Sao Miguel is a pristine island situated in the Azores, Portugal. Delta Airlines has recently introduced nonstop flights JFK to Ponta Delgada making Sao Miguel Island easier than ever to access. After a short five hour flight, you’ll discover medieval streets of Ponta Delgada, stunning volcanic vistas, and ancient forests alive with birdsong. The European paradise is also Zika free – making it an ideal island getaway for a young family. In this complete guide, you’ll find everything you need to plan your vacation in Sao Miguel Azores. From things to do in Sao Miguel to where to eat, from Sao Miguel accommodations to car rental tips – it’s all here.
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Things to do in Sao Miguel Azores, Portugal
Hotel Monte Palace – Sao Miguel Abandoned Hotel
For many years, only a few tourists visited the secluded island paradise of Sao Miguel. However, in the 1990s, several foreign investors decided that the time was ripe to build a luxury hotel here. The investors spared no expense on a facility ready to welcome the well-heeled traveler. They picked a location above Miradouro da Vista Do Rei – the King’s Viewpoint in the parish of Sete Cidades.
The new five-star facility included two gourmet restaurants, a ballroom, a theater, and even a salon. Monte Palace’s luxurious suites offered views of Vista do Rei and a pristine inner courtyard. Unfortunately for the investors, the island remained sleepy and secluded. Here, stories diverge. Some locals told me Monte Place was abandoned mid-construction. Others say the hotel was in operation for one year. However, one thing is certain – in the mid-1990s the investors ran out of money and shut down Hotel Monte Palace.
Today, the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel is a top Sao Miguel Attraction. Prominent danger signs try to stop the tourists – but few seem deterred. I too got to visit the Monte Palace Hotel on my trip to the Azores. For a lot more including a full article and a photo essay check out Hotel Monte Palace article.
Miradouro Da Vista Do Rei – Kings Viewpoint
Situated right next to the abandoned Hotel Monte Palace in Sete Cidades, the Miradouro Da Vista Do Rei offers stunning views and excellent hiking. At this easy to access vista, you’ll find the classic Azores views. A green and a blue lake spread out before you in their full glory. If you wish you can even take a full day hike down to the bottom of one of the lakes. Many people recommend coming here when Boco Do Inferno is cloudy. But I think the views are very different and you should try to visit both viewpoints. One big advantage of the Kings Viewpoint – easy accessibility.
Ponta Da Ferraria – Sao Miguel Azores Natural Thermal Water Pools
Located on the far west reaches of the island, the Ponta Da Ferraria is a must visit attraction in Sao Miguel Azores. The natural warm pools are a mix of hot volcanic water and cool Atlantic water. Time your visit with low tide and you’ll have a chance to relax in the natural bathtub as you look over the stunning vistas. Show up at the wrong time and you’ll be fighting throngs of tourists in lukewarm water. The ideal time to visit Ponta Da Ferraria is for the second low tide of the day, in the evening. I came twice – once during the day for pictures and the second time at night to relax. There were only a few other people here in the evening, and the place took on an entirely different feel.
For a lot more travel tips and pictures of Ponta Da Ferraria, check out the complete article.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno – Sao Miguel’s Most Difficult to Access Viewpoint
It was quite an adventure getting to see the Miradouro Da Boca Do Inferno views. Sao Miguel Island is located in the middle of the Atlantic and plays host to many co-existing weather systems. That means that it’s hot and sunny on one part of the island – but only twenty minutes drive away the weather is cold and rainy. To help tourists plan their day, the residents of Sao Miguel island installed cameras through the island.
The Miradouro Da Boca Do Inferno in Sete Cidades is the Sao Miguel spot most likely to be cloudy even on a beautiful day. I actually drove out here twice before I got to see anything – yes I know I should have checked the cameras first. Eventually, though, I got very lucky – I found stunning views and almost no one here. The Miradouro Da Boca Do Inferno gets very busy, so come here before eight am if possible. And yes, check those cameras!
Salto Do Prego and the Sao Miguel Abandoned Village
Of all the incredible things I got to do in Sao Miguel Azores, Salto Do Prego was probably my favorite. This full-day adventure starts with a strenuous two-hour hike through an ancient mountain forest. Loud bird song accompanied me as I climbed further up the mountain. The trek ends at a pristine, stunning waterfall, perfect for a cool dip.
After a lunch break, continue your way up the hill to an abandoned village, a place trapped in the 1950s. Yes – it’s all as idyllic as it sounds. And because the hike is fairly strenuous and because the trailhead is located far from the capital of Ponta Delgada. the place is far from crowded. Even at midday I only counted a couple of dozen people at the waterfall – plenty of room to relax and enjoy nature in this amazing thing to do in Sao Miguel, Azores.
