The Azores islands are around a two-hour flight from the Portuguese capital Lisbon. The largest island is Sao Miguel, which is where the majority of flights both from mainland Portugal and the rest of the Europe land. Ponta Delgada is the capital and an excellent place to base yourself for exploring both Sao Miguel and the peripheral islands. Other notable islands worth visiting include Corvo, Faial, and Sao Jorge. While each island has its own distinctive feel, it's advisable to choose two or three to visit on a trip to the Azores, with Sao Miguel being at the top of your itinerary. Once you've got your general island itinerary planned, you can decide how you want to rent a car in the Azores. It's possible to rent a car on each island you visit, or take your rental from one location to another via the ferries equipped for cars.
Though your itinerary will be unique to your specific Azores trip, many of the best activities to enjoy are possible on most of the islands. Scuba diving, bird-watching, and off-road mountain biking opportunities are abundant on both the larger and smaller islands and you can enjoy glorious boat trips as you travel between them. Head to Pico Island to climb the tallest mountain in Portugal, which stands at an impressive 2351m. above sea level. The climb can be achieved in around two to three hours for those with a reasonable level of fitness. While on Sao Miguel take a drive to the Sete Cidades twin lakes. These breathtaking lakes sit in a stunning volcano caldera which is surrounded by steep mountains and is an excellent place to watch mesmerizing sunsets. Another popular activity on the island is a whale watching boat tour, during which you might spot these magnificent creatures leaping from the water. Bathe in the delightful hot springs in the town of Furnas, on the eastern side of Sao Miguel island, under an hour from the capital. And wherever you are, be sure to try local cheese. Over fifty percent of Portuguese cheese is produced on the Azores, with the cheese from São Jorge a particular local favourite. Deliciously tangy and slightly salty, the cheese is ubiquitous across all the islands and best enjoyed with some freshly baked bread and a pot of olive oil.
The natural landscapes are the primary draw for visitors to the Azores, as their unique position makes for some quite remarkable sights, and this autonomous region has even been awarded for its role in promoting and encouraging sustainable tourism. The terrain on this archipelago includes lakes, tea plantations, and endless opportunities for hiking. Off-roading adventures are popular with visitors, which is something to keep in mind when you rent a car in the Azores and are deciding on the type (and insurance package!). It's a delight to visit the Azores at any time year, as the temperatures tend to range between 14°C to 25°C. However, November to March gets more rain, and the winter sees rougher sees—if you are interested in swimming and boating, summer is typically a better time to go.
The roads are well-maintained and there is little traffic, even in the larger towns and cities. However, due to the changing terrains and steep hills you should take extra care when driving in the Azores if you are not familiar with the roads. Some of the more remote roads can also be quite narrow so always drive slowly and take extra care when you are exploring the islands. The Portuguese drive on the right-hand side of the road and all passengers in the car must wear their seatbelts at all times when the vehicle is in motion. The alcohol limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood but zero consumption is always advised, especially as the roads can be challenging if you're not familiar with them.