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Walking on the Azores: 70 routes across Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo

Walking on the Azores: 70 routes across Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo

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Walking on the Azores: 70 routes across Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo

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Nov 15, 2019


A comprehensive guide to walking in the Portuguese Azores, an archipelago of nine lush green islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. The 70 routes cover the three island groups: the Eastern Group (São Miguel and Santa Maria), Central Group (Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial) and Western Group (Flores and Corvo). Routes range from hour-long strolls to full-day outings and most use the islands' network of official waymarked trails, including sections of the multi-day GR1. Also included is an ascent of Pico, the highest mountain on Portuguese territory.

The guidebook gives lots of practical information on travel to the Azores and between the different islands, as well as getting around by public transport. Full route descriptions are accompanied by 1:50,000 map extracts, plus notes on refreshment opportunities and local points of interest.

The routes promise verdant green landscapes and astounding volcanic landforms, taking in forests, rocky slopes, cliff coast and waterfalls as well as a rich built heritage including churches, forts, windmills and harbours. Whether you prefer a single-base trip or an island-hopping adventure, you'll find stunning scenery at every turn. The mild climate makes this an ideal destination for year-round walking.
Nov 15, 2019

Sobre el autor

Paddy Dillon is a prolific walker and guidebook writer, with 100 guidebooks to his name and contributions to 40 other titles. He has written for several outdoor magazines and other publications and has appeared on radio and television. Paddy uses a tablet computer to write as he walks. His descriptions are therefore precise, having been written at the very point at which the reader uses them. Paddy is an indefatigable long-distance walker who has walked all of Britain's National Trails and several European trails. He has also walked in Nepal, Tibet, Korea and the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the US. Paddy is a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild and President of the Backpackers Club. www.paddydillon.co.uk

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Walking on the Azores - Paddy Dillon



The Azores are nine scenic and remarkably interesting islands located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. The islands are the mere peaks of enormous sub-sea volcanoes, and their highest peak is also Portugal’s highest mountain. Despite their remoteness, they are easily accessible; and while there are no large-scale tourist resorts on the archipelago, there are plenty of options for accommodation. Walkers will be delighted to hear that there is a splendid network of signposted and waymarked trails that explore the landscape and scenic highlights of the islands, along with their natural history and heritage features. All who visit the Azores yearn to return.


To appreciate just how remote the Azores are, situated in the mid-Atlantic one-third of the distance between Europe and Canada, it is best to refer to a large globe of the world. The Azores appear as tiny dots, if they appear at all. Seeing them on a ‘real’ map, the land areas are small and the area of ocean they occupy is immense. For this reason, many sketch maps show the islands larger than they really are, and squash them together. It is best to be aware of their true scale at the outset.

If you were to take a county the size of Derbyshire and split it into nine uneven chunks, then arrange those chunks haphazardly through England between Land’s End and Northumberland, that’s pretty much the same extent as the Azores cover in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Another way of looking at it: the nine islands of the Azores cover one-third of the area of the seven Canary Islands, and are spread over a greater area of the ocean.

The islands are divided geographically into three groups. The Eastern Group contains the largest of the Azores, São Miguel, and one of the smallest islands, Santa Maria. They are so far apart that most days it isn’t possible to see one from the other. Nor is it possible to see any of the other islands from either of these two, reinforcing how remote and far-flung the Azores are. On the other hand, São Miguel has the best transport links of all the islands, so it is often used as a stepping stone for exploration of the entire archipelago.

The Central Group contains five islands: Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial. From the higher parts of each island, on a clear day, it is usually possible to see the other four. However, the Eastern and Western Groups are never in view. Three of the islands – São Jorge, Pico and Faial – lie close together and enjoy particularly good year-round ferry links. These three islands are collectively known as the ‘Triangulo’ islands; anyone planning to stay on one of them should bear in mind how easy it is to visit the other two, and maybe consider a more adventurous island-hopping tour.

The Western Group contains just two small islands, Flores and Corvo, with Corvo being the smallest of all the Azores. These two islands are located on the North American Plate, unlike the other seven islands, which are on the African and Eurasian Plates: see ‘Geology’ below. It is usually possible to see one island from the other, but the rest of the Azores are never in view, emphasising again the remoteness of these islands.


