Guest post by dzr1107
Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Day 1: Cascata do Segredo
We took a red-eye flight from Newark to Ponta Delgada on the main Azores island of Sao Miguel and had no issues getting through customs and picking up our Hertz rental car. Most cars on the island are manual, so book very early if you can only drive an automatic. I should have spent a bit more time researching Portuguese road signs and reviewing my data plan ahead of time. We had the TMobile international data plan, but it was too slow to be functional leaving us to navigate the island using the rental car map and guessing what we could legally do on the road.
After arriving at our AirBnb in Aqua De Alto, we got groceries at Pingo Doce Vila Franca do Campo, one of the larger grocery stores we saw on the island.
We then took a short hike to see the Cascata do Segredo, which is a waterfall and swimming hole (after giving lots of love to the stray cats). The water was cold in July, but would otherwise be a nice secluded place to swim. The trail continues further inland if you go straight when the rope swing is on your left. This was not a must see, but a nice way to stay awake and be totally alone in nature. We hiked until we went under the EN1-1A road before turning around. I believe we were close to another waterfall but didn’t realize it until we got back to the parking area at the end of R. Lugar da Praia and looked at the trailhead map.
Since we were close, we took a quick swim in the cold Atlantic beach at Agua D’Alto (Praia de Agua D’Alto Grande) and grabbed a fast and tasty dinner to go at Bar de Praia.
- Parque de Terra Nostra
- Ribeira Quente
- Mata Jardim Jose do Canto & Salto de Rosal
We got to Parque de Terra Nostra in Furnas just before it opened and joined the line to get in. We opted to do the hot springs first, which I recommend simply because it was not crowded. When we left around 1pm, it was pretty crowded and would not have been as enjoyable. There are also secluded jacuzzis by the outdoor showers and changing rooms. These are not the gold/brown water of the main hot spring, but felt just as nice. No one had any staining issues from the water. As for the rest of the part, we walked around for 2 hours and saw most of the park, although there are enough pockets of trails that you could spend much longer.
Afterwards, we set off to find Cascata da Riberia Quente, but we found out it is actually between two road tunnels that were in a construction zone. It was one lane controlled by timed stop lights; however, the construction crew commonly held up the flow of traffic by moving trucks in and out, resulting in a harrowing game of chicken with head on traffic amid a chorus of car honks. For tiny cars, there are big feelings behind the wheels on the island. Driving here is not for the meek or faint of heart. Without an option to turn around we continued to the pretty and deserted town of Ribeira Quente.
After grabbing a drink along the hot-spring fed beach, we set off to find Salto de Rosal. These waterfalls are part of a park and can only be entered by the Mata Jardim Jose do Canto. Entry for a fee includes a closer view of the cathedral and trail access, but the trail closes at 6pm and entry is not allowed after 5:30 pm, making it our second strike of the day.
- Miradoura da Boca da Ribeira
- Miradoura da Ponta do Arnel
- Miradoura da Ponta do Sossego
- Pico da Vara
We drove the blooming hydrangea lined roads north on EN4-2A in hopes to hike up Pico da Vara. Once north, the mountain was fogged in but the coast was sunny, so we continued East on the EN1-1A stopping at viewpoints. Just north of Nordeste, there is Miradoura da Boca da Ribeira, which has a nice picnic spot, a coast overlook, and a view of Piscina Natural da Boca De Ribeira – an ocean fed swimming pool. On the east side, there is an okay stop at Miradoura da Ponta do Arnel, with views of a lighthouse. We did not go down to the lighthouse, but it may have been worthwhile.
Our favorite stop and probably best photo spot of the trip was at Miradoura da Ponta do Sossego. This rest area had beautiful gardens, cook out and picnic spots, and beautiful views of the coast and the town of Nordeste. There are plenty of stray cats, so bring treats.
Having slight optimism that clouds were breaking around Pico da Vara, we ventured back to Casa de Guarda da Reserva Florestal da Atalhada. Google Maps is not the best on the island, as it will commonly tell you to turn left when you’re on an overpass or take you down a hiking trail and not a road.
