What to know before traveling to Sao Miguel Azores

This article explores everything you need to know before visiting São Miguel, Azores. To facilitate understanding, we have organized the article into the most relevant topics for anyone wanting to travel to São Miguel, including the best destinations, people, food, costs, safety, and how to travel in São Miguel.

Known as the “green island,” São Miguel is one of Portugal’s best and most beautiful destinations. In fact, in our opinion, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It has unique natural landscapes in the country, black sand beaches, thermal waters, natural pools, and some of the most beautiful lagoons in Portugal. Therefore, it is appreciated by foreigners and Portuguese. The only strange thing is how long it took to become popular.

In addition to tourist destinations and attractions, the Azores also allow us to try delicious cuisine and be in an exotic environment without leaving Portugal or Europe. We want to make your next trip to São Miguel an unforgettable experience! To do this, we will answer what I need to know before traveling to São Miguel.

What to know about São Miguel and the Micaelenses

Where is São Miguel

São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores archipelago. The Azores comprise nine islands, divided into three groups: eastern, central, and western. São Miguel forms the eastern group together with Santa Maria.

With a surface area of 748.82 km², it is also the largest island in Portuguese territory, measuring 64.7 kilometers long and between 8 and 15 km wide.

Located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Azores are at the point of contact between three plates: the Eurasian, American, and African. Mainland Portugal is about 1,400 km to the east, Madeira is 930 km to the southeast, and New York is more than 4,000 km away. Geographically, politically, and culturally, the Azores are considered part of Europe.

Towering rocky coastal cliffs over calm blue waters under a partly cloudy sky, in São Miguel
View at sea of the Vila Franca do Campo Islet in São Miguel

About the people in São Miguel

São Miguel has a population of around 140,000 inhabitants (2023), with around 45,000 living in Ponta Delgada, the capital and largest city in the Azores. The other large cities are Ribeira Grande on the north coast and Lagoa on the south coast.

The population of São Miguel is quite homogeneous, without major cultural, linguistic, religious, or racial differences. Practically, the entire population is Portuguese. During the 20th century, Azoreans emigrated to the USA and Canada in huge numbers.

What language to speak in São Miguel?

As in the rest of Portugal, the Azores’ official language is Portuguese. However, due to strong emigration and increased tourism, a large part of the population also speaks English and sometimes other languages such as French, Spanish, and German.

However, we should note that the Azoreans have their own pronunciation, which is sometimes quite strong and has unique expressions. We admit that sometimes it becomes difficult to understand what is being said to us at first glance, but don’t worry, you won’t have many problems communicating in São Miguel.

A serene parallel path, known as Trilho de Sanguinho and Salto do Prego, which passes through a picturesque village with traditional white houses and lush vegetation under a cloudy sky
Reconstructed village of Sanguinho on the Sanguinho and Salto do Prego trail

What are the Micaelenses like?

Like the Portuguese in general, the people of São Miguel are known for being very welcoming, and the island is a peaceful and informal destination. Therefore, if you are a friendly and interested traveler, you will not have any major problems relating to and communicating. Furthermore, locals are used to tourism and are very understanding and patient.

This attentive and relaxed way of being combined with the general environment of the island makes the experience of traveling in São Miguel even more pleasant. We believe you will have a fabulous experience if you travel outside of high season. With less tourism, people have more time to talk to you, explain everything calmly, and answer any questions you have. This happened dozens of times to us. In that sense, it was almost like traveling back in time a few decades.

Honestly, we don’t know of any major faux pas regarding the Azores. The only issue (and it’s more of a curiosity and joke than anything else) is that the Azoreans don’t like the continent being referred to as “Portugal,” as the Azores are also Portugal.

A lush green valley with a winding river leading to a coastal village, nestled between the mountains and the sea under a cloudy sky.
View of the village of Faial from a viewpoint on the Sanguinho trail in São Miguel

Tourists in São Miguel

The Azores are trending, and São Miguel is the main reason. In fact, São Miguel is the main island of the Azores, including tourism. The number of tourists has increased considerably in recent years, especially with the increase in flights from Portugal and the rest of the world.

In 2022, the Azores received more than 1 million tourists for the first time, and in 2023, this figure was beaten again by a large margin. Still, when we compare Madeira with the Azores, we see that Madeira receives more than 4M visitors per year.

Therefore, despite the enormous increase in popularity, it is possible to see that São Miguel and the rest of the islands can still attract more people.

Most visitors are concentrated in the spring and summer months, namely between April and September. July and August are clearly the months with the most tourism.

The large increase in tourism in São Miguel has come from abroad, namely from Europeans and some Americans. However, the island is also very attractive to Portuguese people.

A tranquil, wooded hot spring setting in the Azores, with a steaming pool surrounded by lush greenery and a rustic stone path.
Poças da Dona Beija, volcanic spas in Furnas, is one of the most popular attractions in São Miguel

São Miguel Weather

The climate in São Miguel is considered temperate maritime with hotter, drier summers and wet, cool winters. However, the island’s orography also influences the local sub-climates, as it rains much more at altitude than at sea.

