These Portuguese islands in the Atlantic are cetacean (whales and dolphins) heaven. This guide is based on our trip to the island of Pico, where stayed for a week on a whale-watching centred trip, with some additional cultural activities. Other islands in the Azores can be reached by ferry or by small plane.
What wildlife can I see?
The Islands are on the migratory route for many species of whales including the incredible blue whales, fin whales, sei whales and sperm whales.
The islands also have resident common dophins, bottle-nosed dolphins and porpoises. Whilst there, and if you’re lucky, then you may also see other species of whale, such as minke and humpbacks on your visit.
Cetacean watching in the Azores is a seasonal thing, with most operators open from March till October. If you want to see Blue whales, then you need to go in March, April and Early May. Fin whales and Sei whales can be seen in April and May Sperm Whales are seen from April to October, with the calving season in July and August.
There are many whale-watching your operators on the islands, but we went with CWAzores, on their ‘Giants of the Sea’ trip in May, with the hope of seeing Blue whales. This programme includes 5 whale watching trips out on zodiac RIBs (rigid inflateable boats), along with 7 nights accomodation and 2 presentations about the cetaceans, their biology, behaviour and conservation.
Wet-weather ponchos are provided on the boats, but you’ll want to bring your own water-proofs (jackets/trousers) and if you’ll probably want to bring some travel-sickness pills, even if you don’t normally suffer from sea-sickness.
Whilst there, we also did a whale-watching trip with Pico Sport (we couldn’t get enough of these encounters), who took us out on a catamaran which was a bit more comfortable and had shelter, so this option might be better for some people.
How to get there?
We flew Heathrow into Horta Airport on the island Faial via Lisbon. From Horta, CW Azores provided a transfer via car and boat to Pico Island. The boat was an uncovered RIB, it was raining and the water was pretty choppy. This was something we needed to get used to out on the boats.
Our accommodation was in the town of Madalena, where CW Azores is also based, so for most of the week we could just walk around and in town. However if you want to visit other towns and attractions you may want to hire a car for some or all of your stay.
What else can I do there?
The island is completely dominated by Mount Pico (Montanha do Pico) and there is a trail for hiking up to the top. To do this, you must go via the visitor centre, who will register you and give you a gps tracker (in case you get into difficulty and need to get rescued). We tried to do this, but the day we planned to do it, the weather was atrocious with no visibility.
The Gruta das Torres caves are also worth a visit, it’s a lava cave formed by underground lava flows.
The town of Lajes do Pico, formerly one of the whaling centres on the island, is another whale-watching hub on Pic. It has a nice harbour and is home to Museo dos Baleeiros, a whaling museum. Unfortunately it was closed at the time we visited.
On the north of the island, Sao Roque is another former whaling town and also houses a whaling museum, focused on the industry and processing of whale products. Even if you are an animal lover like us, the museum tells a fascinating tale about the business and the people who were reliant on the whaling industry.
Where to stay?
As part of our package, we stayed at the Rainbow guesthouse which, as far as we can make out, is owned by CW Azores. It’s a house-share with your own bathrooms and a shared kitchen. A lady came in each morning to provide breakfast, but apart from that it was not staffed. From the guesthouse, it’s a 10 minute walk down to Madalena.
There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs in the area though, so look around if you’re not doing a package of trips.
Where to eat?
The food options within Madalena itself are fairly limited, with mostly snack-bar type cafes to be found. However, there are some nice eateries and bars to be found, particularly if you head just out of town.
In town, the pick of the restaurants
In Lajes do Pico, there are a couple of nice restaurants, but our pick was