The Azores are an archipelago unlike any other. Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the 9 volcanic islands of the Azores feature surprisingly warm water and a mild climate, the rugged landscape, dreamy beaches, and fascinating culture of the Azores will enchant nature lovers, history buffs, and food and drink enthusiasts alike. The sparsely populated Azores also consistently receive high marks for ecologically sound, sustainable tourism. If you’re searching for a beach vacation with a minimal carbon footprint, the Azores are the ideal place to enjoy nature while also being kind to the planet.
SOLAR BRANCO ECO ESTATE GIN LIBRARY
One would think that the largest gin collection in Europe would be located in England, but it is actually housed at the Solar Branco Eco Estate Gin Library on the island of Sao Miguel. The Gin Library features over 600 varieties of gin. Visitors can taste the gin of the day, sip the best gin and tonic of their lives, and explore a secret gin drinking nook which dates back to the 1800s. Gin enthusiasts who bring a bottle of gin which is not currently on display in The Gin Library are invited to attend a free gin masterclass. After a visit to The Gin Library, visitors who are not nursing a gin-induced headache can explore the breathtaking sights of Sao Miguel Island. No trip to San Miguel is complete without a visit to Sete Cidades Lake which is divided in half by a slim strip of land. Sete Cidades appears blue on one side and green on the other.
Also located on the island of Sao Miguel, Furnas Valley is a literal hotbed of geothermal activity. Furnas Valley hasn’t had an active volcanic eruption since the 1600s, but there are still plenty of piping hot thermal pools and dramatic puffs of steam seeping from the ground. Some of Furnas Valley’s thermal pools are mineral rich and fit for swimming and soaking. Visitors can also sample Cozido das Furnas which is a meat and vegetable stew that is cooked slowly over a steaming volcanic vent for several hours. The village of Furnas is even home to a Chalet which serves tea that is brewed with geothermal water.
ALGAR DO CARVAO
Located on the island of Terceira, the Algar do Carvao is a cavernous lava tube which was once part of an active volcano. These days, Algar do Carvao is a majestic cave with a crystal clear sulfur-infused rainwater lake at the bottom. The top of Algar do Carvao is covered in lush green moss that gives the tube the appearance of a verdant subterranean forest. Visitors can explore Algar do Carvao via a winding staircase which descends nearly 300 feet into the cave’s interior. The lava tube features several dramatic vaults created by ancient bursts of lava attempting to bubble to the surface. Algar do Carvao is home to some impressive rock formations, including jagged silica stalactites and stalagmites. Countless visitors have raved about the massive scale and rugged beauty of Algar do Carvao.
WHALE WATCHING ON PICO
The island of Pico attracts some of the most robust pods of whales in the world. Depending on the time of year, visitors can simply stand on Pico’s rocky shores and spot several whales frolicking along the coast. Pico holds the rare distinction of being one of the best places on Earth to spot an elusive blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist. Pico is home to a handful of whale watching tour companies. Every whale watching boat adheres to strict rules about how to navigate when whales are near so as not to disturb delicate whale habitats. The island of Pico is also home to a whaling museum called Museu dos Baleeiros. The whaling museum explores the economic, historical, cultural, and ecological impact of the whaling industry in the Azores. The collection includes antique whaling tools, remnants of ships, and artwork which depicts the daily life of whalers in Pico.
If you have always wanted to take a trip to the moon but can’t quite afford it, a visit to the Capelinhos Volcano on the island of Faial is the next best thing. The Capelinhos Volcano didn’t even emerge from the sea until 1957. A bombastic volcanic eruption ultimately created a sizable addition to the Azores Archipelago, but not without a great deal of strife. The Capelinhos eruption destroyed numerous homes and businesses, and caused some residents to permanently leave the Azores. The barren, charred landscape surrounding the Capelinhos Volcano is a stark contrast to the luscious plants which thrive elsewhere in the Azores. Visitors can hike the eerie lunar landscape and consider what life is like on a distant planet, or during a very different geological era. The Volcano Interpretation Center of Capelinhos—which is located below ground so as not to take away from the austere volcanic landscape—offers visitors a chance to learn more about the Capelinhos Volcano, volcanic activity in the Azores, and volcanoes around the world.
LAGOA DO FOGO
There is no shortage of spectacular lakes in the Azores, but Lagoa do Fogo—or, Lake of Fire—is certainly a crowd favorite. Located inside of a dormant volcanic crater on Sao Miguel Island, the aquamarine waters of Lagoa do Fogo accentuate the green mountains that rise up around the lake. Visitors can hike among copious patches of juniper and laurel to reach the placid crater. Watering-loving birds such as terns, buzzards, and kites routinely fly through the air. Logoa do Fogo is fairly isolated and requires a bit of a hike to access, but the serene lake at the end of the trail is certainly worth the effort. For those seeking a challenge, the Praia Lagoa do Fogo trail is a fairly lengthy circular trail that offers a panoramic view of Lagoa do Fogo and the surrounding landscapes. If you’re in the mood to explore woods, valleys, and jagged volcanic rocks—the Praia Lagoa do Fogo trail in an excellent way to explore the diverse landscapes of the Azores.