The hiking in the Azores can be some of the most sweeping and dramatic in Europe, but until recently at least, the archipelago of nine islands has stayed largely under the radar of most travellers. The islands, which are an autonomous region of Portugal, boast everything from dramatic, deep volcanic craters to lush, green, high-rising cliffs and panoramic ocean views.
The nine islands themselves are Corvo and Flores to the west, Faial, Graciosa, Pico, São Jorge, and Terceira in the centre; and São Miguel and Santa Maria in the east. São Miguel is the largest and most populous island, and it's also home to the archipelago's largest city Ponta Delgada, but each of the islands has its own charm, and the range of scenery makes them perfect for hopping and hiking.
What’s more, each island is home to a network of well-developed hiking trails, with many marked routes and fantastic resources online promoting those hiking routes around the Azores. Of course, make sure you get more detailed route information for any hike you do decide to take on before setting off on the route.
1. Hike to Pico da Vara
Length: 7km (one-way)
Starting Point: Atalhada, São Miguel
Pico da Vara is the highest point on São Miguel, standing at 1,103 metres tall. It’s also the centrepiece of the protected Nature Reserve of Pico da Vara; an area put in place to protect the native laurisilva forest, and which is home to critically endangered animals including the endemic Azores bullfinch.
The reserve has 1982 hectares of rich botanical landscapes, and this hike will give you beautiful views of a whole lot of it. The elevation is around 480 metres in total, with the trail beginning near Algarvia, which is in the north east of São Miguel.
The trail is one that was historically used for coal and livestock and will take you through cedar woodland, open grasslands, and provide fantastic coastal views. From the top of the island you’ll be able to look back over the valley of Povoação, the majestic crater of Furnas Volcano and the volcanic massifs of Fogo and Sete Cidades. Trust us, that view is just as remarkable as it sounds.
2. Hike the Caldeirão Trail
Starting Point: Caldeirão Viewpoint, Corvo
This is an otherworldly trail on Corvo - an extinct volcano island which is the smallest of the Azores islands. The hike will bring you out to the stunning collapsed crater of Caldeirão, and will then see you descend 150-odd metres to the edge of the water and complete a circular before climbing back out.
Local legend has it that from the starting viewpoint, the crater lake is a visual representation of the nine islands of the Azores. It’s certainly something special. Descend on trails dominated by peat moss, likely meeting some cattle, horses and goats, and then walk down to hike past the wetlands and lakes.
Depending on the rain, the level of the water can shift massively, so check the levels before you hike. This is a special geosite for the Azores, and put bluntly, there are few other places in the world where you see and hike terrain like this.
Those after a serious hike can combine this circular with the 10.3km Cara do Indio, another trail which links into the crater walk, but beware, it's a big old hike. We should also note that Corvo isn’t exactly the easiest island to get to, but there are flights and boats from nearby Flores.
If you are on Flores, don’t miss out on the waterfalls at Poco da Alagoinha before leaving. Both the islands of Flores and Corvo are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.
3. Hike the Agrião Trail
Starting Point: Povoação, São Miguel
A beauty of a through-hike with remarkable coastal views, the Trilho do Agrião, or Agrião Trail, will take you 7.6km and about three hours from Povoação to Ribeira Quente, passing by Lomba do Cavaleiro on the island of São Miguel. You'll start off on the beach of Povoaçãom heading over the centennial bridge and soon head down a dirt track to the creek of Agrião. The viewpoint at Ponta do Garajau provides fantastic views of Santa Maria and the Chapel of Santa Rita.
Grab a drink and explore the quaint little village of Ribeira Quente, and toast your scenic hike. This is on the opposite side of the island to the Pico da Vara hike, so it’ll be all new coastlines for you even if you've been to the peak. This isn’t an enormous hike, so it’s one of the best hikes in the Azores for those looking for a family trail, but without sacrificing much in terms of views.
If you want to add on more miles, we’d highly recommend heading to the Ribeira Quente waterfall, or the beautiful Lagoa das Furnas, a popular crater lake just 20 minutes away - and also a site of hot springs and geysers. The circular trail around the Lagoa das Furnas starts near Largo das Três Bicas. It's around 9km, but it’s a super simple walk, and the lake and forest views really are beautiful.
4. Hike the Norte Pequeno Trail
Starting Point: Norte Pequeno, São Jorge
São Jorge is a narrow island with incredibly dramatic scenery, and this circular route on the north coast shows you an awful lot of the best of it - beaches, coastlines, and mountain views.
