I wanted to visit Azores Islands for a long time, but every time they seemed a bit remote, so weren't a priority. Finally, I was able to sail on Atyla tall ship to the islands and then spend 9 more days island-hopping and exploring what these green and extremely fertile islands have to offer.
Most people arrive to Ponta Delgada on São Miguel island, the largest of the archipelago. It was also our sailing destination. São Miguel is pretty large and diverse, and is a great gateway to the islands - you can see there nice harbour towns, at least 3 volcanic lakes, bath in hot springs, and eat food cooked using geothermal heat in Furnas.
A perfect way to explore any of the islands is to rent a car, as otherwise you will only be able to enjoy the nice towns, but nature of the islands is even more incredible. I have never seen islands that fertile - when in the mountains, you can see how lush green is the scenery, with plenty of rain and clouds, you can see plants quickly taking over even vertical walls and cliffs. Many roads are decorated with chrysanthemum flowers, so you sometimes feel like in a flower shop.
Sete Cidades, the most beautiful of the crater lakes, also has a huge abandoned Hotel Monte Palace on the rim, which is a joy to explore with very nice views to the lake and the ocean.
The Northern part of the island is also home to Europe's only tea plantations, which offer self-guided tour and tea tasting.
In the west at Ponta da Ferraria there are the coolest hot springs that I have bathed in - there is a cove of hot water that is open to the ocean and therefore gets frequent refreshing ocean waves inside. There are ropes that you can hold on to, so the waves won't crash you into the rocks.
In Summer and not in COVID times you can take long-distance ferries between the islands. It wasn't an option for us, so we had to fly.
Because we arrived by sailing, we couldn't plan anything in advance, but it also allowed us to go with the flow and buy tickets to a next island only when we felt that it is time to leave. Last-minute one-way plane tickets between the islands for around 80€, and about 50€ if buying in advance.
Faial is much smaller than São Miguel, so we decided to rent scooters. There are a couple of rental places in downtown Horta.
Horta itself is pretty small and pleasant town for walking around, with the famous marina that is the place to visit if you are sailing accross the Atlantic Ocean. Peters Cafe Sport is full of signed flags that these ships leave when they dock. In good weather you will also see Pico mountain across the water from almost anywhere in the city.
Faial also has a beautiful crater at the top of the island, but the coolest place is Capelinhos - a new peninsula in the West that was created during 1958 volcanic eruption. The area still looks as new and still has very few plants.
For me it was no-brainer to go and climb Pico mountain, at 2351 m, it is also the highest mountain of Portugal. We took a morning ferry from Horta to Madalena and then a taxi to Casa Montanha, where the trail to the top begins.
Beware that you need to book your ascend in advance, otherwise you won't be allowed to climb. When you reach there, you will be given a GPS tracker device that can be used to save you in case something goes wrong.
Bring good shoes, snacks and 1.5L of water - the climb (not hike) is very steep and takes about 4 hours to get to the top. Most people say that going down takes even longer, but I was able to descend in about 1 hour. That involved walking and jumping very fast, on slippery and sharp rocks, so take your time to descend if unsure. I felt my legs for several days after. The views were amazing while going up, but soon everything was covered with thick clouds and there weren't anything visible from the top, but it still was very much worth it. At the peak you will also feel volcanic heat coming from between the rocks - it's very welcome as temperatures at the top are not too warm. especially in the wind.
Pico is also home to many wineries, which we couldn't visit this time, but a wine festival on the last day of our trip gave us an opportunity to taste many of them. They have a quite specific but enjoyable taste because of volcanic soil and proximity to the ocean.
Terceira island was my initial goal when visiting the Azores, because it's home to the historical capital - Angra de Heroismo, the views of which were featured in video game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis that I played in my childhood. I had to find the viewpoint! It turned to be from the Memória a D. Pedro IV monument, just above Duke of Terceira gardens. The city is probably the most beautiful in the Azores, so is worth staying in and exploring.
The island itself is less impressive than the others, but it was nice to rent a card, visit the woods and volcanic caves. Algar do Carvão is very impressive, where you enter to the green narrow crater and go below it. Note that opening times are only a couple of hours in the afternoon.
I very much enjoyed the islands, the food, beers, portwine and, of course, hiking. Will gladly come again to visit other more remote islands, especially Flores in the west.
There is also a trick that you can request at least one free inter-island flight from Azores Airlines for each of your inbound and outbound plane tickets from/to Europe. Don't miss this opportunity, but it takes a couple of days for the free ticket to be issued.
In order to get back home we flew to Lisbon and spent a day there. Otherwise, connection times in airports can get very long, and you may need at least 3 flights to get home.