The Azores: Top 6 tours you must take when visiting Terceira Island

By  |  0 Comments

The Azores are some of the more remote inhabited islands in the world – and yet they are part of Europe. This makes them both exciting and comfortable to visit – an unusual combination. Tourism is still relatively new and most visitors are from Spain and mainland Portugal – so if you’re travelling from the UK, the chances are you’ll be going somewhere few of your friends have ever been.

I visited Terceira Island, which has a rich history dating back to 1432 when the island was discovered and first settled. The Azores were the perfect stop-off point between Europe and the Americas. The currents took the large sailing galleons right through the archipelago which offered safe, sheltered harbours.  Terceira was so important it was actually the capital of Portugal – twice!

If you’re visiting this tiny gem – what tours are definitely worth doing? Here are my top five – plus an extra one as it was so much fun.

One: City Tour

Start with a city tour of Angra do Heroismo – this is a really good introduction to the culture, history and food of the island. The city is small so a walking tour with a local guide is ideal. 

Start at the highest point, where the very first fortress was built (now known as Alto da Memória) – until the inhabitants realised that there was no need to protect themselves from the inland areas as any threat would come from the sea. So it was abandoned and new fortifications were built at São Sebastião, Monte Brasil and São João Baptista.

From Memória you walk down through the Duke of Terceira Botanical Gardens that cling to the hillside, past exotic plants and water features, eventually exiting near the Convent of São Francisco which is now the home to Museum of Angra do Heroísmo. Keep a look out for the triangular chimneys – a unique feature of the area. 

On your tour you’ll see the first hospital of the island; a striking blue and white building, on Pátio da Alfândega, right by the harbour. It’s now the Misericordia Church and sits opposite the customs house. Take a photo with the life-size statue of famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.  Notice the ancient hydropower system that helped the city’s industries, look out to sea from the high walls of São Sebastião Fort, visit the cathedral and marvel at the organ, and stop off for a coffee and a bite-sized Dona Amelia cake. This is unique to Angra do Heroismo and was created in 1901 for the visit of Queen Amelia – she liked it so much it was named after her. And it really is delicious. 

Two: Whale and Dolphin Watching

The Azores are known for the abundance of whales all year round, so there is a very good chance that you’ll spot one (or more) when out on a boat in the deep water beyond the island. A small zodiac is a good way to travel – stable, fast, and close to the water, so you’ll get a great view.

On our trip dozens of common dolphins broke the water around our boat swam alongside us – almost close enough to touch (not that touching is allowed or recommended in any way).  Depending on the time of year you may see Blue Whales, Sperm Whales and Risso’s Dolphins among others – and with 98% of trips providing a sighting, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Three: Island Tour

Terceira Island is about 29km by 18km so you can get a real sense of the island by taking a day tour with a guide who will drive you around the entire coast. You’ll learn about the history, the battles with the Spanish, the importance of the black bulls, the many (many) festivals that take place in the villages, the significance of the tiny Holy Spirit chapels with their bright coloured paintwork and silver crowns, and the local food. Terceira grows a lot of its own food – so what you eat will usually be local and very fresh. I can definitely recommend the salads and local fresh cheeses.

Your guide will also make sure you don’t miss the best view points with dramatic views of the Goat Islands, and, my personal favourites (and that of my 13 year old god-daughter); the pools at Porto Martins and the jagged volcanic coast of Biscoitos. Here black, gnarled fingers of solidified basaltic lava rise up as though Hades has broken through, and the sea flares up over the rock like flames of ice, shattering on the peaks and sending spray into the wind.  You’ll want to stay a while to watch the display, so take a seat at the café (at Porto Martins), if you have time, and ensure your camera battery is charged.  In calmer weather in the summer you can swim in these volcano-made pools.  

Four: Hiking

There are wonderful hiking trails on Terceira, but my favourite is most definitely the Mistérios Negros, which is in the Nature Reserve of Serra de Santa Bárbara on Terceira Island. It’s a challenging hike as the route is very uneven; you clamber over rocks, use logs as stepping stones through the water, duck under low branches and climb up into the cloud forest. The colours are incredible; more shades of green than you can imagine. One of the most interesting hikes I’ve ever done. An absolute must!

Five: Volcano tour

This is the INSIDE of a volcano! Algar Carvao (part of the Pico Alto, which is an active volcano) is the only volcano in the world that you can actually go inside and down into the (now extinct) magma chamber. It’s an amazing, must do experience! In this picture we are standing part way up the magma chamber, and the other shows the view from inside looking out to the sky.

Six: Santa Barbara downhill

At the top of the Santa Barbara volcano ready to mountain bike our way down – with our Sea Adventures guide Darcio. It was a beautiful ride down through the forests, then the green fields with grazing cows, through the tiny villages, a quick stop at the cheese factory then finally into Angra do Heroismo.

Every one of these tours is worth doing and will show you a different aspect of Terceira. It is a beautiful island with plenty to do; you could easily spend an entire week here – but do allow yourself at least a day to relax and enjoy the weather, the food and the scenery.


I travelled with Sea Adventures and all the tours above are available through Sea Adventures

For more information about the Azores:


Chantal Cooke is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster and co-founder of PASSION for the PLANET. Chantal is passionate about tourism being used as a force for good.  You can follow her adventures on Facebook and Twitter @chantalcooke and on Instagram @Chantaldcooke

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply