Exploring the calderas of São Miguel, Azores

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In the middle of the Atlantic lie the paradisaical islands of Azores, volcanic islands rising up from the sea. Over the Easter weekend we visited São Miguel, the largest of the nine islands, and spent some days driving around the island, exploring its beauty. I’ve already written about the lush botanical gardens and the fascinating fumaroles we visited in the first day and a half. On our second day, while we were visiting the fumaroles, I had a sore throat, and unfortunately it turned out I’d caught the norovirus (gastric flu) going around my work. As an expat living in Germany I am susceptible to every bug that goes around, as they’re all new to me, so it’s like being  a child again. So I had to spend one day in bed (Good Friday) feeling very ill, while a miserable J spent some time walking around the nearby town alone, coming back now and then to check on me and bring me medicines and drinks. At least he had the chance to watch the Good Friday parade. The only good thing about norovirus is that it is short-lived, and as Saturday dawned I felt well enough to face another day of sightseeing. The fresh sea air, beautiful views and warm sunshine lifted my spirits enough that I even had energy to do some hiking. We drove around the island to admire some of the magnificent coastal and hillside views and hike up the dormant volcanoes for amazing views of the calderas, large craters formed by the collapse of emptied magma chambers during volcanic eruptions, which had filled with rainwater to become crater lakes.

Sete Cidades

First we visited Sete Cidades on the west of the island, walking up a long dirt path for views out over the huge crater, which contains several volcanic structures such as cones and domes and four lakes. It was quite a hot hike as the sun was out, but the surrounding countryside was lovely and green. In all the photos of Azores online you’ll see lots of blue hydrangeas framing the views of Sete Cidades, but they only flower in summer. We were there in spring so it was too early for them, but the whole island was full of rhododendrums which were also beautiful.

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This must have been one massive explosion, because the area of Sete Cidades is gigantic. The caldera is about 5km in diameter and the walls are up to 400m high. The last eruption occurred in about 500 A.D, resulting in the creation of the Caldeira seca cone.

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Once at the top you have a view over the crater lakes inside the caldera.

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And heading down, you can enjoy the views of luscious green hills with happily grazing cows.

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Inside the caldera: the town of Sete Cidades

Never mind the fact that it’s a volcano, some brave people still decided to build a town inside. Once you’re inside the caldera you might not guess you were inside a crater, it just looks like a nice flat area with some marshes and hills all around. I couldn’t help imagining Pompei-like scenarios, but at least these days scientists can tell in advance when there’s going to be a volcanic eruption.

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We visited the Grand House with its perfectly manicured gardens, and then took a walk next to Lagoa Verde, a beautiful peaceful place.

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View of Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde (the blue and green lakes)

A Portuguese story says that the two lakes, Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, were created when a princess and her lover, a shepherd, had to part from each other.  Their tears became the two lakes, with the waters coloured like their eyes. I think you need bright sunshine to see the two colours of the lakes, as on the day we were there they looked similar in colour. But from down below, Lagoa Verde did have a lovely green colour. We drove up the winding road to one of the viewing points, where we joined other tourists in taking some photos.

 

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Lagoa Rasa 

It was late in the afternoon, but we couldn’t resist hiking up the rugged hillside for a view of Lagoa Rasa. The huge, wavy tufts of grass made me feel like I’d slipped into a Van Gogh painting, and the golden light on the walk back down was fantastic.

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Lagoa do Fogo

For Sunday (my birthday), we’d booked a whale watching boat trip, but the weather didn’t play along as it was too windy and the boats weren’t going out. That’s one thing you come to learn about the Azores: due to the surrounding ocean the weather is very changeable. At any rate this got us out of bed very early in the morning, and once the boat trip was cancelled we decided to visite another of the crater lakes, Lagoa do Fogo, in the centre of the Agua de Pau Massif stratovolcano. The outer caldera dates from 30 000-45 000 years ago and is 4km wide and 13km long, while the inner caldera dates from about 15 000 years ago and contains Lagoa do Fogo. There have been five large eruptions, including some in 1563, 1564 and 1652. Along the northwest flank of the volcano are hot springs and some great thermal spas (I’ll talk a bit more about those in another blog post). The hot springs are also used to generate geothermal energy. We were expecting a great view from the top, as we were at the highest point of the island I think, but on top it was misty with a gale force wind, so it was not to be! However we still took a nice hike down to the crater lake, and the mist cleared for a short time, giving us lovely views of the lake, before clouding back over to hide the lake once again.

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These are just some of the walks you can do on São Miguel, and there are still eight more islands to explore! In fact the highest mountain of Portugal, Ponta do Pico, can be found on one of the other islands, Pico. Yet another reason to go back to the Azores!

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4 thoughts on “Exploring the calderas of São Miguel, Azores

    1. nn Post author

      Yes, it is so beautiful there, the whole island feels like a big garden! I think the soil must be very fertile because of the previous eruptions and it also rains quite a lot there.

      Reply

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