Port of Call The Azores

São Miguel Island, The Azores

The Azores are an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the Macaronesia region of the North Atlantic, about 850 miles west of Lisbon. São Miguel Island nicknamed “The Green Island”, is the largest and most populous island in the Portuguese Azores. São Miguel Island is world famous for its iconic Twin Lakes, one green and one blue sitting side by side down in the crater of an extinct volcano.

They’re a favorite stop on many trans-Atlantic itineraries because of their location. This volcanic archipelago consisting of nine major populated islands. The islands are a possession of Portugal but are characterized officially as the Autonomous Region of the Azores (in Portuguese they are the Acores). Considering its political autonomy we found it odd that there appears to be an independence movement declaring itself with stencils painted on a number of walls. One local described the movement as people with nothing better to do and locals don’t take it seriously.

Where Your Ship Docks

The protected harbor of Ponta Delgada is large and can accommodate a number of cruise ships. On our last visit we were one of six cruise ships tied up. There is no cruise terminal and ships use piers all around the harbor. There are good sidewalks but getting into town requires walking out.

Wheelchair Accessibility


Disembarking – This port has a developed cruise ship pier but the ease of disembarking varies by the individual ships gangway designs. For passengers using wheelchairs there can be a moderate ramp incline to deal with.

Port City Characteristics – This port has an average wheelchair infrastructure typical of European cities. The port area has moderate inclines in sidewalks with a gradual rise into town. Pavers are common on sidewalks and streets and intersection crosswalks may have curbs or other wheelchair obstacles.

Transportation

The best way to see the island is by taking a tour or renting a car. Rental cars in Ponta Delgada rent for $28 or less per day at last check. Avis has a location in town at Campo Sao Francisco 19, Phone: (351) 296-304890.

Local Currency

The Azores are part of Portugal using the Euro. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are common.

Vendor stalls along the waterfront

Geologically the archipelago sits over an ancient hotspot on the Gibraltar Ridge near the eastern side of the Mid-Atlantic Rift. There is still geo-thermal activity on the islands in the form of warm springs and mud baths. A short drive outside the city of Ponta Delgada are the blue and green twin lakes in a dormant caldera which are a major tour destination.

Because of their proximity to the Gulf Stream the archipelago has an amazing climate. Year round the average high temperature ranges from 65° to 78° and it rarely makes it to the low eighties. There has also never been a recorded temperature near freezing. Because of this the foundations of the economy are agriculture, fishing and dairy farming with tourism recently developing into a major new sector. One of the major cash crops is pineapple with grape vineyards also being important.

Ponta Delgada is the largest city in the archipelago and you have to admire a city where all the streets and sidewalks consist of mosaics of black and white rock pavers. Maybe this has a practical explanation but the artistry involved left us stunned. I’m not sure we have seen anything like these before. The pace of life here seems relaxed with numerous outdoor cafes and restaurants. As is expected, seafood is the cornerstone of the diet with a decidedly Mediterranean flavor.

History

The Azores archipelago began to appear on portolan charts during the 14th century, well before its official discovery date. The first map to depict the Azores was the Medici Atlas (1351). The Azores archipelago has a colorful history dating back to its official discovery in the 15th century. Throughout its history, it has experienced prosperity, piracy, and revolution.

The islands occupy a strategic position in the North Atlantic with a fifteenth century fortification protecting Ponta Delgada harbor. During the Second World War the Allies used the islands as a base to protect the sea lanes and were a base for airplanes hunting German submarines. Even today the United States Navy uses them as a refueling station for ships and aircraft heading back and forth across the Atlantic.

Convent and Shrine of the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles.

Because of the location of the archipelago it is on the migration route for a number of whales and other sea mammals as well as a favorite whale wintering location. Blue whales, Sperm whales and Humpbacks are frequently sighted and whale watching is a growing attraction for tourists. The city has a number of impressive Catholic churches and a beautiful theatre which seems to favor ballet, symphonies and opera singers. Ponta Delgada is also a favorite stop for yachts and ocean racing sailboats and the waterfront and Yacht Club area is a good place in the evening to sit and enjoy a coffee or glass of local wine or port.

 Shopping offers a number of local products and items made from natural cork are a favorite. Also look for black lava jewelry and local Azores liquors (“licores”).

The Azores, are well-known for its large selection of flavored “licores” include ginger, raspberry, cinnamon, blackberry, pineapple, passionfruit, and milk liquor. The fruity flavors are particularly good for making refreshing summer drinks.

Visiting the Mercado da Graça (a market) is worth the time. Locals shop the stalls for cheese, fruits, vegetables, locally grown pineapples, plants and it’s a good place to look for local souvenirs.

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