We spent the last 2 weeks of November on the island of Sao Miguel right smack in the off-season. Of the 14 days we spent on the island, we only had 3 days without rain, but we managed to have a fantastic trip, and you CAN too!
There are still many things to do in Sao Miguel at this time of year, but the best thing about visiting in the off-season is that you have the island to yourself! Unlike the summer months, the locals are not harried by tourists which makes them happier, the result? You will be too!
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One of the most underrated and frankly, little-known island vacation destinations, Sao Miguel is a part of the stunning archipelago known as the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. It is 2 hours off the coast of mainland Portugal (and direct flights 5 hours from the United States, either Boston or New York).
Also known as Europe’s Hawaii due to its lush vegetation and volcanic activity, Sao Miguel island is a surfer’s paradise with magical waves for beginners as well as pro surfers, volcanoes and waterfalls for nature lovers, and plenty of thermal pools and spas for relaxing.
The weather on the island is extremely unpredictable, especially in the winter months and you should be prepared for it to change several times a day as well as be completely different from one end of the island to the other. Here is what we did during our stay and what we recommend you do while visiting during the offseason.
Visit Farol do Arnel Lighthouse
Farol do Arnel lighthouse in Nordeste is a great location to enjoy a beautiful and calm sunrise or sunset. It is the oldest lighthouse on the island and in fact, the oldest in the Azores. During the winter there may be too much fog in the morning so you may be luckier at sunset. We visited twice, once in the late morning and once in the late afternoon.
To access the lighthouse, park in the car park off the EN1-1A at the top and take the narrow, winding road down on foot (we absolutely do not recommend driving down, especially with an unfamiliar rental car). The lighthouse is located halfway down and is only open on Wednesdays from 2-4 pm, but you can still walk to it and take some gorgeous pictures with the unending sea as the backdrop.
Or if you have a drone, you can get shots like this. By the way, there are many areas on the island where droning is allowed.
If you keep walking down to the bottom, you should be able to see a small village, or rather a very tiny fishing village. It is at sea level and a great spot for photography and watching the waves crash against the port and the coast. But remember, if you walk down…you have to walk all the way back up!
Also, note that you can get a great view of the Farol do Arnel Lighthouse from the Miradouro da Vista dos Barcos lookout or viewpoint from the EN1-1A 23 road.
More lighthouses to visit in Sao Miguel
Another great spot is the Santa Clara Lighthouse located on the cape of Ponta Delgada. It has a big red lantern that used to be a part of the old lighthouse of the Tower of Belem in Lisbon. With the crashing waves behind it on the horizon, the red lighthouse and the green scenery make for a beautiful picture.
São Miguel has one more gorgeous lighthouse that is a must-visit – the Ginetes Lighthouse or the Ponte da Ferraria Lighthouse. The historic building offers some of the most stunning views of the ocean, and if you walk down to the shore, you’ll be amazed by the geothermal spring that merges with the ocean water.
Winter weather for Sao Miguel, Azores provides you the opportunity to photograph the lighthouses with lots of drama! Crashing waves, fog or mist, gloomy clouds, it all sets a mood! Consider black and white photos too for even cooler shots!
Explore the Views
As you drive around the island and climb the volcanic peaks and mountains in Sao Miguel you will have plenty of opportunities to take in the viewpoints called miradouros. The government has done a fantastic job of reserving pullouts, small parking lots, and picnic areas all along the main road so that you can enjoy the spectacular views even in the winter!
In the offseason you may have to return multiple times to the same spot to finally see them, but once you do they are worth it! Here are some of our favorites.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
I am not sure that you can claim to have visited Sao Miguel if you don't visit the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno. No São Miguel itinerary. is complete without them and we visited several times. In the early morning, there was lots of fog and mist but we had the hiking trails (and the sky for droning) to ourselves.
In the late morning, the fog burned off, and we could see more of the beautiful lakes, but there were more people.
