The archipelago of the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal, consisting of nine islands and some islets. The nine islands are Pico, Faial, São Jorge, Terceira, Graciosa, Flores, Corvo, Santa Maria and São Miguel.
They are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in between Europe and North America. They are spread across an area of almost 600km and have various sizes. São Miguel is the biggest island while Corvo is the smallest. Each island has unique geological features since all of them are volcanic islands.
All azorean islands were created through volcanic activity. The oldest island, Santa Maria is estimated to be somewhat between 8 and 15 million years old while the youngest island, Pico, first reached the oceans surface around 250.000 years ago.
Their existence is due to their location in between three continental plates (Europe, Africa and America). The atlantic rift is still moving and not every volcano sleeping, which explains the still very present volcanic activity on almost all islands.
Since the first settlers (that we know of) moved to the Azores over 500 years ago, they witnessed many earthquakes and 30 volcanic eruptions, most of which luckily happened in the ocean close to the coast and not on land. The last eruption was documented in 2001 near to the shore of Terceira island.
The Centro de Vulcanologia e Avaliacao de Riscos Geológicos (CVARG) is constantly monitoring any geological activity.
The first time the Azores appear on a map was 1351, and almost a century later – in 1444 – the first settlers moved to Santa Maria und São Miguel. It took multiple years to slowly populate the other islands. Now, there are still not even 250.000 inhabitants in total. It is said that there was no indigenous civilization before the portuguese claimed the land as their own. The first settlers were a wild mix of nationalities and especially flamish people moved to the islands in the hopes of a new life with no political persecution (and because their leader promised them gold that didn’t exist but let’s just pretend like they only came for the hopeful dream).
Life was tough on the islands, being completely isolated on harsh land, but nature gave them food and they used the volcanic stones to build houses. Very early on they started to make vineyards and produce their own alcohol which is still a big part of island culture (and proves that they are truly portuguese after all).
Even tho they were isolated, they still had to deal with pirates, travelers and sometimes even political battles (from Spain fighting them as the last standing piece of resistence of Portugal in 1580 to being a base for the UK and the USA during World War II).
They had good times (like when they exported oranges or tea as luxurious goods in a lot of countries) and bad times (like when a plague killed all the plants or during the Salazar dictatorship that lasted until 1974). They survived earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and always remained calm and humble. Today, the islands host a huge cow population since they produce most of the meat and milk products of mainland Portugal and the amazing landscape and the kindness of the people attract visitors from all over the world.
Nine Beautiful Islands
São Miguel is the biggest and also the most famous of all nine islands. It offers the best infrastructures, the easiest flight options and cities as well as gorgeous landscapes. It is also the island with the most inhabitants and measures an impressing 746 km².
Known for sights like Sete Cidades, Lagoa do Fogo and Furnas, São Miguel has even more to offer. From tea plantations, liquor factories, black beaches, mystical forests, orange waterfalls and so much more.
The oldest and one of the smaller islands of the archipelago, its existence seems to be a miracle and was a mystery to geologists for a long time. Beaches and beautiful landscapes invite visitors, not only for the festivals in the summer.
The big volcano is the first thing you will notice when visiting Pico Island. The highest mountain of Portugal towers 2351m above sealevel and is one of the many amazing features the island has to offer. But don’t forget about the wine, the caves, the whale watching, the diverse volcanic landscapes and the amazing culture you can experience here.
Small and yet so important. Faial had a big part in past history of not only the Azores but also the world. Today it is most famous for its harbour full of sailors from all around the globe and its incredible landscape of “Capelinhos”, where a volcano erupted 60 years ago and created new land.
Food is the first thing that comes to mind, when you think of the needle shaped island in the heart of the Azores. Typical cheese, hand fished tuna, regional sweets and coffee grown in the beautiful Fajãs are the firsts to come to mind. Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots when coming to São Jorge as you will explore most of its beauty by foot.
Terceira, the “third”, sometimes feels like the odd one out. The gorgeous capital Angra do Heroísmo, which is UNESCO world heritage, the mostly tamed landscapes, the long landing strip at the military airport and the intense political history of the place almost let’s you forget about the active volcanoes, the protected forests and traditional customs of the island.
Hard to reach and yet worth a visit. Graciosa lies west of Terceira and is probably the most underrated of all nine islands. But if you give it a shot, you will see amazing landscapes and meet people you will fall in love with instantly.
As impressive as the other islands are, Flores wins the award for the most beautiful of them all. Lush greens, ever flowing waterfalls, forests made of fogs and dreams, hiking trails along gorgeous cliffs, flowers and interesting rock formations everywhere, a multitude of volcanic lakes and so much more.
Corvo, which means raven, is the definition of isolation. Due to harsh weather and ocean conditions it is sometimes very hard to reach and the small population from less the 500 people is a community like no other. The tiny, lonely town in the shadow of the massive volcano, offers an experience you will never forget.