13 Jan,2017 By Jagabond
“And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world…” – Revelation 12
I couldn’t find anything on Sao Miguel that resembled that quote above. The island is named for Saint Michael the Archangel, though unless you consider the intense geothermic activity hell-like, then not much is like his experiences in Revelation.
The Azores is an archipelago, or a chain of islands, and Sao Miguel is the largest of the nine. From a larger perspective, Azores is one of four archipelagos that comprise Macaronesia, the others being Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, and Madeira. Sao Miguel is the commercial centre of the Azores with a focus on agriculture, and an important trading port due to geographic position. Tourism, and the island itself, has been shaped by a long history of volcanic activity, with eruptions occurring over hundreds of thousands of years.
Sao Miguel is also home to the only international airport with daily, direct flights from Boston, making it a convenient and different tourist location for those living in or near the New England states. I read so much conflicting advice on what to do here. The Azores isn’t a traditional holiday spot, so there aren’t hundreds of online travel guides telling you how to plan your itinerary. I heard that Sao Miguel was worth anywhere from three days to two weeks….so I went towards the middle and spent a week there. There are certain things you must do while in Sao Miguel, and I think that you can squeeze all this into one week.
1. Volcanic lakes for views and snorkeling – What is it about crater lakes that makes them so beautiful? I first encountered these in Iceland, though the ones on Sao Miguel are more enticing for those preferring a more saturated, colorful presentation. The first and most famous is the Caldeira das Sete Cidades, an absolute stunning beauty.
Another site for an amazing view was Lagoa do Fogo, which fittingly translates to ‘Lake of Fire’.
Both of these crater lakes can either be driven or hiked to, though if you choose the latter option plan on making a half-day out of the trip. The other lake, the islet of Vila Franca do Campo, was only accessible by boat. Though there were many sunbathers here, the real attraction was swimming and snorkeling. The exotic array of fish species were mostly around the perimeter of the lake, particularly at the spots that took water in from the ocean. My friends and I couldn’t resist the temptation, and due to my inexperience snorkeling I ended up with a couple mouthfuls of tasty salt water.
2. Visit Furnas for a meal cooked in the ground – Though sulfur is no doubt an unpleasant odor, Furnas is something that must be experienced. The name is fitting, as hot volcanic fumes spew from the ground all around you. I would think that the smell coupled with the tourist hordes would make it difficult to sell a home around here. For a unique experience, try one of the restaurants in town that serve meat plates that were cooked entirely underground.
3. Terra Nostra Garden – When early Portuguese settlers of Sao Miguel noticed the lush vegetation, they termed it ‘the green island’. It’s only natural then that there would be some amazing gardens here, and Terra Nostra was the highlight. This park is home to more than 2,000 species of trees, wonderfully arranged floral designs, these cool grassy statues of animals, and even a pond you could walk across if brave enough to risk falling in (I was not). Plan on spending a few hours here.
4. Hot Springs – The only Azorean hot springs where swimming is allowed are located on Sao Miguel. The park next to Lagoa do Fogo has a great one surrounded by jungle-like conditions and armed with a vigorous waterfall. There is also one at the aforementioned Terra Nostra Garden, though the yellow-orange tinge to the water wasn’t very inviting. Hot springs are great for relaxing, cleansing the skin, and child-like horseplay.
5. Dinner at Tasca – The diverse sea life in the Azores is great for both fish admirers and fish eaters, and the best seafood restaurant is on Sao Miguel. Tasca has a touch of class and an amazing selection of delicious swimmers like salmon, parrot fish, and squid, though I would not recommend the fried sardines…yuk! Plan on waiting in line if you don’t make reservations.
6. Wild nights in Ponta Delgada – The largest city on Sao Miguel, and the Azores as a whole, is still learning the concept of nightlife. Most of the pubs are concentrated at the harbor area, though we did find a great one called ‘Low Cost Bar’ next to the cathedral where the prices truly lived up to the name. Be careful, as it’s easy to have a long night here, since most places continue serving drinks until people stop asking. Unlike mainland Europe they have heavy pours on their liquor, in fact one bar managed to fill an entire glass with brandy.