" There's nothing much to see in Sao Miguel. It is just a city. No nature like the other islands. You shouldn't go there." was a piece of advice I received from 2 strangers who I had a brief conversation with in a coffee shop while waiting for the rain to stop when I was in Pico.
They approached me when I was waiting for my coffee and mentioned that they have spotted me walking around the island a few times already. Then, to reconfirm their assumption, they asked me if I was there alone. Yes. (As a solo female traveler, telling strangers that you are alone isn’t such a great idea). Then they told me they had never seen anyone coming to Azores alone. They were amazed. Then they started asking other questions about my trip. Where have I been and where I am going and all that jazz. I told them just some bits and pieces without giving too much details.
People here are very friendly. When they found out that I was heading to São Miguel they replied with " What!?! Why? if you like nature you should not go there." WELP. Too late. I had no plan or any idea of what I was going to do in Sao Miguel to be honest. The only reason I picked Sao Miguel as my final island before heading back to Lisbon was because there was a direct flight from there. That was it. Just for the sake of convenience.
When I was younger, when people ask me if I prefer to be in the city or suburb, they would all get the same answer, definitely city! Growing up in Bangkok, I am used to big tall buildings, cars, and crowd. But when I started traveling, I had come to realize that it is actually the opposite. I enjoy nature more than anything. I despise crowds and noises. I love mountains and ocean.
Maybe this was the reason why I felt disappointed when I arrived at Ponta Delgada. It was a CITY. With buildings and condos. At first glance, it reminded me of Cape Town (especially at the port) but no, it was not to that extent yet. Downtown is filled with colorful walls and many restaurants and cafes and soooo many people. Maybe the disappointment occurred because I didn’t expect a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean to be so civilized and modern. When the hack did I turn into an old lady hating on civilization!?!?!
The first day I walked around town to see what was up. There was nothing of an interest so the next day I took a bus out off the city. I just knew that there was this 2 colored-lake somewhere on the island AKA Lagoa das Sete Cidade. To see it, I had to trek up for about an hour in the hot sun! It was not a big hike or anything just had to walk up. But the difficult part was locating the starting point. There was no sign or nothing. Took me and an American family a good 20 minutes to find it. The view at the top and along the way was definitely worthwhile though!
I didn’t do anything much on this island comparing to the other 2. Probably because I didn’t do any research and had zero plan. Although I went and gained myself another 2 dives, it was not so impressive. It was a bit on the side of a let down to be honest. But that's ok as long as I get into the water.
The highlight of this island for me is probably the whale watching trip. Here, Sperm whale is the resident!! Although you can also spot other whale species like blue whales or humpback whales during September and October when they use Azores as their migration path.
Back to the Sperm whale. The boat took us out quite far from the island for a long time. Before paying for the trip, the dude at the shop said ‘no guarantee’ which I already knew. I knew they can’t not schedule the whales to show up at certain time. You can’t force nature. So I took the risk of not seeing the whale and paid for the ticket.
The whole way there we were greeted by so groups of dolphins. Swimming and jumping next to the boat. They kept coming back to the boat. Everyone on the boat including me was super excited. But a long time had passed and still no whale. I got bored of the dolphins. I was ready to give up. Luck is not my strong attribute, especially with animals. But at the exact moment that I thought I would not see the whale, the spotter on the deck started yelling "whale! right hand side! whale!" Everybody went upstairs to have a look. The whale came up to take a breath then went down. We waited for a bit then the whale came up again. This time along with the shutter sound of expensive DSL cameras around me click.click.click.click.click.click. I wanted pictures too, so I took out my little hybrid G12. Click……………Click………..Click………………..*battery dies* See what I meant about my and ‘luck’? I put my camera back to my backpack and chose (was forced) to enjoy the moment with no filter. I can now crossed out sperm whale from my bucket list of animals to see.
Overall, Azores was an amazing experience. It was the most remote place I have been to. I saw and experienced so many things. I got super frustrated with the flight delay, I ran from an aggressive little dog, I met friendly travelers and local people, I got to dive with blue shark, I got to see big group of Mobula rays, I got to hike up a volcano for the first time, I got to walk around a strange place with no plans, saw whale and dolphins, I got to do what I wanted.
Traveling alone gave me that opportunity of being carefree. I was not at any point concerned or fearful. I had the chance to chat with some people about traveling in the Azores and all of them agreed that it is a very safe place to travel. People are friendly and very helpful (from my own experience). Definitely safe for solo female traveler but anywhere you go, caution is vital.
I would recommend Azores to everyone and I would advise to do some research before coming especially on transportation for island hopping. This will definitely make the trip a lot more smoother which means more fun.
I would love to go back there and visit the remaining 6 islands I didn’t get the chance to visit!! THERE ARE SO MUCH MORE TO SEE!!