Camping in the Azores: São Miguel
Camping on São Miguel
The beautiful islands of the Azores, situated in the middle of the North Atlantic, are a campers paradise. The main Azorean island, São Miguel, has five campsites; two of the campsites are free all year round and the other three are low cost, about ten Euros in total a night for two people and a small tent.
Two of the campsites are situated in the craters of volcanoes with spectacular views and the other three are near the coast, with both beaches and swimming pools nearby.
If you love camping, camping in the Azores is a holiday that you will never forget.
Getting around the island is easy if you hire a car. Whilst there are no trains, as the island is very small, there is a bus service, and most campsites are within walking distance of a bus stop.
We camped at four of the five campsites in September 2018.
1. Furnas Campsite (Parque de Campismo das Furnas)
This campsite is located in the town of Furnas, which is situated in the crater of a large, extinct volcanoe.
On site, the facilities are as follows.
- A reception building with very friendly staff.
- A cafe / restaurant. The informal cafe is perfect for a coffee and breakfast in the morning, a cheese and ham toasted sandwich for lunch and a cold beer in the evening. The more formal restaurant is popular with both campers and locals alike and offers an excellent menu for Dinner.
- BBQ and kitchen areas with picnic tables and benches.
- Two large shower / toilet blocks with sinks for washing cooking stuff, laundry and clothes lines.
- High Security. When the Reception Office closes in the evening, the gates to the campsite are locked and the campsite employs a Security Guard who will not only let you in but also patrols the campsite throughout the night.
We really enjoyed our stay at the campsite.
The campsite is located on the slope of the volcano and the view from our tent was spectacular. Looking across you could see the walls of the volcano, steam rising up from the nearby hot sulphurous calderas, and in the valley below the pretty small town of Furnas.
The only downside, or advantage to this campsite, depending on your point of view, is that they don't allow cars into the campsite. There is a car park next door and you are allowed to drive your car in when you first arrive, to unload and pitch your tent. After that, you are not allowed to take your car in.
There are lots of places to visit nearby, including the town of Furnas itself, the local botanical garden and the nearest beach, which involves a drive through a beautiful valley with numerous waterfalls.
2. Nordeste Campsite
This campsite, which is very natural, is situated at the northeast corner of São Miguel island in the Azores, near the small and pleasant town of Nordeste.
It is at the bottom of a wooded valley with a small stream running through.
- By car. If you are driving, there is a steep drive down to the campsite from the town of Nordeste above and you park your car in the car park next to the campsite.
- By Bus. There is a regular bus service from the capital to the town of Nordeste, although there aren't many each day. Get off the bus in the town and walk down the steep road.
The campsite is small and pleasant. It is owned by the Portuguese government with different operators each year.
When we stayed, in September 2018, the campsite operators were a young Portuguese couple who were very friendly and spoke fluent English.
It was affordable at a small cost of about 10 Euros for a small tent and two people per night.
The campsite's small reception area has a shop selling basic food items, hot coffee, cold draught beer and bottles of wine.
The shower block is basic, clean and adequate.
When we stayed in 2018, the cost for two people with a tent was about 10 Euros a night.
The campsite gets very busy in the peak summer months with Azorean families, but in early or late summer, the campsite offers a quiet and pleasant stay.
If you don't have a tent, don't worry as there are tents already set up, complete with bedding that you can hire.
There are the usual Azorean BBQ facilities with picnic tables and chairs. We spent a couple of fun evenings with fellow campers enjoying shared food bought at the nearby local town and drinking cold beers and wine purchased from the Reception.
If you do decide to stay there, listen out for "the monster" at night. Several campers said that they heard strange noises in the night. Don't worry, there is an explanation. Once it gets dark, a number of seabirds—shearwaters—come in from the sea to roost for the night. You will hear them crash through the trees and onto the ground. Their calls do indeed sound like a monster!
Nearby attractions include a lovely beach with an open air pool that gets filled with sea water at high tide. You can have a great time in the pool hanging onto the ropes and waiting for the rough sea waves to come crashing into the pool.
There are changing rooms and toilets at the beach.
The nearby town of Nordeste has several small shops, cafes and supermarkets. There is a modern bus station with a café - a pleasant place to sit, enjoy a coffee and enjoy the spectacular sea view.
This part of the island was, until recently, hard to get to and is well known for it's natural beauty. It has a famous large ancient Laurel forest and a beautiful coastal road on the south side of the island with many beautiful "Miradors" - viewing points.
3. Sete Cidades Parque De Campismo: A Free Campsite
Sete Cidades Parque De Campismo is situated outside the small town of Sete Cidades (pronounced "set sidash") which is on the western side of Sao Miguel.
This campsite is free! Just turn up and pitch your tent.
This campsite has to be one of the most wonderful and beautiful places to camp in the world. The campsite is situated in the crater of the large Sete Cidades volcano and the landscape is stunning. There are two famous iconic lakes in the crater. Separated by a land bridge, one lake is green, the other is blue.
I highly recommend this campsite but be warned, it is basic.
- There is no reception or security guards.
- There is a small toilet block with one male and one female toilet with a sink in each, perfect for a morning wash.
