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The Azores are a chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean and form an autonomous region of Portugal. Because of their outlying location, these islands are still not on many traveller's routes. The islands have a lot to offer though, and are both interesting regarding nature and culture. Small historical villages and cities and green and lush hills and mountains form a perfect place to spend a week or so to get away from the main tourist path.
Before the discovery of the Azores islands in 1427 by Goncalo Velho, there were no people living here. Twelve years later, in 1439, the colonization of the islands started and mainly people from Portugal, Spain, North Africa and Flanders settled themselves here. In 1522 Vila Franca do Campo, then the capital of the island, was devastated by a landslide caused by an earthquake which killed about 5,000 people, and the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. The town of Vila Franca was rebuilt on the original site and today is a thriving fishing and yachting port. Ponta Delgada received its city status in 1546. Since the first settlement the pioneers applied themselves to the area of agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely due to the proximity of the island.
The Azores Islands are located in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,500 kilometres west of Lisbon and almost 4,000 kilometres east of North America's coastline The Azores have a total area of 2,350 square kilometres. São Miguel is the biggest island with almost 750 square kilometers while the smallest island Corvo is only about 17 square kilometres. Alltogether there are nine islands forming the archipelago and the Azores are of volcanic origin, sitting atop of the Atlantic ridge. The volcanic origin of the Azores islands is best witnessed by beautiful views towards the many volcanic cones and craters. Pico is a volcano of 2,351 metres high on the island of Pico and is the highest point in the Azores.
The Azores consist of 9 main inhabited islands. These are:
The Azores Islands are probably one of the best places anywhere in the world to have a closer encouter with the largest animals on our planet. Many species of whales, including the big and impressive humpback, live in the waters around the islands and many towns with harbours offer boat tours lasting anywhere from one or two hours to longer half or full day trips.
You can check for an events calendar here.
Held on the fifth Sunday after Easter in the town of Ponta Delgada, this long-running celebration is the largest event in the Azores. In addition to other islanders, many emigrants flock to Sao Miguel to rejoice in the flower-lined streets of the city. The religious ceremony is held in the afternoon and preceded and followed by jovial festivities, including street parties and parades.
Celebrated in Vila France on the Sunday after May 8, this event sees locals, especially artisans, pay respect to their patron saint Michael. The processions have been held since the Middle Ages and participants don different colored clothing to reflect their profession.
This vivid Azores spectacle is held on St Peter’s Day, June 29, in Sao Miguel’s Ribeira Grande and Ribeira Seca. A procession is led through the street by patrons selected to be headmen, knights, stewards, and trumpeters. On the morning of the celebration, they ride on horse-back through the city, adorned in white and red capes replicating the ceremonies of religious past. The procession culminates at the church of Sao Pedro, where the selected headman greets Saint Peter with a traditional verse.
Celebrated in Lajes on the island of Pico, Whalers Week, also known as the Festival of Our Lady of Lourdes, begins on the last Sunday of August. The week-long event is marked by a number of cultural and social events which remember the Azores rich tradition.
The Azores feasts take place on Pentecostal Sunday, seven weeks after Easter, and in Terceira they go on every Sunday until the end of summer. The most elaborate melas are thrown at the start and end of the festival period, with specialties including clay pot-cooked roast beef, massa sovada (sweet loaf), and vinho de cheiro (local wine). Although the events differ slightly from island to island, they all retain the same key elements, such as the great crowning and the distribution of imperial soup.
The Azores have a very pleasant and moderate climate with hot weather or frosts (apart from the highest areas) almost unheard of. There can be differences between the nine islands and some parts of indiviual islands are known to have micro-climates with less rain, more sun and slightly higher temperatures. In general though average summer temperatures (June-September) are around 24 °C to 26 °C during the day and 16 °C to 18 °C at night. In winter, daytime temperatures still average 16 °C to 18 °C degrees and rarely drop below 10 °C at night in most places.
Rainfall is spread out evenly throughout the year, although the summer period of May to September is drier with average monthly rainfall of about 40 to 50 mm. During the wintermonths of November to March, 100 mm or more is normal for most islands.