It is a very nice walk from the parking lot (Parque estacionamento Lagoa do Canário) past the Lagoa do Canário (that you can see through the trees) to the main footpath that leads to the views of Lagoa das Sete Cidades.
In the winter, I recommend hiking boots, something higher than your ankle as the hiking trails will be muddy.
Miradouro Da Vista Do Rei
The other breathtaking viewpoint is Miradouro Da Vista Do Rei (Viewpoint of the View of the King or King's View). From this location, you can see see the twin multi-colored lakes – the blue lake (Lagoa Azul) and the green lake (Lagoa Verde) – of Sete Cidades surrounded by the lush green crater.
Even though it was winter, we still got to see a glimpse of the famous Azores hydrangeas. I can't imagine what it is like in the spring!
Miradouro de Pico do Carvão
The Miradouro de Pico do Carvao is in the Sete Cidades region. You get a beautiful view of the Massif das Sete Cidades mountains as well as the north and south coast of the island.
From the EN1-1A, if you follow the M508 towards Lagoa do Canário you will run across fantastic aqueducts still intact.
There is also a hiking trail in this area called Rota do Pico do Carvão e Aqueduto (Pico do Carvao aqueduct route) that will take you along the aqueducts. It is 8 miles, so plan for that!
Miradouro Ponta do Sossego
This beautiful lookout near the village of Nordeste was one of my favorites. Not only does the view remind me of Hawaii, but there is a small botanical garden leading up to the viewpoint with tropical flowers to admire. And there are lots of picnic tables and barbecue pits to enjoy a family outing or a meal.
This spot is known for its spectacular sunrises. During the tourist season, it is a very popular spot. People will actually sleep in their cars to get a chance for a good spot to see the sun rise over the ocean.
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) is a volcanic lake near the center of the island that was created as a result of volcanic activity in the Agua de Pau area.
There is a 4-mile out-and-back trail that starts near Vila Franca do Campo and finishes at the Lagoa do Fogo viewpoint which then continues along the edge of the lagoon.
Another viewpoint is a little off the beaten path on the way to Lagoa do Fogo, known for its sunsets, the Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa. The turn-off is along the road that many people take to visit Lagoa do Fogo and is hidden behind a row of radio masts which most people discount or ignore. In truth, it is well worth the diversion to see.
Visit a tea plantation
Chá Gorreana is the biggest and most well-known tea plantation. It is also the only working tea plantation in Europe today. You can walk through their fields at no cost as it is part of a walking trail. In the winter it is more of a dirt road and you will need good boots.
If it is raining you can still Visit and view their production process. From picking the tea leaves to packaging. The company remains small-scale and they create flavorful teas while preserving the oxidants. Have a flight of tea in their tasting room or enjoy a cup of your favorite from their covered terrace and ignore the rain…we did!
You can also visit Fábrica de Chá do Porto Formoso, a second tea plantation that produces tea and showcases the ancient method of tea production of the 19th century. Guests can also taste several types of teas in their tea room or on the terrace when the weather permits.
Visit a pineapple plantation
There are over 6,000 pineapple plantations on the island, but only a few are open to the public. You may not want to visit the plantations in the rain but you can still enjoy the pineapple drinks and treats. (Even if you don't visit a plantation all the local restaurants will have pineapple desserts!)
The most popular of them is Ananases A Arruda. With a history of over 100 years, the plantation can be visited free of charge and visitors can watch the entire process of pineapple cultivation. They also have free tastings and their special Pineapple Liqueur for sale.
Another delightful spot is the Azorean Pineapply Plantation where you can visit the traditional pineapple greenhouses, enjoy pineapple delicacies in the bar, and try artisanal pineapple ice cream.
Pineapples Santo António is also a historical landmark worth checking out. Along with pineapple liqueur, you can also find pineapple cookies here.
Visit the Cerâmica Vieira Factory
The art of Azorean tableware can be seen in the Cerâmica Vieira Factory which was founded in 1862 and has remained in the family for five generations (here is a little bit more history). It is a must-see where visitors can take in the process of making crockery on the potter’s wheel and the hand-made wall tiles with beautiful blue decorations.