The Azores sit in a very complex geological zone close to the junctions of three major continental plates – the African Plate, the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. São Miguel sits on the edge of the Eurasian Plate, while Terceira and Graciosa straddle the junction of the Eurasian and African Plates. Santa Maria is on the African Plate, along with São Jorge, Pico and Faial. Flores and Corvo are on the North American Plate.

The Azores are of volcanic origin. Basaltic lava spilled from fractures far beneath the ocean, gradually building up to become islands, some of which merged to form larger islands. Santa Maria is reckoned to be the oldest island in the Azores, while the mighty mountain of Pico is relatively recent, and even as late as 1957–58 a new volcano erupted on Faial. Throughout history, earthquakes have caused considerable damage around the Azores. On some of the islands, several volcanoes exhibit perfect forms, having slopes leading up to a circular caldeira, or crater. On other islands, such formations have been severely altered by sudden landslides and slow weathering, so that they are much less apparent. In Santa Maria, the seabed itself has been pushed up over time, resulting in a thick layer of fossiliferous sediment being stranded high in the hills.

All nine islands of the Azores are designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark, comprising a network of ‘geosites’ that are of international importance in terms of their geological interest, landscapes, cultural heritage and biodiversity (www.azoresgeopark.com).

Deep inside the lava chamber of Furna do Enxofre (Walk 33)


Anyone who has visited the relatively nearby islands of Madeira or the Canaries finds the lush, verdant, green landscapes of the Azores both startling and refreshing. Of course, the islands lie in a warm temperate region, and their position in the ocean ensures that there is little difference in temperature between summer and winter. However, the sheer abundance of vegetation can only be sustained by plenty of rain. Don’t let that put you off visiting. It rains from time to time, but seldom for long, and the moment the sun shines, the colours are intense.

An aerial view of intricate Azorean fields, farmland and villages

There are few completely barren areas, although the eruption of Capelinhos volcano on Faial in 1957–58 left the land covered in thick layers of grey ash, and an old clay-working site on Santa Maria stripped away vegetation to form an area of astonishingly red earth. Most rocky areas have been overwhelmed by creeping vegetation, and even in the depths of winter there will be some species in flower.

From the point of view of a visiting walker, the landscape has more than its fair share of hills, and even high mountains, and the coast is always close to hand, but almost everywhere is covered by a lush blanket of vegetation. Rainy days will bring low cloud, but on sunny days only wisps of mist might play around on the heights. Explorations aren’t limited to the surface of the islands, as there are incredibly interesting lava tubes open to the public, as well as some truly amazing chambers deep inside the craters of volcanoes.

Discovery and history

It is likely that the Azores were known about long before any concerted effort was made to occupy and settle them. The Medici Atlas of 1351 shows nine islands arranged north–south instead of east–west. The navigator Diogo de Silves is credited with discovering the Azores in 1427, landing on Santa Maria. The island was colonised, followed by São Miguel, Terceira and its neighbours. In 1452, the navigator Diogo de Teive discovered the final islands of Flores and Corvo.

Azorean history and heritage feature throughout the islands

Although the Portuguese were the main colonists, Flemish, French, British and even Jewish people settled on the islands. Before long, the Spanish took an interest and occupied the islands from 1580 to 1640, during which period Philip II of Spain was also king of Portugal. With the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy, the Azores became a Portuguese territory once again. The islands were important staging posts for transatlantic shipping, but also attracted the attention of pirates.

As so many ships put to port in the Azores on their way to the Americas, some Azoreans took the opportunity to emigrate. Some of them or their descendants subsequently returned, bringing with them particular skills in the fishing and whaling industries. Whale-processing plants were built, along with whale lookout posts, known as vigias da baleia, around the coasts. Transatlantic cables came ashore in the Azores, so the islands were at the forefront of worldwide communications.

During World War I, German U-boats shelled Horta, and an American naval base was established at Ponta Delgada. Between the wars, transatlantic aviation between Europe and the Americas found the Azores to be a useful refuelling point. During World War II, ports in the Azores were used by German ships and U-boats, but the Portuguese government later allowed the British to use their ports. After the war, a US base was established on Santa Maria, but later relocated to Terceira.

In 1976 the Azores became a self-governing autonomous region of Portugal.


Given the remote location of the islands, and the fact that they weren’t settled until the 15th century, birds were the only creatures able to fully exploit what is one of Earth’s more recent habitats. Since the arrival of humans, and their need for livestock, many areas have been transformed to provide rough grazing or lush pastures for cattle. Most visitors are amazed at the sheer number of dairy cows, and it goes without saying that the Azores are fully self-sufficient in beef and dairy products and have plenty left over to export.

