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The Azores

Before we get in to the nitty gritty, we better familiarise ourselves with the basics. The Azores archipelago is made up of 9 islands situated in the middle of the Atlantic, with a total surface area of 2322 km squared. It’s 1408 km from Lisbon and 3910 km from New York. Despite forming part of the volcanic Macronesia islands, of which Madeiras and the Canaries are also a part of and with which it also shares many similarities, it is in fact situated along a more northern latitude (1100 km North of Madeira) and therefore has a much wetter climate; the current from the Gulf of Mexico cools the temperature.

Azores attracts tourists with its natural beauty and spaciousness, both of which make it the perfect place for sustainable development. Other benefits include an obvious rural feel and, due to the haemorrhaging of inhabitants during the migration to North America and Europe in the second half of the 20th century, a sparse population which is conducive to a very safe and also calm living environment. On top of all of this too is a local kindness, making it an even better place for people to visit. It’s often said that the Azores are in fact Europe’s best kept secret.

The situation in the Azores is completely different to that of Madeira and The Canaries. The latter two islands have already fallen victim to tourism and a process of urbanisation which has eaten up the natural coastline, is changing the islands’ economies and above all saturating them with tourists.

Here, the lack of beaches or permanent summer sun has resulted in an inability to attract floods of tourists like the aforementioned islands. Whilst limited in what it can offer in comparison to Madeiras and the Canaries, it has forced the hand of the administration and they have decided to find a solution by offering a greener alternative to the other islands, greener in all senses of the word.

  • Rather than fishing or hunting; bird and whale watching.
  • Instead of the sun, beaches and luxurious hotels; green tourism, hiking, modest hotels and rural living.
  • Stance against excessive/widespread expansion; growing light culture; the emergence of multinationals; clubbing and noise pollution.

The Azores, for now at least, is clinging on to and promoting a more traditional way of living, championing the many benefits of good old fashioned peace and quiet. It seems to have avoided falling victim to the more poisonous form of tourism and by keeping its natural resources intact and introducing a new unique form of tourism, it is now starting to attract tourists more sensitive and aware of the environment.

How to get there

Due to the distance between the continent and the actual islands, flying there is your only option. It takes two hours from Lisbon or Porto-Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel), which is the closest and best connected airport. If you fly from Madrid it will take you about 2 hours 45 minutes.

The later the flight the cheaper it will be. However, what you save by booking a later flight you’ll probably end up spending paying for an overnight hotel. SATA Internacional and TAP Air are the airlines you’ll most likely use.

Since 2004 there have been daily flights between Barajas and Ponta Delagda, making flying to Azores much easier and cheaper too as you no longer have to change over at Porto or Lisbon. The travel agents also offer tourist deals, either their own ones or from other Portuguese companies.

When you land

If you go through a travel agents, travel to and from the airport is included. If you don’t however and it turns out your hotel or accommodation is quite far away or you just want to explore the island, it’s not worth hiring your own car, simply call a taxi.

How to save if you’re young or a student

With a young persons’ card you get loads of discounts for museums and landmarks etc, and with the international students card (ISIC) these discounts extend to transport, festivals and travel insurance. To get one you need to contact TIVE or your city’s equivalent. They are only available for registered students under the age of 30.

On the islands themselves, any EU member between the age of 16 and 26 can go to the young peoples’ information centre and pick up a card, ‘O Cartão Inter Joven’, funded by the regional government. With this you get huge discounts for sea travel. It costs €50 and is valid from the 15th of July until the 30th of September.

If you’re staying in a hostel, it’s worth bringing/getting an international hostel membership card which lasts a whole year and although is cheaper for those under 29, there is no actual age restriction.

Timezone

Due to its westerly position and distance from the Greenwich meridian, Azores is two hours behind Spain. Make sure you don’t forget and try to remember when you land at least. On the way there it will seem like you've gained some extra hours and on the way back like you've lost some.

Weather

The locals usually say that you’ll experience all four seasons in one day, every day for the whole year. Given this isn't too far from the actual truth, it’s worth bearing in mind that their summer is rather wet and only in July does the sky become clearer and the rain less frequent. Summertime in general usually starts a bit later than it does on the continent, but lasts well in to October when the sea is at its warmest.

