One of Europe’s most wonderful paradise destinations is the Azores islands, an autonomous region of Portugal. Tourists fall in love with this place because of the relaxing hot springs, the breathtaking lakes and the stunning coastlines. A New York Times article, in fact, describes Azores as beautiful, remote and Instagrammable.
If you’re planning to spend your next holiday or summer trip at Azores, start your journey at Ponta Delgada, the principal port, touristic heart and regional capital of the archipelago.
Ponta Delgada: An Overview
Portugal’s Ponta Delgada is in the city of São Miguel, the biggest island of Azores. Although the unique architecture of black basalt and whitewash gives Ponta Delgada a monochrome complexion, this area is full of colorful attractions. Travelers arriving in this city usually spend their time checking out its historical center and discovering the handsome monuments, well-tended gardens, museums and cobbled squares.
The weather in Ponta Delgada is generally mild year-round. The summer months are often humid, sunny and dry. If you’re looking for the best time to visit this place, consider flying in late spring.
How to Get to Ponta Delgada
Your main point of entry will be João Paulo II International Airport, named after Pope John Paul II. This handles both regional and domestic flights to São Miguel island, as well as international air traffic from North America and Europe.
The primary Portuguese air carriers serving the island are TAP Air Portugal and Azores Airlines (previously known as SATA Internacional). Ryanair, one of Europe’s low cost carriers, has flights to Ponta Delgada.
Apart from air, you can enter Ponta Delgada by water. Some cruise ships make this destination their waypoint when cruising across the Atlantic. They spend a day at the port to reposition themselves between journeying the Western Hemisphere and Europe.
The city’s marina also welcomes many private boatmen and yachts from across the globe. This makes São Miguel a point of call for transatlantic travelers.
Entry Requirements of Ponta Delgada
If you’re a citizen of the United States, you won’t need to apply for a tourist visa to enter the Azores islands. You will, however, need a passport that’s valid for at least half a year from the date you plan to visit Ponta Delgada.
Your passport should also contain unused visa pages to allow for departure and arrival stamps from Azores. So, double check your travel documents to avoid passport hiccups that can ruin your vacation.
Note: you may need a visa if you’re a citizen from another country. Visa policies change often, so please get in touch with the nearest Azorean Embassy for the travel requirements.
Getting Around Ponta Delgada
You have plenty of options when exploring Ponta Delgada. These are the following:
The city has two types of buses. One is the larger touring bus that handles the community-to-community travel on the island. The other is the in-town bus services managed by mini-buses. This is a source of confusion for unfamiliar travelers, as both services are accessible along with Ponta Delgada’s Avenida D. Infante Henriques. You can find the schedules at the tourist office.
Bus routes covering much of the whole island are affordable and quick. Bus companies keep their vehicles clean for tourists. Also, the buses tend to be less crowded.
You also have the option to hop on a taxi and explore the city. Taxi services are conveniently accessible from major sites in Ponta Delgada and along the main avenue.
Car (and Vehicle) Rental
You could also rent a car for the entire duration of your stay at Ponta Delgada. This service is available at the airport. Some rental companies also provide scooters and motorcycles for rent, typically starting at 25 euros per day.
You can also travel on foot to experience the sites of the city. This is encouraged if you’re traveling relatively short distances and carrying light luggage.
Things to Do in Ponta Delgada
You’ll have plenty of things to do at Ponta Delgada.
Some of the activities to help you make the most of your trip are the following:
Stroll the Historic Quarter and Harborfront
Enjoy a nice overview of Ponta Delgada by taking a walk at the Avenida Infante Don Henrique, which many locals simply call “Avenida.” This seaside promenade spawns from the Forte de São Brás (a military fortress) to Portas do Mar (a diversified market and leisure area). You’ll enjoy strolling at the path characterized by twisted, black-and-white cobblestone patterns.
Go Spelunking at Gruta do Carvão
Deep underground is Gruta do Carvão, a fascinating site that stretches 1,650 meters in length. Guided tours provide travelers with a wonderful geological jaunt through centuries of volcanic activity.
When you check out this cave, you’re likely to come across compelling and bizarre speleological structures decorating the cavern walls, including lava bridges countless cone-shaped stalactites. The ceilings and walls look rusted due to basalt oxidization.
Tour (or Watch a Performance) at Teatro Micaelense
This vibrant cultural hub does Ponta Delgada proud with its range of performing arts programs throughout the year.
You can sign up for a guided tour of the theater. The tour guide will take you to the premises typically closed to the public, such as the outside balconies that offer spectacular views of the city’s historic center. The theater also has an art gallery, which lets you check out abstract and modern works of art.
Another option is to watch a theatrical production. The shows change periodically. One month, the audience gets to watch a classical ballet. When the next month rolls in, the theater shows a light-hearted musical. Take note, though, that theater productions are almost always in Portuguese.
Watch Dolphins and Whales
The islands of Azores are a well-known destination for outdoor pursuits. One activity synonymous with this archipelago is whale and dolphin watching.
You’ll find more than 20 species of cetaceans in the nutrient-rich waters of Azores. The best time to view these wonderful mammals is between April and September. If you’re lucky enough, you might just get a glimpse of the biggest animal on the planet: the blue whale.
Hit the Peaceful Beach of Água de Alto
This beach, which you can find at Villa Franca do Campo, is just half an hour away from Ponta Delgada. It’s blessed with plentiful sand and set in a sheltered bay. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and the noise of the city, Água de Alto is for you.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Once you’re with your exploration and adventures, do check out Parque Atlântico, the biggest mall in Ponta Delgada. You could also check out Sol-Mar (a smaller shopping center) and other boutiques and shops that line the city center streets. You’ll find locally made woolen goods, linens, pottery and lace. Hand-rolled cigars and local brandy make good buys, as well.
Where to Eat at Ponta Delgada
Ponta Delgada isn’t just limited to wonderful tourist attractions and amazing landscapes. The city’s awesome world of flavors is also a feast for the taste buds and the eyes.
If you’re famished but are unsure where to eat, consider dining in these local restaurants:
Established in 1908, the goal of the restaurant is to deliver top food and service in the Azores islands. When you’re dining here, be sure to order Bife à Alcides, beef fried in a pan with pimenta da terra and a lot of garlic.
Also, don’t forget to try its seafood dishes. The restaurant catches fish and seafood fresh from the sea, then cooks, prepares and serves them to diners.
This incredibly popular restaurant serves a variety of delicious dishes, including tuna bifana, pineapple cake, stewed octopus and a stunning tuna steak. A Tasca doesn’t accept reservations, so be prepared to wait in line if you want to dine in this restaurant.
This legendary Ponta Delgada bistro is an expert in the art of frying sardines. Diners here love the restaurant’s fried sardines. The bistro serves these fish nicely golden, with sides of Galician lemon, chopped onions, white bean paste, pimenta da terra, potatoes and yams.
If you’re not a fan of fish bones, you could try Mané Cigano’s beef stew smothered in lambão sauce and served with roasted potatoes.
Ponta Delgada is a destination that will make you fall in love with the beauty and charm of the Azores islands. If you plan to visit Portugal in the future, don’t just stick to exploring Lisbon. Take a trip to Azores and enjoy the archipelago’s tourist attractions, people and food.