Beef cattle and dairy herds abound around the Azores

Without having done any background reading, a first-time visitor might be forgiven for thinking that the cedar forests, hydrangeas, cheesewood and ginger lilies are all native to the islands, since they grow almost everywhere. In fact, the cedars and hydrangeas are Japanese, the cheesewood is Australian, and the ginger lilies are from the Himalaya. Cedars were planted for timber, while hydrangeas and ginger lilies were planted to bind loose soil and stabilise slopes. Hydrangeas can be controlled with a bit of effort, but ginger lilies are almost impossible to control and have invaded huge areas to the detriment of native species. Cheesewood also forces its way into native woodlands.

Laurels and other species make up Azorean ‘laurisilva’ forests

Azorean trees and shrubs form ‘laurisilva’ forests, which are also found on Madeira and most of the Canary Islands; such forests once filled the tropical areas of the planet. Trees include the faya, laurel, pau-branco, juniper, buckthorn, viburnum and holly. Juniper, heather and blueberry can be ground-hugging or can grow into small trees. In many woodlands, ivy and other creeping plants can form dense tangles. Walkers should always stay on trails in wooded areas, as leaving the trail or attempting to short-cut invariably leads into very tangled and difficult vegetation.

Protected areas

The Azores enjoy multiple levels of protection, despite many of the islands being well settled and stocked with cattle. Generally, the upland areas and rugged coastlines are protected, with some areas strictly off limits or accessible only by obtaining a permit. There are natural parks and nature reserves, geoparks, biosphere reserves and world heritage sites, and most of the waymarked trails on the islands pass through these protected areas. Informative noticeboards are usually mounted in protected areas, and any visitor wanting further information can contact the relevant authorities as listed in the introduction to each island in this book.

Getting to the Azores

Flights reach the Azores from around Europe and North America, as well as from neighbouring Madeira and the Canary Islands, which are surprisingly distant. The local airline is SATA Azores Airlines/SATA Air Açores (www.azoresairlines.pt). As the islands are Portuguese, the national airline TAP Air Portugal (www.flytap.com) also offers flights. Other airlines fly direct to the Azores, including the budget operator Ryanair (www.ryanair.com).

It can be difficult finding a direct flight to the Azores from most airports, so be prepared for routings that include a break at Lisbon or Porto. Also, if you plan to fly to one of the smaller islands, it is worth organising a flight from Lisbon or Porto with SATA Azores Airlines, because even if it takes two or three flights to reach your final destination, the price will be considerably lower than if you try to organise it once you are in the Azores. The island of São Miguel handles most flights to and from the Azores, but Terceira and Horta also handle a few.

Getting around the Azores


Inter-island flights are handled by SATA Azores Airlines/SATA Air Açores (www.azoresairlines.pt). All nine islands have airports, but not all airports serve all islands. To get from one island to another could involve as many as three flights. Most islands have flights every day, but some of the smaller ones don’t. Bear this in mind when making arrangements, to avoid having to spend an extra day or two on an island where you might run out of walking opportunities.


The only ferry operator serving all nine of the Azores islands is Atlânticoline (www.atlanticoline.pt). Only in the summer months, from May to September, are there ferries to all nine islands, and even then they may not operate every day. However, there are daily ferry services throughout the year between the three ‘Triangulo’ islands of Faial, Pico and São Jorge. This is particularly useful, as there are no flights between those three islands. The islands of Flores and Corvo also have an irregular year-round ferry link, but the boat is small and services might be cancelled when the sea is rough.

Atlânticoline offers ferry services around all the Azores in summer


All the islands offer public transport, but the level of service varies hugely. The biggest and most populous island, São Miguel, has three bus companies and many services that operate from early until late each day. Most of the other islands have a single bus company, and some might operate out-and-back services on most days of the week, but not every day. Corvo has no bus services, although there are a couple of minivan drivers who will take visitors wherever they want to go on the island’s short roads. If planning to use buses, be sure to obtain up-to-date timetables as soon as possible and study them carefully. Choices might be very limited, but the author managed to research nearly all the walking routes in this book by public transport.


Taxis are available on all the islands, but only a few islands have a central telephone number for bookings. On most islands, it’s a case of contacting individual drivers, which is far from convenient, and it’s only an option if you get an up-to-date list of taxi drivers on arrival, or check in advance on www.visitazores.com. Using taxis works out remarkably cheap, especially on the smaller islands, if a number of walkers share the fare.

