Standing on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

The Island You’ve Never Heard of But Must Visit

Keenan Ngo
Dec 12, 2018 · 7 min read

While researching possible stops for a road trip in Portugal, I stumbled upon an article written about the island of São Miguel. I didn’t have any clue where it was, so I looked it up on Google Maps. To my surprise and great excitement, I found that it was about a third of the way across the Atlantic Ocean in the direction of America. A short while later, I found some cheap flights (under $100 CAD/person for a roundtrip ticket from Lisbon) and that pretty much got our minds set on visiting this spectacular island.

São Miguel is the largest and most populous of the Azores archipelago, which consists of nine volcanic islands jutting up from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is 1,360 km (850 mi) west of continental Portugal and 1925 km (1,196 mi) southeast of Newfoundland, Canada. So we sort of made it almost halfway home.

The online guide that we used (https://www.geekyexplorer.com/sao-miguel-island-in-4-days/) is for a four-day driving itinerary and is probably the main source of information for tourists visiting the island on their own (i.e. those who don’t disembark from some of the cruise ships crossing the Atlantic).

Our trip lasted 6 days and we followed the online guide loosely, also relying on an offline mapping app called “maps.me” to find viewpoints that might provide scenic photographs. The island is small enough and only takes a couple of hours to drive across, so it’s pretty easy to get around and meander between attractions.

The most beautiful location on the island has to be Sete Cidades, its largest volcanic crater. Within the rim of the large volcano are four lakes and at least two smaller craters. There’s a record of an eruption that happened some time between 1439–1444, shortly after the island was discovered. The Miradouro da Boca do Inferno has become a famous viewpoint with an epic view of the crater.

It takes a short hike to get there, but it’s not at all difficult. A trail that runs along the top of a ridge juts out from the rim of the crater and overlooks the town of Sete Cidades at the edge of the lakes. It has a spectacular view — perhaps my favourite view of our entire round-the-world trip. It’s easy to draw comparison between this and the Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula near Christchurch, New Zealand, but that crater is so much larger and eroded that it’s not as obvious as Sete Cidades. Additionally, it doesn’t have craters nested within craters.

While the view from the lookout was nice, we found that there were a few other smaller ridges, jutting out from the rim, that were worth taking photos from. The added benefit of these locations was that none of the other tourists bothered to come over, so we didn’t have them in our backgrounds.

The middle of November can be tricky with weather and we spent the day watching clouds race overhead, turning the bright sunlight on and off as if a child was playing around with a light switch. Timing, therefore, became critical in capturing the light on the landscape.

There is an easy driving route to follow at the west end of the island. After hiking out of the viewpoint, we drove down the road to the Miradouro da Vista do Rei. This is an “official” viewpoint of the crater, complete with washroom, viewing platform, and 20-minute parking area. It didn’t give us nearly as dramatic of a view though, so we took just one photo and quickly moved on.

It was exciting to drive down into the crater of a volcano again and stop at the viewpoint along the way. We then crossed a bridge and drove through a town before climbing out on the other side.

While the weather might not be all sunshine in November, we found that the wind provided us with some pretty exciting entertainment. In the town of Mosteiros (on the west coast of the island) we found a park beside the water where we were able to watch waves crash very dramatically onto the rocks. Stormwatching in warm weather under the sunshine was certainly enjoyable, and we spent a long time watching the white sea foam along the coastline. The waves were tremendous!

The landscape in Sao Miguel is quite similar to that of New Zealand. This might be because both islands were once covered in forests but were turned into farmland when they were colonized. While New Zealand is covered in sheep fields, Sao Miguel is covered in cow fields. There were cows everywhere.

We also found grazing fields that dropped off into the sea just like we did in New Zealand.

Another great place to stormwatch was the Ponta da Ferraria. We drove down a steep switchback road cut into the cliffside to reach the coast. There are actually two hot springs here; one is in the ocean and the other is in a building. Since the ocean was too rough to swim in, we came just to see some big, very tall, splashes.

On another day, we set out to explore the north side of the island and found another great viewpoint called the Miradouro de Santa Iria. The island is really great for touring around because the roads are all in excellent condition and there is are signs everywhere. These signs are for viewpoints and other attractions that you may or may not have known about beforehand. It seemed as if the island’s roads were built for road-tripping!

Yuki found a cat and a dog at the viewpoint. The dog seemed content in its sleep even though it was extremely windy and the cat didn’t want anything to do with her either (she tried to feed it an apple slice). At least we got good photos, ha!

There is also a tea plantation on the island called the Gorreana Tea Factor that can be visited for free. They have a small museum of old equipment and we were able to watch the staff sort and package tea leaves. The best part, however, was that they had some good free tea samples.

Further east on the island are more craters, but with sulphur vents. Right in the middle of a town beside a river is a series of bubbling water holes with sulphur billowing out. Called the Caldeiras Vulcânicas, the vent holes have all been named and make for an interesting, slightly smelly, experience.

We didn’t stay long and continued on to the east end of the island. Unfortunately the last of the sunshine was gone and we were in the clouds. We didn’t miss out on any significant viewpoints but it still would have been nice to be able to see more of the coastline.

Although the weather was poor for the last bit of our trip, our experience on the island was still amazing. This is one island that we think is well worth visiting and taking a few days to explore by car.

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