A very long time ago after a number of hilariously bad first dates, I made an actual list (yes, like on paper) of what qualities were important to me in a guy. At the very top of the list? Must be willing to travel and explore. Soon after, I met Rob… and the traveling began. In the past five years we’ve been to twenty something states, three countries, and had countless adventures ranging from white water rafting to rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking. So, I suppose it was no big surprise that for the second year in a row he let me hijack our wedding anniversary and turn it into yet another outdoor focused adventure.
This year, we decided to head to the Azores – specifically São Miguel. The Azores are an archipelago (string of islands) 850 miles off the coast of Portugal. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m not shocked. These 9 islands are refreshingly rather untouched by modern tourism. You’ll struggle to find fast food, t-shirt shops, or any of the usual touristy gimmicks. What will you find? Delicious food, intriguing architecture, wonderful people, diverse hikes, and soaring waterfalls. I don’t know how we ever left.
As I’ve started to write about my trip, I’ve realized I could write an entire guidebook at this point. So let’s break it up and kick it off with…
Getting There & Getting Around
Rob and I chose to fly SATA Airlines out of Boston, Massachusetts (BOS). We had utterly low hopes knowing that it was a red-eye, economy seats, and not a very big airline. But from the moment we arrived to check in, we could tell we were in for a good adventure. Everyone we dealt with was so pleasant, and it turns out Terminal E at Boston’s Logan Aiport is the nicest terminal. Who knew! Once we boarded, we quickly got talking with one of the flight attendants (I wish I could remember his name!) who told us all about things to see, words to know, and why he loves the Azores. Soon after we were served a lovely (by plane food standards) dinner with lots of wine, coffee, tea, and Azorean cookies. We didn’t get a single minute of sleep on that flight as our fellow passengers were a lively bunch, chatting away in aisles in Portuguese. The five hour flight flew by SO quick! Upon arriving at João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada (PDL), the good vibes continued. Customs and baggage claim were a breeze – despite our being awake for almost a full day at that point. As for getting back, we flew SATA again and it was just as pleasant!
As for getting around, we knew we’d be spending most of our vacation hiking so any public transportation options wouldn’t work for us. We chose to rent from Hertz and it was a good choice. Rob and I have become so accustom to spending often times a third of our vacation budget on rental cars that we were shocked to find out our rental would end up costing less than $350 for the entire 10 days we were there (with unlimited miles). Gas was definitely more expensive, but our little Peugot 208 was super efficient. PS: You drive on the right-hand side of the road here.
For anyone thinking about traveling to the Azores and renting a car, I’m sure Rob would like me to mention three very important things. First off, you have to know how to drive stick – and well! There are a few automatics available for rental, but at about three times the price. Roads are windy, super narrow, often steep, and sometimes slippery (especially on the cobblestone in downtown areas). To make matters even more fun, most parking is directly on the road – so you’ll find yourself doing lots of stopping and going as you yield to oncoming traffic. Second, we never went anywhere without a GPS and a paper map – and you shouldn’t either. Roads are not well marked at all and it’s super easy to get lost. Be prepared! And finally, road signs in Europe are totally different than American signs. Most are intuitive, but some are baffling (and important)! Get familiar with them before driving. We referenced this document a lot once we realized we were confused.
Lodging & Accommodations
Of all our travel plans, the one that seems to always go the most awry for us is hotels. Somehow (perhaps due to my excessive research, review reading, and paranoia) we actually managed to pick pretty great hotels this time.
For the first few nights of our vacation, we stayed at Hotel Vale do Navio (booked through Priceline) in Capelas on the northern coast of the island. For the price (about $70 per night), it was lovely. The rooms were spacious, the views were wonderful, and the included breakfast was great. It wasn’t exactly my favorite hotel ever due to some little nit-picky items like poor lighting, super hard beds, really bad wi-fi, and a not so friendly restaurant staff, but it worked for us and I’d still give it a good review overall. We especially enjoyed the proximity to a really pretty piscina naturals (ocean swimming pool) and some great coastal views.
For the second half of the vacation, we stayed at Hotel Marina Atlântico (booked through Priceline) in downtown Ponta Delgada. This hotel was perfect for us: right on the ocean (with a marina view – Rob loves boats), easy walk to the historic area and all the restaurants, and a very comfortable room with a porch. We were also pleased to see a nice buffet breakfast and underground parking included. It was definitely a bit more costly at about $130 per night, but we already know we’ll be staying there again when we return!
Up next – hiking!