A week stay on the island.
Currently only TAP Portugal and SATA airlines serve Ponta Delgada airport. We managed to get tickets from Lisbon for the cheapest fare possible at ca. 90 euros for return flight. This situation will change very soon, as both Easyjet (from Lisbon) and Ryanair (from Lisbon, Porto and London Stansted) will start flying to Ponta Delgada from April 2015.
Getting from and to the airport
Taxi ride between the airport and anywhere within Ponta Delgada costs a fixed 10 euros. There is also an aerobus, cost 5 euros per person, return included.
We stayed in Ponta Delgada in Residencial Sete Cidades (http://residencialsetecidades.blogspot.com/), booked via booking.com. Their walk-in prices are rather on the expensive side but on booking.com we easily found a deal for ca. 32 euros per night for a double room with bathroom, breakfast included. The guesthouse is simple but has anything to make it a good base to exploring the island – clean and comfortable room, friendly service, quite good breakfast, good location (in the centre, yet easy to drive out of central Ponta Delgada), free parking with plenty of space, free wi-fi. Very recommended.
An alternative place in similar price range: http://www.residencialsaomiguel.com/. There are also several others on booking.com.
In difference to previously visited “Triângulo” islands (Faial, Pico and São Jorge, see below), São Miguel has a much better bus system that can be used to explore the island with some degree of patience. Scheme and schedules are available here: http://www.smigueltransportes.com/. However, it would require a very early start each day, long commutes (some bus rides take 2 hrs, while by car it is possible to get almost anywhere on the island in less than an hour from Ponta Delgada), and possibly long wait for the infrequent buses back. There is no bus to anywhere near Lagoa de Fogo, in my opinion the most spectacular place on the island. We opted for a rented car, like on other islands.
We rented a car from Flor do Norte, a small local agency in Ponta Delgada (http://www.flordonorte-rentacar.com/). Recommended. Cheap price (we got our car for 20 euros per day, cheapest category, off-season), fair fuel policy (full to full), no hidden charges, no dirty tricks with alleged damage etc. that make renting a car in continental Portugal or Spain so annoying. Easy booking by e-mail, friendly service.
Their office is just behind the corner from Residencial Sete Cidades but they can also deliver the car to the airport at no additional charge.
Before opting for an Azores trip in February we were aware that it could be a hit or miss with the weather, as winter is the most rainy season on the islands. However, we were apparently lucky. From our seven days on the island it rained much only on one day but even then it was not raining all the time and the northern side near Ribeira Grande was better than the southern side. It was OK to skip hiking for one day and just to drive around and visit villages and towns. Another day with intermittent rain was just enough to visit Ponta Delgada. The remaining 5 days the weather ranged from good to fabulous, with perfect views, clear air, plenty of sunshine and mild temperature of ca. 16 degrees Celsius.
We used the same map and guidebook that during previous trip to Faial, Pico and São Jorge – see below. In addition, we found the free map from the tourist information office (available from guesthouse reception) useful – not for the map of the whole island but for plans of Ponta Delgada and other towns. We have also used the MAPS.ME smartphone application and it was very helpful – it’s basically a more basic clone of Google Maps but the big advantage is that it works off-line.
Places to see – a few recommendations
The most spectacular sight of São Miguel are the “lagoas”, big or smaller crater lakes scattered around the island. In our opinion the best one was Lagoa de Fogo. There are several “miradouros” (viewing points) on the road above it, so it can be seen also without hiking. The best experience is hiking down from the lowest miradouro to the lake and then along the shore almost to the other side. The landscape seems sometimes like tundra somewhere in polar areas, sometimes like scenery to “Jurassic Park” (minus dinosaurs).
The most famous lagoa is Lagoa de Sete Cidades. We did not do the hike around it along the crater rim – it is possible but requires walking some parts along roads. What we can recommend is the less-known viewpoint near Lagoa do Canario, from the side of road from Ponta Delgada. It offers a view of the crater rim with the lake below and the ocean above, just a small round bagel of land lost in endless water. The miradouro is a 1-2 kms walk from the main road. The approach road is also accessible by car but the gate is closed at 4 or 5 p.m. (exact hour on the warning sign).
We also did a nice hike between smaller lagoas in the Serra Devassa, near the road between Ponta Delgada and Sete Cidades. There is a marked trail there for a circular hike.
A somewhat less expected upside of our São Miguel trip were the “fajãs”, small flat areas on the seaside under the cliffs, with semi-deserted villages, accessible usually only by a walking path down the cliffs. They were less spectacular than the more famous fajãs of São Jorge but nevertheless made very nice half-day hikes. We can recommend especially two fajãs:
– Rocha da Relva, accessible from Relva or from a miradouro further up the main road. Relva is quite close to Ponta Delgada, just behind the airport, and this trip should be very easy also by bus from Ponta Delgada.
– even better – Fajã do Araujo and Praia do Lombo Gordo, accessible from Pedreira near Nordeste on the easternmost part of the island. Spectacular views, rather secluded place in February – we had the whole beach to ourselves and it was warm enough for a quick dip in the ocean.
A recommended website for hiking in Azores (all islands): http://trails.visitazores.com/en. It shows official hiking trails, with maps and descriptions. Note: there are many more nice hikes beyond official trails, so a good map and a guidebook with some hiking ideas (see below) is very useful as well.