Starting on the outskirts of the Parish Council of Norte Pequeno, you’ll head into the village and then onto the sea. The route mixes between wide open, gravel, gradual paths, to much narrower and often steeper dirt paths, where you’re in amongst the lush vegetation.
You’ll pass the Chapel of Santa Filomena and get postcard-perfect coastal views out to both Fajã das Pontas and Fajã do Mero, both on the very edge of the Atlantic. There's a lot of dip in this trail, starting high, falling all the way to nearly sea level (a descent of around 450 metres) and then climbing back up, but the variety of views along the way are just superb.
5. Climb the Pico Mountain Trail
Length: 3.8km (one way)
Starting Point: Casa da Montanha, Pico
Pico is one of the Central Group islands of the Azores which is dominated by, and shares a name with, its central peak - Mount Pico. It's 2351 metres high and is the highest peak in all Portuguese territory. In truth, hiking in the Azores doesn’t get much more hardcore than this - but the effort is well worth it if you can get to the top.
Before beginning your hike, all climbers will check-in with Casa da Montanha, at 1200m, where you get a GPS. This is great as it means you’re tracked and kept safe, but it’s certainly not a bad idea to also get a local guide. The trail is marked - there are 47 numbered poles - but trail markings won't help you find shelter (the weather can turn quickly), and they won't provide you with on-trail tales either.
You'll trek over volcanic rocks and bright moss, and climb steeply uphill to the crater of Pico. To summit, you need to hike up the even steeper Piquinho, but from there, you can look out to Faial and São Jorge and beyond. This is an all day's effort, particularly if you get the bad luck of the rain and clouds coming in, and while it may not often be technical, it’s certainly a long old slog.
6. Hike Faial from Coast to Coast
Starting Point: Ribeirinha, Faial
Some of the best hikes in the Azores are pretty darn difficult, and our last two entries to this list encapsulate exactly that.
The 37km coast to coast hike across Faial is nothing short of remarkable. There's a reason the locals say that the trail takes you back to the very formation of the island. Beginning on the eastern point, you’ll follow one of the transversal fault lines of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, “a scar in the Atlantic” - and one which dates back to the last great continental separation; a defining moment for our world.
You’ll peak around 900 metres, at the breathtaking Caldeirão of Faial; the crater of a dormant volcano which stretches out 2km in diameter and down 400m in depth.
Once the descent begins, you can then expect to pass by bushy green, vibrant vegetation until, well... that greenery stops. It happens bluntly and the contrast in landscape is stark. Basically, all the greenery around you will suddenly stop as you enter the moon desert of Capelinhos Volcano on the western side of the island.
To pick a hike through just one of these landscapes or styles of terrain for our list would've just felt wrong. Combine them for the full coast to coast and you have a demanding hike - but a special one. This is one of the best hikes in the Azores - and beyond.
7. The Great Route of Santa Maria
Starting Point: Fortress of São Brás, Santa Maria
If the 36km of the Faial coast to coast hike seemed a bit much, then… sorry, best skip over this one too. We simply had to end our list of the best hikes in the Azores with another island-spanning beauty. This time, we’re back in the Eastern Group, but not in São Miguel. Rather, we’re 55 miles south east, on the island of Santa Maria - and this hike takes us round the entire island.
Naturally, at 78km, this is a multi-day hike. It’s usually broken down into four stages, each of which are around the 20km mark, with accommodation options dotted around the island (and wild camping unfortunately forbidden).
Section one runs from the Fortress of São Brás and Vila do Porto to the rural area of Cardal. Highlights include an ancient ascent passage connecting the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios to the village of Santo Espírito.
Stage two is from Cardal to Norte on the east coast of the island, following the old regional road towards Ponta do Castelo and the viewpoint of Tia Raulinha. You'll see the waterfall of Aveiro, natural pools of Maia and enjoy beautiful views over the Bay of São Lourenço.
On day three, travelling from Norte to Bananeiras, you'll move inland and pass the Cai’Água waterfall. You'll later reach Pico Alto - a spot with an abundance of endemic flora, and the high point of the island at 587m.
The final stages close the loop and bring you back to Vila do Porto via 23.5km on the west coast through Raposa Bay, vineyards and sites of volcanic interest. You'll get amazing views of Ponta do Pinheiro and Cré bay, find a statue of Cristóvão Colombo in the village of Ponta dos Frades and eventually follow a dirt road back to your starting point, finishing a truly amazing adventure.
Now, we’re off to dig out our passports...