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The name "Azores" is familiar to many people, but most would be hard-pressed to find it on a map. This is a shame because the Azores are among the most underutilized vacation destinations on the planet. Equip yourself with the knowledge necessary to take advantage of this hidden gem — keep reading to find out what the Azores are and where to find them.
What Are the Azores?
Officially known as the Autonomous Region of the Azores, this chain of volcanic islands is a part of the Portuguese Republic. The islands were first discovered in the 14th century, although it is unclear which explorer gets credit for finding the islands.
All nine islands were colonized over the next few centuries. Enthusiasm for living on an archipelago that was so far removed from continental Europe was low in the beginning, although it grew after the islands proved themselves to be able to sustain crops and livestock. The first island that was settled was Sao Miguel, which remains the most populous today.
Where are the Azores?
The Azores are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, located 800 miles off the coast of Portugal. They are composed of nine islands that are divided into three groups:
- West cluster – Flores and Corvo
- Center cluster – Faial, Sao Jorge, Terceira, Graciosa, and Pico
- East cluster – Santa Maria and Sao Miguel
Altogether the islands contain more than 900 square miles of beach, jungle, and mountains. Due to the islands’ status as an active volcanic environment, the soil is lush and very fertile. This, combined with the island’s mild climate, contributes to the healthy ecosystem that has covered the entire area with vegetation.
What Is There to See in the Azores?
The Azores are just the top of massive mountains that rise up from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. As such, they have a wide variety of beautiful geography to explore. Hiking through these landscapes is a popular pastime. Three of the islands — Flores, Graciosa, and Corvo — are protected as natural biospheres, which means that there is plenty of pristine, unspoiled scenery to enjoy.
In addition, the Azores sit on the part of the Atlantic Ocean that serves as the meeting point for the African, American, and European tectonic plates. This means that the region is incredibly active and that a dedicated explorer can find many natural volcanic wonders, such as mud pots, fumaroles, and caves.
Both mountain biking and horse riding are popular diversions on the island. Both are in line with the island’s eco-conscious way of life and you can rent a bike or arrange for a horseback adventure at multiple locations on the different islands.
If you are looking for even more excitement, the Azores have hosted a paragliding festival for over 20 years. If you are interested in trying this extreme sport, there aren't many better destinations for it in the world!
On top of that, there are wonderful diving and whale watching opportunities off the coast of the Azores. As the water stays between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, some have even gone so far as to call the Azores the best diving location in the Atlantic.
How Can You Reach the Azores?
The Azores have their own airline that can get you there and some international airlines have begun to add Azores routes as well. The Atlanticoline and Transmacor travel services provide ferry services so you can move between the islands at your leisure.