Due to the geography of the regions, the west of the island is also hotter, drier, and sunnier than the east.

One of the main characteristics of the regional climate is that there are much smaller temperature variations throughout the year – these being especially reduced at sea level. For example, winter is colder than summer, but it is rarely really cold, and there are a few nights when the temperature drops below 10ºC, close to the coast.

Temperatures below 5ºC or above 30ºC have never been recorded on the coasts of São Miguel.

Therefore, the temperatures are much better than in central and northern Europe, Canada, or even much of the USA, meaning the Azores are a good destination to escape the snow and cold. There is the potential for São Miguel to become less and less dependent on seasonality, becoming a year-round destination.

A viewpoint that shows a lush green landscape with rolling hills, a winding road and a vast expanse of water that stretches to the horizon under a clear blue sky.
View of the coast of São Miguel from Miradouro Pico do Paul on the Serra Devassa trail

When is the best time to travel to São Miguel?

This is a difficult question to answer, as it depends greatly on what you want and where you come from. In our opinion and experience, São Miguel can be a year-round travel destination, and each season has its advantages, so we must evaluate the trade-off carefully.

As in almost all destinations, we must choose between the ideal climate and the number of tourists. In other words, in summer, you will find higher temperatures, warmer seawater, and more hours of sunshine, but there will also be many more people. Some of the best-known places may be crowded, and the costs will be much higher. In winter, you will have the opposite experience.

In our opinion, there is no bad time to go to São Miguel, as it is possible to enjoy it all year round. Still, we have to consider that in summer the weather will probably be hotter and drier, but there will be many more people, while in winter the opposite will happen.

Our favorite time to visit São Miguel is mid-season, particularly spring. In April and May, the temperatures are good enough, and there are still fewer people than in July and August. Furthermore, this is also the season for flowers, and the Azores are famous for their spectacular flowers, particularly the hydrangeas along the roads.

Travelers enjoy a natural swimming experience among volcanic rocks by the sea in the Azores.
Volcanic thermal pools with cold and hot water at the tip of Ferraria, something you have to visit in São Miguel

Is it safe to travel to São Miguel?

Yes. São Miguel is a very safe destination as crime is very low and violent crime is almost non-existent.

We would say that there are more risks to your physical integrity on hikes, waterfalls, or the road than through violent crime. Still, like anywhere else in the world, we advise you to be careful in tourist areas, especially regarding scams and pickpockets.

Outside of high season, São Miguel is such a calm and relaxed place that sometimes it still seems a little removed from the rest of the world. It is undoubtedly one of the places in the world where we feel most comfortable and where it is easiest to be and experience.

What to visit in São Miguel

São Miguel is mainly a nature destination (with some history and culture in the mix). Despite the mild climate, with good weather almost all year round, São Miguel is not a beach destination par excellence, but it has some good beaches (with black sand) and natural pools.

For us, São Miguel is, above all, a volcanic and exotic destination, but still European. There, we find some of the best hikes in Portugal, fabulous waterfalls, hot springs, and many, many viewpoints—not forgetting Ponta Delgada and other fabulous places on the island! So, let’s explore what to do in São Miguel and which places are not to be missed.

A picturesque stone house nestled amidst the lush green vegetation of the Azores, with a winding path leading through a serene garden, a must-see in São Miguel.
Ribeira dos Caldeirões Park, has several restored mills in São Miguel in the Azores.

Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada is the capital and most populous city in the Azores. There, we find the regional government and several monuments and historical buildings. The historic center is quite beautiful and well-preserved. It is not a UNESCO heritage site like Angra do Heroísmo (Terceira), but it has some attractions spread across the city and surrounding areas.

Some of the places not to be missed include:

  • Historic center – The historic center of Ponta Delgada maintains its old style with very well-preserved century-old houses. It is extremely pleasant to walk around, with several restaurants, bars and traditional shops.
  • City Gates – perhaps the most iconic monument in the city. It is quite photogenic and is very beautiful between the waterfront and the main church of São Sebastião.
  • Graça market – unfortunately, it has been under construction for a few years, but it is still worth trying the fresh and typical products of the Azores, including fruit, cheese, meat, and fish.
  • Carvão Caves – spectacular volcanic basalt cave located within the city limits.
  • Pineapple Plantation – a curious tourist attraction to see the famous pineapple of the Azores and how it is produced.
  • Whales and dolphins watching– see the next point
A vibrant night scene of an Azorean town square, highlighted by an ornate clock tower and arches, with intricate designs on the sidewalks under the glow of street lights.
City Gates and Matriz de São Sebastião church, at night, in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

Whale and dolphin watching

Whale watching is one of the main activities to do in the Azores, particularly in São Miguel, but it is also possible from other islands, especially Pico.

The best way to watch whales and dolphins is through a tour. In São Miguel, these tours usually start in Ponta Delgada, Rabo de Peixe, and Vila Franca do Campo, but the most common is to take them from Ponta Delgada, as this is where there are more tours and the best-known.

