Peeking above the waves of the Atlantic 1,600km from mainland Europe, the nine islands of the Azores are a tourism phenomenon - a unique haven for nature lovers and travellers passionate about outdoor activities such as hiking, diving and whale watching.
Here you can find truly unspoilt nature, with breath-taking landscapes, ancient forests, incredible lagoons, extinct volcanic craters, hot water waterfalls, fumaroles, and much more! But you will also find five centuries of history have left their mark in striking culture, architecture, food and wine.
The first archipelago in the world to be certified as a sustainable tourist destination, here are six unforgettable ways to enjoy the best of the Azores:
A young sport, played out among ancient rocks, canyoning is growing in popularity in the Azores and a dozen specialists now offer thrilling chances to have a go yourself at this beguiling blend of hiking, climbing, abseiling and a lot of water! Of the nine islands, three - São Miguel, São Jorge and Flores - have a vast supply of beautiful canyoning options and itineraries for all abilities and fitness levels from first-timers to seasoned canyoners.
Head to Flores for the most variety in routes, from large vertical descents to simple tracks, while São Jorge mainly features the big drops.
São Miguel is an island of lakes nestling in volcanic craters that are many kilometres wide and the most iconic of these is Sete Cidades. One of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, Sete Cidades showcases the beautiful Green and Blue Lakes, which according to legend, were formed from the tears of a shepherd and a princess who shared a forbidden love.
These lakes can be seen from the Vista do Rei (King’s View) lookout and starting point for a classic hiking trail that goes through the southwest slope of the Sete Cidades ridges and ends inside the village. The walk highlights the interior of the crater with its lush foliage and volcanic formations.
Geotourism - tourism that sustains and celebrates the geological diversity and heritage of a destination - has a ready home in the Azores. The volcanic origins of this mid-Atlantic archipelago are a visible reminder of the power of nature, and the basis for some very special tourism experiences.
Visiting volcanoes is a thrill for adults and children alike. You can start a geotouristic day drinking it all in at a lookout, from where the extraordinary landscape can be appreciated. Then try a descent deep underground, into one of the publicly accessible caves. Back above ground, walking trails wind across the volcanic landscape. And whenever it gets too hot, there are beaches and tidal, lava pools. And towering over it all is Mount Pico, majestic and with an intact volcanic cone.
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The unique ecosystem of the Azores has made the seas around the islands one of the world's great whale sanctuaries. Whale and dolphin watching is possible throughout the whole year, with more than 20 different types of whales - a third of cetacean species - visiting the waters.
Sperm whales, sei whales and bearded whales are frequent in the summer, while blue whales can be easily spotted at the end of the winter. More than 20 whale-watching operators run boat trips and whales or dolphins are spotted in 98% of the trips, regardless of the time of the year. Many also offer visitors the chance to swim with dolphins, too.
A city bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and born of trade and navigation, the capital of Terceira island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Founded in 1478, Angra was historically the most important city in the Azores, even becoming the national capital of the Liberal government-in-exile during the Portuguese Civil War in the 19th century.
In the city, be sure to visit the Igreja do Santíssimo Salvador da Sé, or Sé de Angra (Cathedral), the Igreja da Misericórdia (Church), the Convent and Church of São Francisco, the Palácio dos Capitães Generais (Palace), the Monument of Remembrance, the Castle of São Sebastião, the Castle of São João Baptista, the Angra Museum and Monte Brasil for some stunning history and architecture.
Regularly voted one of the world's top dive destination, the largely undiscovered paradise of the Azores offers a huge variety of dive sites, all rich in abundant marine life and full of once in a lifetime experiences - such as seeing whale sharks swim through crystal clear waters beneath you, while dozens of devil rays swoop above and curious blue sharks and huge pelagic fish explore the water with you.
The unique geography provides the perfect home for a huge array of smaller fish as well as several large marine species. There are five kinds of sea turtle, over 24 different species of cetaceans and about 600 types of fish. More than two dozen dive centres help visitors explore the dozens of different dive sites.
Go to visitazores.com to discover even more of the wonders of the Azores.
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