That aside, the farm roads to the ranger station are doable and there is a decent amount of parking at the trailhead. The hike itself starts by following a service road before turning into a set of switchbacks in the forest. Most of the hike is solidly uphill with no breaks and in dense forest. Near the top, there is an opening with a boardwalk section of trail over particularly muddy spots. We could not see the view, but I assume it’s decent on a good day and worth the impressive amount of mud.
For dinner, we ventured back to Furnas to try the Cozido das Furnas, an underground cooked stew. It is a huge plate, so either arrive very hungry or share. We ordered 3 plates for 6 people and had plenty to spare.
- Parque da Riberira dos Caldeiros
- Janela do Inferno
On this day, half of our group went canyoning at Parque da Riberira dos Caldeiroes with Azorean Active Blueberry. Everyone had a very good time despite different fitness levels and ages. You can visit the park without doing the tour. The main waterfall is man made though and there’s a lot of natural occurring waterfalls to appreciate on the island instead.
I opted to hike Janela do Inferno, my oddest hike to date. Parking is off the EN5-2A and we started walking down a farm road until a trail/road turned off to the left. There are several paths that look enticing, trust me, they just lead to privately owned cow pastures. The actual trail is a bit uphill, but breaks off to a narrow path through rolling hills and pastures that leads to a long, small, dark tunnel. You must hunch over while walking and the roof of the tunnel continues to drop as you go along.
On the other side, you are in what feels like a tropical rainforest. The trail meanders through a creek and a gorge until reaching a narrow but pretty waterfall. The trail turns, you walk on top of an old narrow bridge, walk through another larger tunnel, and emerge back into a pasture. At no point looking around can you see anything but rolling hills – certainly not a lush tropical valley.
We spent the afternoon doing a horseback tour with Equitur, out of Lagoa. I have never ridden a horse before and had no issues, but the experienced riders of the group said the horses weren’t as well trained as they expected for a tour.
- Cha Gorreana
The two previous times we drove by the Gorreana tea plantation, there was a line of cars waiting to get in. We arrived earlier in the morning and immediately found parking in their small lot. There is a quick guided or self-guided tour of their small plant, a tasting room, and then a glorified café overlooking the tea plants where you can have tea, pastries, and some sandwiches if available. We did not spend much time here but it was interesting to see.
We drove up to Maia, one of our favorite cities on the trip, and swam in the ocean at Piscinas Naturais das Calhetas da Maia. There is a beach around the corner, but this location has an outdoor shower and two ladders that go into a rocky enclosure. The water was freezing, but locals indicated the Gulf Stream was further south than usual so it was both chillier and more cloudy than usual. Along the proper town beach, there is a trail that hugs the coastline away from the town. We partially walked the trail and discovered an abandoned stone spring fed bath.
Continuing west along the north coast, there were several outlooks and cities with natural pools. We cut south to Relva and then up the coast to our second AirBnb in Feteiras.
- Sete Cidades
- Miradoura da Boca do Inferno
- Jardim Antionio Borges
We got up early and rented kayaks in Sete Cidades from Azores for All. Lagoa Azul is larger and can have more choppy water than it’s neighboring Lagoa Verde. The company was nice and due to availability let us have kayaks or stand up paddleboards during our allotted 3 hours. We kayaked about 3 miles, covering from the dock to 2/3 the length of Lagoa Verde.
Around lunchtime we drove towards Miradoura da Boca do Inferno, one of the most famous overlooks on the island. Cars lined the road for quite awhile, so we continued to the aqueduct and then came back for attempt two. The trail to the overlook took about 15 minutes and is well marked. There is the main viewpoint, but also a social trail that goes off to the left with different off shoots closer to the edge of the cliff. We didn’t see a significant difference in views.
To kill time, we went into Ponta Delgada and walked the Jardim Antionio Borges, one of the 5 bigger parks on the island. Sao Miguel used to export a lot of oranges, but after an infestation has shifted away from orange groves. The half walls along the island were to protect the orange trees from the harsh winter winds. The production of oranges led to five very wealth families, who competed with large lush gardens, filled with plants and trees from all over the world.
We concluded our trip with a steak dinner at Casa do Abel in Aqua de Pau. We made reservations, but none are necessary. The meal rated in the top 3 for two of us, so it is worth a stop. It is expensive to get to the Azores, but it is not expensive on the island.
Traveled in July 2022