It is said that the way the tableware is made has remained almost unchanged since the first settlers of the island. Here, the artisans dominate the production of these gorgeous sets. At Christmas time the factory makes figurines for nativity scenes as well. If you decorate your home with nativity scenes during the holidays, I encourage you to have a look.
It is the indoor perfect stop to do a little shopping (I never leave Portugal without some type of tile, I am a fan!) or to just get out of the rain!
Ribeira dos Caldeirões
On a day when it was just a bit drizzly, we visited Ribeira dos Caldeirões, a waterfall park with beautiful falls and streams. If you walk along the river, you can see several beautiful waterfalls along the way.
The park is a protected area, houses a lot of flora and fauna, and is a great place for exploration, including hiking, and swimming. Initially, the area had water mills built in the 16th century harboring centuries-old history of Azorean families that you read and learn about as you visit each part.
We tried to do part of the hiking trail but didn't get too far as conditions were a bit slippery, but we did enjoy the falls. Do note it is not really safe for unsupervised children (remember, other countries have different standards of safety). It can get quite slippery, so keep an eye out at all times!
Visiting waterfalls is a good overcast day activity as they photograph better when it is not too sunny. You don't need good weather to enjoy them.
Hot Springs on the island of Sao Miguel
One of the best things about visiting the Azores in the off-season is that when bad weather hits, whether it is raining or just overcast, it is the best time to visit the mineral hot springs, thermal baths, pools, and spas. I mean seriously, I could not imagine sitting in 100-degree water in the summer!
Furnas- Terra Nostra Park
Sao Miguel has several geothermal hot springs, and one of the most popular ones is in the town of Furnas in the Furnas Valley. It has a relaxing pool experience and the beautiful Terra Nostra garden to explore. Located in Terra Nostra Park, the pool is almost like a large pond surrounded by botanical gardens on all sides.
The hot springs are the size of an outdoor swimming pool. The water in the pool is warm to hot with a water temperature between 95-104 degrees and rich in minerals, especially iron which gives it an orange color. Keep in mind that the iron water can damage your swimwear and towels, so don’t wear anything too fancy.
There are other thermal baths in Furnas called Poça da Dona Beija that have 5 different thermal pools. To me, they look like giant hot tubs and it is very popular with families and groups.
Furnas Sao Miguel is also known for its local dish Cozido das Furnas, a stew that is slow-cooked underground by heat from volcanic rock. Watching the locals pull the pots in and out of the ground is a show in and of itself and each restaurant has an area where they cook their daily offerings. Families from the village can cook here as well.
It is the perfect comfort food after a trip to the hot springs, however, growing up as a Portuguese-American who was exposed to this stew, along with soupish, while growing up, it wasn't high on my list to experience as I already “knew” the meal. We did have a similar dish in Lisbon so Mr. Misadventures could have the experience.
Classified as a natural monument, Caldeira Velha is a huge volcanic crater with a landscaped path that leads to lush tropical vegetation, waterfalls, and small pools filled with sulfurous water. It is an ideal place to relax and unwind. There are 4 pools with warm water and a waterfall at the end of the park.
The pool with the waterfall is not warm water which was a bit of a shock when I dipped my toe into the pool below the cascading water! I can see where this one would be popular in the summer! The park also has an Environmental Interpretation Centre to help visitors understand the various volcanic zones, phenomena, biodiversity, and geodiversity.
Termas das Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande
The spa complex of Termas das Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande dates back to the 19th century and holds a lot of Azorean history within its walls. The waters here were first used in the 17th century to cure illnesses.
The demand for spas with volcanic water kept increasing and thus a spa complex was built to cater to the needs. You can take advantage of rejuvenating baths, volcanic mud massages, and even soul immersion spa services.
Ponta da Ferraria
This thermal spring is not for the faint of heart! An underwater geothermal spring, Ponta da Ferraria emerges from the ocean and heats up the surrounding waters. Along with the deep blue sea and the dark basalt rocks, the atmosphere is of pure tranquility and calmness…but not in the winter!
