The Azores Islands are a Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, located about 1,500 km (930 mi) from Lisbon and about 3,900 km (2,400 mi) from the east coast of North America. The Monchique islet on Flores Island, located at 31° 16′ 24″ W is regarded as the westernmost point in Europe, even though from a geological standpoint the two westernmost Azorean islands (Flores and Corvo) actually lie on the North American plate. Nowadays the Azores’ main industries are tourism, raising cattle for milk and meat, and fishing.
The nine major Azorean islands and the eight small Formigas extend for more than 600 km (373 mi) and lie in a northwest-southeast direction. The vast extent of the islands defines an immense exclusive economic zone of 1,100,000 Km2 (420,000 square miles). The westernmost point of this area is 3,380 km (2,100 mi) from the North American continent. All of the islands have volcanic origins, although Santa Maria also has some reef contribution. Mount Pico on Pico Island, at 2,351 m (7,713 ft) in altitude, is the highest in all of Portugal. The Azores are actually the tops of some of the tallest mountains on the planet, as measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean. The archipelago forms the Autonomous Region of Azores, one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, along with the archipelago of Madeira.
The Azores islands were discovered or recognized, depending on the Historian, in 1427 by Portuguese navigators. The Azores islands were populated in the 15th century by pioneers from Portugal although small groups of Flemings settled in some of the islands. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Azores archipelago was one of the centers of trade between Europe America and India, and its ports sheltered and serviced galleons loaded with treasures.
Officially, the first islands were discovered in the fifteenth century by Diogo de Silves a Captain at the service of Infante D. Henrique. Important naval battles were fought in the waters of the Azores in that period, during the attacks by corsairs and pirates. The following centuries were calmer, but in 1829 the Azores returned to the pages of history with the role played by Terceira in the struggle against the absolutist forces, and as the base for the liberal forces invading the mainland Portugal to regain power.
The archipelago developed during the 19th and 20th centuries with the introductions of new crops, the developing of industries, and progress made with stock-breeding and fisheries. The last few years have witnessed a slow but progressive improvement in the economic and social well-being of the population. Most of this improvement is due to the inflow of capital donations from emigrants (almost all from North America), the annual leasing of the Lajes Air Field to the United States, and grants from the European Community
The Azores archipelago is located in a region between 37° N and the parallels of latitude that pass through the Lisbon area (39° 43′ / 39° 55′ N), giving it generally a tepid, oceanic, subtropical climate, with mild annual temperatures oscillating from 15°C (59 °F) to 27°C (80°F). The average temperature in Azores is 18°C (64°F). Statistically the driest month is July and the wettest November. Average annual mean relative humidity is 76%. It ranges from 73% in August to 80% in December and January. Frost is non-existent in Azores.
The ocean water temperature in Azores range from 17°C (63°F) in the winter to 25°C (77° F) in the summer.
The average annual rainfall increases from east to west, with annual precipitation of 958 mm (37.7 in) or 80 mm (3.1 in) per month. The Azores high, an area of high atmospheric pressure, is named after the islands.
Light clothes, with one or two sweater or jacket pieces for the cooler days or nights, are enough all year round. In the winter slightly warmer clothing may be necessary. It is better to bring along a light raincoat, however, as there are sometimes showers followed at once by sunshine. “The days of the four seasons” as the Azoreans affectionately say are more prevalent in the months from October to April.
The official language in Azores is Portuguese. In most of the nine islands, the variety of Portuguese spoken is very similar to standard European Portuguese. The primary exception is the Portuguese spoken on the largest island, Sao Miguel, where the language has a distinct accent unlike any spoken in the Portuguese territory. English is widely used in the tourism industry and is gaining momentum in the islands due to being officially a required language in early schooling.
Arriving by Plane
The main international hub is the Ponta Delgada (PDL) airport on the island of S. Miguel. Lajes field (TER) in Terceira island is also an international airport and home of an United States airforce base. Faial (HOR) and Pico (PIC) also feature airport with regional and national reach.
Azores Express – It connects New England with the Azores via Boston-Ponta Delgada and Oakland-Terceira routes. The carrier is part of the SATA Group, which connects the Azores with mainland Europe. SATA International connects Azores with Canada and major European hubs like London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris, it also has connections to Grand Canaria and Madeira islands. TAP Air Portugal, Portugal’s flag carrier, flies between Lisbon Angra do Heroismo and Horta. It has a code share alliance with SATA thus allowing passengers to book SATA flights via its booking systems.
In most islands you can rent a car, Corvo being the exception. In addition, most islands have bus service which serves the main villages. In the smaller islands bus schedules may only have a couple of runs per day, generally one in the early morning and one in the late afternoon, and none at all in certain days such as Sundays and holidays. There is a ferry service between the islands of Faial, Pico and S. Jorge all year-around as well as weekly service between all islands in the summer months.
The Azores being volcanic islands feature a terrain at times steep and rugged where roads wind around very steep hillsides. Cycling around the islands is a pleasant activity with a range and degree of difficulty that spans from beginner to expert.