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, and its volcanic past is clearly visible in the numerous hot springs (and unusual cooking techniques of some of the locals!)
There’s more to see there than you might expect, but Sao Miguel’s well-paved roads and relatively low numbers of 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 to cooling off under waterfalls, and much more.
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 quite 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 at all possible, as that’s when you’ll get those perfect postcard views. There’s a dirt road that 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. For many years it was possible to carefully explore the ruins, but the site has now been purchased and boarded up in preparation for redevelopment.
Basing yourself in the pretty town of Furnas is a great alternative to staying in the capital of Ponta Delgada, but 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!
Be Amazed by the Beauty at Boca do Inferno
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 that even the best photos can’t do justice to.
Rugged craters, placid 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, but 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.
Looking for an unusual experience? Take a trip out to Ferraria on the island’s west coast, and you can swim in ocean water that’s been heated up by hot water springs.
There’s a spa and outdoor swimming pool beside the carpark with a 15 euro entry fee (5 euros to just access the pool), but swimming in the natural cove nearby is free.
You’ll need to be a little bit careful if you opt for the latter, though—the water can get quite rough, and is often uncomfortably hot at low tide. On the flipside, the temperature is barely affected by the hot springs at high tide, socheck 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.
High up in the mountains, inside the crater of an extinct volcano, lies the gorgeous Lagoa do Fogo (Fogo Lake). You’ll get spectacular photos from the roadside viewpoint on a clear day, but if you’ve got the time and mobility, it’s worth the steep half-hour descent to visit the lake as well.
Part of a nature reserve, the area is protected from development and feels truly unspoiled. Few other people make the effort 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 absolutely no facilities at Lagoa do Fogo. Take your own food and drink down there, and bring everything back with you.
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, and it can get hectic at times. 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.
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.
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 either 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 very picturesque, with plenty of great photo opportunities available from dry land
One of the most enjoyable parts of any trip to Sao Miguel is simply driving the island’s roads.
Most of the winding, well-paved routes see little traffic and have attractive beaches and stunning viewpoints around nearly every corner. While all of the coastlines has its spectacular parts, the northeastern section makes for a particularly enjoyable drive.
Stay off the highway as much as possible, and 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 endless blue ocean.
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 large, impressive gardens.
Entry includes a visit to the thermal pools onsite. As with most of the other hot springs on 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’re in need of refreshment. Meals are expensive, but if you dine before visiting the park and keep the receipt, they’ll waive the park entry fee.
If you enjoy hiking, you’re in for a treat on 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.
There’s no need to restrict yourself to land-based activities on Sao Miguel—some of the biggest highlights lie in the vast ocean that surrounds it. Many species of whale and dolphin 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 for, 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.