I Took a Package Tour to Terceira Island in the Azores—Here's What It Was Like

The trip illuminated why vacation packages are more relevant than ever before

Terceira Island

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Last week, I had the opportunity to visit one of the nine islands in Portugal's Azores archipelago, Terceira. With its sweeping coastal views, active volcanoes, and natural pools, I had heard fantastic things about the island and was more than excited to visit. The caveat? I would be experiencing Terceira as part of an all-inclusive tour curated by Portuguese travel agency Azores Getaways, including my flights and one-week hotel stay as part of a packaged bundle.

I was admittedly trepidatious at first. As someone who travels extensively personally and as part of my job, I surprisingly had no prior experience with vacation packages. I would usually book a flight and hotel separately; being tied to a tour group made me nervous. Embedded on the trip with a group of strangers, many of whom booked just for the great deal (bundles begin at $499 for March bookings), I saw the world of vacation packages in a whole new light. Here's what my experience was like.

Flight to Terceira

My trip kicked off from Boston Logan International Airport, where I was booked on a direct flight to Terceira Island on Azores Airlines. Boasting one of the largest Portuguese populations in the United States, Boston is one of four North American cities that offers direct flights to the Azores on Azores Airlines, alongside their year-round Toronto route, and seasonal routes from Montreal, and Oakland, California. Portuguese airline TAP Air Portugal also flies to the islands, although with stopovers in Lisbon and Porto, while United Airlines recently announced that it would debut a direct seasonal route from Newark Liberty International to the island of Sao Miguel beginning this June.

Flights to Boston were not included as part of the package; my fellow travelers and I all made connections at Boston, then stood on line at the Azores Airlines ticket counter, which did not open before 6:15 p.m., to check-in. At a brisk four hours, the flight to Terceira seemed quick—just about the same amount of time it would take me to fly to the Caribbean. The food on the flight was surprisingly good, which I had been told by others who flew the airline previously, but we were told that no alcohol would be served on the flight. The rule seemed unusual for an international flight, and no reason was given, although I assumed it was a pandemic-related decision.

Duke of Terceira Garden

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The Hotel

As part of the package, travelers could choose from a selection of hotels at different price ranges. I was booked at the Azoris Angra Garden, which was in the middle of the price range options, and located directly in the city center of Terceira Island's largest city, Angra do Heroísmo. The hotel was no-frills but boasted a gorgeous view of the Duke of Terceira garden, which my balcony doors opened up onto. Other options included Hotel do Caracol, the basic option included at booking, and Terceira Mar Hotel, the priciest option.

Aside from a lackluster breakfast buffet, meals were not included as part of the tour package, which led my hotel's prime location to work to my advantage. I was just a five-minute walk in every direction from several excellent culinary gems that I was able to explore after my tours concluded, including O Chico, Tasca das Tias, Mercatto di Osteria, and Oficina da Esquina, located in the chic boutique hotel The Shipyard, which was not included as an option for accommodation.

Terceira Island

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The Tours

Azores Getaways offered a selection of daily tours throughout the seven-day trip, which could be added to your base package for anywhere from 20 to 65 euros per person. I kicked off my journey with an all-day bus tour around the island, which was the best choice. The tour provided a preliminary introduction to the history of the island and stopped at some of Terceira's most cherished highlights, including the volcanic lava pools of Biscoitos and the best viewpoint on the island, the Miradouro da Serra do Cume, which towered over the ultra-rich soil of the patched farmland below.

The next day, I woke early to do a whale watching tour that did not amount to seeing any whales, something the Azores is best known for. I did, however, see hundreds of dolphins, many of which swam right up to the boat to say hello. As a New Yorker who rarely ever sees dolphins, I was more than delighted—but I can't say many of my fellow passengers felt the same. Later in the week, I toured a dairy farm where I fed baby cows, walked through a traditional cheese-making process, and ate a lot of cheese. I took a walking food tour where I sampled local cuisine, like limpets, a sea snail eaten out of its shell, like an oyster, and the Dona Amélia, a traditional Terceira Island pastry made with eggs, honey, cinnamon, and cornflour. My least favorite of the tours was the arts and culture tour. I was looking forward to speaking to Terceira natives about the creative process behind traditional crafts like ceramics and embroidery but only got to see a woman slice up a piece of clay before our group was paraded around a bunch of shops.

