São Miguel Island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores

São Miguel: the largest island of the Azores archipelago

San Miguel

The Azores islands beckon seasoned travelers who have seen the best beaches and the largest natural parks in the world, hiked the mountain trails to the highest peaks and descended dozens of meters to the bottom of the ocean. It’s no wonder: the Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic brings it all together, creating great opportunities for beach holidays and eco-tourism. São Miguel has concentrated the main attractions, without which it is impossible to imagine the Azores.

How to get to San Miguel

Most tourists traveling through the archipelago, start the route from the island of San Miguel – there is the main airport, where most planes land, as well as the capital of Ponta Delgada.

Getting to São Miguel is most convenient via Lisbon, from where the Portuguese airline TAP Portugal, low-cost Ryanair, EasyJet, the local company Azores Airlines fly daily. The airport is located in the city of Ponta Delgada. The flight time is 2-2.5 hours and the ticket will cost 40-200 euros per passenger per one way.

Another option is to fly through other islands. In this case, you can combine travel with a visit to Santa Maria or Terceira, if you book a flight with a long transfer. This route will allow you to save more than a hundred euros per person on tickets to the island of San Miguel.

Direct flights to the island also fly from major European cities: Amsterdam, London, Helsinki, Barcelona and others.

Climate and weather in San Miguel

The Azores is characterized by a mild climate: the average air temperature ranges from +13 in winter to +23 in summer and the water temperature ranges from +17 to +24 degrees, respectively. Most precipitation is from February to April, and the warmest tourist season lasts from May to September.

San Miguel Island temperature

The archipelago is characterized by significant weather changes during the day: overcast skies with rain can change the sun several times a day.

When it comes to the climate in San Miguel, the climate varies from area to area:

  • warmest in the south, and precipitation is less frequent here;
  • The eastern part is also comfortable;
  • the northwest is characterized by more overcast skies and frequent rainfall.

Population of San Miguel

San Miguel island population

Most locals are descendants of immigrants from mainland Portugal who practice Catholicism. Due to its isolation from the mainland, economic development in the Azores was previously restricted, leading to a huge outflow of people. Today, the archipelago’s links with the mainland have improved thanks to the development of air links.

Where to stay in San Miguel

San Miguel is a large island with a plethora of accommodation options, with hotels, apartments and hostels available in every price category in every part of the island, as well as natural, architectural and historical attractions. When booking accommodation, it is best to choose an option that is close to the proposed points of the route. The best access to the natural parks and lakes of San Miguel is from the central part of the island, such as the capital Ponta Delgada, the northern town of Ribeira Grande or the southern village of Lagoa.

Ponta Delgada Ponta Delgada

Accommodation in the capital will appeal to fans of city life, as it is the noisiest place in the archipelago. However, if you are looking for peace and harmony with nature, and eco-tourism is the main goal, Ponta Delgada is not the best option.

Thanks to its ideal location, staying in the island’s capital is convenient if you plan frequent trips to San Miguel. The city has accommodation in any price category:

    • significantly save on accommodation will help hostel Nook near the center;
      • Those who appreciate comfort will like Casa Hintze Ribeitro hotel;

      Lagoa Lagoa

      Escape from the noise of the city and enjoy easy mobility in the hotels in Lagoa, just 10 km to the east of Ponta Delgada. The complete peace, bathing area, and central location set Lagoa apart from many communities on San Miguel Island.

      A couple of good hotels:

        • White Exclusive Suites & Villas. Not a cheap option – a room costs about 180 euros per night, but the quality justifies the price.
          • The Hotel Arcanjo is also a good option and you can save money on accommodations: the room rate is about 50 euros. If possible, book a room on the third floor overlooking the ocean.

          Ribeira Grande.

          Another cozy and pretty town of San Miguel, located near the center of the island is Ribeira Grande on the north coast. It can be cloudier here because of the geographical position, but there are good hotels from 40 euros per night.

          • The owners of the Minuvida hostel will treat tourists to dishes made from organic products produced on their farm.

          Where to eat well and cheaply

          Portuguese cuisine is characterized by meat dishes, cheese snacks, fried sardines. The signature dish of the Azores – cozido, meat and potatoes – in São Miguel is prepared in a special way: at least 4 hours languish underground in the hot springs of the Furnas Valley.

          cheese from the azores

          The cafes on San Miguel Island are also worth a try:

          • Pastel de Nata custard basket;
          • juicy pineapples from the San Miguel Island farm;
          • Bolo Levedo sweet bread, very popular everywhere;
          • San Jorge hard cheese, which pairs perfectly with bolo levedo;
          • cracas – seafood that looks like coral;
          • Excellent pastries and sweets.