Another thing to note about the seasons in the Azores is that as the sea and air have the same temperature, static clouds are common and often empty themselves in the highest parts of the islands. Mists are also common, and also end up unleashing a torrent of fine, yet persistent rain. The patches of rain come from afar and soak all nine islands quite equally. However, the cloudiness caused by condensation is far more unique to each area, the mountainous regions being the worst in this regard. If it is cloudy, it’s best to move along or even wait for a bit and they it will soon all pass.

The winter on the other hand is usually quite dry however due to its position in the Atlantic the waves can reach great heights and the wind high speeds with the northern parts being the worst.

The benefit of the warm current from the Gulf of Mexico is that it cools the air temperature (13 degree average at its coldest and 23 and its hottest) and that of the sea (17 and 24 degrees respectively).

As many of you will know already, in Spain we use the Azores to find out the weather in Spain. However, you may not know why or how, so I’m going to tell you a little something that helps explain it.

In 1893 a submarine cable was installed that connected Carcavelos, near Lisbon, with Ponta Delgada and Horta. This essentially allowed Europe to forecast the weather as, due to what is now famously known as The Azores High, we know that when this comes in from the west the weather will be good. However, the behaviour of this wave of high atmospheric pressure attributed to the Azores does not in fact mean the same for the islands as it does for the continent so you’ll have to to look out for specific weather forecasts for the region so that you know what sort of weather you can expect. As well as local newspapers, the radio and TV you can also get your 2 day forecasts on the internet.

On the islands however, due to the unpredictable changes and also region specific climates it’s sometimes better to use a source much closer to home when trying to find a weather forecast. Call the local bars, restaurants and taxi companies and ask them if it is going to be clear.

What to pack?

The ever-changing weather means that, despite going in the summer, you still need to make sure you pack clothes suitable for the mist and rain: jumpers, torches, raincoats and an umbrella. The only weather you won’t have to pack for is the cold, although at high altitude the wind can be quite bitter. Also, if you’re planning to do some hiking or even explore some of the caves, make sure you pack some comfortable sportswear and walking boots, waterproofed or with Gore-Tex if possible.

Swimming costume, towels and flips flops are a must as without them you wont be able to enjoy the natural swimming pools, of which there are tons on all the islands. Also, anyone that likes bike riding, don’t forget to bring cycling shorts.

Cameras and other photography gadgets are expensive here so it’s worth bringing your own. Also, for anyone that comes completely unprepared, you can buy pretty much all types of clothing in the more urban parts of the islands.

Maps and leaflets

You can get an official detailed tourist guide from any of the tourist offices on any of the islands. They also includes a fairly decent map and if you want to start planning early, you can get your hands on one of them beforehand.

The hiking leaflets also have their own partial maps of the Army’s Geographic Institute at a 1:25000 scale or the National Geographic at a 1:50000 scale. Once on the islands, for anyone that prefers to go it alone, you can get some photocopies from the Ponta Delgada customs.

How to get around the islands

Flying

It’s expensive to fly with SATA, however it is the only airline that flies to all 9 islands, and their high prices are justified by the fact that they need to help keep the local airlines, especially in the least populated areas, afloat all year round. In the summer, although they increase the number of flights, they are always fully booked so make sure you book in advance. Also, all return flights are done the same day, but there is no special discount for doing it this way. Although, for anyone that used SATA flying from Porto or Lisbon there is a 20% discount available and with the young persons’ card or for anyone travelling to at least 3 islands there are similar discounts on offer, although they do not add up.

A flight from one island to another can cost more than €300, regardless of the distance and the even though the locals get a discounted price they still complain about the ridiculous prices and prefer to explore Europe rather than the other islands as it is in fact much cheaper. As a result, many of them travel to the USA, Canada, Brazil or Germany rather than their other islands.

At the airport, if you have to check in your suitcase you should get there an hour before. If you've just got hand luggage then you can get there 30 minutes beforehand instead.

Boat

The boat is an interesting option, and much cheaper than flying to get to the following different groups of islands.

  • The Eastern group: formed by the San Miguel and Santa María islands.
  • The Central group: made up of Terceira, Graciosa, Isla do Faial, Pico Island and Sao Jorge.
  • The Western group: the islands in this final group are Isla das Flores and Isla do Corvo.

The boat is most commonly used to get from one central island to another. However, apart from a few journeys, it is really slow. Horta to Pico, Horta to Sao Jorge or Flores to Corvo (and the reverse of course) are the only relatively short journeys.

