After seven days at sea on the Norwegian Getaway, we arrived at Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island in the Azores. The Azores are a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that are an autonomous region of Portugal. Because of its location in the middle of the Atlantic, Ponta Delgada is a common port of call on transatlantic cruises. I booked the Furnas Crater Lake Small Group Tour for the day on VentureAshore.com and I have to say, it was one of the best shore excursions I have ever taken. When they say small group, there were only six of us, and with such a small group, our guide was able to take us to spots where the big tour buses from the ship just couldn’t go.
Our tour guide met us at the port with a sign with my name on it which is something I’ve seen in movies but have never experienced myself before. The two of us and one other family loaded into a van and we headed out to explore the island. Our first stop was at a black sand beach where we could feel the volcanic sand (top), although it was a little chilly for a swim. Our next stop was at Nossa Senhora da Paz, which is a chapel to Our Lady of Peace. According to the plaque on the wall of the chapel, a statue of Mary was found on the hill and it was given to a priest who put it in a church. The next day, the statue was found on the hill so they began to build a chapel to store it. Later that night the foundation of the chapel was moved to a place nearby, where the chapel is standing today. The chapel itself is beautiful and the view from the top is breathtaking.
Our next stop was Caldeira Das Furnas which is a park with hot springs on Furnas Lake. The walkways with the bubbling hot springs and mud pots around them reminded us a lot of Yellowstone. The biggest difference between Furnas and Yellowstone is that in Furnas, they use these geothermal features to cook. One area of the park has big holes where local restaurants put a giant pot of Cozido das Furnas (a traditional Azorean dish) in the ground to cook for six hours. While we were there, we watched the chefs pull their pots out of the ground to take back to their restaurants for lunch. Of course, we wanted to try it so our tour guide made us a reservation at a local restaurant, Já Se Sabe, so we could try food cooked underground. We had a little bit of time to kill before our reservations so we drove to an area with more hot springs, some natural springs where we could drink bubbling water right out of the ground, and a snack bar that served corn on the cob.
After lunch, we hiked up a hill to see Furnas Lake from above and to burn off some of the calories from lunch. It was great being so high up and seeing where we were earlier in the day. From there we headed to Gorreana Tea Factory, an Azorean tea plantation where we saw how tea is processed and got to sample some of the teas they make. Their tea was delicious and we brought some home for ourselves and as gifts. This is the first time in the day that we encountered crowds. It was so full in the tasting room that there was no place to sit, so we sampled some tea and headed to our next stop.
Next, we got to see the north coast of São Miguel to the Santa Iria overlook. This was a nice place to stand and watch the waves crash against the cliffs for a little while.
Our final stop of the tour was at Lagoa do Fogo which is a crater lake in the center of São Miguel island. One of the people in our group said they booked this tour for this view because she saw a picture of it on her Windows login screen. Our tour guide took us to the top of a hill to get this viewpoint that the big tour buses couldn’t get. From where we were sitting we saw the buses down below and all the people walking around and we had this view practically to ourselves. It was a pretty awe-inspiring moment and I would say, one of the best of the whole trip.
We had a wonderful day seeing the sites on São Miguel, but we really only saw half of the island. I would love to go back and spend more time exploring this island and the rest of the Azores. One thing I hope you get from reading this is how amazing third-party shore excursions can be. I am so glad we chose this small group tour where we could escape the crowds and try typical Azorean food.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I recap our day in Madeira! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.