Two of my scheduled tours, a glass-bottom boat voyage highlighting underwater artifacts and a sunset boat ride, were canceled due to inclement weather, leaving me with two full days to myself. I wish I had decided to rent a car during these days, as there were few places within walking distance to go beyond the city center. Because I had heard good things about the fishing village of Sao Mateus, I spent one afternoon walking four miles to eat fresh shrimp at the town's most famous restaurant, Beira Mar. With the circumference of the entire island easily doable within a 90-minute drive, I found it perplexing that the tour was stretched out over a week and wished that the ferry service to the other Azores islands ran year-round so that I could hop a boat to Pico or Corvo.

Angra do Heroismo

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The Other Travelers

The primary benefit of partaking in so many tours was getting to know many of my fellow travelers. A woman and her daughter from Birmingham, Alabama, traveling to celebrate a graduation; a restauranteur and his wife visiting from Detroit; two older female friends on a girls' trip from Oakland; and several solo travelers, including a doctor from San Francisco, a pharmacist from Orlando, and a musician from New York. While speaking with them over a lunch of alcatra, a slow-cooked beef stew native to the island served to us on our first day, many told me they had discovered this vacation package during late-night scrolling on the internet. Many had no prior experience with the Azores and most booked the trip on a whim. All of them were excited to be traveling to Europe for such a low cost, discovering someplace new.

The women from Birmingham told me they were visiting Terceira for the third time; they had previously traveled to Sao Miguel and to Corvo on past trips with Azores Getaways, which the mother had accidentally discovered while looking for an anniversary getaway to book. The mother, who recently retired, fell head over heels with Terceira and had already booked a month-long rental on the island for the fall. Traveling solo, I found myself chatting with the solo travelers on the trip, particularly two women, who both told me they were pleased with how easy the communal tours made socializing with new people. Many of the travelers who met on tour ended up meeting for dinners later in the evenings, giving each other rides home in their rental cars, and exchanging numbers to meet up again when passing through their hometowns. After a challenging two years for the industry, it was heartwarming to see the community element of travel in full display.

Islets of Goats Terceira Island

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Safety Policies and Return

Although mainland Portugal no longer requires a negative COVID-19 test to enter, the Azores islands still do, and I was asked to present a negative PCR test upon my arrival. While few locals wore their masks outdoors, I noticed masks worn inside restaurants, bars, and cafes.

On the day of my return flight to Boston, my first order of business was retrieving a negative antigen test from a pharmacy in the city center to return home. Azores Getaways set up appointments for everyone on the tour, though the testing fee (30 euros) was not included with the package. The pharmacy I was assigned to was a mere three-minute walk from my hotel, and after showing my passport, I was able to take my test within 10 minutes. I received my results within one hour.

Overall Experience

After my experience on Terceira, I walked away with a new appreciation for vacation packages. In a world slowly crawling its way out of a pandemic, and with travel off the table for far too long, travelers are now prioritizing safety and community in ways they never have before. Traveling on an all-inclusive tour was not something I thought I would enjoy. Still, I appreciated the little things being taken care of and witnessed firsthand how the structured nature of the trip lent itself to kinship among new friends.

I was particularly impressed with the scope of travelers I met on my trip. I was not expecting the level of diversity I found across age, race, gender, and location. From couples to friends to solo travelers, I felt privileged to have spent time with such a wide array of people, many of whom took a leap and decided to explore a destination they knew little about, simply because they came across an affordable opportunity that made them feel safe. Vacation packages may not be for everyone, but experiences that uplift local communities while exposing travelers to off-the-radar destinations are a major win.

Article Sources
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