For now, the Azores still feel undisturbed
For now, even hotspots like Vista do Rei, with its grand views of the famous blue and green crater lakes below, is relatively uncrowded. I have to wait for two families to take pictures before getting my own shot -- compared to anywhere in Iceland it’s downright empty.
On Terceira, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angra do Heroismo is a city of colorful colonial-era buildings, still filled with little bakeries, galleries, and sundry stores. The city does get its share of cruise ships, but even the most popular places haven’t been taken over by schlock.
Meanwhile, breezy Ponta Delgada (the largest city on Sao Miguel) has just enough tourists to keep things going, but not so many that it’s overrun. Drop onto the main waterfront drag and it feels like you’ve arrived in Honolulu in the 1950s, or the coast of Croatia before all the yachts showed up. There are big waterfront hotels, yes, but they’re not too imposing, or expensive. The new-ish Grand Hotel Acores Atlanticos is the kind of boutique-chic accommodation that would set you back a couple hundred euros in most of Europe, but rooms regularly go for less than $100 a night. The Azor Hotel, with its swanky rooftop bar where you can literally whale watch from a deck chair, is rarely over $200.
The restaurants that line the water are a collection of local seafood joints and inexpensive steakhouses, with a few pizza shops thrown in. It’s another place where you’d be hard-pressed to drop more than $20 on a meal, even with a front row seat to the ocean.
There are, of course, other islands with tiny airports, which feel almost as raw as when the Portuguese first arrived in 1427. Corvo, the smallest island in the chain, has less than 500 residents. Nearby is Flores, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that’s a choice spot for waterfalls and untrodden tropical hikes. And then there’s Sao Jorge, with its sheer cliffs, deep ravines, and famous coffee.
Walking around the Azores, you get the feeling that this is the end of an era -- a time locals will refer to as “before the tourists came.” Steel and glass hasn’t intruded on the natural beauty quite yet, and it just feels like a colorful piece of paradise waiting for the world to wake up. And when it does, the selfie-obsessed Americans will come in droves.