Bus

The buses aren't really that useful for people visiting the Azores. On top of very limited service, you can also add the fact it’s painfully slow to the list, always stopping in the busiest places, just like the boats would have done in the past.

In the less populated parts, the bus only makes one or two runs a day. What’s more, these infrequent trips are usually just one way anyway. Only in Sao Miguel, which has 14 different bus routes, you could say that the bus is actually useful, but only really for those getting around that live close to the capital.

When taking all this into account, especially for anyone that wants to visit an island in just one day, it would be better to grab a taxi, and even better option if you manage to find another group of people to make it a group of 5 or 6.

Taxi

All the taxis are Mercedes or something similar and all the drivers know their way around and even tell you about the best places to visit and organise specific routes according to what you want to see. The fares are regulated throughout the islands and will cost you around about, after the increase in petrol price, €15 an hour.

Car Rental

For anyone wanting to spend more than one day on a particular island then it's probably best to rent a car as after two or three days you start to see the value for money. You can chose to pay relative to how far you travel (better if you won't be using it all too often) or if you're going to be using it a lot you can pay a daily amount. The cheaper cars will cost about 35-45 euros a day, depending on the company you use, and with IVA for example, insurance is a compulsory purchase.

To rent a car you have to be over 21, show your license, and have to have been driving for more than a year. You also have to show your DNI and a credit card to pay what will be about €600 retainer. The basic insurance will be enough to cover you on the islands.

There are loads of companies you can use to rent a car but there is only one available when you on the islands. It’s called Ilha Verde and it’s very expensive. The initial fee to rent a car is more than it costs to get a taxi to the city centre. The small local companies, that aren't always there in the airport, usually place adverts in hotels and guides to attract their customers.

Bikes/Motorbikes

On one of the islands you can rent a motorbike or scooter type thing. For anyone looking to do some sport or simply just explore the city, you can rent a bicycle too.

Motorways

In Azores there are hardly any main roads (only the huge ring road in Sao Miguel) or high speed roads (only from Ponta Delgada to Ribeira Grande, some trams to Vila Nova do Campo and from Praia Victoria to Angra) so you can forget about getting anywhere in a hurry. The style of island life and the lack of big cities opens you up to the peace and quiet, something that’s reflected in the small number of accidents when compared to Portugal and the lack of road rage and better behaviour on the road all together (they actually stop at zebra crossings and don’t run red lights).

Due to the mountainous terrain, and proximity to the sea, most main roads meander and only differ from this on higher, flatter ground. Because of the winding roads you need to adapt to the style of the Azores, of patience and kindness, especially when stuck behind a tractor or a lorry, simply enjoy your surroundings and put up with the pot holes and cows crossing the road.

The locals usually stop in the middle of the roads or villages to chat or barter, which of course brings traffic to a halt momentarily. They don’t usually signpost roadworks either, but are always very kind and helpful to any visitors.

In terms of their roads in general, they leave a lot to be desired. On some of the islands too, they have been made even worse by recent earthquakes. This is the case in most of the less populated mountainous areas, although as always there are some exceptions.

The natives usually complain, quite rightly, that they should fix the roads used by tourists before they all arrive, especially those that are used to connect the most important places. Also you need to bear in mind that the terrain is very unforgiving, with very steep slopes etc., and if you don’t use low gears then you run the risk of burning out your brakes or even the engine itself.

The local speed limit is 50 km/h and 90 km/h on the main roads. Also it’s really important to note that your average speed will be much lower than you’re used to. Therefore, make sure you plan in advance and give yourself even more time than you think to make sure you get back before dark.

There’s a shortage of petrol stations but enough to get around the islands without any problems, you can always fill up and make it to where you want to go and back again, without a doubt. The services close at 00:00. Petrol in general is slightly cheaper than in Spain, but unleaded is much more expensive so if you’re going to rent a car, make sure you get a diesel one.

Accommodation

At the moment there aren't many options for hotels in the Azores, and even then they aren't anything special and also really expensive (especially when compared to Madeira or Portugal), even more so in high season. It’s because of these reasons that it’s probably better to book the hotel when you book your flight, as a package deal. You won’t find many last minute booking sites if you leave it for when you get here. Apartments or villas are also much more expensive to rent here, especially when you consider what you get for your money.