João Paulo II Airport (PDL), 3 kilometres west of Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel is the busiest airport of the Azores. SATA International has flights to and from Amsterdam, Boston, Frankfurt, Funchal, Lisbon, London, Manchester, Montreal, Oslo, Porto and Toronto. Sata Air Açores flies to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Several other airlines serve cities like Helsinki (Finnair), Amsterdam (Arkefly), Düsseldorf (Air Berlin and Lisbon (TAP Portugal).
All islands have small airports/airfields, and although direct flights to continental Europe are only available to São Miguel, Santa Maria Terceira, Faial and Pico, you can fly to all the other islands with one stop on one of the main airports.
There are several cruise companies that include the Azores on the routes.
SATA Air Açores is the main carrier for flights between all nine islands: Corvo Island, Flores Island, Graciosa Island, Horta, Pico Island, Santa Maria, São Jorge Island, São Miguel and Terceira. SATA International also flies between São Miguel, Horta, Santa Maria and Terceira.
There are no trains on the Azores.
Renting a car is the best way to get around most of the islands, especially the largest ones. It is surpisingly economical with daily rates for the smallest car starting at around €25. Most international agencies like Hertz and Avis have offices on airports. Only Sao Miguel and Terceira have some more traffic but still not much compared to mainland Portugal.
All islands except Corvo have a bus system. Still, it is not of much use for travellers as there isn't really a timetable as such on many of the islands. Usually buses only travel a few times a day and in the weekend buses might be totally absent. Sao Miguel, Terceira and Pico have relatively better bus systems with reliable and relatively frequent buses around the island.
Transmacor offers regular ferry services between most islands, including Terceira, Faia and Pico. Some of the ferries only travel between May and September though and a few only travel in July and August, for example the once per week ferry to Flores. Between Faial and Pico there are many daily trips by catamaran (15 minutes) or regular ferry (30 minutes), which is perfect for a daytrip to Pico and do some whalewatching tours.
Anlanticoline offers some ferries as well, including the one to Flores.
Same as Portugal.
See also Money Matters
The Azores, as an autonomous region of Portugal, have adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
Universidade dos Açores is the only university in Azores, for higher studies.
Portugese is the official language of the Azores, but the typical Azores dialect has influences from Flemish, English and African languages that make it a unique almost different kind of language.
For those visiting the Azores on holiday, however, the good news is that most of the people involved with tourism speak at least enough English to be able to communicate with tourists.
Having a rich tradition in gastronomy, Azores are well worth visiting just for food tasting. The best known dishes are fresh fish dishes, the famous Cozido das Furnas (from Furnas village in Sao Miguel). Also, for cheese lovers, the Azores have some of the best cheese in Portugal.
"Queijadas da Graciosa" and "Queijadas da Vila" for the more sweet taste. Finally, there are also some liqueurs made on some of the islands.
All the main inhabited islands have some form of accommodation, though on the smaller and outlying islands the choice is much less. On Terceira, Sao Miguel and to a lesser extent also on Pico and Faial, you will find a healthy mix of luxury hotels, smaller guesthouses and many other varieties.
Azores is the only place in Europe that produces tea, for commercial purposes, so pay a visit to Porto Formoso or Gorreana tea plantations and try it. On Pico Island you can find the best known regional wine. Last, but not least, since there are lots of cows in Azores, so you can try Azorean milk.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Azores. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Azores) where that disease is widely prevalent. Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
There is very little crime in the Azores. What little crime exists is mostly drug related. There are no reports of crimes against tourists.
Broadband internet exists on some islands (mainly the central and oriental group), and you can find it in most hotels and tourism offices.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Portugal's international telephone code is 351. The general emergency number is 112.
Each provider offers a variety of prepaid (Pré-Pagos) and contract (pós-pagos) SIM cards, both of which are available to foreigners. It generally means much lower rates for calls and especially internet. Be sure to switch off data roaming if you don't buy a local SIM card, as prices for internet are very high.
CTT is the national postal service of Portugal. It has relatively fast and reliable services and it takes several days to over a week for your post to arrive within other European countries, more so if you send post to North America or Australia. Post offices (correios) have varying opening hours, but in general post offices are open on weekdays from 08:30am-6:00pm and on Saturday mornings until 12:30. More information about offices, costs and other details can be found at the CTT website. It's a relatively efficient but also relatively slow postal service. If you want to send packages overseas, you'd better use international companies like FedEx, DHL, TNT or UPS, as they are competitively priced, fast and very reliable.
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