          Ristorante Mimo It

          The restaurant is run by an Italian couple. On the menu there are traditional Italian dishes, snacks and delicious caprese, pesto, sausage platters.

          Anfiteatro Restaurant and Café

          restaurant on the island of san Miguel

          The most modern restaurant on the island of San Miguel, the menu contains an excellent cocktail list. Any celebration will be perfect, and dinner with a pleasant company will be remembered with a cozy atmosphere.

          Mercado do peixe

          Behind a modest appearance the institution hides a varied menu of fish and seafood. The cuisine will impress the guests of the island of San Miguel.

          Transport on the island

          Holidays in the Azores have to constantly move between the many nature reserves, parks, volcanoes, thermal springs.

          The most convenient way to travel – by car, it allows you to not depend on the schedule of public transport, see everything you’re interested in, spending at each site the desired amount of time. You can rent a car at the airport or upon arrival in Ponta Delgado. The cost of rental will be 25-45 euros per day.

          An alternative to the car is a rented scooter, a great option for light travelers and without company. The only disadvantage is that sudden rain can make the trip uncomfortable, and long distances are sometimes tiring.

          There are several bus routes from Ponta Delgada to the main settlements and attractions, but their schedules are not always convenient.

          Particularly energetic travelers choose to hike to the most interesting places on foot along established hiking trails.

          bus from ponta delgada

          If time is limited or you can’t plan your own route, the Ponta Delgada sightseeing bus, which takes you around key points in two days, can help. The bus runs on two routes. At each stop, you can get off and then continue the tour with one of the following flights, or you can walk one of the treks. The ticket price for one route is 18 euros, and 22 euros for both.

          Money

          In the mid-18th century, the Azores acquired their own currency – the Azorean real or “island money. Initially minted only coins, later appeared the banknotes. It existed until the early 20th century, when in continental Portugal and the Azores came into circulation a common currency unit escudo.

          Azores currency

          Since 2002, the official currency of São Miguel Island, as well as the whole of Portugal, is the euro.

          Prices are comparable with mainland Portugal and most European countries: economy tourists traveling to the island of San Miguel will settle for 40-50 euros per night, subject to accommodation in a hostel, the use of public transport, meals in democratic cafes. A hotel room and car rental will cost more.

          It is worth bearing in mind that getting to know the island is impossible without visiting the nature parks, which are rich in San Miguel. The cost of admission is 4-8 euros.

          San Miguel National Parks

          On the island of San Miguel everywhere accept bank cards of international payment systems. However, cash does not hurt: in small souvenir shops may not be a payment terminal.

          In short, from a financial point of view, San Miguel does not differ from continental Europe: prices and payment methods on the island are the same as everywhere else.

          Sightseeing in San Miguel

          It will take more than a week to see all the sights of the island: San Miguel is rich in interesting places, dotted with nature reserves, thermal lakes, wooded slopes, volcanoes.

          If you have limited time, here are the must-visit destinations on San Miguel Island:

          Azores

          Sete Cidades, green and blue lakes in a volcano crater in the middle of an emerald valley, a landmark for eco-tourism fans. The road here winds through scenic terrain and viewpoints that overlook the valley.

          hot ocean

          The hot ocean of Ponta da Ferraria is located next door. It has a waterhole where the ocean water mixes with the therapeutic thermal springs that gush out of the ground.

          You can combine a trip to the Hot Ocean and Sete Cidades with a tour of the entire east coast. The bleak beauty of the local rocky landscapes is mesmerizing.

          Furnas Valley is famous for geysers, volcanoes, some are still active. The most picturesque pictures near the lake Lagoa das Furnas, where everything is boiling and bubbling.

          Terra Nostra Park is another symbol of the archipelago in Furnas Valley. There are more than 2,000 species of plants, striking beauty and a riot of colors. The main highlight of the park is the thermal lake: a large amount of iron gives the water a bright orange hue.

          Caldeira Velha is a reserve with hundreds of rare plants. There is a waterfall and a thermal lake where the water temperature reaches +37 degrees.

          sans Miguel Park

          By David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada – Caldeira Velha, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54932353

          Nearby is the volcanic Lake Lagoa do Fogo.