Despite it’s limitations due to its location, rural tourism is something that it excels in and would be a good choice for anyone that wants to spend time in the country side or on the farms, enjoying the quiet. If you choose to do something like this, you’ll find that the prices are much more in line with the rest of the country.

In the tourist office too you can find a list of all the places renting rooms, for more or less an acceptable price, with hostels and campsites being the better options in terms of price.

Hotels

There are a few hotel chains, Bensaude Turismo, Investaçor, Asta Atlantida, Plátano and NSL, that run the hotels. If you’re looking for bigger 3 or 4 star hotels then make sure you have a look around before. There are some modern, recently refurbished rooms but also some much older ones, that are completely unacceptable for the price you would have to pay. The same goes for more residence type places. You don’t know if you’re going to get something amazing or be surprised with an apartment full of old things that don’t work.

Rural Accommodation

To find places like this you have to know where to look, as they are usually found under specific names.

  • Turismo de Habitação: usually old manor houses or stately homes decorated with period furniture and surrounded by gardens.
  • Turismo Rural: loads of different rustic homes, of varying price.
  • Agroturismo: villas or farm cottages.
  • Apartamentos turísticos: basic apartments with a lounge and kitchen.
  • Casas de Campo: in theory they are the simplest and best priced.

You can get more information about any of these on the island by going to the Associação de Turismo em Espaço Rural.

Hostels and Other Rooms

There are loads of options and all fairly cheap, even in high season, most prevalent in the rural areas. The tourist offices can give you lists of hostels, and other official residences but a lot of people advertise independently and you can find these rooms by searching for ‘aluga-se quarto’. The quality and price of this type of accommodation varies a lot, some rooms can even become as expensive as a whole apartment in the summer, so try to avoid being cheated and make sure you visit any place that interests you, or if you can’t do that, go through more official channels.

Living with a local family can be a very pleasant experience, getting to know their way of living, but at the same time you won’t become that close as the rooms are separated from the house. This is usually the case in hostels, but in some there is a communal kitchen.

Campsites

The campsites are usually hidden away in some of the most beautiful places, and even more frequently, are right next to natural swimming pools or the beach. You can find them using a company, who charge a very acceptable fee. The campsites use these companies as a way to attract customers to places otherwise fairly unknown, and is a good way for them to promote themselves and get more customers.

Youth Hostels

You’ll only find these hostels (Pousada Juventude in Portuguese) in the centre of San Miguel’s capital or along the sea on Terceira, amazing places to be in both cases. However, in the summer they’re likely to be full of young groups that booked well in advance.

Spa Resorts

You’re very unlikely to find anywhere like this, but even for the few that do exist they vary a lot. You can find some that promote a traditional lifestyle, like the one in Temas de Carapacho in Graciosa or more modern places developed by the major hotel chains.

Gastronomy

The extensive protection for natural wildlife makes it increasingly difficult, and more expensive, to try local seafood like cavaco, a type of lobster without pincers that tastes amazing. But, the local delicacy by all means is rice grilled with garlic and parsley sauce and Molho Afonso. The third of the more popular local dishes is delicious barnacles (craca) hidden inside a chalky shell delicacy like a small volcano. Lobster and crab is also eaten a lot, and very nice too.

There is a huge variety of fish too: flat fish, rock fish, tall, small, blue, loads of different kinds of tuna, shark, the list goes on. Some of the most frequently eaten are: congros, bicudas, tambores, peixe, agulha, anchova, goraz, lirio, cavala, enxaréu, moreia, rocaz, pargo o sargo. A few of the less known dishes are abrótea, veja or peixe-cão (hot dog, but with fish). The rivers and lakes are home to trout and carp, and like the on the continent, octopus is very popular, grilled or cooked in Vinho do Cheiro.

In terms of meat, there is a local sausage, the linguiça, that you can find in most of the typical island dishes, as well as the much sweeter homemade sausage. There is also the famous Furna way of cooking, with involves food cooked very slowly from the warmth of the ground itself, one of the nicest things you’ll eat in Sao Miguel. Another dish worth mentioning is the Alcatra Terceirense, a spicy and aromatic stew with either fish or meat. They are proud of their beef in the Azores, and rightly so. Grown in the vast natural farmlands all year round, with their regional beef being the king of any menu.

Azorian cheese, especially of Sao Jorge, has become famous outside of the nine islands. Eight different factories produce this cheese and have all been duly awarded a seal of quality from the Unión de Cooperativas. The Pico and Sao Miguel cheese are equally as famous (made from cows’s and goat’s milk respectively).

