São Miguel is the largest and most populous island of the Azores archipelago. Portuguese for Saint Michael, the island is also known by locals as “The Green Island” (Portuguese: Ilha Verde). Most visitors arriving to and from the Azores will pass through São Miguel.
Although the largest of the Azores Islands in area, the vast majority of the island’s 138,000 inhabitants live in the capital city of Ponta Delgada, which as of 2011 had a population of just under 69,000, with the rest of the population clustered in a handful of cities and towns. Cities are a quaint mix of modern and traditional architecture, with beautiful old churches, windmills, and cobblestone streets existing beside more contemporary development. The rest of the island is a showcase to its spectacular natural landscape, with rolling hills, green forests, picturesque waterfalls and beautiful ocean views. Like most of the Azores, São Miguel has volcanic origins, and the remnants of several dormant volcanic cones create much of the island’s scenic attractions, including the twin lakes of the Sete Ciades, Lagoa de Fogo (Fire Lake), and the popular snorkeling islet off the coast of Villa Franca de Campo. The island is geothermically active, especially in the Furnas area; bathing in natural hot springs is a popular activity and traditional meals are cooked in pots inside active vents. Those who enjoy outdoors adventure will love the island’s numerous hiking trails and opportunities for kayaking, cycling, canyoning, surfing, and diving. Whale watching is also a popular activity in the summer months, as a diverse range of whale species can be found near the island. Although there are beaches of the black, volcanic, sand variety, most of the coastline is rocky and the surf and currents dangerous so it is not the ideal location for a traditional laid-back island beach vacation. However, for those who love the outdoors and a bit of adventure, São Miguel has a lot to offer.
- 1 Ponta Delgada is the capital city of São Miguel, the economic heart of the island, and the administrative capital of the Azores region itself. Containing the island chain’s major airport and the only major cruise ship terminal, many visitors to the region pass through Ponta Delgada before continuing to other destinations in the archipelago. The historic center and most tourist attractions are located along Avenida Infante D. Henrique, which extends from the fort of São Brás in the southwest of the city to Clube Naval and the southeast Marina, and includes Campo de San Fransisco, the Matriz, the “Portas da Cidade” (the City Gates) and the new “Portas do Mar” development.
- Furnas, the largest parish on the island, is famous for its geothermic activity. Hot springs and geysers are prevalent, and traditional meals are cooked via thermal energy in pots buried in the ground.
- Nordeste, the northeastern section of São Miguel, contains many beautiful landscapes. Peppered with mountain peaks, forests, and river valleys, it is a popular spot for canyoning and other outdoor adventures.
- Ribeira Grande, the second largest city (pop. 32,112 in 2011), is the gateway to the north and 20 minutes away from Ponta Delgada. It is known for its beautiful historic center, its northern beaches for windsurfing, as well as being one of better access points to Lagoa do Fogo crater lake.
- Sete Cidades is a parish covering the western part of the island, including the famous twin crater lakes, Lagoa Azul (Blue Lake)and Lagoa Verde (Green Lake).
- Vila Franca de Campo is located on the southern coast of the island, further east than Ponta Delgada. Vila Franca was the original capital city of the Azores before a violent earthquake and subsequent landslide in 1522 destroyed much of the city and forced the capital to relocate to Ponta Delgada. A volcanic crater off the coast created a perfectly circular islet which is a protected nature sanctuary and a popular place for snorkeling. An hourly ferry carries snorkelers to and from the islet.