Difference between revisions of "Azores"
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Revision as of 01:14, 22 July 2015
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The Azores are a group of nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean and form an autonomous region of Portugal. They are located about 1,700 km west of mainland Portugal and are divided into three main groups: 1) the Western Azores, consisting of the islands of Flores and Corvo, 2) the Central Azores, consisting of the islands of Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Graciosa, and Terceira, and 3) the Eastern Azores, consisting of the islands of São Miguel and Santa Maria. The most populated island is São Miguel with the biggest city Ponta Delgada, while Faial and Terceira also have a comparably dense population.
Hitchhiking is very easy and safe on the Azores. As there are not too many main roads, it is fairly easy to get a lift to where you want to go. Locals are extremely friendly and will many times bring you directly to your destination just to help you, even if they hadn't planned to go there. Speaking Portuguese obviously helps, but many people also speak English and are happy to "practice English", especially on São Miguel. Most towns are very small, so walking out of a town and waiting at main roads or bus stops (with few or no buses passing by) is a good option. The public transport system is not very well developed, especially when trying to get to natural sites outside of towns (e.g. Mount Pico on Pico island or Lagoa do Fogo on São Miguel). This means people in general are more willing to pick you up, although some might also try to convince you that a taxi is your only choice. It is quite common to get offered rides on the back of pick up trucks, so be prepared to get a little dirty.
How to get there
If you are really talented and lucky, you might get a ride on a private sailing boat from anywhere on the world, as the Azores are an extremely popular destination for sailors, coming from as far as Australia. If not, there is no other choice than flying in, which is possible from Europe and North America. There is a local monopoly for flights from SATA, the Azorean airline, so prices are quite high. The cheapest way to fly in is from mainland Portugal. There are no ferries from mainland Portugal to the Azores.
Mind you, Sao Miguel is the most populated island, but to find a boat to Europe or North America, your best choice would be Faial (Horta) - where most of the sail boats stop while doing the crossing. Everyone is very relaxed in the Azores and it is easy to get into the marinas (they're not even locked during the day.) It is possible to hitch a boat!
Travelling between islands
You can either fly with SATA or take the ferry (atlânticoline between the different groups of islands or Transmaçor between Central Azores islands). While there are comparatively many flight connections, some ferry connections operate only once or twice a week, so booking ahead is quite important (as some connections are sometimes suddenly booked out). You should also keep in mind that cancellations of ferries and flights are very common due to unstable weather conditions, so if you have never booked a travel cancellation insurance, the Azores are maybe the place to try it first.
Be prepared for extremely unstable weather conditions. Even in summer it rains very often, but quickly stops, too. Locals call their weather "four seasons in one day". If you are under 30 you can apply for a Cartão Jovem ("card for young people") at RIAC offices (they belong to the regional government). It costs 48€ to get this card, but afterwards any ferry ticket will cost you only 5€. So if you plan to visit the Western, Central, and Eastern group of the Azores, you can save a lot of money with this card. Get yourself informed about RIAC opening hours and local holidays (as there are quite many, sometimes even only for one municipality) to make sure you apply for this card (a ferry ticket e.g. from Flores to Faial would normally cost already 51€) (as of August 2012).
If you bring your tent, you can camp easily along secondary roads or walking trails. There are usually some empty meadows where you can put your tent up. It remains unclear whether this is legal or not, but as long as you leave in the morning you're unlikely to get into trouble. To have a shower, go to public "swimming pools" in the Atlantic Ocean or to some beaches. They are marked in free tourist maps you get at tourist informations. At most of these places you can get a shower for free and use bathrooms etc. (e.g. at Varadouro on Faial).