          The Pico da Vara Nature Reserve is the highest point of São Miguel Island. The ascent to a height of 1,100 meters will take a couple of hours and will take a lot of energy, but the scenery is delightful.

          The volcanic sand-covered beach of Santa Barbara, north of San Miguel, is one of the best on the island.

          There are also architectural landmarks: the Church of St. Sebastian, the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Esperanza, and the Carlos Machado Museum.

          The island has excellent hiking. To explore the nature of San Miguel, you can choose from a couple of dozen hiking trails.

          This delightful place fills with the energy of nature and impresses with colors. Once you’ve been here, you want to return again to get to know each of the Azores.

          Where is San Miguel Island on the world map

          Everything every traveler needs to know about Portugal’s São Miguel, the largest island of the Azores archipelago.

          São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores archipelago. The cosmopolitan city of Ponta Delgada (the capital) offers visitors a combination of modern life with a historical patina. San Miguel’s monuments, centuries-old architecture, parks and cobblestone streets intertwine with a modern harbor, beautiful restaurants, stores, bars, nightclubs and cafes overlooking the ocean horizon.

          The geography of the island

          San Miguel Island is 62.1 km long and 15.8 km wide at most. More than half the population (137,856 inhabitants in 2011) covers an area of 744.7 square kilometers. Together with Santa Maria, located 81 km away, São Miguel is part of the Eastern Group of the Azores Archipelago.

          Interesting fact! San Miguel was named after the Archangel Michael.

          From a tourist point of view, the island is dominated by three volcanic calderas with lakes: Lagoa Azul in the west, Lagoa do Fogo in the center and Lagoa das Furnas in the east. The latter is of most interest because of the ongoing volcanic activity.

          How to reach the Azores

          Direct flights are available from many major European cities such as London, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. Several airlines like TAP Air Portugal, SATA Air Azores, Ryanair and Easyjet operate them.

          It is also possible to go to Porto or Lisbon and then travel to the Azores. Prices range from high season (July and August) to low season (everyone else), but you can still find some good cheap flights.

          Climate and weather in San Miguel

          The climate in the Azores is quite unstable. For this reason, your luggage should include sunscreen and warm clothes.

          In winter the average temperature is 13ºC (55ºF) and in summer it is 24ºC (75ºF). You can check the readings in real time on the Spot Azores website (although they change frequently).

          The season and the best time to visit

          The ideal weather conditions are during the summer months (May-August). However, keep in mind that the climate on the islands is always unpredictable. The rainy period is quickly replaced by windy and sunny. Usually there is rainfall only in a small area of each island (especially in San Miguel), so you can easily move to the sunny part of town.

          Population of San Miguel

          The vast majority of Azores inhabitants are Portuguese, descendants of 15th century immigrants from the Algarve (southern Portugal) and Minho (northern Portugal) with a slight Dutch admixture (especially from Flanders). Most of them are Roman Catholic. The high population density and limited economic opportunities, largely due to the geographical isolation of the island, have caused extensive emigration of people, mainly to Brazil, the United States and Canada. In recent years, communications between the islands and the mainland have improved considerably. Almost every island has an airport or airstrip.

          Accommodation and Real Estate

          The best place to stay in São Miguel is in the center of Ponta Delgada, near the Igreja Martiz de São Sebastio (St. Sebastio Church). Those who like to stay outside the city can find a hotel near Sete Cidades (lake area).

          Airbnb

          San Miguel has great places to stay, especially near downtown Ponta Delgada. Renting a whole house costs an average of 97 USD per night and individual rooms are 53 USD.

          CouchSurfing

          There are over 100 registered hosts in Ponta Delgada.

          Hostel

          Nook Hostel is a great and inexpensive option. It is located close to the city center.

          Hotel

          Anyone looking to indulge themselves should check out the well-designed Casa Hintze Ribeiro Hotel and meet its attentive staff.

          Room with breakfast

          Minuvida. The owners of this establishment have their own organic farm and cook their own meals for guests.

          Where to eat well and cheaply

          Portuguese or Azorean cuisine is famous for its abundance of meat, cheeses, boiled potatoes and fried sardines. Fans of these ingredients should try cozido dinners.

          Interesting fact! In Furnas, cozido refers to the traditional meat and potatoes cooked underground, heated by natural hot springs.

          In the Azores, you can find excellent catering establishments, among them:

          Ristorante Mimo.It.

          This restaurant does not offer Portuguese food but Italian. The owners are a husband and wife who came to San Miguel from Italy. After tasting the sausages, head here for the excellent pesto and caprese.

