Situated in the middle of the Atlantic, the Azores archipelago is lush and green and incredibly biodiverse. It’s truly a hiker’s paradise.
As one friend commented while we were driving around São Miguel Island, “one moment it’s like you’re in Hawaii, ten minutes later it feels like you’re in Switzerland”.
From thick pine forests to volcanic rock cliffs and hidden river valleys that feel like jungles, the Azores has a little bit of everything. This, of course, makes it an amazing hiking destination.
The sheer bio-abundance on the Azores was also striking to me, especially birds. Flocks of them will swirl above the farmlands. Sometimes you rest somewhere and a brave little red-breasted robin will sit down next to you.
I’ve been on three trips in the Azores so far, each time hitting up different trails to hike. Scroll forth as I share tips for hiking in the Azores, plus my favorite trails on São Miguel.
Tips for hiking the Azores
There are two important things to know for hiking in the Azores:
- The weather can be unpredictable, even in summer, so bring a rain jacket just in case. Sometimes the sun will be fully shining in one area, while a place just 20 minutes away is covered in mist. Not a big deal, but good to know.
- It’s best to have your own car, as most trailheads are well away from any public transportation. The alternative is to use taxis, but this can get expensive if you do a lot of hikes.
If you’re renting a car, book it early. There is a limited supply of rental cars and they run out in the peak months. You can use Discover Cars to compare car rentals from all companies on the island. Again, I highly recommend booking well ahead of your trip.
You can use the SpotAzores website or its app to see real-time video feeds around the island, which is often more useful than checking weather reports.
Where to hike on the Azores
There are 9 main islands in the Azores and all of them have hiking trails.
But the island with the most trails is São Miguel, which is the largest island in the Azores. São Miguel is also the most-visited island, so I’ll focus on it here.
Not going to São Miguel? Then definitely check out the hikes on São Jorge or on Flores, two less-visited and more remote islands.
You won’t need to worry too much about finding the trailheads — they’re usually very easy to find. The trails on the Azores are also safe and very well indicated. It’s still worth downloading the MAPS.ME app for detailed maps in case you get lost anyway. You can also check out the official Azores website for further information.
Hikes on São Miguel
Salto Do Prego waterfall hike
Trail type: mostly circular (final 20 minutes are linear and need to be backtracked)
Duration: 2 hours (extendable to 3 hours)
How to get there: drive to the town of Faial Da Terra
This is, without a doubt, my favorite hike on São Miguel Island.
You’ll hike through a verdurous river valley that’s just bursting with vegetation, almost making you believe you’re hiking through a rainforest.
The trail culminates at the gorgeous Salto do Prego Waterfall, where you can take a cold refreshing dip in the pool, before heading back along a different path and via the adorable village of Sanguinho.
The village of Sanguinho was once abandoned but became resettled again — you may notice that every building has a different pattern painted on its corners (like cute cats or flowers).
The forest is utterly lush with trees covered in moss, lichen, and ferns, and gnarly roots running up the cliffsides.
You can find the trailhead in the town of Faial Da Terra, which is all the way in the island’s east, about a 1h15m drive from Ponta Delgada. It’s worth the drive, as you’ll get a chance to see São Miguel’s most remote area and explore some of the quaint villages nearby.
If you wish to extend the hike a bit, you can continue onwards to the Salto do Cagarrão Waterfall, then return the same way.
Salto do Cabrito hike
Trail type: circular
Duration: 2,5 hours
How to get there: drive to the Ribeira Grande hot springs
The truly unique features of this hike make it one not to miss on São Miguel!
The trail runs besides some rusty pipelines that were once used for a hydroelectric dam. It also has you walking via narrow bridges and several metal grated catwalks on top of the old pipes.
As we passed by the power plant (about midway through the hike), one of my friends likened this trail to the post-apocalyptic videogame The Last Of Us, with its abandoned structures and rusty walkways. It could totally see the comparison.
