Since coming back, everyone has asked, "How did you possibly spend 3 interesting weeks in Portugal? Isn't the country small?!" Why yes, the country is small in comparison to the other European countries but there are a ton of cities and towns to see! I mean, I've lived in Manhattan for almost 2 YEARS now and I still don't think I've seen it all. This is our general itinerary of our 3 weeks in Portugal, first flying into Lisbon, taking flights/buses/trains all over and finally ending up in Porto.
We thought this was an amazing and pretty thorough method to delve into the culture of Portugal, outside of its major cities and would suggest this route to any friends or fellow travelers looking to take their time exploring. We mainly stayed at Airbnbs, which I absolutely ADORE using whenever traveling.
I plan to have leg-specific posts for our different stops along the way. I could not possibly include it all into one post! I already did one on the hot springs in Sao Miguel just because that was fresh in my mind and I did not want to forget it.
Here are some of my favorite highlights from the trip (I literally have hundreds of photos to comb through) --
Our map with our route in sequential-ish order:
During our 5-day stay on Sao Miguel of the Azores, we checked out 3 hot springs or caldeiras on the island. With the air temperature being in the high 60s / low 70s (18-20 Celsius) and the weather varying between mist and pouring rain on the mountaintops, we knew we had to dip our sore post-hike bodies into some soothing hot springs.
Poca da Dona Beija | Furnas
Price: 4 euros (all day entry! so you can leave and come back if you wish in the same day)
Includes: Entry, changing room, restrooms, and a frightful drive on the mountain highway.
Additional: 1 euro for a 5 minute shower. We brought our own towels because we read elsewhere that some hot springs do not rent towels and instead force you to purchase 20 euro towels from their gift shop.
Parking: There is a designated parking lot for this spring that is right in front of the entrance.
Imagine a cool morning, with overcast clouds and slight mist in the air. Now imagine stepping into a private 39 Celsius natural hot tub in this cool ambiance in the early morning before a hike. We HIGHLY recommend this hot spring and in fact went twice in a day because we enjoyed it so much. Per another great recommendation from our Airbnb host, we arrived to the hot spring around 8am (it opens at 7am) to enjoy semi-private springs before any other tourists arrived. Here is a video from our experience below and some photos. There were very few people at the hot springs when we arrived and they all tended to be older (and clearly, wiser) couples who knew when to come to enjoy the experience.
Caldeira Velha | Ribeira Grande
Price: 2 euros (all day entry)
Includes: Entry, changing rooms, really damn cold showers (I think you have to pay for warm water but we were so unimpressed by these springs that we just wiped ourselves down, changed and ran out of there)
Additional: Towels must be purchased, not rented
Parking: There are small parking lots along the road that leads to this spring. These spots fill up pretty quickly. We arrived right when they opened and there was already a crowd. By the time we left, there were huge tour buses and people were forced to park all the way down the mountain road and walking their way up to the entrance.
Freezing. Cold. Okay, well, the larger pool (pictured below with the waterfall) was very cold. Behind that smiling face was a disappointed over-optimistic gal who got into the water way too quickly. After experiencing the 39 Celsius that we had a couple days before, we had high expectations future thermal springs. Unfortunately, we did not take note when we saw that this larger pool was empty.
There is another small pool that is around 37 Celsius right by the changing rooms, which is where the picture of Andrew and I was taken. On the other side of that camera was at least 15 people, including children, wading about. I have video footage that still needs to be edited, showing the crowd that had coalesced. Meanwhile, groups of older tourists came by snapping photo after photo of the condensed situation, so that made it slightly more uncomfortable.
Termas da Ferraria | Ginetes
Price: N/A; there were no attendants and we did not go into the water
Includes: Entry to the outdoor pool, changing rooms, and restroom
Parking: Large open parking lot at the bottom of a windy and narrow mountain drive (second photo pictured below). I was honestly nervous that our Opel Corsa rental would not make it back up the steeper curves of this windy road. We contemplated having Andrew getting out of the car and walking up the mountain to reduce the load but thankfully, the car made it up...after rolling backwards only a couple of times.
This "hot spring" is really just an inlet of water from the ocean that happens to be warmer during low tides. Unfortunately, when we went, it was early morning and there were high tides meaning that the water was just the temperature that one would expect the Atlantic Ocean to be on a cold April morning. Needless to say, we did not end up going into the water for that reason and also because the changing rooms were a long walk from the actual pool of water. There was, however, an actual heated swimming pool attached to the spa but that did not sound appealing to us at the time.
On the bright side, the views were magnificent and the walk was peaceful. We did see a few teenagers get out in full swim attire and nonchalantly walked towards the ocean pool so maybe we were just being a couple of wusses.
Other noteworthy mentions include Terra Nostra (also in Furnas and near Poca da Dona Beija), which we attempted to go to after one of our hikes around Furnas, but we finished our hike too late. Terra Nostra closes at around 7pm so we missed out on that one.
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