          Anfiteatro Restaurant and Café

          Great for a pleasant dinner or celebration. It is the only modern gastronomic restaurant in the entire archipelago. Many of the dishes on the menu are inspired by the islands. Delicious cocktails are served here.

          Mercado do Peixe.

          On the outside, this is definitely not the most attractive restaurant. Nevertheless, it serves the freshest seafood and generally incredibly delicious food. Mercado do Peixe is the perfect place to dine in the Azores.

          São Miguel sells particularly good pastries that come from Portugal. Also try the following dishes:

          Pastel de Nata. It looks like Lisbon’s famous egg cookie. Reminiscent of a small pastry cup filled with egg cream and baked on the outside.

          Queijadas de Vila Franca. Similar to pastel de nata, except for the sugar sprinkles on top. In the past, they were baked by nuns in convents. They taste very sweet.

          Pineapple. It is fresh and very juicy here. This fruit is widespread on the island. In San Miguel, it is a sin not to try it.

          Bolo Levedo. This sweet bread is as ubiquitous in Portugal as white bread. The islanders use bolo levedo for toast, sandwiches and snacks.

          San Jorge cheese. This product is available in all Azores, although it is not produced in San Miguel. This hard cheese is often eaten in company with bolo levedo.

          Cracas. This is a kind of seafood that looks like coral. They are cooked in seawater, and you have to use a tiny fork to get a small piece of meat out. Many visitors really like this dish!

          Transport on the island

          The best way to move around the capital without worrying about time is to rent a car. It will cost from 25 EUR to 45 EUR per day. Public transport is useful if you do not have a credit card nearby.

          The island has two old and winding roads, on which the local buses. They stop in every village (and in some unexpected places too). There is also a new highway that was designed a few years ago. It’s faster to get to the far reaches of the island.

          Interesting fact! This is not only the largest island in the archipelago, but also the only international airport.

          Public transport on the island of San Miguel you will not meet very often. It is separated by three different roads, and in each region two or three buses run daily. It is important to have three ingredients: patience, a willingness to admire nature without rushing, and a schedule.

          Money

          The currency of the island is the euro (EUR).

          Attractions of San Miguel

          São Miguel has a lot of attractions. You can go anywhere in the Azores and it will be stunningly beautiful. However, among the great variety, a few places stand out that are a must-see.

          Lago das Sete Cidades is a pair of beautiful lakes. One is green and the other is blue. This is one of the most photographed places on the island, and for good reason. It’s a fairly easy drive from the Ponta Delgada Hotel. You just have to follow the road signs along a scenic route lined with hydrangea bushes.

          The Hotel Mont Palace is an abandoned hotel that was built many years ago. Guests could once enjoy an exclusive view of Sete Cidades. The only problem is that the hotel is located on top of a volcano. When the roads were not yet paved here, it was difficult to get to it. The unpredictable weather mentioned above contributed to this. Now the hotel is abandoned and looks pretty spooky. Take a walk through the forgotten areas (daylight only!) and imagine what it looked like in the past.

          Pico da Vara is the highest point on the island, so hiking enthusiasts should put this place on their list! Pico da Vara is located at an altitude of 1105 meters. The view from the top is magnificent. The Faial da Terra is another great place to hike. Before you hike, be sure to check the weather forecast for the day.

          The Islet of Vila Franca do Campo is an incredibly beautiful island right off the coast of São Miguel. You can get there by boat from Tagarete, but only 400 people are allowed daily. Therefore, it is better to get up early.

          Praia de Santa Barbara is one of the biggest beaches, covering a whole kilometer! It is also a world famous place for surfing. The massive waves contribute to surfers breaking records here. The beach also hosts the Big Wave Tour, organized by the WSL (World Surf League).

          What to do and what to do on the island

          There are at least 20 hiking trails on San Miguel Island. Nature lovers will appreciate this place. All you have to do is put on your hiking boots and head out to explore the trails. Interesting trails include Salto do Prego, Salto do Cabrito, and Sanguinho.

          Whale watching tours are popular on the island. In fact, the Azores archipelago was once home to the whaling industry. Since the disappearance of this industry, more humane ways of exploring the ocean fauna have emerged. Anyone can admire the animals that our ancestors once hunted. There are more whales present in the Azores than anywhere else!