- An outside trough with cold water taps exists for washing pots and pans.
- The showers are outside and are very basic. The shower heads are in a row on the outside of the toilet block. If the campsite is busy, you may find yourself standing next to several other people having their morning shower. But don't worry, the shower area is enclosed within wood panelled fencing, covered in plastic meshing to protect your modesty. You won't be seen by the nearby cows and farm houses! Luckily when we stayed there were only a few other campers so we had the showers to ourselves.
- There is no hot water, the showers are cold water only.
- There are numerous BBQ facilities with wooden picnic tables and plenty of free fire wood.
I would imagine that this campsite gets very busy in the high summer months. We stayed at the end of September and it was very quiet, but on the Saturday night, a large group of local young people turned up and enjoyed the free BBQ's into the early hours, so bring ear plugs.
There is plenty to see and do within walking distance.
- You could take an easy walk around the shores of the two lakes, or for the more adventurous, hike along the top rim of the volcano.
- The small village nearby offers several cafés, tea shops, bars and restaurants. At one of the restaurants in the village, we enjoyed a wonderful Azorean buffet Sunday lunch, for 11 Euros per person.
Slightly further afield is a must-do trip to the coast where hot thermal waters flow into the sea. You climb down the rocks and ladders and hang onto ropes as cold waves come in one way and hot thermal waters pour out of the rocks from the other direction. If you are fit and able and can swim, this is an experience not to be missed. Best of all it is free. There are free changing rooms and showers nearby and you can enjoy a hot drink at the outdoor Spa Pool facility next door.
4. Free Campsite on the North Coast at Praia dos Moinhos
There is a small free campsite located on the north coast of the island, in the village of Moinhos. Moinhos is situated a few miles west of the town of Porto Formoso, which itself is situated midway between the larger towns of Ribeira Grande and Sao Bras.
Whilst the campsite can be a little hard to find, it is worth seeking out as the landscape nearby is stunning.
To find the campsite, drive along the coastal road through the village and look for the large car park near the villages beach (Praia dos Moinhos). There is a car park sign but it is easy to miss. The camping field is behind the carpark.
This campsite is free and unfortunately as it is unmanned, the facilities are a bit grim. There are showers (cold) and toilets, but they are not looked after. Don't expect soap or toilet roll.
We only stayed one night due to the basic facilities, but it is worth a visit as there are two big positives for this campsite.
- The first is that it is just behind a lovely black sand beach with a very relaxed looking bar / restaurant. You could easily spend the day here. The sea and beach is very rough and you can only swim in a certain section.
- The second is that at the back of the camping field there is the start of a 7km round walk through a beautiful valley. At the start of the path you will find the main reason to visit or stay at this campsite. There is a beautiful waterfall which feeds into a large pool that is easy to swim in. The water is icy cold and on a hot day is refreshing. The pool is at the bottom of a sub tropical valley and is as close to a tropical style paradise as you can get.
5. Parque de Campismo Quinta das Laranjeiras: A Private Campsite
This is a private campsite located on the north of the island, close to the village of Rabo da Peixe. It is best reached by car rather than by bus or on foot.
We haven't stayed at the campsite, as when we called them at the end of September, we were informed that the campsite was closed for the season - a fact that surprised both us and the local tourist office.
The campsite has mixed reviews on TripAdvisor and I would recommend that you do some research there.
It is owned and managed by a Mr. Renato. There is free wifi, electricity, and all of the other utilities you may expect when camping. It seems that you can't just turn up, the camp opens for new check-ins after 6pm. There is a small kitchen area for cooking and includes pots and pans etc. that you can use.
It’s reasonably priced at around 8€/person/day (for your own tent).
If you don't have a tent, you can hire one.
Top Tips When Camping in São Miguel in the Azores
If you love BBQ's as a fun and inexpensive way of cooking and eating whilst on holiday, you will love camping in the Azores. There are free BBQs everywhere.
There seems to be an interesting sense of sharing and communal living on Sao Miguel. Not only do all of the campsites offer free BBQ facilities, the local authorities have provided numerous free BBQ sites across the island.
Not only are there free brick built BBQs, there are usually huge free piles of chopped wood that you can use.
The most spectacular free BBQs can be found all along the coastal roads at the "Miradors". These are look-out places, high up on the cliffs. They offer spectacular views of the island and ocean as well as other facilities such as beautiful gardens, free toilet facilities, cold water taps for drinking water and washing, numerous BBQ facilities, picnic tables and benches and piles of free wood for the BBQs.
It is a great way for both locals and tourists alike to enjoy the islands; an inexpensive way for people to get together and eat out in the open air.
For many people, the purpose of a trip to the Azores is not only to enjoy its remote natural beauty, it is also to go on a whale watching trip. Most of the companies that offer whale watching trips are based on the harbour of the capital town, Ponta Delgada. We paid 50 Euros each and went on a wonderful afternoon whale watching trip with "Sea Colours," where we saw a pod of dolphins and a group of four whales that included a calf.
Camping on the other Azorean islands.
There are several other islands in the Azores island group. They are much smaller than Sao Miguel and whist I have yet to visit them, I hear they all have campsites.
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