The Azores also produce vegetables like bulgur, sweet and yam potatoes; as well as cabbages and turnips they use for broths and soups. The local fruit is also noteworthy too. Pineapple from Sao Miguel, sweet and aromatic, grown in the winter as well as passion fruit.

In terms of pastries and baking, just like on the continent, they have kept hold of the original recipes for the likes of Queijada (especially famous in Graciosa), Barriga de Freira, Malasada, and Cavaca. Many other traditional desserts are still made too like the Lasdonas Amélicas that were first made as a gift for the Queen’s visit to the archipelago. In Angra do Heroísmo, they make Alfenim sugar work. It's a type of dessert specific to the feast of the Holy Spirit.

The vineyards were introduced by the French and the carmelitas in the 16th century and then the Azores wine was exported to the other countries by the ships that sailed the Atlantic, Russia being one of the many importers. The grapes are usually grown in the parts where volcanic lava has been most recently and the most common kind is Verdelho, although just as common but of poorer quality is Vinho do Cheiro, brought from America. The other more famous and prestigious brands are Arinto and Terrantes, as well as others such as Malvasía, Sercial, Fernão Pires, Generosa and Bical.

The most productive islands are these, in the following order: Pico, Terceria and Graciosa. The Regional Wine Commission dates back to 1994 and controls all production of all types of wine. White wine is the most common and is better than the red. The factory Melo Abreu has brewed the Especial beer for more than a century and it is the most common across all the islands There are also loads of factories that produce fruity flavoured liquor, and the most popular brandy is made in Graciosa.

Because of the British influence, tea is also commonly drunk. It was introduced in 1820 by Jacinto Bleite and has continued ever since, the only one in Europe due to the strong competition from Asia. Two factories in Sao Miguel to this day continue to produce many different types of tea.

Finally, the tobacco factory Estrela de Ponta Delgada is responsible for making the cigars.

Things to do

In the Azores, its natural beauty is the main feature of its tourism, which, with some exceptions (mainly due to the SUVs they use), is all environmentally friendly.

Whale Watching

In 1974 the International Whaling Commission laid the groundwork for a moratorium on whaling, an act which was then ratified by many countries in Washington (1980) and Bern (1981).

Like in Norway, there are still pressure groups pushing for rights to carry it out once again, however it does not fit in with the direction Azores wants to pursue with its tourism. Of the 80 species of cetaceans that exist, 21 of them can be found here. Common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, and even blue whales (among many many more), the biggest animal in the world.

To get close, the best thing to do is to go through a specialist company, or at the very least, with your own boat or rented boat that adheres to the strict rules.

  • It is illegal to get closer than 100 metres to any baby whale or whale with calves.
  • There should never be more than 3 boats within a 500 metre radius of the whales (300 metres for dolphins) or for more than half an hour.
  • Sailboats cannot approach them without the use of a motor.
  • The use of sonar is prohibited.
  • You cannot feed or swim with the whales.

Diving

So many enjoy diving here due to the clearness of the water as well as the strange volcanic formations you can see from below. If you use a specific company for guided dives, these will be for the most part centred around the marine flora and fauna, swimming through schools of fish, or even swimming with dolphins.

In some parts the companies also offer dives for more seasoned divers, visiting sunken ships etc.

Sailing

In all the main harbours and marinas, such as Horta, Angra do Heroísmo, Praia da Vitoria, Ponta Delgada, Vilafranca do Campo, Lagoa, Velas, etc., you can contact the local sailing clubs and rent small boats to go sailing or even jet-skis.

Surfing and Windsurfing

In the more northern regions of the islands, where the wind blows a little stronger and the waves are slightly bigger, there are some famous surfing spots, like on Isla de Sao Jorge. Those who prefer windsurfing with the use of a boat, the south is probably better as there is an amazing offer to do so on the Sete Cidades lake, although the craters that act as a sort of wall can create a bit or instability in the air.

SUVs

A large part of the islands interior roads, especially those that lead towards the forests and nature reserves, are track roads. The frequent rain, as well as turning these roads to mud at times, also plays a part in churning up the roads, causing parts to collapse which the farm vehicles only make worse. Therefore, nobody should use a conventional car to drive through these parts and should instead hire an SUV, even if it’s just for a particular trip or certain amount of time. By doing so, it gives you a way to explore the islands’ nature even when there isn't time to go hiking.