The Azores are one of the best places in the world to see whales, as they are present all year round. However, it is more difficult in winter as only Sperm Whales are year round residents. Neither in the Azores nor anywhere else can guarantee that you will see whales, but if you really want to see them, the best thing to do is to visit in spring and summer.

We went on a tour in January, and unfortunately, we only managed to see common dolphins (several times), but a few days before, Sperm Whales had been seen, too. Even though we weren’t able to see the Sperm Whales, we really enjoyed the tour, and we highly recommend the company we used, Futurismo. Alternatively, Picos da Aventura also has an excellent reputation.

If you want to book a tour, we advise you to do so in advance here.

A pod of dolphins swimming gracefully near the ocean surface in São Miguel, Azores.
Common dolphins that we saw on the Futurismo tour in São Miguel

Trails and hikes

Hiking is one of our favorite activities in the Azores (and the rest of Portugal). There are trails for all tastes in the Azores, and they are always very well-marked.

Among the trails we did in São Miguel, our favorites are the Sanguinho e Salto do Prego trail, and the Serra Devassa trail with a possible extension to Grota do Inferno. Both are relatively short and take us to outstanding landscapes not found in the rest of Portugal.

The Sanguinho trail takes us to the ghost village of Sanguinho and the Salto do Prego waterfall through paths through the dense forest of the Faial da Terra region. Meanwhile, the Serra Devassa trail takes us to a volcanic landscape with cones and volcanic lagoons. Ultimately, it is possible to go to Grota do Inferno, one of the best viewpoints on the island, whose landscape is often used to advertise the Azores.

If you want to see the full list of official trails, see here.

A stunning view of the Serra Devassa Trail with wooden fences, overlooking vibrant green valleys and a serene blue lake under a vast cloudy sky.
Viewpoint of Grota do Inferno: you can see one of the lagoons of the seven cities of São Miguel

Waterfalls

Although they are not as well-known (or even impressive) as the waterfalls in Madeira, São Miguel also has some very beautiful waterfalls that are worth visiting. Some of our favorites are:

  • Salto do Prego
  • Salto do Cagarrão
  • Caldeira Velha Waterfall – inside the natural monument and famous for having hot water.
  • Salto da Farinha
  • Salto do Cabrito
A serene waterfall in a lush forest, where the calming flow of water creates a peaceful retreat amidst nature's green embrace on the Trilho de Sanguinho and Salto do Prego.
Cagarrão Waterfall on the Sanguinho and Salto do Prego trail in São Miguel

Lagoons

In São Miguel, everyone visits three lagoons, and it is easy to understand why, as they are some of the island’s most well-known and popular attractions. Each of them has unique characteristics and unforgettable landscapes. The three lagoons are:

  • Lagoa das Sete Cidades—This lagoon is located in the Caldera das Sete Cidades. It is the largest freshwater reservoir in the Azores, with an area of approximately 4.3 km and a maximum depth of 29 meters. It is famous for forming two lakes separated by a bridge, one of which is green and the other blue.
  • Lagoa do Fogo – The Lagoon is located in the center of the island, also in a volcanic caldera that is part of a natural reserve. It is known for the beautiful blue tones of its waters. Although it involves a difficult walk, going down its banks to the beach is possible.
  • Lagoa das Furnas is located in an area with abundant volcanic manifestations, such as Fumarola, sulfatara, and boiling water calderas. The famous Furnas stew is cooked on its banks.

In addition to these three main lagoons, there are many smaller ones spread across the island, such as Lagoa do Congro, Lagoa de Santiago, or Lagoa Empadadas.

Lush vegetation framing a serene lake in São Miguel, Azores, with patches of sunlight illuminating the water, seen from an elevated vantage point under a dynamic sky.
Lagoon of the Seven Cities seen from the Vista do Rei viewpoint in São Miguel Azores

Thermal waters and hot springs

The thermal waters are probably the biggest and most famous attraction in São Miguel. Most visitors come in search of the relaxation and well-being that the island’s hot springs and natural pools bring.

The hot springs of São Miguel are also known for being located in stunning natural environments, be they green valleys, volcanic landscapes, and even next to the sea. There are four well-known hot springs on the island:

  • Parque Terra Nostra in Furnas is famous for its huge outdoor pool, whose iron-yellow waters create unique images.
  • Poças de Dona Beija, Furnas – is a set of outdoor pools that receive water directly from hot water springs. The water then falls into a river. They are lovely and particularly pleasant at night.
  • Caldeira Velha – Natural pools built in the Caldeira Velha natural monument. It also has a spectacular natural waterfall. Despite being renovated, it provides a fabulous natural environment in the middle of the forest.
  • Ponta da Ferraria is where the thermal waters mix with the sea waters, creating an almost unique place in the world. The natural pool can only be used at low tide and with few waves. It also has a naturally heated saltwater pool that can be used in any weather.
Swimmers enjoy a sunny day in a natural lake with brown thermal waters with tall trees and a classic white house in the background, in Terra Nostra Park in São Miguel Azores
Volcanic hot springs in the Terra Nostra park in Furnas is something not to be missed when visiting São Miguel

Viewpoints

São Miguel has many of attractions and things to do, but it is also an island with outstanding landscapes and unforgettable viewpoints, whether of the coast, volcanic craters, valleys and mountain peaks and even the vast ocean.

