restaurante was expecting us at a certain time because of the nature of the feast awaiting us. It’s not a la carte! The iconic Azorean dish, Cozido das Furnas, is a slow-cooked meal cooked underground using geothermal heat, infusing it with unique flavors. Furnas is located in an active volcano zone, which explains the geothermal heat available to cook with, as there are several hot springs located in the village.

We did our best to devour an appetizer of local cheeses and breads, main course of meat (lots of it!), potatoes and vegetables, and full tray of Portuguese desserts afterwards.

Photo of Portuguese cheeses at Tony's Restaurant in Furnas, Sao Miguel Island
Photo of Portuguese bread at Tony's Restaurant in Furnas, Sao Miguel Island
Photo of Cozido das Furnas, a slow-cooked meal prepared using geothermal heat
Photo of Portuguese desserts at Tony's Restaurant in Furnas, Sao Miguel Island

Saturday lunch at Tony’s is apparently a Furnas tradition for local families. I had great fun people watching as waves of large families came to feast and socialize. It’s a good thing that Tony’s is large and has attentive wait staff!

Mata-Jardim Jose do Canto and Salto do Rosal waterfall

As you drive southward from Furnas, the road hugs Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lake), another iconic crater-filled lake. At the southern edge of the lake lies an enchanting botanical garden, the Mata-Jardim Jose do Canto. There is so much history to learn about this locale; that is best left for you to research.

We explored the Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias, a funerary chapel built by Jose do Canto for his wife, the hiking trail through more happy-cow-dotted farmland, myriads of blooming camelia flowers and towering Sequoia trees, all leading to the captivating Salto do Rosal waterfall.

Photo of Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias on Furnas Lake, Sao Miguel Island
Photo of hiking trail to Salto do Rosal waterfall near Lake Furnas on Sao Miguel Island
Photo looking up through a stand of giant Sequoia trees near Lake Furnas on Sao Miguel Island
Photo Salto do Rosal waterfall near Furnas on Sao Miguel Island

Terra Nostra Garden & Floating Meditation

We had one more experience to cap off our Sao Miguel tour itinerary, and it was shrouded in a bit of mystery. What the heck is a floating meditation you ask?

The Terra Nostra botanical garden houses a 200-year-old collection of flora typical of the Azores, as well as numerous plants native to other countries. Its full-time gardeners do a masterful job of creating an oasis that took us along many pathways through lush green beauty, followed along by a couple of local cats again!

Photo of the muddy-brown thermal mineral pool at Terra Nostra botanical garden in Furnas, Sao Miguel Island

As if the flora of the garden wasn’t enough to appreciate, a large thermal pool is a central feature of this popular tourist attraction. Naturally heated by a thermal spring, the water instantly relaxes you with temperatures ranging from 35-40 degrees Celsius. The water’s essential minerals turn it a muddy brown colour, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying its medicinal qualities.

Lisa, our tour guide, is a masterful therapist & healer who enjoys special privileges at the thermal pool. So we were able to enter during non-public hours, when only a few of the adjacent hotel guests were lounging there. And that’s when we entrusted Lisa to guide us on a floating meditation journey that is actually very difficult to describe. Candles, soft music, a floating head rest and Lisa’s gentle hands holding my body from behind, and swirling me so slowly in the heated water, while quietly guiding my thoughts in her meditative voice… all combined to create an otherworldly experience. I highly recommend it to all who travel to Sao Miguel island. It’s not something you can do on your own, that’s for sure.


I left Sao Miguel with memories of stunning lush landscapes, delicious cuisine and the warm embrace of Azorean culture. And let’s not forget all of the happy cows who help produce delicious cheese!

the cows who graze all year round in fields bordered by rows of blue hydrangeas give us milk, butter, and cheese that is worth the journey alone.

Mary Luissana, Conde Naste Traveler

On my flight back to the European mainland, in my mind’s eye I played back the past few days with a sense of anticipation for my next visit! Having spent our 3 days in the northern and eastern parts of Sao Miguel, I knew I must return for more of that island experience, plus to explore some of the other Azores islands.

Any questions about my visit to Sao Miguel Island in the Azores?

Drop me a message in the comments below!

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