São Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal (with Map & Photos)

São Miguel Island Azores

São Miguel is the green island of the Azores. Its greenish "disguise" is not imposed, since the leafiness is a characteristic of the beautiful island. Of the ancestral and autochthonous laurel forests there are still areas converted into protected natural parks, which have slowed the human footprint of plantations of cultivated fields for livestock, citrus, grapevines, cereals or tea. Some invasive species such as the cryptomeria japonica, brought from Japan by sailors, or... they have strongly rooted in the island, being part of the local flora.

The landscape reflects the volcanism that originated the profile and relief of São Miguel, with the stratovolcanoes of Sete Cidades, Fogo and Furnas that poured lava and slag its edges, creating the current morphology.

São Miguel Island Azores
São Miguel Island Azores

It is located in the southeast of the archipelago, below the rest of the islands except Santa María, which closes the southern and eastern quadrant of the Azores. It is the largest island, with 759 square km and a population of around 130 thousand people. The capital of São Miguel is Ponta Delgada, with some of the most important municipalities being Lagoa, Nordeste, Ponta Delgada, Povoação, Ribeira Grande, and Vila Franca do Campo.

São Miguel Island Azores
São Miguel Island Azores


After encountering Santa María, the ships of the Infante D. Enrique arrived in São Miguel, on a date that varies between 1426 and 1439. The first settlers already noticed in their chronicles the presence of fumaroles from which smoke was gushing out, confirming the activity volcanic.

Vila Franca do Campo became the first capital of São Miguel, but after the devastating earthquake of 1522 the administrative and political functions were transferred to the Ponta Delgada site.

The southern coast of the island experienced battles to resolve the succession crisis of 1580. And in 1582 troops defending the cause of King Felipe II of Spain defeated those of Antonio I of Portugal, initiating the merger of both Iberian monarchies. After the naval battle, Álvaro de Bazán, Marquis of Santa Cruz de Mudela, perpetrated the most painful massacre in the Azores in Vila Franca do Campo, with 800 Portuguese and French soldiers executed.

Once again independent, it was an important enclave for Portugal in trade with the colony of Brazil. But its commercial importance was not limited to the Portuguese American territories since it served as a stopover in many Spanish routes, which consolidated several economic cycles of the Azores, such as wheat, oranges -to avoid scurvy or export to England- and the vineyards.

The wealth generated by this trade reverted to the construction of palaces, churches, convents and mansions in Ponta Delgada, many of which still survive.

In the 20th century, the capital of São Miguel Island was attacked by the « Deutschland «, a U-155 class submarine of the German Empire, which in 1917 launched 50 howitzers against the city. From the affront, an American base was established until the end of the war in 1919. Throughout the last century fishing and increased livestock production sustained the economy, which did not prevent a large emigration to the United States and Canada. Tourism and aid from the European Community have served to turn São Miguel into a tourist center straddling America and Europe, headquarters of the Regional Government of the Azores.

With respect to recent volcanic history, the Furnas stratovolcano had two eruptions, in 1440 and 1630, the second being quite violent, causing more than 200 deaths.

What to do in São Miguel

When you visit the Azores you can think that with a few days we can get to know each island in depth. However, the size of São Miguel and the large number of places to see, makes being less than a week wanting to stay. Calderas, lagoons, waterfalls, cliffs, lighthouses, furnas, museums, or viewpoints, make the surprises never end.

There is a lot to do in Sao Miguel, especially for couples and families who love to be active and enjoy kayaking, diving, surfing, canyoning, coasteering, fishing, hiking, road and mountain biking. The Azores are also Europe's number one destination for whale and dolphin watching.

The landscapes are best admired by walking along the innumerable trails, alone, equipped with maps of the different itineraries or with the help of guides. Horseback riding and cycling are another way to enjoy the natural beauty of the island. Those who prefer more walks in the city, have the opportunity to take quiet rides in a carriage or «Largarta» (tourist train) through the streets of the city of Ponta Delgada.

For golfers, the island offers two courses: Furnas and Batalha. Those who prefer more adrenaline can explore the island by 4 × 4 jeep, moto4 or Mountain Bike. A paragliding flight allows you to take unique photos and appreciate the beautiful lakes from an extraordinary point of view. To discover the underground world of the island, visit the Grotta do Carvão and there are several rock walls prepared for climbing.

For lovers of bird watching, the best places are the Serra da Tronqueira, habitat of the Priolo, one of the rarest species in Europe, the Lagoa das Furnas and Mosteiros.

São Miguel Island Map