Some of the most popular are:

  • Boca do Inferno Viewpoint: This viewpoint offers views of Lagoa das Sete Cidades, Lagoa de Santiago, and Lagoa Rasa. You can also see almost the entirety of the enormous Caldera of the Seven Cities.
  • Vista do Rei offers a stunning view of Lagoa das Sete Cidades, one of the best places to see the lagoon’s two colors.
  • Ponta do Sossego Viewpoint: Located on the northeast coast, this viewpoint offers a stunning view of the cliffs, lush vegetation, and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Madrugada Lookout: Located very close to Ponta do Sossego, it is very popular for watching the sunrise.
  • Lagoa do Fogo Viewpoint: From where you can see the beautiful Lagoa do Fogo.
  • Vigia das Baleias Viewpoint: It is possible to see a large part of the north coast.
  • Pico do Carvão Viewpoint: One of the highest points in the west of the island. From there we have incredible views of the entire region.
Stunning view of a serene coastal landscape in São Miguel, Azores, with lush green hills, a tranquil ocean and a picturesque picnic area that invites relaxation in the middle of nature.
Ponta do Sossego viewpoint in the Northeast of São Miguel

Beaches

São Miguel is not a beach island, nor is it advertised as such, but it has some very interesting and beautiful beaches. The beaches of São Miguel are not the typical white or yellow sand beaches, but rather black, volcanic sand beaches that offer a completely different but spectacular beauty.

In summer, the beaches of São Miguel are very popular for relaxing and cooling off. São Miguel’s location means its waters are not warm, but the Gulf of Mexico Stream means they are not as cold as expected.

If you can visit the island in the summer, don’t forget to take some time to explore the beaches too. You will probably be surprised.

A quiet beach with dark sand curves gently against a background of verdant Azorean hills under a partly cloudy sky in São Miguel
Praia do Fogo da Ribeira hot, has hotter areas due to volcanic calderas in the sea

What to eat in São Miguel

Despite the recent boom in tourism, São Miguel’s restaurant offerings are still very much focused on traditional food, whether Azorean or Portuguese in general. There are many good regional food restaurants that you should take the opportunity to try.

In this article, we explore where to eat in São Miguel and showcase some of our favorite restaurants on the island.

In addition to the typical fast-food offerings, including pizzerias and hamburgers, there are few international food and modern food restaurants. So, take the opportunity to enjoy the local food and ingredients as they are of the highest quality.

A dish of traditional Azorean cuisine in one of the best restaurants in São Miguel, with octopus tentacles accompanied by roasted and golden potatoes.
Roasted octopus in the São Miguel style, a delicious dish that you have to eat in São Miguel in the Azores

About Micaelense food

The traditional food of São Miguel takes advantage of the high quality of some of its main ingredients, such as milk, beef, pineapple, ground pepper, tea, vegetables, and, of course, fish and seafood.

On the other hand, Azorean cuisine has obvious similarities with that of the continent, sharing many dishes, ingredients, and techniques. Portuguese food has an obvious influence on Azorean food and vice versa.

Basically, the Azores (and São Miguel) are known in Portugal for the high quality of their products. I don’t know about you, but when I see a food product of Azorean origin, I immediately assume it is of good quality. And I was seldom wrong.

Rolling hills of lush green tea plantations with the ocean meeting the horizon in the background under a partly cloudy sky
Gorreana tea fields in São Miguel are well worth a visit

Main dishes

Some of the main dishes we recommend trying in São Miguel include:

  • Cozido das Furnas – perhaps the most iconic dish of the Azores. Cooked with the volcanic heat of the Furnas soil, this cuisine is usually quite rich with various meats and vegetables. Some complain about the slight sulfur taste/smell, but that was not our experience at all.
  • Regional Steak – Fried steak with butter and lots of garlic that uses fabulous beef from the Azores. Not to be missed by anyone who likes a good piece of meat.
  • Octopus Stew à São Miguel – Octopus stewed with the famous local pepper and potatoes. We liked it and repeated it several times, but we liked the octopus.
  • Limpets, Mussels, and Barnacles—One of the things not to miss is eating grilled limpets or mussels in a delicious butter sauce. Barnacles are also very good; they are normally just cooked.
  • Grilled fish—The Azores Sea has hundreds of fish species, and in São Miguel, we can try them all, from the huge tuna to smaller and rarer fish. The Blackbelly Rosefish is one of our favorites.

But there are many others to try. To learn more about these and other dishes to eat in São Miguel, see our article on what to eat in São Miguel.

