The 12 Best Things to Do on Sao Miguel Island, the Azores

Costal path with Hydrangeas, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal
font83 / Getty Images

Sao Miguel is the largest island in the Azores, and for most visitors, their first introduction to this archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

It’s a nature-lovers paradise, full of great trails, pounding waves, and exceptional views. Its volcanic past is visible in the numerous hot springs (and unusual cooking techniques of some locals!)

There’s more to see there than you might expect, but Sao Miguel’s well-paved roads and relatively few visitors make it an easy place to explore. We’ve tracked down 12 of the best things to do on the island, from hiking to soaking in thermal pools, relaxing in beautiful gardens, cooling off under waterfalls, and much more.

01 of 12

Enjoy Stunning Views Over a Multi-Colored Lake

Wide shot of Sete Cidades

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The views over the Sete Cidades lake are some of the most famous in the Azores, and Vista do Rei (the King’s View) viewpoint is the most popular place to do it.

Sitting inside the crater of an extinct volcano, a bridge divides the lake into two sections. They each have distinct colors (especially when the sun is out) due to the different vegetation surrounding each part.

Be sure to visit on a clear day if possible, as that’s when you’ll get those perfect postcard views. A dirt road runs along the top of the caldera, which you can walk or drive along to get a different perspective.

The abandoned Monte Palace hotel sits just beside the Vista do Rei viewpoint. It was possible to carefully explore the ruins for many years, but the site has now been purchased and boarded up in preparation for redevelopment.

02 of 12

Eat Lunch Cooked by a Volcano

Pathway with volcanic steam at Restaurante Tonys
 Restaurante Tonys

Basing yourself in the pretty town of Furnas is a great alternative to staying in the capital of Ponta Delgada. Still, even day trippers can enjoy the biggest highlight of the area: eating a meal cooked, quite literally, by a volcano.

Nowhere else on the island is Sao Miguel’s volcanic nature quite so evident, with steam rising from several vents and mud pools around town. Locals take full advantage, burying food in the hot ground in the morning and retrieving it fully cooked a few hours later.

Tony’s Restaurant is one of the most well-known places to try the resulting cozido das Furnas, and it’s worth booking a table in advance. Be warned: the plates of steaming meat and vegetables are enormous!

03 of 12

Be Amazed by the Beauty at Boca do Inferno

Wide shot of Boca do Inferno

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Boca ​do Inferno translates as the Mouth of Hell, but on a sunny day, this viewpoint is likely to be one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever visited. With just an easy five-minute walk along a ridgeline, you’ll be presented with a panorama to which even the best photos can’t do justice.

Rugged craters, serene lakes, and vibrant green countryside all vie for attention, with the small town of Sete Cidades visible in the distance, and it’s one of the best places on Sao Miguel to see how volcanic activity has shaped the island.

When driving, follow the signs for Lagoa do Canário. Don’t park in the car park off the main road; instead, take the dirt road opposite for a few minutes until you reach the end. The boardwalk starts directly alongside where you park the car.

04 of 12

Bask in Hot Ocean Water

Frothy hot water in the spa of ferraria

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Looking for an unusual experience? Take a trip out to Ferraria on the island’s west coast, and you can swim in ocean water heated by hot springs.

There’s a spa and outdoor swimming pool beside the carpark with a 15 euro entry fee (5 euros to access the pool), but swimming in the natural cove nearby is free.

You’ll need to be careful if you opt for the latter, though—the water can get rough and is often uncomfortably hot at low tide. On the flip side, the temperature is barely affected by the hot springs at high tide, so check the tide times or ask locals if you’re unsure.

Be prepared for a steep, zig-zagging drive down the cliffs to the rocky shore. The spa/pool building has a restaurant available if you get hungry, and there are also changing rooms and toilets on site.

Continue to 5 of 12 below.
05 of 12

Visit a Lake Inside a Volcano

Wide shot of Lagoa do Fogo

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

High up in the mountains, inside the crater of an extinct volcano, lies the gorgeous Lagoa do Fogo (Fogo Lake). On a clear day, you’ll get spectacular photos from the roadside viewpoint, but if you’ve got the time and mobility, it’s worth the steep half-hour descent to visit the lake.

Part of a nature reserve, the area is protected from development and feels unspoiled. Few other people try to hike down there, so you’ll likely have the sandy shoreline to yourself. Protected from the buffeting winds found at the viewpoint, it’s the perfect place to relax for a while amid the quiet, beautiful surroundings.

As you’d expect from such an isolated spot, there are no facilities at Lagoa do Fogo. Take your own food and drink down there, and bring everything back with you.

