The Azores islands are normally not thought of as a “beach destination”.
One reason is the climate. The Azores are not tropical, with just 25°C (77°F) being the average high in August. While the weather can be pleasant year-round, it can also be highly changeable given the islands are fully exposed to the whims of the Atlantic Ocean.
Also, the Azores lack the white- or yellow sand beaches many people look for on a holiday. It doesn’t have beach resorts nor any large commercial beaches like, say, the Spanish islands.
So, it makes sense the Azores don’t get promoted as a beach vacation place. The Azores are much more about the culture, nature, food, and outdoor activities like hiking or kayaking.
But… every time I’ve been to the Azores, I’ve spent time in the water basically every day! Yes, there are beaches on the Azores, as well as natural lava rock pools, thermal pools, and many little harbors where you jump off the docks and go for a swim.
Beaches on the Azores
There are small volcanic black-sand beaches all over the archipelago, as well as many pebble beaches.
Many of the beaches on the Azores are equipped with toilets, changing rooms, and public showers. Some also have lifeguards on guard.
Here are some beaches to check out:
Mosteiros Beach (São Miguel)
This is my favorite beach on São Miguel. It’s next to a small town and some cliffs, overlooking three big black volcanic rocks jutting out from the sea. [map]
Praia dos Moinhos (São Miguel)
Another fantastic beach is the Praia dos Moinhos [map]. It’s a cute small beach that feels a bit hidden. There are signs warning of riptides, so be careful when swimming further out. Also, when I visited, a few venomous Portuguese man o’ wars had washed ashore, but nevertheless this is a great local beach with a couple of bars and restaurants on-site.
Praia de Almoxarife (Faial)
This island is home to the most obviously named beach ever: Praia (simply meaning ‘beach’, though its long name is Praia de Almoxarife). This black sand beach has all the usual facilities and offers great views of Pico Island across the water [map]
Praia Porto Pim (Faial)
Also on Faial is the Praia Porto Pim [map]. This crescent-shaped beach next to the capital town is not just a nice place to sunbathe, but the bay in front of it is known as one of the best places to go snorkeling.
Bring your snorkel mask!
Praia Grande (Terceira)
The main town of Terceira is named Praia da Vitoria, or Victory Beach. Guess what? This is where you’ll find the main beaches of Terceira! There is Praia Grande which is adjacent to the town and near the marine, as well as Praia da Riviera a little further south of town.
You can find many more smaller beaches near where you’re staying by looking around on the map or asking locals!
Natural pools on the Azores
Apart from the beaches, the Azores coastlines are also strewn with small natural pools.
Sometimes these ‘pools’ are just coves among the volcanic rocks where ladders were placed for easy entry, other times they are human-made pools next to the sea that fill up with seawater.
You can find many of them all over the Azores, but one of them bears mentioning in particular:
Ponta Da Ferraria (São Miguel)
The Ponta Da Ferraria natural swimming pool [location] is unusual in that hot thermal water and seawater mix inside this naturally formed pool. It’s unique and definitely something to experience!
If you’re there at low tide, the water will be steaming hot. So check the tides online before you go, as it’s highly worth visiting during low tide. At high tide, the seas at Ponta Da Ferraria are rougher and more seawater gets splashed into the cove, making it harder to enjoy the warm thermal waters.
This is a spot that gets quite busy with locals during summer, so try visiting during a weekday.
Biscoitos pools (Terceira)
On Terceira, I really loved the Piscinas Naturais dos Biscoitos [location]. It has showers, a lifeguard, a bar, and other facilities. The swimming areas are shielded by rocks from the open sea and the waters are crystal clear.
But one of the most fun things here is you can go cliff diving from a rock that’s about 8 meters high. It’s one of the most fun pools I’ve been to on the Azores.
Thermal pools on the Azores
There is another way to enjoy the water on the Azores: take a dip in one of the volcanic thermal pools.
São Miguel is the only island to have secondary volcanic activity, so don’t expect any hot springs on the other islands.
The place where you can see the most activity is the town of Furnas, where you can see vents blowing out sulphuric clouds, making it look not only a little mysterious, but giving the town quite a pungent smell as well. While hiking around São Miguel, you can sometimes find small vents beside the paths pushing out hot steam.
Tip: the volcanic waters can have very high iron content which may leave orange markings all over your swimming gear. Bring some old (or dark colored) swimming gear you don’t mind getting dirty.
Note: due to COVID-19 and depending on when you’re reading this, some of the thermal baths may be temporarily closed.
There are several thermal baths to check out:
Poca Da Dona Beija (São Miguel)
This is a wonderful hot spring near Furnas with half a dozen small thermal baths.
The story is that people from the village would once come here to enjoy the water inside a natural cave at the back of the site. When the cave ultimately collapsed, some proper baths were built outside of it.
These small baths are favored by the locals but they can get very busy, so they are best visited in the offseason. I had a hot bath here in winter which was a great time to go.
Terra Nostra Garden (São Miguel)
These thermal baths are very spacious, even letting you swim laps in them if you’d like. They’re situated on what feels like an estate, surrounded by botanical gardens, lakes, and a garden with topiary sculptures.
Caldeira Velha (São Miguel)
This is my favorite of the thermal baths! It’s in a wild jungle-like environment that makes you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park. It’s worth visiting here even if you’re not taking a swim, just to see the lush valley. Keep in mind though that it can get very busy here as well, so try to time your visit outside of the weekend or other busy hours.
Finally, this page would not be complete without mentioning some of the small fishing harbors you can find around the islands, which now double as swimming areas.
What’s fun about these little harbors is that you can jump from the docks straight into the deep waters.
On São Miguel, you can find one such harbor in the town of Caloura. The docks here also have a small swimming pool on top of them.
On São Jorge, you can find something similar at fajã de São João. But if you poke around any of the islands, you’re sure to find more harbors like this.
While the Azores are not the type of islands where you would laze under a parasol at a commercial beach club or resort every day, it is nevertheless a place where you can be in and around the sea all the time!