A traditional steak, served with a fried egg on top covered in a rich brown sauce and a side of French fries
Steak at the Associação Agrícola Restaurant, a must-see in S. Miguel, Azores

Sweets and Desserts

São Miguel’s cuisine is much richer in terms of starters, soups, and main dishes, rather than sweets and desserts. Still, in addition to the traditional Portuguese desserts common throughout the country, there are some typical São Miguel sweets to try, such as:

  • Queijadas da Vila – Queijadas typical of Vila Franca are found everywhere on the island. The best-known and most renowned are Morgado queijadas
  • Ribeira Grande Queijadas – A little less known and more recent, but it has become very popular in recent years.
  • Pineapple cake—The Azores’ version of pineapple cake is slightly different from the traditional one on the mainland and has a stronger flavor and texture.
  • Malassadas – is a similar to a fartura or churro, that is, fried dough with sugar on top. Sometimes they have a strong lemon flavor that gives them a very pleasant taste.
  • Massa Sovada – a surprise as we didn’t expect to like it so much. A kind of sweet bread, very, very good!
Queijada do Morgado resting on a piece of paper. Typical sweet from Vila Franca do Campo in São Miguel
Queijadas do Morgado in a delicious sweet from Vila Franca do Campo in São Miguel

Is it possible to drink tap water in São Miguel?

Yes, as in the rest of Portugal, tap water in São Miguel is suitable for human consumption! It does not need to be filtered or treated with domestic water treatment equipment.

How to travel in São Miguel, Azores

Portugal has excellent infrastructure for tourists, and São Miguel is no exception. However, unlike the mainland, visiting some attractions via public transport can be quite complicated, so we recommend renting a car or taking guided tours. Otherwise, going to some of the best places mentioned in this article may not be easy.

Public transport in São Miguel

There is plenty of public transport in São Miguel, but it is concentrated in Ponta Delgada and transport between villages. Given that many of São Miguel’s best attractions (walks, waterfalls, viewpoints) are in isolated and difficult-to-access locations, they are almost all difficult to reach using only public transport.

Therefore, we always recommend renting a car in São Miguel, as the alternative is to take part in tours, which is much more expensive. However, it is also easier and more relaxing.

The only way to get to São Miguel is by plane to the international airport (unless you are coming from another Azorean island). There are plenty of flights from the continent (Lisbon and Porto), and some from the rest of Europe and even the USA and Canada. Low-cost companies like Ryanair also fly to the island, making the trip inexpensive if purchased in advance.

A serene lagoon nestled between lush green hills under a clear blue sky, with sunlight sparkling on the water's surface.
Lagoa das Furnas and the volcanic calderas from Miradouro do Pico do Ferro, an attraction to visit in São Miguel

Rent a car in São Miguel

Renting a car in São Miguel is the same as anywhere else in the world. It offers the same advantages of flexibility as we can go where we want, when we want, and stay as long as we think necessary.

In São Miguel, it is also the cheapest solution due to the lack of alternatives mentioned above. However, always pay attention to the contract and the cost of insurance. We suggest you always take the deductible coverage as it gives you enormous peace of mind to make the most of your trip.

One of the things we must consider when we go to São Miguel is that the cost of renting a car varies immensely depending on the time of year. In January it is easy to rent a car for a week for around 50 Euros, sometimes less! In the summer, it will probably cost 5 or 6 times more, and if you leave it for the last few days, you might not even be able to do it because everything is sold out!

Note that in Portugal (and consequently in São Miguel) almost all cars are manual. If you are not used to driving manual cars, always confirm that you are booking an automatic car, as this is not common in Portugal.

Rural tranquility: a herd of cows grazes on the verdant hillsides beside a rural road under a bright blue sky dotted with clouds, personifying the serene landscapes of São Miguel.
Staying in the mountains of São Miguel with cows grazing is a common scenario on the island

Tips for driving in São Miguel, Azores

Like the rest of the country, driving in São Miguel is not particularly difficult and follows the same traffic rules as mainland Portugal. If you are used to driving in various places, São Miguel will not present any difficulties, especially because it is a very relaxed destination.

There are, however, some peculiarities and things to keep in mind:

  • Due to the island’s natural conditions, some roads have high inclines and impressive gorges. These are more common when traveling to the coast or near some peaks.
  • The lack of space means that many roads are quite cramped.
  • The historic center of Ponta Delgada has particularly cramped streets and few parking spaces.
  • The rest of the villages and cities are much smaller and easier to drive and park.
  • In São Miguel, there are no paid highways, so you don’t need to worry about that. The few expressways are all free.
  • Just like on the mainland, there are plenty of roundabouts. Remember that those traveling on roundabouts have priority.
  • You cannot turn right when the light is red.
  • The speed limits are:
    • Expressways and reserved lanes – 100km/h
    • National roads outside localities – 90km/h
    • inside localities – 50 km/h
    • these values can be reduced when there is a corresponding signage.
A picturesque view of a coastal landscape with a lighthouse perched on the edge of a craggy cliff in São Miguel, overlooking the serene waters of the ocean.
Farol do Arnel: the road to get to the lighthouse is very steep, we do not recommend going down by car

Currency and Payments in São Miguel

Like the rest of Portugal, the Azores use the Euro as their official currency. As part of the Eurozone, you don’t need to worry about exchange rates, fees, or commissions if you come from another Eurozone region.