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego
This easternmost spot on the island is both an overlook and a botanical garden. It is also my favorite viewpoint on the island of Sao Miguel. Part of the charm of the Miradouro da Pondo do Sosessego is that it is located more than one and a half hour drive from Ponta Delgada. As a result, few make it out here. Here, the bird song is so loud it is almost overwhelming. The blooming flowers provide both color and fragrance. And of course, the stunning views speak for themselves. If there was a heaven, it would have to look something like this. This viewpoint is a great place to stop after your hike in Salto Do Prego, as the two are located within a reasonable driving distance from each other.
Furnas Sao Miguel Azores –
Furnas a village in Sao Miguel, is well known for the Calediras Vulcanicas – the volcanic complex of Furnas. This classic Mediterranean village is dotted with volcanic geyzers and hot springs. The geyzers aren’t large but each is unique and many are currently active. Geyzers, which vary in color, temperature, and production all have one thing in common – they are all very smelly. This rotten egg smell (that medieval people believed originated from hell) drifts out of the deep holes and permeates through the village. The smell does not, however, stop throngs of tourists many of whom arrive in large tourist buses.
The village is accessible by the public bus system and there is plenty of parking if you chose to drive. Because Furnas is a major tourist attraction there are many eateries and places to shop as well. For lots more including travel tips and things to do here check out the complete guide to Furnas.
Furnas Sao Miguel Azores – Poca Da Dona Beija
Located only a short stroll from the Caldeiras Vulcanicas, Poca Da Dona Beija is a series of pools where you can swim and enjoy the warm volcanic waters. At only six euros (plus two for the towel if you wish to rent one), this private attraction is a relaxing bargain worth a visit. Although fairly crowded it did not feel cramped, as everyone was polite and respectful. At Poca Da Dona you’ll find four pools at 38 degrees each (100.4 F) and a lukewarm river. I easily spend a few hours here relaxing in the warm but smelly water.
The Poca Da Dona Beija is a great attraction to visit on a cool or a rainy day but was also fairly crowded on a warm Sunday afternoon. If you wish to avoid the crowds, visit in the morning on a weekday. Parking near the pool is terrible, so you might wish to leave your car closer to the geyzers and walk over to the pools.
For lots more, check out my complete guide to Poca Da Dona Beija.
Lagoa do Congro – The Green Lake
The stunning and peaceful green lake, Lagoa do Congro, was a favorite of mine – I actually went back here twice. You’ll find the large lake at the end of a short and easy hiking trail. You can’t swim in this lake, but take a few minutes to relax and meditate. As birds sing overhead and large catfish swim just inches from your feet you might find yourself just a little lost in nature. Unfortunately, Lagoa Do Congro gets very crowded during the day. I came here at 10 am the first time and at 8 am the second time. The first time I came there were dozens of people here, and no parking spots left. The second time I was here first and there was plenty of parking. I suggest visiting Lagoa Do Congro first thing in the morning and enjoying the peace and quiet on your own.
Also check out: The complete Lagoa Do Congro guide.
Salto Do Cabrito
Although it looks like an ordinary waterfall from the bottom, an unusual adventure awaits you when you climb the stairs in Salto Do Cabrito. Initially, you may be disappointed with rather ordinary views. However, make your way up the few hundred stairs and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. From a high walkway, observe as the water rushes beneath your feet. Here, continue on the walkway through a magic forest, to the source of the water. Although most people turn around when the walkway ends, you can keep going. The hike extends far beyond the waterfall and your efforts will be rewarded with incredible views of the river and the valley below.
Miradouro De Santa Iria
The stunning Miradouro De Santa Iria, on the North Shore of Sao Miguel, is definitely worth a visit. As you look out onto the rolling cliffs of Sao Miguel’s shoreline, you’ll encounter panoramic views that stretch into the horizon. Coupled with Salto Do Cabrito, Miradouro De Santa Iria is an ideal way to spend half a day. Afterward, stop by Restaurant Cantinho Do Cais for a great lunch. Above all, one of the biggest advantages of Miradouro De Santa Iria is that due to its location, this viewpoint is often clear even when others are cloudy.
