Start Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island.
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for a short flight to Faial Island, also known as the Blue Island thanks to all the blue hydrangeas that decorate the houses, divide the fields and line the roadsides. We enjoy a guided tour around Horta; its marina, whose walls are covered with colourful paintings, is a primary stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic. After our lunch stop, we visit the Scrimshaw Museum and its impressive collection of engraved whales' teeth and bones. In the afternoon, we meet a local biologist, who will brief us about our whale watching activities over the week.
Today we embark on our whale and dolphin watching tour between the Faial and Pico Islands. There are 80 species of whales and dolphins on the planet and 25 of them have been sighted off the coast of the Azores, with the most common being Sperm Whale, Bottlenose dolphin, Short-finned pilot whale; Atlantic spotted dolphin and the Blue Whale. During our excursion, we observe the behaviour of these cetaceans and learn more about their habitat with the help of the knowledgeable local experts on board. We should always respect their environment and therefore during times of feeding or resting times, we avoid any interference and maintain our distance. Please note this activity is completely dependent on sea conditions and if we cannot reschedule the tour, then an alternative visit to the vineyards of Pico Island will be offered.
We enjoy a full day visiting the beautiful land and sea of Faial Island, which with its fascinating islets, unusual rock formations from volcanic activity, picturesque windmills and lush green pastures offers an incredible variety of landscapes. Along the coast, we have a superb mix of land and seabirds to observe in their natural habitat, such as Tern Pink and nests of Seagulls in the Capelinhos Volcano as well as Shearwater and Bat, which are endemic to the Azores. We return to Horta and gain more understanding thanks to a short briefing from the University of the Azores on the ecology and conservation of various species of seabirds. In the evening, we walk down to the coast to hear some spectacular sounds from the Shearwater. These are nocturnal seabirds who come to the coast simply to breed and on their night-time visits, they often give eerie contact calls as they nest in burrows and lay their single white egg.
As Pico Island is only a short ferry trip from Horta, it is an excellent option for our free day. Due to its geological age, this island is considered the 'wildest' island in the Azores archipelago. With UNESCO declaring the exotic vineyards (that grow on rock) as a World Heritage Site, beaches that are called natural swimming pools and former whaling villages, there is certainly a completely different character for us to discover. For the bold and adventurous, perhaps heading back to sea and swimming with dolphins, sharks or manta rays is a more appealing option (for more information on this please see the 'optional excursions' section of the trip notes). There is also the opportunity to simply join on the zodiac boat and go snorkelling and note there is a biologist and skipper on board to ensure every precaution is taken to protect the dolphin's habitat. In the evening we take a flight back to Sao Miguel Island.
There is some free time in the morning before heading out on our next adventure to explore the beauty of the island. Our 4WD excursion takes us through ravines and near volcano craters where we enjoy the wonderful landscape around Sete Cidades Volcano, including the Green and Blue Lakes. From Vista do Rei, we are rewarded with breath taking views of tranquil lakes, blue hydrangeas bordering the crater rim that contrast with the steep sides of the crater. We then venture into this extinct volcano to visit the pretty village of Sete Cidades with its traditional architecture and verdant pastures. An opportunity not to be missed is to swim in the warm waters of Ferraria or Caldeira Velha (pool formed from a geyser). Our final treat is the Fire Lake in Barrosa Mountain, an enormous lake with jutting peninsulas and white sand beaches which is the perfect place to relax at the end of the day.
Our final day offers another chance to spot some wonderful whales and dolphins on our boat journey down to the south coast of the island. We arrive in Ribeira Quente, a fisherman's village and transfer to Furnas Valley where we enjoy a spectacular meal of the famous Cozido das Caldeiras (style of cooking that buries sealed pots in the baking earth). After lunch, we take in the sights of romantic lakes, winding pathways, exotic flowers and thermal waters in Park Terra Nostra, before continuing onto the hot springs. One of the most spectacular forms of volcanic activity we see here are fumaroles, which spout boiling water and medicinal mud.
End Ponta Delgada.