If you are coming from outside the Eurozone, it is not necessary to bring Euros with you. The ATM network is extensive, so you will find machines everywhere and easily withdraw money. We recommend you use the exchange rate your bank offers, not the local network.

Almost all stores, bars, and restaurants in São Miguel accept debit card payments, although some establishments do not accept credit cards. So take the opportunity to make card payments whenever possible, but make sure you have cash on hand for those rare occasions when card payment is impossible.

Top Tip

Avoid using ATMs outside the Portuguese ATM network (Multibanco), as they charge high withdrawal fees.

holes with hot water and smoke from the island's volcanic fumaroles where the furnas stew is cooked
Fumaroles and boilers of Furnas, where the Furnas stew is cooked for 5 to 6 hours in São Miguel

How much does it cost to travel in São Miguel?

Portugal is a relatively cheap destination compared to the rest of Western Europe. And unlike other European islands, São Miguel is not a particularly expensive destination.

As expected, travel costs increase during the high season (Summer) and in the busiest tourist spots. However, what really distinguishes the travel costs of São Miguel is the traveler: their travel style, preferences, and desires.

Even so, we can mention that on our trips to São Miguel, the daily cost per person varies between 60-80 Euros. We traveled as a backpacking couple, eating only one restaurant meal per day and staying in cheap accommodation, but never in shared-room hostels.

Note that we also never go to São Miguel in July and August, and at this time of year, the costs are expected to rise to close to 100 euros. On the other hand, we are aware that we can reduce our costs a little more by always opting for cheap meals and staying in shared rooms.

A glimpse into the underground world of the Azores: stalactites and craggy rock formations adorn the ceiling of a dimly lit cave, creating a natural mosaic of geological history.
Inside the Carvão cave, despite being a paid activity, it is well worth doing, it is very interesting and beautiful

Accommodation Prices

Accommodation is probably the most significant expense on any trip, and this is no exception, especially in high season, when prices double or triple compared to low season.

In São Miguel, we suggest that you use booking.com to book your accommodation. It has a huge variety of hotels, hostels, and even local accommodations at the best prices.

Given the relatively small island, most people stay in Ponta Delgada and take trips to each destination. It is possible to reach any part of the island in around 1 hour from Ponta Delgada. If you want a change, the best alternative is probably Furnas, which has several main attractions and hotels.

In Ponta Delgada, a room for two people in a cheap hotel costs 60-70 Euros, while more expensive, modern, and luxurious hotels cost much more. Some accommodation is available for 40-50 euros, but in high season, it is difficult. Lowering from 40 Euros per night is possible but not always, even in low season.

Abandoned brutalist building in the Azores taken over by nature, with signs of abandonment amidst lush vegetation and cloudy skies.
Abandoned hotel – Monte Palace in São Miguel is a mysterious and sober place

Food costs

Although prices have increased significantly in recent years, food in Portugal is still relatively cheap. It largely depends on where you go and what you eat. As with everything else, tourist areas are much more expensive.

Furthermore, many of the best-known dishes in the Azores use very high-quality ingredients, so, normally, they are not cheap. But they are sometimes cheaper than other places! In our experience:

  • Breakfasts are quite cheap but excellent. Up to 5 Euros per person in any pastry shop, but usually much less. After all, São Miguel is Portugal, and Portugal is one of the best destinations in the world for cheap and delicious breakfasts.
  • Lunches and quick meals – You can easily eat for around 10 Euros per person if you eat in a small local restaurant or if you use the dish of the day (menu/prato do dia). If you choose outside the day’s menu and go for other dishes, it will probably be around 15 to 20 Euros.
  • Restaurants—If you want a better, more elaborate meal, the prices are much higher and are increasing a lot. Still, a traditional meal or a dish of international food will cost between 20 and 30 Euros, depending on the dish and ingredients. There are few luxury restaurants in São Miguel, but seafood is obviously more expensive (though less expensive than most of the world).
  • It is possible to either buy perfect food or cooking ingredients in São Miguel supermarkets and make complete meals for 5-10 Euros. We usually eat one of these meals daily to lower the trip’s average cost.
Piece of tuna steak with sweet potato and a salad of different vegetables with mustard sauce, a delicious traditional dish from São Miguel
Tuna steak with sweet potatoes from Tasca, one of the best restaurants in São Miguel

Costs of renting a car in São Miguel

As we have already mentioned several times, we strongly advise you to rent a car in São Miguel, as it is difficult to explore the island well and enjoy all its natural wonders. Given that the other option is to go on tours, renting a car also turns out to be a sensible decision in terms of costs.

Still, expect some substantial costs in the high season. In low season, the costs are quite affordable.

