The Azores: Initial Impressions

Island Time

It has been just over a week since my return from the Azores, and I wanted to put together a short series on my time there. I went on the trip with my wife and some former neighbors, and we all had a great time.

Couples Trip! (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Couples Trip! (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

The Azores

  1. Initial Impressions

  2. Sao Miguel Island: Part 1

  3. São Miguel Island: Part 2 - Sete Cidades

  4. São Miguel Island: Part 3 - Ponta Delgada

  5. São Miguel Island: Part 4 - Furnas

  6. Pico Island

I will provide more detailed recommendations on things to do and places to eat in upcoming posts, but here are five reflections from the trip.

1. Joy Riding

The Azores is an amazing country to drive around in. The roads are pristine, traffic is non-existent, and the scenery is breathtaking at every turn. We got a brand new VW Golf for the last two days, and it was exhilarating to accelerate around mountainous switchbacks while watching the sun set over the ocean. Apart from rural Wyoming, it may have been some of the best driving I have experienced.

Views for days (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Views for days (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

2. Joy, in General

One situation aside, every interaction we had with the locals was great. All of our Airbnb hosts were incredibly gracious, providing breakfast and checking in with us daily. Restaurant owners and waiters were excited about the food and service they were providing. Even the individuals working at the rental car companies were nice, laughing and joking with us about different things. There was a very clear sense of Azorean pride, both for the country itself and for the local products.

Azorean Fish (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Azorean Fish (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

3. The Weather is Insane

The weather is more consistent in the summer, but when we were in the Azores the weather fluctuations were absurd. It would be bright and sunny as we were leaving our house, and after driving for five minutes it would either be cloudy or pouring rain. One day, in the span of two miles, it went from sunny to rainy to hailing to sunny again. We learned to bring our rain jackets with us at all times. Weather changes are so common that the government has set up live-stream weather webcams around the country to allow locals and tourists to check on their destination of interest.

Contemplating Weather Changes (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Contemplating Weather Changes (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

4. Mount Pico is No Joke

I had never hiked an active volcano before, but if they are all like Mount Pico I might have to reconsider ever hiking one again. Despite the trail only being 3.9 miles roundtrip, it was a grueling 8 hours hike. With 3,700ft of elevation gain over the course of 2 miles, your legs definitely do some work. The other challenging aspect was the terrain, especially when coming down the mountain. There were multiple slippery gravel sections, as well as some semi-bouldering sections, all of which were slow to navigate At the end of the hike, all four of us were extremely worn out. Also, we went without a guide, which was deemed crazy by some of the locals!

Above the Clouds (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Above the Clouds (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

5. Semi-DIY

Tourism in the Azores has picked up over the past few years, and there are some locations that seem to have been built up to cater to tourists. Most of the places we visited, however, were rather low key and were clearly not set up just to make money. We went to visit the Chá Gorreana tea factory, for example, and there was no entrance fee for the facility or the tea plantation. When we went to a wine tasting in Pico, were given free rein to taste all the alcohol they had available, despite only paying for 6 tastings.

Pico Wine Museum (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Pico Wine Museum (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

In some ways, this was really nice. We could experience numerous local attractions without having to break the bank. The fact that things were not economically driven also helped to produce a laid-back vibe, with no time constraints to bring in the next large group of guests. In other ways, things felt a little disorganized. At the tea factory, for instance, everyone was on a self-guided tour and the signs were not clear as to where we were supposed to go. Eventually we figured out the right flow, but a little guidance would have been helpful. We experienced a similar self-guided tour at the Pico wine museum, and while our time there was fine, I could not help but feel I would have learned more about the history of wine in the Azores if I had a guide talking through things. 

Tea Plantations (Azores, 2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Tea Plantations (Azores, 2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Check out the blog in the coming weeks for more in-depth recommendations!