What travel has taught me the most is flexibility, as there are always things that can go wrong. But, if you’re willing to change the plan and adapt, things often turn out better than you planned them. This recently happened to me when I unexpectedly went to Sao Miguel, in Portugal’s Azores Islands. I had set out to go on a volunteer whale watching expedition on the island of Horta, which turned out to be one of the worst trips I’ve ever been on. So, after hearing about how incredible the nearby island of Sao Miguel was, I decided to leave the Horta fiasco early, and go explore the lush island of Sao Miguel. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Why Sao Miguel Is Absolute Paradise
1. Waterfalls For Days
I am a waterfall lover. And the ones on Sao Miguel are stunning. There are so many, that I didn’t have time to explore them all. My favorite day was exploring the ones in the Natural Park of Ribeira dos Caldeiros. There were so many! Don’t just see the main one though, which has a lot of tourists that come, snap a picture, and leave. Do the hike, and see the hidden ones that are a short walk away. It was a little muddy when I went, but oh so worth it! The photos above are what you will see on the hike.
2. Surreal Nature
The hardest thing about driving around the island on the winding roads was keeping my eyes on the roads and not staring at the scenery. There were stunning views everywhere. Fortunately, there were a lot of places to pull over to fully take them in. I was just astounded by the raw beauty of this island. Vivid blues and greens surrounded me everywhere I went, and I grinned as I took it all in.
3. Charming Places To Stay
If you go to Sao Miguel, you definitely want to rent a car, as you won’t see the sites by staying in the main city of Ponta Delgada. I recommend staying in the middle of the island, so you can see all of it. I stayed at the Casa da Ribeira in Ribeira Grande which is close to the beach. It was the perfect location, and the host even marked places on the map for me to visit. The chalet was roomy with two bedrooms, the most comfortable bed, and even a kitchen. The garden setting made for a lovely getaway, and the design of this place was so beautiful. The pricing was also very reasonable, and I would definitely stay here again.
4. Astonishing Hot Springs
I love hot springs almost as much as I love waterfalls, and I’ve never been to such stunning hot springs as I went to in Sao Miguel. The Jurassic Park settings just added to the magic. The photos above are from my favorite one, Caldeira Velha. The ancient forest surrounding the hot springs was gorgeous, and there are trails you can hike around the springs. The waterfall let into a cold water pool which was refreshing to swim in after soaking in the hot springs. There are wooden sheds and lockers for changing, and give yourself at least two hours to spend here before they close.
The other hot springs of Sao Miguel that I enjoyed were the Poca da Dona Beija thermal baths. They had five different ones at varying temperatures and depths. Make sure when enjoying the hot springs, that you bring both swimwear and towels that you don’t mind getting stained, as the mineral concentration of the waters is very high. This hot springs has changing rooms and showers and beautiful views.
5. Untamed Beaches
Even though it was too cold to swim when I went to Sao Miguel in March, I still had to go check out the wild, untamed beaches of Sao Miguel. I enjoyed just watching the crashing waves, and it was a great spot to see the sunset. My favorite meal in Sao Miguel was at TukáTulá Beach Bar which had excellent food, fun tiki drinks, and beautiful view of the beach at Ribeira Grande.
6. Happy Cows
As you drive around Sao Miguel, stop and have a moment with a cow. Need I say anything more?
7. Geothermal Activity
Visiting the Furnas Valley is a must when you go to Sao Miguel. The area is a dormant volcanic crater and seeing the steaming fumaroles is so much fun. There are also quite a few caldera views throughout the island that you can see, but sadly, when I went the cloud cover was always too low to see the views.
8. Botanical Gardens
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the city of Ponta Delgada, I absolutely adored the Jardim Botânico António Borges that I wandered around the morning my flight was leaving. It was so beautiful with amazing trees and a tranquil setting. Also, make sure to go to the cafe in the park, as I had the best coffee in all of Sao Miguel there, and a very healthy lunch.
There were so many more things to love about Sao Miguel, but these were some of my favorite things. I encourage you to go explore this hidden gem and see for yourself the magic of this beautiful island.