Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sao Miguel: Lists

Making the most of a trip requires proper planning and research. I divided this post into three lists: research, advice and truths. Getting a general idea about the Azores is our first objective. Certain facts that we considered include:
  • Currency: Euro
  • Language spoken: Portuguese (and some English in certain tourist areas)
  • Seasonality*: 
    • Peak season: June, July, August, September and October 
    • Rainy/off season: January, February, March, October, November and December
    • Warmest month: August
    • Coolest month: February
    • Wettest month: January
    • Driest month: July
  • Temperature hi/low, not taking into account, the specific season: 12C - 25C
  • Precipitation: variable, even during the favourable months
  • Main industry: agriculture, dairy farming, ranching, fishing, tourism
  • Primary settlement/"capital": Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel
  • Cell/mobile Service: available readily; will be roaming for most
  • Electrical outlet/plug voltage**: 220-240V (US/Canada are 110-120V); europlug
  • Crime rate: low
  • Socio-political situation: nothing of note, at the time we went except Euro-cup being a potential distraction
  • Tipping etiquette: tipping is not necessary but appreciated
  • Vaccines: confirm at least 4-6 weeks prior to travel. Other than being UTD on standard vaccines, it's recommended to get hepatitis B. Check the CDC or a local travel clinic for details.
  • Common phrases:
    • Good morning: bom dia
    • Thank you: obrigado
    • Good evening: boa noite
    • Hello/Hi: olá
    • Wash/bathroom: banheiro
  • Experience features:
    • Food and drink: particularly seafood/fish and beef/dairy and wine (from Pico preferred but from Sao Miguel is good too)
    • Nature/outdoor excursions: hiking, bird watching, golf, horseback riding, landscape scenery, snorkelling/scuba diving, boating, whale watching, surfing, yachting, paragliding, big-game fishing, gardens/parks, natural thermal pools, cycling, canoeing/kayaking
Advice based on personal experience include:
  • Dress appropriately; layers are your best friend--like light and medium weight merino wool shirts. Even visiting during the more favourable time of the year, we experienced ever changing weather, including intermittent rainfall almost everyday so it's wise to bring appropriate rain gear:
    • Back-pack/bag cover
    • Light rain coat/jacket with hood
    • Light weight wool socks
    • Good hiking/walking shoes that can keep water out and are comfortable
    • Umbrella
    • Water repellent pants (seriously--I wore these the most. Mine are cycling ones but it doesn't really matter... any outdoor clothing/supply store is likely to sell them).
  • Though we didn't do a lot of hiking or even walking, bringing folding hiking poles are helpful.
  • If you're up for it (and capable), see to schedule a horseback riding excursion (or two! And if you want to do more, check out Quinta da Terca or another equestrian facility) to take in the island's natural beauty by a different perspective. Some rides are planned at different locations like Lagoa das Sete Cidades.
  • A lot of excursions can be booked in advance, over-seas and generally make things less stressful but you can also do it when you arrive.
  • If you like to golf, do it! I was told by an avid golfer that there are some really nice greens.
  • Rent a car for transportation; while they have a public system, you're on vacation and it's just less stressful and you're likely to want to be able to pick up and go at your pace.
  • Google maps/GPS works well so add a roaming package and you may want to increase data as well, to one of the primary cell phone and the other(s) can tether by wifi.
  • Our primary communications back home was email and the roaming cell phone.
  • Credit cards are acceptable in many locations but travelling with cash is simply easier--especially at restaurants. Some financial institutions also require notification prior to travel so you don't get shut out of your credit card when you try to use it. How much euro you take depends on your habits. We took ~750 euros as we figure we'd be modest as often as possible but didn't want to get stuck and anything remaining would be squirrelled away for next time.
  • Whale watching scheduling can be a bit finicky. Schedule early in your trip so you have opportunity to reschedule as needed.
  • I should add that anything relating to a water (ocean) activity should be researched in advance because conditions can hamper or cancel your outings.
  • If you like the nature and science of things, check this listing for the various institutes that might be of interest.
  • Although there are 9 islands, each is different both culturally and with different features. For me, I wanted to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (there are 2) but they were each on another island where travel was either costly or time-consuming for a single feature visit. If there is something specific, incorporate earlier so you can fit into your stay without doubling accommodations or otherwise.
  • You can budget food and water a bit by visiting local grocery stores.
  • Good souvenirs can be found all over the island but I wouldn't recommend the airport. Ponta Delgada has some good shops and places you visit, as well.
  • Try the fizzy Kima drink that is both made and bottled on the island.
+ADW enjoying Kima on one of the many occasions...

Some of the unusual or usual truths included facts such as...
  • Animals all have a job here. They are generally not companions of leisure. For example, if you're horseback riding for fun, you'll get a few looks from the locals.
  • Roads are twisty, narrow and thrilling. Drive safe and enjoy yourself.
  • Food and drink is great value for the quality and quantity so enjoy.
  • Tap water is generally not potable; usually bottled water is provided/offered.
  • Flora is lush, green and amazing everywhere and the views are breath-taking.
  • The most commonly planted flower (that thrives across the island and is often considered the official flower) is the hydrangea but it is not native to the region.
  • There are no natural 'top' predators on the island.
  • A lot of the flora/fauna is endemic to the region and being threatened by invasive species.
  • English language knowledge is generally serviceable but be prepared for the occasional non-English speaker.
  • Weather changes on a dime... one minute it's sunny and clear and the next, you're caught in a down pour or thick fog.
  • Portuguese people make mouth-watering gluten-y bread products *drooling*
  • The airport is small; nothing like Pearson or O'Hare but well laid out in my opinion.
  • Beach consistency range from fine sand to chunky (and sharp) volcanic rocks.
  • There is plenty to keep you busy for a week, at a leisurely pace.
These lists are pretty exhaustive but I doubt they're absolute. Hopefully they'll give you a good idea of what to consider if you're planning on visiting!

*Information from Weather and Climate
**A good website I found online for voltage/electrical plugs includes images
A tourist information website called Visit Azores is really helpful
TripAdvisor is a valuable source for information from other travellers


  1. My husband and I spent two weeks driving around Portugal last summer ( It is a lovely, lovely country. We tried to add the Azores to our itinerary, but it was just too much. It looks like you had a great trip! As a side note, we spent 16 days in Italy this summer. While it is a beautiful country, we liked Portugal more. Next summer - Africa! :0)

    1. what a lovely vacation!! it's great to follow you on your trip to portugal! it's certainly on our list to visit too.

  2. Thanks for the lists! I want to go so many places and this will be helpful for me in the future! Pinning it :)

    1. awesome! thanks. it's a wonderful place to visit and riding there is a really neat experience--especially if you're a capable rider (most people aren't so those hacks are uber boring). and the food.... i'm drooling just thinking about it!