  • Renting the car: Estimate an average of 200-250 Euros per week, knowing that in high season, it could be 300+ Euros per week, and in low season, it could be below 100 Euros.
  • Mandatory insurance—There’s no way around it. Note that it may also be advisable to have all-risk insurance to avoid stress during the trip.
  • Paying for fuel – Fuel in the Azores is cheaper than on the mainland. Furthermore, the island is small, and you shouldn’t spend that much fuel on the trip.
  • Parking – It is quite difficult and expensive to park in the center of Ponta Delgada, and you will probably have to pay for some parking. Not so on the rest of the island. Pay special attention to whether the hotel where you are staying has parking included or whether you can park on the street.
  • There are no tolls—You don’t have to worry about this cost, which is always good. especially because on the continent, it ends up being a relevant cost for some trips.
A picturesque view of an ancient stone bridge with arches connecting two parts of a picturesque town of São Miguel, complete with traditional white buildings, terracotta roofs and street lamps.
Bridge and Church of Lomba da Fazenda in the Northeast of São Miguel

How to save on a trip to São Miguel?

Although we don’t think São Miguel is a particularly expensive destination, especially if we take into account everything it offers us, it’s always worth trying to reduce costs a little. Because it’s not too complicated if you take into account some of our recommendations and particularities of the island:

  • Use and abuse outdoor activities, which are mostly free – hiking, beaches, natural pools, waterfalls, viewpoints- all things to do in São Miguel that don’t cost money. And they are some of the best that Portugal has to offer!
  • The best way to save on food is to go to restaurants that serve “Menu do Dia.” These include a main dish, drink, coffee, and often even dessert. They are normally around 10 Euros.
  • Also, you can save a lot on food if you book accommodation with a kitchen and eat one supermarket meal a day, as supermarket meals are much cheaper than those in restaurants.
  • Having a kitchen will also allow you to have breakfast at home, which is also cheaper.
  • Most activities in São Miguel can easily be done independently. There are lots of examples of this on this site. So, rent a car and explore the island independently.
  • Still, some tours and activities can be worth it. We use it to book tours throughout Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira.
  • If you are planning to stay in Ponta Delgada for several days, it might be worth not having a car on those days. Avoid rental and parking costs.
  • Beyond the center of Ponta Delgada, public transport is hardly worth using. Although it is quite cheap, it doesn’t take you to many tourist destinations.
  • There are some cheap and quality accommodations throughout the island. We always use booking to book accommodation in Portugal, as there is a huge variety on offer and it is always at low prices. We advise you to do the same.
  • Never accept the exchange rate suggested by ATMs, as they are always worse than the bank’s.
  • Always try to pay by card to reduce the number of withdrawals you need to make. It’s possible almost everywhere.
A tranquil scene in the Azores featuring a stunning volcanic crater lake set amongst lush hills under a clear blue sky.
Lagoa do Fogo seen from the Pico da Barrosa Viewpoint in São Miguel

Is it customary to tip in the Azores?

In general, it is not customary to pay tips in Portuguese restaurants. In fact, there is no tipping culture in Portugal, or at least it is very different from that in the USA. São Miguel is no exception, but the growth of tourism and its importance for the local economy is changing the local culture, and sometimes tourists feel this need.

Still, note that it is each person’s decision. The tip in Portugal is an extra, it is not supposed to be the main part of the employee’s income.

In restaurants, it is normal to round up the bill or leave a maximum tip of 1 to 2 euros. Any value above this is only given to reward extraordinary service.

It is also common to tip travel guides or tour guides, but this is mainly because the customers are foreigners and are used to paying it. Again, the tip is not supposed to be the main part of the guide’s income.

In all other services, tipping is extremely rare.

several pineapple plants being grown in a greenhouse in São Miguel
Boa Fruta company’s pineapple greenhouses in São Miguel, where you can take a free visit

What to take on a trip to São Miguel

Despite being small, São Miguel has a huge diversity of attractions and destinations, offering various things to see and do, which is why each trip requires a particular list. Furthermore, the type of traveler you are will also greatly influence what you need to bring.

However, the most common and what we mostly recommend is exploring the island’s spectacular natural offerings, including forests, waterfalls, trails, viewpoints, etc. Taking this into account, we will indicate some of the basic things that we believe any traveler to São Miguel will need:

  • Casual and comfortable clothing – Even in summer, don’t forget to bring some trousers and a light jacket as it can get cool at night and the island’s highest points. In winter, wear warm clothes, as sometimes it gets really cold, although it never drops below 5ºC on the coast.
  • Comfortable footwear – it’s very likely that you’ll be walking a lot, so it’s essential to bring comfortable footwear, particularly sneakers. Don’t worry, Portuguese people are very informal, you can wear sneakers everywhere.
  • Bring shoes specifically for hiking. The island’s interior is humid, and it can rain at any time. You will likely have to pass through slippery and muddy areas.
  • Sunglasses – They always come in handy on any trip.
  • Hat – for the same reasons as sunglasses.
  • Sunscreen—It is absolutely mandatory in summer, but we suggest you always wear it, regardless of the time of year.
  • Havaianas and/or Sandals – these will be useful almost every day, whether for a walk, taking a shower, going to the beach, or walking on the hot sand…
  • Power Bank – while traveling, you may be without access to electricity for long periods of time so a power bank can become your best friend
  • Travel pillow – this will be especially useful during the flight, as depending on where you are coming from, it could be quite long and overnight. See our complete article on travel pillows here.
  • Small backpack—Portugal is great for short getaways, trails, tours, and so on. We strongly advise you to take a small, lightweight backpack for those days so you don’t have to carry a larger suitcase/backpack.
An explorer with a yellow backpack carefully walks along a moss-covered wooden path in the verdant forest of Sanguinho and Salto do Prego trail
An activity not to be missed in São Miguel is doing the Sanguinho and Salto do Prego Trail

Best souvenirs to bring from São Miguel

One of the best things about traveling is bringing a little bit of each trip back home. And who wouldn’t want to bring a bit of São Miguel with them?

Therefore, choosing souvenirs to buy is an important issue not only during the trip but also for later remembering it.

Some of the best souvenirs to buy on a trip to São Miguel include:

  • Cheese from the Azores – the best known are those from São Jorge, but there are great cheeses on almost all the Azores islands
  • Furnas lemon sweets – although we haven’t discussed them before, they are very popular and typical of the Azores.
  • Earrings and necklaces made with the typical black stone from the Azores
  • Chá da Gorreana – Gorreana is the oldest tea producer in Europe, and its teas are very good.
  • Pimenta da Terra – one of the most typical ingredients of São Miguel and used in almost all traditional dishes.
  • Volcanic Pottery Products – Volcanic pottery is a local specialty and can be found in the form of plates, bowls, mugs, and other decorative items
  • Queijadas – queijadas are very typical of São Miguel and come in many different flavors. The most famous are Queijadas da Vila, from Vila Franca do Campo.
Grocery store in São Miguel with a wide selection of cheeses, packaged bread, a variety of condiments and bottled specialties.
Traditional products from São Miguel in the Azores at the Rei dos Queijos store in Mercado da Graça

Do I need an adapter in São Miguel?

The electrical outlets in São Miguel are the same as those in mainland Portugal and most of continental Europe. Thus, type F electricity inputs (called Schuko) are used, with a voltage of 230v and a frequency of 50Hz.

Type F inputs also work with type C and type E devices.

Therefore, if you come from mainland Portugal or another country that uses these sockets, you will not need an adapter. We suggest this adapter if you come from countries with other types of sockets (such as Brazil, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom).

Internet in São Miguel

Any accommodation you choose should have free Wi-Fi, so this shouldn’t be a major concern. However, it’s a good idea to check the signal quality in the comments before booking. Furthermore, many cafes, restaurants, shops, and public spaces have free Wi-Fi.

If you want to use mobile data, then any data card from an EU country works in São Miguel without paying extra for it. If you don’t have a European data card, you can buy data cards at any telecommunications store on the island – Vodafone, Meo, or NOS.

Signal quality is typically similar across any operator. The offers are also similar, so we advise you to buy the first one you see and not waste time on it.

Remember that using roaming has costs that can be very high.

We must note that not having a signal is common in some areas of the island. Its geography makes signal quality difficult, and there is probably a lack of investment in remote areas.

A picturesque stone whale watching tower overlooks a serene coastal landscape with lush vegetation and a calm sea under cloudy skies.
Whale Watch at Miradouro Borda da Ladeira in São Miguel Azores

Garbage and Pollution in São Miguel

In general, the island of São Miguel is quite clean in cities and natural areas. There may be some exceptions and areas with some trash on the floor, but we don’t have much to criticize in that regard. In fact, the island seemed very clean. The natural areas are beautiful and practically immaculate.

The seawater and air quality are also high, but we would not expect anything else as the Azores are very far from other territories.

A peaceful trail of the Serra Devassa trail that passes through lush green fields with picturesque views of the ocean and distant coastline under partly cloudy skies.
Beautiful Serra Devassa trail, with views of the coast and fields of São Miguel

What documents do I need to enter São Miguel?

As a Portuguese territory, São Miguel is part of the EU and the Schengen area. Consequently, you benefit from the freedom of movement for people within this European area. If you come from another country in the Schengen area, you do not need a passport and can use your identification document.

If you come from elsewhere, we advise you to check here which passports require a visa to enter Portugal and, consequently, the Azores. Most visitors (USA, UK, Canada, Australia) do not need a visa, but they need a ticket to leave the country.

Note: Don’t forget your driver’s license if you plan to drive!

Is a vaccination mandatory to enter São Miguel?

No. Unless you come from an infected area, you do not need a vaccination to obtain authorization to enter the Azores. The rules are exactly the same as those in the rest of the country.

However, just like anywhere else in the world, it is advisable to have your tetanus vaccine up to date, especially if you will be in contact with nature. You will then not be asked about any type of vaccination upon entry.

Azores travel guides we recommend

Finally, the travel guide to the Azores that we recommend is the DK top 10, as it has a lot of helpful information and has been recently updated. We don’t know of any quality guide specifically for São Miguel.

We recommend the one from Lonely Planet if you want a guide to Portugal.

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