As the headline already reveals, the Azores are a destination for very active travellers. The islands are not really suitable for beach vacation and in my opinion also not for kids. Why? For starters, Azoreans say that each day has four seasons, which makes it difficult to find the right time to get a suntan. Second, there are hardly any sandy beaches at all and because the islands emerged from volcanic activity, the water is really deep, even in the coastal area. If you really want to swim, you need to be an experienced swimmer with good stamina. Third, most activities on the Azores require endurance and strength. Also, if you are not the nature kind of type, then there is no need of coming here at all, because literally everything you do here is about the Azores’ unique nature. You will be outdoors most of the time, and it will rain very often.
I already told you that we went hiking, and of course we did the mandatory whale watching tour, which was tough on our tummies (and you know I have an invincible Sri Lankan tummy!). As a horse lover I also needed to go on a horse ride and this time I even went for two. The first one was to get warm and check out my physical condition, because I don’t go horse riding on a regular basis. I found this lovely horse stable in Livramento, a five minutes drive from Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel):
They have pure bred and mixed Lusitano horses.
The first day we went for a short 2,5 hour ride, which took us through beautiful fields, villages and the jungle. The horses were pretty calm and good for beginners. After this tour I felt very confident to accept another challenge: A full-day horse trek around the famous two-crater lake Sete Cidades. We drove early in the morning with the horses in the trailers to the crater of Sete Cidades. From there we rode on the crater around the lakes, which was really epic! On one side you could see the ocean, on the other side the steep crater with the lakes. The path we were riding on was really narrow and to me it felt like we were galloping all the way. When we reached the viewing point we had to get off our horses and lead them the path down into the crater. My legs were already jelly at this point! When we reached a safe point, we got back onto our horses and continued the ride to the lakes and had a lunch break there.
We spent the afternoon riding around the blue lake and finished off with splashing through the shallow waters of the green lake. I never did a one-day horse trek and even days later I could feel my sore muscles. But I would do it anytime again! My companions, who were from the Azores, Sweden and France, were super nice, we had a lot of fun and they took good care of me. They didn’t promise too much when they told me in the morning: This trek is going to be epic!
Before I move on to the next activity, which was definitely my highlight on the Azores, I like to drop a few comments on the food and people. As for the people, I made only good experiences. They were super friendly and, like everywhere I go, they thought I was a local. Almost everybody spoke English and if not, my friend could communicate easily in Spanish with them. We were very lucky to witness a local festivity with local music and dance. I don’t know what it is called, but it had something to do with Christmas. As for the food…well, my choice is pretty limited, since I eat strictly halal. But I love fish and I was looking forward to eating heaps of fish and prawns on the Azores. Maybe I ordered the wrong dishes (I tried to eat local), but it really wasn’t good. We found only one good restaurant serving local dishes called Mercado do Peixe. It is located at the harbor of Ponta Delgada. You cannot miss it. They serve fresh fish with vegetables and rice or boiled potatoes. I also tried some prawns on Sao Miguel, but was disappointed: They resembled shrimps and didn’t deserve at all to be called prawns! Yeah, I know, we in Sri Lanka are really spoilt when it comes to food… If you don’t like fish or don’t want to try local dishes, there are some other options. We found an amazing Asian restaurant serving Chinese and Japanese Cuisine. It is right in the heart of the old part of Ponta Delgada. On our last day I had the craving for Italian food. Luckily there was a pretty good Italian restaurant near our hotel. I can only recommend it: Mimo.
After all this talk about food and outdoor activities, I want to finish my review on the Azores with the most amazing experience I have done so far: Swimming with wild dolphins in the deep blue sea. I was already totally thrilled to have seen whales. Honestly speaking, I didn’t even know you could swim with dolphins on the Azores. I only know those places like in Dubai or Florida, where you swim with imprisoned dolphins and everything is monitored and secured. But to swim in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? The mere thought scared the living shit out of me. Thanks to my friend, who was very persistent, and many funny conversations (“Do whales eat human beings? I mean, accidentally? Does that happen?”), I made the insane decision to go forward with it. It was 12 degrees and it was just my friend and me and two tour operators on the boat. That way we were very lucky, because according to the tour guide, such tours are only executed when at least four people take part in it. Like this, my friend and I could get more often into the water, which increased our chances of seeing dolphins (due to security reasons only two people are allowed to get into the water at a time). I’m not sure how long we were driving out into the ocean, but it was at least 20 km from the island. When we saw the dolphins – bottlenose dolphins, the famous “Flipper” dolphin – the skipper positioned the boat close to them and on his command we glided into the water. The water was warmer than the air temperature. As we were swimming with wild dolphins, we had to dive to see them (equipment will be handed to you). Of course the dolphins won’t stop by to say hi. They swam right pass us or below us. On one occasion the entire swarm swam just 2 meters below me. You can also hear them singing under water, which is a unique experience. Below the surface of the water everything feels like a dream world, you hear those beautiful sounds and see those magnificent creatures…it makes you forget that there is just you and 3,5 kilometers until the ground of the ocean. Each swim with the dolphins just lasted a few seconds to minutes. After the eighth procedure I had to call it a day, because it is really tough swimming out there in the deep blue sea and in the end I had trouble pulling myself back to the boat. This is something you definitely shouldn’t underestimate. But if you feel fit and can shut out your fears – go for it! This was definitely my highlight on the Azores.
I like to make a big shout out to the tour operator, who did an excellent job. They take care that the animals aren’t harmed and if it weren’t for their sensible form of tourism, there wouldn’t be so many whales and dolphins on the Azores anymore. Check out their blog:
If anybody of my readers feels the strong need now to visit the Azores, hit me up for more addresses, names and recommendations. Enjoy the holidays and stay tuned: I will soon reveal my next travel destination!