          Paragliding is not an easy sport, but if you learn it you can take your holiday in the Azores to a whole new level. The launching pads are located on the tops of mountains and volcanoes. They offer paragliders an absolutely unprecedented view of the landscape during the descent. To arrange a private flight, you must contact the local paragliding club in San Miguel.

          Canyoning is quite a popular sport, and all because of the volcanic origin of the Azores. A local tour operator will provide you with everything you need to explore the deep gorges. Anyone who cares about nature will have great fun in San Miguel.

          The only remaining tea plantation in Europe can be found just on the island of San Miguel. Gorreana has remained functional in spite of all the difficulties and continues to produce high quality tea.

          Inside Parra Terra Nostra there is a hot spring. It is an ideal place to relax, such as taking a hot tub. The water is a bit brownish, so do not wear your favorite bathing suit, as it may stain. However, a dip in a thermal bath is still worthwhile because of the healing power of the waters and the relaxing effect they have on the mind and body. It is the perfect ending to a great walk through the vast grounds of Terra Nostra Park.

          Cliffjumping is a popular activity on the island. Starting points are located along the shore. From there, visitors jump into the ocean waters. Where it is safe, you are sure to find many daredevils. At Ponta da Ferraria, the hot springs are adjacent to the ocean, forming a refreshing mix of warm thermal waters and cool ocean currents. Ropes were built at this spot so that anyone can enjoy the big waves while swimming.

          Tips for the tourist

          Because of the natural features of the island and the quiet pace of life of its inhabitants, you should keep in mind some considerations. First, any establishment or business is not open on Sunday. To not be on this day with an empty stomach, it is better to stock up on food on Saturday. It is important to keep cash with you at all times, as many services, such as coffee, are inexpensive and paid for only in cash. Also note that tips are not accepted here.

          Public transport in San Miguel is quite non-existent, so it is better to rent a car. On average it costs about 30 EUR per day. Road signs will help in finding the selected attractions.

          The crime rate on the island is quite low, and in general it is a very safe place. But you should still stick to common sense and basic precautions to avoid becoming a victim of petty crime.

          Finally, the weather in this place is very unpredictable. Because the Azores are quite far from the mainland, weather conditions change throughout the day. Sometimes there are severe storms that can block movement. Most days are overcast and cloudy, but sometimes the skies can clear up.

          Useful Information:

          • The archipelago is made up of nine islands that belong to Portugal and are in the Atlantic Ocean. They include: Corvo, Terceira, Flores, Corvo, São Jorge, Graciosa, Santa Maria, Pico, Faial and São Miguel.
          • They are part of the European Union, so any European citizen can go to the Azores with an identity card or passport. For others, the same requirements apply as when traveling to Portugal.
          • The currency of the Azores is the euro or EUR.
          • The capital is divided between three cities: Horta, Angra do Geromisma and Ponta Delgada (São Miguel).
          • The time is one hour less than in continental Portugal or the United Kingdom (UTC-1).

          Basic Yes and No:

          • RENT a car for as many days as possible.
          • DO NOT spend your day in Ponta Delgada, get out of town and explore!
          • Climb to the top of Sete Cidades.
          • Picnic on the island
          • RENT a boat for a day.
          • DO NOT EXPECT a busy nightlife
          • PARTICIPATE in several hikes
          • LEARN basic phrases in Portuguese.
          • PLANNE a trip to the island’s festivals (White Summer party).
          • Take a cooking class at Minuvida.
          • DO NOT speak to people in Spanish.
          • BE prepared for adventure.
          • BELIEVE your camera and get ready for the most beautiful sights

          Vacation Prices

          How much money does the average traveler need in the Azores? 107 EUR is the average daily price for a ticket. One day’s stay on the island will cost 36 EUR. The average hotel price for a couple is 107 EUR.

          Conclusion

          The diverse landscapes of San Miguel will not leave visitors indifferent. Here everyone will find sandy beaches, hills, beautiful lakes, green plains, blue ocean and high mountains.

          The island is famous for its award-winning Terra Nostra Park garden, wonderful golf courses, lakes, century-old architecture, beaches, majestic scenery and, above all, its people.

          Popular activities in San Miguel include whale watching, walking and hiking, fishing, swimming with dolphins, diving, jeep safaris, sailing, bird watching, golf, swimming, snorkeling and many other outdoor and indoor activities. The ideal weather to visit is from June through October, and the hottest months are July, August and September. Between November and January, the temperature drops slightly. From February to May, there is rainfall.

          San Miguel is unlike any other place in the world. This island leaves behind only pleasant memories, so visitors want to come here again.

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