The currents and the crashing waves can become dangerous in certain weather. Which was exactly what happened when we visited. But man, were the waves spectacular!
During milder weather, there are several ropes and ladders to help you stay afloat or sit and relax on the shore without venturing completely inside. The geothermal spring seeps into the ocean water and is usually around 64-82°F at low tide. The water from the spring can go as high as 141°F so be careful during the peak of low tide. When the Sao Miguel weather turns bad, warm up here!
What to bring to the thermal spas in Sao Miguel
- Bring the bare minimum with you. There is not a lot of space to put your things down. You can rent lockers in some places, which we did, but we didn’t find them or didn’t use them.
- Bring your own towel. Some thermal sources rent towels, but most do not. I recommend a quick-drying camp towel. They are super light and get the water off you fast.
- Bring flip-flops or water shoes, I wore my JBU by Jambu Ariel Water Ready shoes or something similar.
- Water bag for your cell phone.
Scenic Spots at the Seaside
Located on the south of the island, Caloura has a great panoramic vista and a microclimate that makes for sunnier and less humid days. The fishing port is one of its main attractions. Visitors can swim in an artificial saltwater pool that leads to the sea.
The “famous” Bar Caloura is located here. It is a beautiful spot for a drink, but I would skip the food, I had better in many other places on the island.
A little beach town near Ribeira Grande, Porto Formoso has a beautiful sandy beach and a natural mineral spring. Locals and tourists can soak in these potassium-rich spring waters for therapeutic mineral treatments.
Água d'Alto is considered the best beach in Sao Miguel and is a very popular area for family picnics and surfing.
Água de Pau
The small coastal town of Água de Pau has a rich architectural history. The several water fountains were once the main centers of community and fraternization. The town has a beautiful church, Igreja Matriz de Água de Pau, made with basalt rocks.
It also has a gorgeous chapel in white, blue, and turquoise. The Monte Santo viewpoint is a great way to take in the green parish and the deep blue sea all at once.
Surfing in Sao Miguel
From a surfing perspective, Sao Miguel is a dream come true. The island has a constant swell that generates in the North Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland and is a premium surfing island all year round, especially during the winter, followed by autumn and spring.
Some of the best surfing spots can be found on Mosteiros Beach in the west, Santa Bárbara, Monte Verde, and Santa Iria in the north of Ribeira Grande, and São Roque, Água d'Alto, Calhetas, Populo, Rabo de Peixe in the south. If you’re a novice, you can find some surf camps or surf hostels, or small hotels in the villages that have surfing guides to help you get on board.
Food & Drinks in Sao Miguel
I think there are 10x as many cows as people on the island, which means great beef and dairy! Try the queijo fresco as a starter with bread, and don’t forget the spicy (slightly) red sauce that goes with it. The butter is fantastic, and the yogurt too! There are plenty of beef stews, several steak options, and delicious beef dishes.
How can we forget seafood? It is an island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, after all! There are lots of squid and octopus dishes, seafood and rice stews, grilled fresh fish, and shrimp. Heaven! We also ate sushi several times which was hit or miss.
I don’t know where the pigs are but there is a ton of chorizo found on the island. Made with pork meat, it is similar to Spanish chorizo, but has less paprika than its neighbor to the east, and tastes a bit smokier. And if you are into it (like Mr. Misadventures) try the blood sausage served on top of a pineapple.
Our favorite restaurant was O Silva (R. Direita de Cima 41, Ribeira Grande), where we ate twice. On our first trip, we had grilled squid, and on our second, the roasted octopus, both of which were excellent.
Soup is a big part of Portuguese culture, so don’t miss out on the soup of the day served at any restaurant. It is cheap, filling, and equally delicious!
If you aren't sure about the food, don't worry! The Hungry Whales have a fantastic food tour – and a fantastic reputation!
