Azores Islands - Championing sustainable tourism
Updated: May 13, 2021
I recently read the Azores Islands had become the first archipelago in the world to receive a sustainable tourism certificate from the Global Sustainable tourism Council. (GSTC) This hidden gem in the mid-Atlantic ocean (a region of Portugal) and only a 4 hour flight from the UK - is beautiful and full of surprises.
An archipelago of nine volcanic islands (some say it is the Hawaii of Europe) in an Islet cluster spanning three hundred and 70 miles.
Each Island is unique in its own right from wetlands, black sandy beaches to volcanic landscapes,crater lakes, lava caves, hot springs and an abundance of nature. To Island hop you will require a boat or flight to go between the Islands.
The Islands can be visited all year around due to its mild winter and warm summer temperatures.
The largest Island Sao Miguel - Ideal for your first trip to the Islands - is located on the eastern Azorean Islands and has the largest city "Ponta Delgada" with 60,000 residents, beautiful winding streets, restaurants and museums. The Island is also known for its crater lakes, black sand beaches and many hot springs like Poça da Dona Beija in Furnas. A series of pools that are diverted from a natural hot stream which is ideal for a swim in the warm water.
The Azores is also one of the top spots in the world for whale and dolphin watching. A 99% chance of spotting bottlenose, common, risso dolphins and sperm whales that frequent these waters all year around. The main season "May to September" there is the opportunity to see up to 28 different species as they migrate pass this amazing Island.
These amazing creatures can be seen either from the cliff tops using binoculars or take a trip out on a boat. Led by science, to protect these animals only a limited number of boats are allowed out on the water at any one time. Once spotted there is a protocol the boats can only follow for a specific set time - to ensure the dolphins and whales do not change their habits of migrating past these Islands.
Other activities on this Island include biking, kayaking, Canyoning, horseback riding, climbing, Paragliding and golf. To explore this Island a hire car is required as there is limited public transport - and it's expensive.
Pico is the second largest Island and offers peace and quiet with the opportunity to hike to the top of the volcano.
Not for the faint hearted; it is recommended you take a guide as they know shortcuts, where to shelter as the weather can be unpredictable. It's worth it for the 360 degree views at the top and accomplishment!
This Island is also well-known for its wines, so a visit to a vineyard is a must and even has a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other Islands can easily be reached from Pico, such as Faial and Sao George by a one hour ferry ride.
Terceira Island has many picturesque buildings, plazas and streets to visit. It is also known for its lava caves - ancient volcanic vent located in the central part of the Island - so a visit to the Algar do Carvao is recommended. It is challenging as there is a requirement to take the very wet steep steps down into the volcano. A very unique experience (hidden gem) that offers amazing views looking down and up in the cave and volcano.
The smallest Azores Island and the furthest north is Corvo (the island of the Crow) with only 400 inhabitants and is a protected UNESCO biosphere site to protect the birds and marine life that surrounds it. Do not miss the crater, 300 meters deep and 2.3 km in diameter.
Graciosa and Flores Islands are also UNESCO biospheres as they contain mineral-laden soil, wetlands and Blue Flag beaches.
Beautiful waterfalls can be found around the Azores, the most impressive can be found on Sao Miguel and Flores Islands. To reach these hidden gems, many do require you to hike, so good walking boots are required. They are not easy to reach, but it is so worth it to enjoy these beautiful surroundings without another soul around - even pack your swimming wear so you can cool off in the pools.
Most food is grown or caught on and around the Islands. The most famous dish of the Azores is Cozido das Furnas, a stew that’s cooked inside a volcano!
This dish is only made in the town of Furnas on Sao Miguel Island due to its geothermal conditions, dotted with boiling water and mud springs. The dish is made up of various meats including morcela, a Portuguese blood sausage that is cooked in a large pot underground by the steam from the hot springs for 5 hours.
Other food highlights included unusual seafood such as lapas (mollusks), cracas (barnacles), chicharras (small blue mackerel) and lobster. Also Azorean cheese, (fun fact: there are more cows than people on all the Azores Islands put together!) and beautiful pineapples.
As already mentioned #sustainability is at the heart of these Islands.
It is significant and special to see the effort that has been and continues to be made to keep these Islands safe from over tourism, (no resorts can be found on any of the Islands) and to protect its surroundings and wildlife on land and sea.
If you love nature, adventure, sports or just want to enjoy the culture, food and ensure your travel is sustainable then the Azore Islands is the place to visit.
More information can be found here: https://www.visitazores.com/en