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Before You Travel to the Azores Islands

Sandy Beaches, Tasty Pineapples, and a Fine Cup of Local Tea Await the Traveler


Faja Grande, Flores, Azores
Werner Van Steen/The Image Bank/Getty Images
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Terra Nostra Botanical Garden Picture (Azores): A friendly swan

Azores Picture &copy: 2007 by James Martin, licensed to About
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NostraTerra Botanical Garden Picture (Azores): Pond looking outside the gardens.

Azores Picture &copy: 2007 by James Martin, licensed to About

The Azores are composed of 9 islands of volcanic origin located about two thirds of the way between the east coast of the United States and Portugal. The Azores form an autonomous region of Portugal. The main attraction of the Azores is the immense beauty of the natural and human-modified landscape.

Who Should Go to the Azores?

Active travelers interested in island culture and activities will find a match here. Activities include trekking, boating and kayaking, golfing, paragliding, and diving. Here you'll find islands with tropical characteristics but European character. You can swim and boat during the day, then sit down to a characteristic meal with fine (and sometimes local) wines at night. The Azores aren't one of those places where you're plopped down in a glamorous resort walled off from a poorer population.

    What's Not in the Azores That You Might Expect

    It may surprise you to know that beaches aren't the primary attraction in the Azores. That doesn't mean that there aren't sandy stretches that attract bathers, but we're not talking about Hawaii here, either. Still, swimmers (and divers) can make quite a time of it in the Azores; the water is warmed by the gulf stream, and there are many opportunities to swim in the "natural swimming pools" formed from the collapse of small volcanic craters.

    And you won't find many backpackers in the Azores.

      What Might Surprise You on the Azores

      The Azores used to be a prime supplier of oranges to the mainland. After a disease wiped out the crop, tea and pineapples were introduced. Today you can tour two tea plantations with tasting rooms on the island of San Miguel. You can also tour a pineapple plantation. Pineapple has become part of the cuisine of the Azores, most folks have a large slice after dinner, but it's also served with small, grilled blood sausage as a typical appetizer. Cows, milk and cheeses are famous as well.

        Another Reason to go to the Azores--Jet Lag Easing Hopping of the Continent

        The Azores are only 4 hours from Boston. A trip to the Azores can be the start of a series of short budget-airline hops that will ease the specter of jet lag: 4 hours to the Azores, 2 hours to Lisbon, three hours or so to Italy.

        The Azores provide a whole different European experience for the traveler who would like to experience cultural and environmental contrast to "The Continent." The landscape is sometimes wild, sometimes tropical, as you can see in our San Miguel Nordeste pictures.

        Getting to the Azores

        Getting to the Azores from either Lisbon, Boston, or Toronto is quite easy by SATA, the airlines of the Azores. See the link for a map of the Azores and detailed information on transportation.

        Where to Stay in the Azores

        While the resort hotels of the Azores offer good value for the money compared to other European destinations, I've visited many rural accommodations--restored farm houses and manor houses--and came away feeling that these should be your first choice for lodging in the Azores. Most offer a real feeling of the genteel life, and offer fine food (if you wish) and a leisurely lifestyle. The owners are often very interested in seeing you get the most out of your visit. For romantics, renting an isolated cabin with a view of the sea is the private way to go.

        Travel Safety in the Azores

        There is little sign of poverty in the Azores, and there are few recorded crimes against tourists.

        During the lean the years, many Azoreans have immigrated to the US and then returned, so there tends to be a more sympathetic view of the politics embraced by the current US administration than you'll find in other European countries. This also means that many citizens and visitors to the Azores speak English fluently--a benefit to tourists who don't speak Portuguese.

          When to go to the Azores Islands

          The Azores are awash in flowers in the spring, so May might be the ideal time to visit. Ferries start running in earnest in June, so that might be a consideration for you. I'd say April to September would be the season in the Azores. You might want to avoid the rainy season, November to March. The gulf stream keeps the water fairly warm all year around, and Nordic visitors like to come to the Azores to swim in the winter. Summer is prime whale watching time.

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