Hiking

Of the 30 official routes through the different islands, you’ll find almost half of them in Sao Miguel, all of which allow you to explore rivers, mountains, forests, cliffs, and much more at the pace you want. However, the more exciting trips are those that include the exploration of the volcanoes, for example, it’s possible to approach the mouth and even enter inside some of the many craters or even visit the parts near the edge of the sea formed by landslides or lava flow.

Other unique routes are those that take you towards Mt. Pico, the highest point of Portugal, let alone the Azores. There are also those that take you into the Laurisilva forests and those that take you along the cliffs of Sao Jorge, Flores or Santa Maria. Whichever route you choose, due to the wet weather and growing vegetation as well as the damage caused by floods and seismic activity, before setting out on any path make sure to visit the tourism office and check the state of your selected route as any information you find in the booklets may no longer be relevant.

Horse riding

On some islands it’s easy to find a horse riding club or riding school, many of them are found near farms, and ask them about the possibility of borrowing a horse to use or even go on a guided tour. In Sao Miguel there is the Equestrian Association of Sao Miguel and the Quinta da Terça. In Terceira there are equestrian centres too. In Faial, visit the Aquaticus company.

Extreme Sports

There are loads of different activities you can do; rock climbing, mountaineering, orienteering and abseiling to name just a few. There are companies and clubs that organise classes for all sorts, whilst hang gliding and paragliding are really common on islands like Santa Maria.

Golf

They have recently been promoting golf, as the Azores climate is perfect for maintaining the golf courses. There are two in Sao Miguel: Batalha, with 27 holes and Achada das Furnas, with 18 holes. In Terceira, the course Fajas de Agualva can be found half way between Angra and Praia da Vitoria.

Shopping

Just as in continental Portugal, it’s best to get attuned to the European schedule as it affects everything else. As a general rule, shops will open at 9:00 or 9:30 until 12:30, then open again at 14:00 and close at 18:30 or 19:00. On Saturdays everything is open until 13:00 whilst on Sunday practically everything is closed.

The exception to this rule are the big shopping centres and supermarkets, which are both open for pretty much all of Saturday and Sunday morning. The case is the same for more artisanal shops, touristy shops (like in Horta), more rural and remote places (Santa Maria and Corvo), or those related to a hostel of some kind. Banks are open Monday to Friday, from 8:30 to 15:00; and the Post Office, those not in the airports, from 9:00 to 18:00.

In terms of restaurants, they are usually open from 12:00 to 15:00 and 19:00 to 22:00/22:30 (when the kitchen closes), even though in some more touristy areas they can stay open until midnight.

Museums, Art Galleries and Landmarks

The opening hours depend on which landmark or site you want to see. As a general rule they usually open at 10:00 until 12:30 then 14:00 to 17:00, with a day off on Monday, but make sure you ask before you visit as to not be disappointed. Some will close at the weekends, open at the usual times, open earlier or not at all in the summer.

Churches usually stay open from Monday to Saturday, but on Sunday you can only visit before or after service. Entry fees for museums are usually quite cheap and even sometimes free on Sundays. For the landmarks and museums in the smaller areas, guided tours are common, sometimes even done by the manager, and are included in the price. In terms of the lakes and forests, like in Sao Miguel, they probably have their own opening hours too.

Cash Machines

To do all these things however, you’ll need money. You should be able to get money out with a credit card at any Multibanco cash machine, although you should be aware that doing this has recently become much more expensive. Not only will you be charged for what you take out, but you also have to pay a percentage of what you take out. Therefore, it’s much better to take out a large amount than to keep taking out smaller amounts.

Also, you can’t use international credit cards in any of the restaurants or shops (of course those on your hotel residence will accept them) so make sure you always have some cash on you.

Safety

The Azores is a safe place for the people who visit as criminals have a tough time committing crime and then disappearing in such open spaces. The natives usually warn you of Ponta Delgada however as it is the capital city and is also where many deported emigrants from the USA and Canada go back to and therefore has drug trafficking problems among a few others. However, when you compare it to most other European capitals, the risk is practically nothing. In fact, the quiet and low number of crime are two of the main reasons why the number of tourists coming here is increasing.

The Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) has units on all nine islands and there are other types of security that oversee the national parks with the main aim of stopping poachers.