Renting a Car in Sao Miguel
When renting a car in Sao Miguel, go for the smallest car possible! The island roads are extremely narrow, the Azoreans aren’t the best drivers (or parkers) and in the city, it is sometimes impossible to navigate the tiny streets even in a small car.
In addition, get car insurance (so you will need to budget for that, basically take your rental price and double it) because scrapes on the outside of the car would not be unheard of given how much room you have to pass between cars. The mountainous roads are dangerous, with very sharp corners and you do not want to be on the wrong end of an accident.
Tips on exploring in Sao Miguel
Sao Miguel has several small towns that are worth visiting. If you want to get off the highway and explore, follow the “Acesso locale” signs. No matter where you’re going, beware of the tiny roads. Another notable thing is that people park wherever they want most of the time, so you might have to navigate a bit carefully.
Be careful when you walk in town
Be extremely careful when exiting buildings, stores, restaurants, bars, or anything in Sao Miguel. There are either no sidewalks or sidewalks that are 6 inches (if you are lucky!). If you step out without looking, you may end up being hit by a car.
There are beautiful picnic areas throughout the island with gorgeous views. If you are going to be out and about during the day, consider packing a lunch (or a sunset apero) and stopping at one of these “merendas” spots.
If you don't feel comfortable renting a car, then there are plenty of guided tours that have half or full-day itineraries to take you to all the sites and spas. There may not be as many operating in the winter, but they are operating and we saw plenty.
I recommend the following:
A little more about Sao Miguel
Sao Miguel is the largest island (290 square miles) of the Azores archipelago, one of 9 islands off the coast of Portugal. It is an autonomous region, meaning it can govern itself. Azoreans only claim to be Portuguese when there is a national or international fútbol (soccer) tournament, otherwise, they are quite proud and consider themselves Azorean and not Portuguese.
Besides surfing, the Azores are known for their whale watching and have plenty of whale-watching tours where you can see sperm whales (and bottlenose dolphins too). There are a lot of water sports and spelunking or caving etc. but you can't do any of it in the winter. So that is important to you, then make sure you plan your trip for spring, summer, or fall.
Sao Miguel Azores Weather Offseason
During our two weeks on the island, we had mostly rain, but not all day long kind of rain. It was tropical showers with temperatures in the 60s and humidity. There was usually a breeze and we had 4 days of sunshine. Even with that weather, we were able to do so much and it is totally worth it to have the island to ourselves!
A Few Things to Note about the Ponta Delgada Airport
The Sao Miguel airport is called Ponta Delgada (located in the largest city of the Azores) and is an international airport. Besides flights coming in from continental Europe (via Lisbon) there are flights to Sao Miguel Azores from the United States. Year-round the 2 airlines doing these direct flights from New York and Boston are Azores Airlines (SATA) and TAP Air Portugal.
In the summer, there is also a direct flight from Oakland California (read this fantastic book, The Tenth Island: Finding Joy, Beauty, and Unexpected Love in the Azores to learn why). Also in the summer, United Airlines flies direct.
- It is an outdoor airport, so there is no protection from rain or heavy winds.
- The planes load from the front and rear so pay attention to your seat number as it may be quicker to go from the back.
- Weather can definitely impact your trip with delays or cancellations, so consider a plan B all the time!
The one thing I would have changed about our stay
We rented an apartment for two weeks in the center of Ponta Delgada. Given that we ate out of town, shopped out of town, and visited outside of town, next time I would stay outside of the city in a smaller village or town.
Visiting the Azores in the winter is tricky, but the reward of having the Green Island (Ilha Verde) all to ourselves, the attention of the locals, low season rates, and a nature-lovers paradise to explore at our feet makes it very worth it the Misadventures family!
I would also return to Nossa Senhora da Paz in Vila Franca Do Campo because we visited at the end of a very long day and I didn't have the strength to walk up all those stairs, but the view from the bottom of the shrine of the was still fantastic!
How about you? Have you been to any island in the Azores? Do you want to? Do tell!
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