Taking a Chance on the Azores
The Azores is an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Island. I didn’t even know that much when I booked an eight-day trip to this magical destination. Having stumbled upon a great vacation deal to Terceira Island (thanks Travelzoo!), I decided to take a chance. Man, am I ever glad that I did. The Azores, specifically Terceira Island, did not disappoint.
After checking in to the Hotel do Caracol my hubby (the reluctant traveler) and I headed to the capital city of Angra de Heroisomo. Angra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There we discovered fascinating history, colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, and one of the most picturesque bays I’ve seen.
A Drive To the North Side
The whole of Terceira Island is only 153 square miles. Renting a car, we set off to explore other areas of the island. Leaving the Angra do Heroismo area introduced us to the coastal cliffs that line the rest of the island and make for jaw-dropping views. Driving on to the north side we discovered Biscoitos and the natural swimming pools for which the area is known. We visited in late May before the primary tourist season, so we had these fantastic pools to ourselves.
A Canyoning Adventure in the Azores
The search for adventure led us to the seaside village of Praia da Vitoria to try canyoning. We met our guides from Rope Adventures for what turned out to be a private tour. Traveling a little before high season has its advantages.
Donning wetsuits, helmets, and boots (all provided by the tour company) we enter a park to find ourselves at a beautiful stream lined canyon. Jumping in, literally, we begin our adventure. Finding our footing amongst the rocks, we start our descent down the canyon. Hiking through the stream and rappelling down waterfalls we eventually find the end of the trail. This may be outside of your comfort zone (jumping was the scariest for me), but seriously, just do it. You won’t be sorry. These guys are pros.
Caving In the Azores
Algar do Carvao is a volcanic vent in the center of the island. Before entering the main entrance to the cave, take the time to walk the trail off of the parking lot and see the steam coming up from the earth. Once inside, walk through a lighted manmade tunnel (it’s a little creepy), open the door and step into a massive, open tube. An incredible sight, hard to capture in a photograph. You’ll see the hubs in the second photo for scale.
A smaller cave, Gruta do Natal, which translates to the Christmas Cave, is nearby. Take the time to go over and walk through a lava tube. Helmets required for this one.
Hiking Terceira Island Azores
Five main hiking trails await, each rated for difficulty. Pick up a map at any of the tourism offices. Monte Brasil is one of the highest peaks on the island, so naturally, that’s the trek we choose. Clocking in at about 673 feet above sea level, it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds. The trail does offer a breathtaking view of the bay, as well as other exciting features. You’ll pass through a fort, a whale watching hut, even a bird sanctuary, and petting zoo!
Sailing in Angra do Heroismo Bay
A highlight of the trip was a yacht tour with SailTours in Agra Marina. I’m told the tour is dependent on the weather when I call to book. The phone rings the next morning, and it’s the captain, Alexander. The winds are strong, and that won’t make for a gentle ride, perhaps a bit more spirited than we’d like. I quickly assure him that we’re fairly experienced and the strong wind won’t be a problem.
Captain Alexander and Sara meet us at the marina on what turns out to be a gorgeous afternoon. They share so much local information and even let us take turns sailing the ship. We cruise through two huge rocks with small caves around the base that you can swim in. They tell us that these rocks were initially one large mass but split in half during a violent volcanic eruption.
A Bullfight In the Streets
La Tourada a’ Corda which translates roughly to “bullfight by rope” is one of the more unique experiences you will have in the Azores. Bullfights take place in the late afternoon in different neighborhoods around the island in May through October. It’s a party atmosphere with street vendors, food, music, and more. The bulls, on ropes held by pastores (Azorean cowboys) ensuring the safety of the crowds as well as the bulls, are led onto the street. They’re let loose (albeit still attached to the rope) where wannabe bullfighters can run with the bulls wielding capes and umbrellas. Spectators stay safe behind fences and makeshift barricades, on porches and verandas, sometimes even in trees. Very few tourists, an authentic and unusual evening with the delightful people of Terceira.
Adeus Azores – Until We Meet Again
As you can see, adventure abounds on Terceira Island in the Azores. I had a great time! Even the Reluctant Traveler gave it two thumbs up.
I hope that this has inspired you to consider the Azores as a destination in your travels. Air routes have opened up from Boston recently, making it much easier to get to from the United States. Prices there were very reasonable, and the locals are warm, friendly, and eager to share the stories of their beautiful home.
Maybe this will also inspire you to take a chance on an unfamiliar destination — the very best kind of adventure.
Well played Travel Zoo, well played.