Perched in the Atlantic Ocean northwest of Madeira, the nine-island archipelago forming Portugal's Azores is fast gaining popularity as an unspoiled vacation paradise where nature rules. Here are your options for outdoor adventures in the Azores.
Hiking & Canyoning
Hiking trails are plentiful across the volcanic interior of the Azores, from trekking up Mt. Pico for the chance to spot rare Azorean bullfinches to seven-hour hikes past waterfalls and beaches to the fumarole fields (hot springs) at Furnas. Less taxing options include a circular walk around Fogo Lake on São Miguel, with plenty of swimming opportunities for kids. Those interested in canyoning can canyon down waterfalls in Ribeira dos Caldeirões Natural Park (Parque Natural Ribeira dos Caldeirões) and traverse the area's canyons, crater lakes, and lava rock caves.
Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the waters around the Azores teem with life. Big-game fishing is big business, with the season running from April until October. During these months, boat tours head off daily into deep waters off São Miguel to chase down yellow-fin tuna, swordfish, and blue marlin; experienced crew members are on hand to encourage and instruct novices on technique.
Dolphin and Whale Spotting
The sheltered waters around the Azores are ideal for sailing tours, including romantic sunset trips along the Ponta Delgada coastline of São Miguel with regular chances to swim with bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins if the weather and sea conditions are right. Eco-friendly whale-watching adventures run year-around, and sightings are virtually guaranteed between July and September. Turtles and flying fish are also often encountered.
Swimming and Snorkeling
Due to their volcanic history, the waters around the Azores are warmed by thermal springs; head to Ponta da Ferraria on São Miguel to swim in water heated to a comforting 82°F (28°C). The cold-water reefs that surround each island abound with fish, coral and color, and São Jorge is one of the best destinations for snorkeling. Expert instructors at the island’s dive center provide safety gear and make several trips out to the reef per day.