Also check out: the complete guide to Miraoudoro De Santa Iria
Sao Miguel’s Capital Ponta Delgada was established in the 15th century. as a sleepy fishing village on the mostly wild island of Sao Miguel. Here, as you wander the streets, you’ll notice many things have not changed half a millennia. The streets are almost impossibly narrow, cobblestone is ever-present, and churches trace their origins back to the 15th century. You can spend days exploring this little city and many people do. However, there are a few attractions worth visiting even if you are spending most of your time exploring the island.
First, and most important stop on Sao Miguel tour is the wharf. For half a millennium ships sailed from these waters. Even today the wharf is lined with fancy yachts and sailboats. Here you’ll find an area designated for swimming, and a plethora of restaurants to chose from. Another great stop is the Mercado Da Graca, where local farmers peddle fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, and bread. Dozens of churches grace Ponta Delgada’s tiny streets and many offer spectacular views from the top. And finally, Jardim Antonio Borges – the botanical gardens are a beautiful and peaceful place to visit in Ponta Delgado.
Jardim Antonio Borges
The botanical gardens of Ponta Delgada are located only a few minutes walk from downtown. Established in the 19th century, this lovely park offers a much-needed shade on a hot Portuguese afternoon. Here, stroll the wide garden avenues and explore the oasis’s caves and little lakes. The central point of the garden is an enormous ancient tree. A relaxing stop within close proximity to the center, Jardim Antonio Borges is a good place to combine with a visit to Mercado Da Graca and the wharf.
Check out the complete article for lots more on Jardim Antonio Borges.
Pinhal Da Paz – Forest Reserve
Just ten minutes by car from Ponta Delgada, the forest reserve is another peaceful stop, ideal to explore on a hot afternoon. Originally established by a wealthy landowner, the park was a model botanical garden and a key Sao Miguel attraction. However, after falling into disrepair the Pinhal Da Paz was eventually taken over by the local authorities who began the lengthy restoration project. Today, you can wander the reserves peaceful trails accompanied by no one except birds. Native species of small deer called “Fallow deer” live here. Although located in a fenced off wild area (a large part of the reserve) they often approach humans and are gentle and tame.
Where to Eat in Sao Miguel, Portugal
Many call Bar Caloura “the best fish restaurant on the island,” and it did not disappoint. Located in the swanky town of Agua De Pau this eatery is situated right on the water and serves the freshest catch of the day. The restaurant does not take reservations. At mealtimes, the wait for a table can be as much as an hour, so show up a little before lunch or dinner to have your pick of the seats.
For lots more see my complete guide to Bar Caloura.
This unpretentious local eatery might just be the best place to try out traditional farmer food in Sao Miguel. Apito Dourado is located on a quiet street in Ponta Delgada and tourists rarely walk in here. Inside you’ll find a typical Portuguese snack shop crowded with local customers. Don’t linger here, but proceed straight to the blackboard in the back to see the day’s specials. Here, the owner prepares the meals himself using ancient family recipes. The frugal meal price includes a beer or a soft drink.
Restaurante Cantinho Do Cais
Another well known fresh fish eatery, Restaurante Cantinho Do Cais, is located in Sao Brais, a seaside town on the north shore of Sao Miguel. A delightful second-floor open-air seating gives you a lovely view of the traditional streets below. Specializing in grilled local fish, the meals are simple but expertly prepared. The parking lot across the street is a major convenience in this small town full of narrow streets.
Mercado Da Graca
The Mercado Da Graca, Ponte Delgado’s farmers market is a must visit on your trip to Sao Miguel in the Azores. In this market, you’ll find fresh local fruit like pineapples and tomatoes. The adjacent cheese shop is outstanding and you can purchase the freshest local cheeses here. Next, stop by the bread shop and you are all set with an ideal picnic to enjoy at one of the many vistas on the island.
Sao Miguel Travel Tips
Sao Miguel, which is located in the middle of the Atlantic ocean plays a host to several weather systems at the same time. This means that while one part of the island might be warm and sunny, another part can be cold and rainy. To help tourists (and locals) deal with this logistical nightmare, the island authorities have installed web cameras all over Sao Miguel. Always check the cameras before you set out for the day!
Another website that I found helpful while visiting Sao Miguel is Windguru. While the web cameras give you a good overview of what is happening in a location right now, Windguru is a good way to predict what will be happening around the island later that day or tomorrow. Windguru’s predictions are much more accurate than checking an online weather forecast. Access to Windguru the general area of Sao Miguel island is free, but if you want a detailed forecast for every location, sign up for the pro version. For only 20 euros you will get be able to see very accurate weather predictions from about 15 spots on the island. This saves you both time and money. I wish I knew this trick before I visited – would have saved a lot of driving time.