Car hire

Cars can be hired easily on most islands on arrival at each of the airports, but if you want a secure arrangement, organise it in advance. Apart from Corvo, each island has a handful of car hire companies, details of which can be found on the website www.visitazores.com.


Accommodation is abundant around the Azores, but there are no real ‘resorts’ such as those you might find in the Canary Islands. The website www.visitazores.com offers information about hotels, guest houses, self-catering apartments, hostels and campsites. It is well worth looking at websites such as www.airbnb.co.uk and www.booking.com to find and book places at short notice, which is especially useful if you plan to move around or do some island-hopping. Bear in mind that the smaller islands can run out of accommodation at busy times, so a little advance preparation is recommended. If planning to use public transport, it might be best not to stay anywhere that ties you to specific mealtimes, but to choose a self-catering option located close to a point where most bus services operate.


The euro is the currency of the Azores. Large denomination euro notes are difficult to use for small purchases, so avoid the €500 and €200 notes altogether, and the €100 notes if you can. The rest – €50, €20, €10 and €5 – are the most useful. Coins come in €2 and €1. Small denomination coins come in values of 50c (cents), 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c. The availability of banks and ATMs in particular areas is given within the walk descriptions. Many accommodation providers will accept major credit and debit cards.


Portuguese is spoken throughout the Azores, and if you speak any Portuguese you will notice that Azoreans have their own accent and colloquialisms. Some Portuguese place names are highly descriptive, so it is worth checking common ones in the language notes and topographical glossary in Appendix B. Learn a few key phrases to negotiate a bus journey, ask for basic directions or order food and drink, and don’t be afraid to practise the language. Since so many islanders have a good grasp of English, you can pick up words very quickly as someone can always explain things to you. No matter how bad you think you sound, be assured that the islanders have heard much worse.

Food and drink

The Azores are completely self-sufficient in beef and dairy products and each island offers its own brands of cheese. Fishing is an important industry, and anything not sold fresh is processed in places such as the Santa Catarina cannery on São Jorge. Always be on the lookout for specialities on each island, such as the sweet queijadas (a type of cheesecake) on Graciosa, fine wines on Pico, tea grown in plantations on São Miguel, honey from the abundance of flowers, or food cooked in underground geothermal ‘ovens’.

Every town in the Azores offers a choice of cafés, bars and restaurants, while most villages offer at least a small bar, although that is no guarantee that food will be available. Some small villages don’t have bars or even shops, and some trails don’t pass anywhere that offers food and drink, so it is best to be self-sufficient for the duration of a walk. While travelling to a route, take note of any good-looking bars and restaurants that are passed on the way there, so that you are aware of your options afterwards.


The Azores offer year-round opportunities for walking, but it is best to consider the weather and season when making plans, as the weather is changeable and it varies day by day. The summer generally features plenty of sunny days and occasional showers, but the humidity is high enough to make walking uncomfortable. Winter weather might be wetter, with more chance of low cloud on the mountains, but there will still be outstanding sunny days and the humidity is greatly reduced, so that walking becomes very pleasant.

Island-by-island weather forecasts are available at www.visitazores.com/en/weather. Bear in mind that conditions can vary between sea level and the high mountains, which might be in excess of 1000m (3280ft), depending on the island. As the Azores are located far out in the Atlantic Ocean, their mountains break the moisture-laden air currents, causing the summits to become cloud-capped. The summit of Pico, which is Portugal’s highest mountain, reaches 2350m (7710ft), which is high enough to catch snow in the winter, even if there is no snowfall anywhere else in the archipelago.

The weather in the Azores is impossible to predict with any certainty more than a few days in advance, but whatever the weather is on arrival, it will soon change, and before you leave the islands it will change again and again. Ensure that you take the opportunity of clear, sunny days to explore the mountains, and switch to lower trails if there is rain or low cloud. Really severe weather, such as storms or hurricanes, is rare, but in those situations it might be better to tour museums and visitor centres, or check if your chosen island has any geothermal spas for a day of relaxation.

Tourist information

The main tourism portal for the Azores is the website www.visitazores.com. Information is available in five languages and navigation is easy. There is a staggering amount of information available on the site, as well as stunning photographs from around the islands, and anyone wishing to take a break from walking will find

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