The Azores are without a doubt a great place to hike in beautiful landscapes augmented by interesting culture and history. There are a broad variety of hikes as well ranging from multi-day treks (read about a multi-day trek here) to wonderful day hikes – the seven day hikes I’ll write about in this article are just a sampling. I previously wrote about the Trail of Ten Volcanoes day hike so I won’t repeat that here.
I was able to visit four of the nine islands that make up the archipelago of the Azores recently and I can easily imagine a trip back for more. The hikes featured below are spread across several of the islands. What they have in common are the volcanic origins and geologic history, but I think of each of the islands as featuring its own unique attributes so there is no shortage of diversity between them, even if subtle.
Each of the hikes that follow is accompanied by a map of the route that I walked. Clicking or tapping on a map will open a new map that is interactive and provides for download of GPS files. These do not always follow the route you will find designated in information from the local tourism authority. Also, each hike is accompanied by a gallery of pictures from the hike. By clicking or tapping on a picture, you will bring up an enlarged view of the images that can be scrolled through with navigation keys or swiped through.
This hike starts at a stop along the highway about 30 minutes drive West of Ponta Delgado on Sao Miguel Island. I rented a scooter, but it is possible to take public transportation. The route follows an unpaved track on top of the spine that is the Southern rim of a large volcanic crater containing the Sete Cidades lakes and community. Coastal towns lie below the spine to the South and there are big views of the Atlantic Ocean. The steep hillsides are intermittently pastures and patches of dense, lush forest. There is an abandoned multi-story hotel structure near the trailhead that proved to be photogenic both inside and out.
Vinhas da Criação Velha
This gorgeous route on Pico Island winds between pathways through old vineyards and walks along the rugged coastline. This whole area is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Huge waves were crashing on the beaches and cliffs. The vineyards are contained in labyrinths of rock walled corrals that often stretch to the horizon. Ponta do Pico, the highest mountain of the Azores looms above.
I took a ferry from Horta on Faial Island to Madalena on Pico. A short, ten dollar cab ride from Madalena to Porto do Calhau brought me to the beginning of the route. Nice wines are still produced on Pico although I was unsure whether the vineyards along the route are active sources of the grapes. A windmill reconstruction along the way gives a glimpse into long ago history when the Flemish were prominent settlers of the islands and found them to be appropriately windy.
Rota da Água – Janela do Inferno
This hike climbs up to and passes through highland fields and meadows of Sao Miguel Island. The start is about a 45 minute drive East of Ponta Delgada. Once again, I traveled by rented scooter but is is possible to use public transport.
The route eventually leads into a narrow valley where you follow an old aqueduct that brings water to towns and villages below. The aqueduct (and so the trail) passes through a series of tunnels and over a series of photogenic bridges. The forest becomes quite thick and jungle-y as you proceed up the narrowing valley. The feature called Janela do Inferno is a cliff that is punctuated by a bunch of freshwater springs. As you descend back toward the start, there are big views of the ocean below and of the city of Ponta Delgada.
Lagoa Furnas Circuit
This hike starts and ends in Furnas, a nice town with plenty of services that is about an hour and a half drive East of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island. Once again, I rented a scooter and drove although it is possible to use public transport.
Furnas is below the rim of a volcanic crater that contains Furnas Lake, so the hike starts out by climbing up and over the rim before traversing the lake. At the north end of the lake is an attractive park and a geothermal area (caldeira) were cozidas are cooked. Cozidas are mixed meats and vegetables (think ingredients like beef shoulder, pork shanks, sausages, chicken, kale, cabbage, carrot, yam and potato all steamed in its own juices) cooked in buckets that are lowered into steaming holes of hot rock. They are a specialty served at several local restaurants.
As the trail proceeds around the lake I passed a series of interesting wooden sculptures, always with a beautiful lake backdrop. At the South end of the lake is a boarded up old Gothic style church called the Hermitage of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias. For variety, I chose a route through the countryside to return to town.
Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito
The Salto Cabrito Trail begins at a small hot springs resort about a 45 minute drive northeast of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island. I could not figure out any way that the start of this hike would be accessible by public transportation. From the resort, the route climbs past a caldeiras used for cooking by locals and the restaurant. The climb up through the fields eventually reaches a stream that has been diverted to feed hydropower plants further downstream. A side trip follows aqueducts up a scenic, steep-walled canyon. Proceeding downstream you walk through pleasant forest of Japanese Cedar, Cheeswood, Acacia, and Ginger Lily and pass by a hillside that emits geothermal steam. You eventually reach a geothermal power plant where the stream narrows to a gorge that is passable on a metal catwalk and lots of stairs. The is a hydro plant at the bottom of the stairs which is also the bottom of a waterfall called the Cascata do Salto do Cabrito. From there the Ribeira Grande Valley opens up a bit as you proceed down toward the ocean before looping back to the start
This is an historic walk through the heart of the Horta, the principal city on Faial Island up onto a mountainous peninsula overlooking the port and town. I started and ended at the North end of Horta because I was staying at Banana Manor – a comfortable guesthouse located there.
Along the route on the peninsula, there is an aquarium, a whaling museum, the Dabney House Museum, and several other sites of cultural significance. Along the route in town, there is an historical museum as well as a small, private museum called Museu Scrimshaw located in the back of a bar called the Peter Cafe. Peter Cafe is a fairly nondescript place that is apparently famous among the sailing crowd. It was a fine place for a beer along the way and to ogle the large collection of sailing flags and artifacts. The collection of scrimshaw art is pretty cool.
Praia Do Almoxarife
The hike to Praia do Almoxarife started at my lodging at Banana Manor at the north end of the city of Horta on the island of Faial. The route immediately climbs up and over a steep ridge affording views both back to Horta and ahead to Praia do Almoxarife.
Praia do Almoxarife is a beachside area in a rural farming area. There were alot of flowers all along this route, even out of flower season. The descent from the ridgetop down into Praia do Almoxarife passes through lush farmlands and past the ancient Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça. I had a nice lunch and a beer at Restaurante O Cagarro before proceeding back up over the high ridge and down into Horta.