Sao Miguel Azores Accommodation
Economy Hotel in Sao Miguel
Although I don’t generally recommend hostels, I would be remiss not to recommend where I stayed on this trip – ABica Hostel. In spite of its name, private and family rooms are available here, so this is a good option for a family or a couple as well. This pristine Japanese style hostel is situated on a quiet Ponta Delgado street just minutes from local attractions. This area is more authentic Azores than the more touristy areas just a few minutes walk from here. But what really makes the place special is the environment and the loving care the owners put into the place. The hostel is beautiful and super clean, the environment is relaxed and welcoming. I really enjoyed my stay here and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Mid Range Hotel in Sao Miguel
If a traditional hotel is more to your liking, Hotel Ponta Delgada is probably the best-known accommodation in the city. Featuring an indoor pool and sauna and situated on the shore, the hotel offers privacy and flexibility in a beautiful setting.
Luxury Accommodations in Sao Miguel
If you are looking for true luxury in the Azores, a private villa may be your best choice. For instance, located just minutes from the beach in the quiet town of Villa Franco De Campo, in this villa you’ll find everything you need for a luxurious couple of a family getaway. Most hotels on the island specialize in 3 to 4-star range, so a villa is a great choice if you are looking for more indulgence.
Sao Miguel Travel Tips and FAQ
Sao Miguel Azores Beaches
If you are used to traditional island vacations, you might expect to see big, sandy beaches in Sao Miguel. However, there are only a few places on the island where you will find volcanic sand (including a couple of small beaches). But in Sao Miguel Azores, lack of beaches does not mean a lack of swimming opportunities. Practically every town on the shore offers a swimming pier where you can lay out in the sun and enjoy the surf. If however, your goal is to lazy around on a white sand beach for a week, then Sao Miguel is probably not the right island for you.
Sao Miguel Azores Car Rental
I was so glad I rented a car in Sao Miguel, because it’s really hard to access many of the stunning vistas without one. To pick the best ride for my trip, I checked my two favorite car rental sources – Skyscanner and Hotwire. Because driving and parking on the island can be complicated, the car rental companies here spend a bit of extra time with you, documenting any damage to the vehicle. With every rental, I suggest you take a walk around the vehicle and video record any issues before you leave the area. Particularly, pay close attention to the windshield to make sure it is not cracked. Small rocks on the road can cause damage that many inspections miss, but you may be responsible for. Of course, only rent from companies with great reviews.
Can You Get Around Sao Miguel By Bus?
Many people ask, are there buses in Sao Miguel Azores? In my hostel, many people avoided renting a car for several reasons. The first was the price. Sao Miguel is an expensive island to drive. I paid almost 300 euros for a small automatic vehicle, and spend almost thirty every day for gas. Additionally, however, the tiny city streets can be intimidating. Designed for horses not vehicles, these pathways require constant vigilance and a sharp eye. An even bigger problem for many people is parking. Having grown up in NYC and familiar with very tight parallel parking I did not have a problem. It was still easier than parking by Broadway. But if you are not an experienced parallel parker, you might need some help.
Although Sao Miguel does have a public bus system it is not a great system. For instance, there is a bus that can take you from Ponta Delgada to Ponta De Ferraria – but it only comes once every couple of hours. Before I left I saw advertising for a private hop on hop off bus originating in Ponta Delgada. I think this is an excellent solution that would be both more convenient and environmentally friendly. For now, however, the bus system in Sao Miguel is usable but not well developed.
If you are comfortable with hitchhiking this might be a good option, as the island is very safe. Another option is to book tours, a wide selection is available in Ponta Delgada. This too can get pricy as many full day tours are upwards of 100 euros. Whatever you do, if you chose not to rent a car in Sao Miguel don’t expect to get around quickly.
Sao Miguel Portugal Packing List
I have already mentioned it several times, but the weather in Sao Miguel changes quickly. Bring a good rain jacket because chances are, it will rain at some point during your vacation. Hiking Sandals are a must – when you are hiking to the waterfalls, do so in hiking sandals, its very painful to get into the water otherwise. I hiked in these hiking sandals. Of course, hiking shoes are necessary for most other hikes and don’t forget coral safe sunblock to explore those beautiful swimming spots.
Downloadable Google Map of Sao Miguel Azores
That’s it for Sao Miguel in the Azores! Thank you so much for reading and please leave a comment – they are helpful and I get all warm and fuzzy when I read them :). Thanks again, and I’ll see you guys on the road!
Viktoria aka Traveltipster