06 of 12

Bathe in Forested Hot Springs

People sitting in the natural hot springs

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Halfway down the winding road from Lagoa do Fogo en route to Ribeira Grande lies one of the island’s biggest attractions. Caldeira Velha is a group of natural hot springs in the middle of the lush rainforest, complete with its own waterfall.

The smaller pools are noticeably hotter, usually around 100 degrees F, and are perfect for when the temperature drops outside. The larger pool with the waterfall is much cooler, more like a warm bath.

Popular with tour groups and independent travelers alike, don’t expect to have the place to yourself in high season! Parking is on the road outside the entrance, which can get hectic sometimes. You’ll have a bit more space if you visit at the start or end of the day.

The hot spring has lockers, changing rooms, and cold showers available.

07 of 12

Visit the Oldest Lighthouse in the Azores

Farol do Arnel - Lighthouse Azores
getpublic / Getty Images

On the remote east coast of Sao Miguel lies Farol do Arnel, the oldest lighthouse in the Azores. It’s only open on Wednesdays, but worth visiting on other days of the week because of its stunning location.

If you want to visit it and the small, attractive fishing community nearby, be aware of the extremely steep, winding road that leads there. Small cars have been known to get stuck at the bottom, without enough power to get back up again!

Most visitors are better off parking up top and working up a sweat by visiting on foot instead.

08 of 12

Cool off Under a Waterfall

Salto Do Prego
GUIZIOU Franck / / GettyImages 

While the Azores doesn’t suffer from the extreme hot weather of mainland Portugal, it can still get pretty warm at times—which gives the perfect excuse for cooling off under a waterfall. You’re spoiled for choice throughout the island, but two of the more popular waterfalls to visit are Salto do Cabrito and Salto Do Prego.

You can access the former by taking a marked two-hour hiking trail or driving to the carpark for the hydroelectric power plant and walking five minutes along a flat riverside path.

Salto do Prego lies at the end of a roughly 40-minute uphill hike, which makes the cold blast of falling water even more appreciated.

Even if you don’t want to get soaked, both waterfalls are picturesque, with plenty of great photo opportunities available from dry land.

Continue to 9 of 12 below.
09 of 12

Road Trip Along the Coast

 Chris VR / TripSavvy

One of the most enjoyable parts of any trip to Sao Miguel is simply driving the island’s roads.

Most winding, well-paved routes see little traffic and have attractive beaches and stunning viewpoints around nearly every corner. While all the coastlines have spectacular parts, the northeastern section makes for a pleasant drive. 

Stay off the highway as much as possible. Instead, take the back roads through pretty towns and villages like Lomba da Maia, Salga, and Achada to get a slice of local life against a backdrop of white walls, red roofs, distinctive churches, and an endless blue ocean.

10 of 12

Relax in Terra Nostra Park

A woman walking along a path through the large botanical garden

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Dating back to 1775, the picturesque surroundings of Terra Nostra park in Furnas is the perfect place to relax on a sunny day. Full of tropical and subtropical plants from the Azores and around the world, it’s easy to spend an hour or more exploring these extensive, impressive gardens.

Entry includes a visit to the thermal pools onsite. As with most other hot springs in Sao Miguel, it’s worth wearing an old bathing costume, as the iron deposits in the water can stain your clothes.

There’s a high-end hotel alongside, but you don’t need to be staying there to visit the restaurant and bar if you need refreshments. Meals are expensive, but if you dine before visiting the park and keep the receipt, they’ll waive the park entry fee.

11 of 12

Hike the Trails

Walking trail on Sao Miguel
Joeri Coppens/Moment Open/Getty Images

If you enjoy hiking, you’re in for a treat in Sao Miguel. The island is crisscrossed by several trails, ranging from short strolls to a viewpoint to multi-hour hikes through the mountains. The official Azores tourism website lists over two dozen of the best walks, which you can sort by length and difficulty to find the best option.

Popular options include a 6-mile walk around Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lake), starting and ending in the township, and the shorter, steeper hike to Salto do Prego waterfall mentioned above.

The weather changes quickly in the Azores, so check the forecast before you set out and be prepared to change your plans if conditions suddenly deteriorate. Take waterproof clothing and plenty of water, and wear appropriate shoes.

12 of 12

Go Whale Watching

Mother and baby whale diving in the seat by the Azores
 Chris VR / TripSavvy

There’s no need to restrict yourself to land-based activities on Sao Miguel—some of the biggest highlights lie in the vast ocean surrounding it. Many whale and dolphin species pass by the Azores on their annual migrations or live permanently in the area.

Boats leave from Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca, with trips typically varying in cost depending on how long you’re out and where you go. 

April through June is the best time to see blue whales, but the chance of seeing other kinds of whales and dolphins is very high year-round, and you’ll usually get a refund in the rare case you don’t spot any.