But the abandoned dam was still just a prelude to the main act: the spectacular Salto do Cabrito waterfall, which you approach via a walkway hidden behind the very top of the waterfall. It’s worth staying at the bottom for a little picnic or a swim.
The second half of the hike is sadly quite uneventful, as the route lazily traces some asphalt roads and tractor paths just to get you back to the starting point. But the first half of the hike is 100% worth it, making you forgive the uninteresting second half.
Moinhos da Ribeira Funda hike
Trail type: circular
Duration: 2 hours
How to get there: find the trailhead at the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Aflição
This is a fantastic hike that’s not on the usual tourist itineraries. I loved its combination of forests and coastal landscapes.
The “mills of the low river” hike starts amid some humble cornfields, then quickly drops deep into a river valley with dense tree cover and resplendent with yellow ginger-lilies.
There, you pass by a creek with several ruined stone watermills, which make for nice spots for a little break.
The second half of the hike leaves the forest behind and goes through a wide-open coastal landscape, offering panoramic views of São Miguel’s northern coastline.
It’s great to combine this hike with a bit of time at the beach. I went to Praia dos Moinhos, about a 2,5km drive west, and I’ve heard nearby Maia beach is very nice as well.
A few km’s drive east of the trail you can also find the Zona Balnear da Foz das Coelhas, a secret little pool by a small wild beach. While we cooled off in the pool here, some locals shared with us some mollusks they’d foraged from the nearby rocks.
To cap off your trip with a great meal, try Restaurante Poço Azul [map]. Or go to the super local Cafe Tavares [map], where you can enjoy some ridiculously cheap beers with a view of the gently undulating fields along the coast. Saúde!
Lagoa das Furnas hike
Trail type: circular
Duration: 3 hours
How to get there: go to the town of Furnas
It’s nice to stroll around the volcanic crater lake of Furnas at the center of the island. The path around the lake is wide and completely level and can be finished within about an hour or so, so if you’re looking for an easy hike on the Azores, it’s highly simply going around the lake.
If you want to add more points of interest, I recommend following the PRC06 trail that starts in the town of Furnas. You’ll get to see the volcanic steam vents the town is famous for, then make your way to the lake and enjoy two viewpoints along the way.
If you’re lucky to be there at the right time, you can observe how the typical local dish (Cozido das Furnas) gets cooked above some of the volcanic steam vents that are beside the lake. Several restaurants in Furnas offer this hearty stew if you wish to try it.
Vista do Rei – Sete Cidades hike
Trail type: linear
Duration: 2 hours
How to get there: start at the Vista do Rei viewpoint
The volcanic crater of Sete Cidades is arguably the most famous sight in São Miguel.
In fact, you may have seen photos before of people standing on a hilltop trail with two lakes in the background. This is the Boca do Inferno viewpoint, giving the iconic postcard view of the Azores.
What not everyone realizes is that the Vista do Rei viewpoint, just a kilometer or so further, is also the start of a hike that goes along the crater rim, then down the slopes and into the caldeira of the dormant volcano, ending in the town of Sete Cidades.
This hike gives great views of the interior of the crater, letting you experience the Sete Cidades in a deeper way than driving to the viewpoints.
Other Azores islands
Despite having spent 10 days on São Miguel, I felt like I barely scratched the surface.
There are numerous official trails on Sao Miguel that are promoted via the Visit Azores website. They’re all very well signposted. Beyond this, there are additional municipal trails scattered throughout the island, which you can discover while exploring the island.
One trail that caught my interest is the Rota da Agua, which follows various tunnels and aqueducts — I’ll be sure to hike it on my next visit, among many other hikes I still wish to do!
São Miguel is, of course, just one of the 9 main Azores Islands.
If you love to hike, then I highly recommend visiting the off the beaten track island of Sao Jorge, which has some stunning coastal scenery.
For a highly challenging hike, consider reaching the top of Mt Pico on Pico Island, the highest point in all of Portugal.
And while I’ve not yet been, the remote island of Flores is known as a hiker’s paradise.
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