Local Customs

Although you may have been to Portugal, or even speak Portuguese, in some parts of Azores, mainly the more rural and interior parts, you’ll find it hard to understand them. The way they speak and the expressions they use varies from island to island, and even town to town. The French accent in the North-East parts of Sao Miguel always surprises people. The sign of peace used in the central parts, the archaisms used in Corvo or the Spanish expressions that can still be heard in some parts of Terceira, were all influenced by the British colonies that were once stationed on the islands.

Returning migrants, whether briefly or permanently, have made big changes to the islands themselves. The ‘indians’ full of life and with vibrant villages, boast about their life and clothes away from the island, and spend a lot of money to show off to their neighbours.

Unlike the continent, the majority of these people have come from Canada and USA. The Canadians are difficult to spot, however, the others are much easier to do so due to their added weight, quirky dress, chewing gum and strange accent. Although, if you still can’t tell, then the stars and stripes in their gardens are usually a good hint, however displaced soldiers also do this on Terceira.

In recent years there has been a wave of returning migrants, mainly elderly (none of them can even speak Portuguese), which has resulted in a rise in elaborate houses, bars with seductive names, and more fast food restaurants.

Pilgrimages are a big part of religion in the Azores, as due to their isolation and fierce climate they have developed their own forms of worship. As well as visiting particular saints on their patron saint’s day, Lent is also an important time.

Anyone visiting will be greatly surprised by the sheer number of chapels and the like that cover every square inch of the islands. These buildings relate to a rather strange medieval celebration, spread by the French and Queen Saint Isabel and linked to the cult of the Holy Spirit (between Easter or Pentecost and September). It is done by those who have received a vision caused by an illness or the threat of injury, and the rule is to perform an act of gratitude due to being blessed with the presence of the third person of the Trinity.

Although it varies from island to island (on Terceira, for example, they elect an emperor for each of the seven chapels each year), all follow one common rule. The rule is to have a room filled with flowers dedicated to the designated ‘emperor’ where you can worship him. The religious aspect of this ritual comes with the procession, and their flag, and the coronation of the emperor, all of which is carried out in a chapel or church on a Sunday. The profanity comes in the form of a huge organised feast, all done with the help of relatives friends and neighbours who contribute money, food and other goods from their farms, sometimes up to half a cow. Anyone can join in and to pay for such a meal some people even pawn their belongings. On some of the islands, like Terceira, the pantry makes an appearance, whilst in Santa Maria, copeiras, huge iron saucepans they used to cook the soup in, can be seen.

The local feast, as an ode to old traditions, consists mainly of meat soups with homemade bread, different cuts of meat and loads of wine. In Sao Miguel the tradition is as such that private businesses and companies pay and contribute a lot to the feast and celebrations. In Terceira, as a vibrant and happy island, instead of soup they prepare rump steak and Portuguese sweet bread (Massa Souvada).

On the smaller islands, the celebrations take on a much more family feel, becoming an opportunity to bring together the biggest groups.

Bullfighting is limited to Terceira and Graciosa, but it is Terceira where you’ll find a real passion and affiliation with it. This will be the first place you've seen a bullring in the middle of a crater and the locals’ thirst for bullfighting action is second to none. Between May and October they celebrate ‘touradas á corda’ with 2 or 3 bull runs a day.

Nightlife in Ponta Delgada

There are 3 main areas for going out in Ponta Delgada.

  1. La Marginal: this is the name rather offensively given to the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique. Nights out in Ponta Delgada are usually quiet and it’s more common to sit in cafes or terraced bars, some of which are dotted along the seafront. There is another area to the east of the city, near to the Praia das Milicias, Sao Roque; as well as Livramento, both small coastal villages close to Ponta Delgada.
  2. Campo de San Francisco: again another fairly offensive name given to the Plaza 5 de Outubro. The most common thing is to relax and drink Caipirinhas, and during the Santo Cristo celebrations you can do this in small little booths. This celebration is the biggest in the city and takes place on the 5th Sunday after Easter Sunday. The highlight is the procession which leaves behind a carpet of flowers and finishes with the Convento da Esperanza lighting up. There are also booths during the summer and during the food festival in Belém.
  3. Casco Antiguo: the Old Town and the best place for bars and clubs. Emblemica Karamba is one of the best you can find, whilst you'll find most others down any of the downtown streets.

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