Made up of nine small, but fascinating islands and located nearly centrally between Europe, Africa, and North America, the Azores are a unique travel destination that should pique any curious traveler's interest. Belonging to Portugal but home to a distinct local culture, the islands have a fascinating history, unique architecture, endless beaches, and truly magnificent nature. Now easily accessible thanks to a number of flights from both Europe and North America, the Azores are waiting to be explored. Although small, the islands do not have good public transportation links, so getting a rental car is your best bet to see as much as you want.
When should you go to the Azores Islands?
The tourist season in the Azores generally lasts from May to October — this is when the weather is at its finest. Summers in the Azores are quite hot, but nonetheless significantly cooler than on the Portuguese island of Madeira or in the Canary Islands. Summer months are also when precipitation is the lowest and when swimming in the ocean is the most enjoyable. Although the islands see the largest number of visitors, including vacationing Portuguese from the mainland, from June to August, crowds are smaller than at any popular beach resort on the Mediterranean coast.
Winters are very mild in the Azores, with temperatures only rarely dropping below 10 °C (50 °F). However, there is a noticeable increase in precipitation — on São Miguel, there are, on average, 17 rainy days per month between October and March.
It's good to keep in mind that the weather in the Azores can be quite hard to predict and can change multiple times within one day, even during summertime. The good news is that even if the weather turns bad, it will most likely get better again soon.
The Azores are affected by strong winds and have been hit by more than ten hurricanes over the last couple of decades. The strongest winds usually occur in September and October but can surprise the island during practically any season, so it's a good idea to check the latest weather forecast. It's not advisable to drive when it is windy, especially in the coastal areas and near cliffs.
The Azores are a great place for whale and dolphin watching, and there are many tours on São Miguel and other islands that you can join. The whale watching season lasts from May to October and different species of the aquatic mammals can be viewed at different parts of the summer.
Now that you've decided when to travel to the Azores Islands, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!
Where should you pick up a car in the Azores Islands?
Most visitors to the Azores choose to pick up a rental car right at the airport. As of April 2020, DiscoverCars.com has car rental partners on seven of the nine Azorean islands (the only exceptions are Graciosa and Corva, the two smallest islands of the archipelago). Each one of these seven islands has an international airport at which it is easy to pick up a rental car.
João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada serves the whole island of São Miguel and is by far the busiest airport in the archipelago. It offers connections with the rest of the islands, as well as with destinations on mainland Portugal and in Europe, North America, and West Africa. Even many travelers who are going to one of the other islands often do so by traveling via Ponta Delgada. João Paulo II Airport served nearly two million passengers in 2019.
In addition to airports, on some islands, it is also possible to pick up and drop off a rental car at car rental offices in the city centers. On Ponta Delgada, some car rental companies also offer delivery and meet-and-greet services.
Can I visit multiple islands with a rental car?
Some, though not all, rental car providers permit picking up a rental car on one of the islands and dropping it off on another. It is easier to find these deals if you plan to travel either to or from São Miguel which is the largest island or between two islands that are located nearby, such as Pico and Faial. Most rental car providers charge an additional fee for one-way rentals. You can see the exact prices by searching for your travel dates and pick-up and drop-off locations on our website.
Many ferry companies permit bringing a rental car on deck, but you'll have to buy a separate ticket for your vehicle which can be as expensive as the ticket for yourself. It's preferable to book ferry tickets in advance as they can sell out pretty quickly during the high season. On the other hand, ferry service is much more infrequent during the low season and some routes are not served during these months at all. Ferry departures are also periodically canceled because of storms.
Some travelers consider it too expensive and too much of a hassle to island-jump with a rental car - instead, they drop off a rental car after seeing one island, travel on a ferry without it, and pick up a new car after arriving at their next destination.
How easy is it to travel in the Azores independently?
The Azores is a great destination to explore on your own. Each of the islands is tourist-friendly, the locals are hospitable, and most things can be booked online in advance. Each of the nine islands has hidden gems beyond its main town that are waiting to be explored.
The weather can be quite unpredictable in the Azores and certain months can be either very windy or rainy. Read more about the weather on our 'When should I rent a car in the Azores?' section.
Experienced travelers who have visited the Azores many times argue that it's a good idea not to try to squeeze visiting too many islands into a single trip. Although the distances between the islands are not that large and island hopping is perfectly possible, any trip between the islands involves a lot of planning and organizing that can ultimately feel overwhelming. Each one of the islands has plenty to enjoy and explore — it's better to stick to just one or two at a time and then return to see others on a different trip.
How safe is it to travel in the Azores Islands by a rental car?
The Azores is an extremely safe travel destination! Tourist scams are very rare and violent crime is practically unheard of. Only two islands have a population of more than 20,000, so the local feeling of community is very strong, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. The emergency number in the Azores, just like on the mainland Portugal and everywhere else in the European Union, is 112.
Although driving is generally very safe in the Azores since local drivers are polite and the quality of roads is good, some mountain roads both in the inland areas and near coastal cliffs can be very narrow and steep, so be careful, especially when driving after dark. Fog is very common in the islands and can seriously affect visibility. The Azores also have a lot of cattle (the islands are known as the dairy hub of Portugal), so be mindful of cows crossing the road.
Getting an up-to-date GPS device is also a good idea. While the islands are small, it is not uncommon for tourists to get lost, especially outside the main settlements and on rural inland roads. Ask your rental car provider about the availability of GPS for your vehicle.
What languages do they speak in the Azores?
The official and main language in the Azores, just like on mainland Portugal, is Portuguese. Although the Azorean dialect has some slight differences from the mainland variety (it is more similar to the Southern Portuguese dialects of the mainland than the northern ones), all speakers of Portuguese will have absolutely no problem communicating with the locals.
Due to the large number of tourists and also because of the presence of the United States Air Force which still has a base on Terceira, knowledge of English in the Azores is arguably higher than on mainland Portugal. Not all Azoreans speak English, but nearly everyone working in the tourism and hospitality industries will have at least some knowledge of the language. Learning at least a few basic phrases in Portuguese can be very beneficial, though.
Although rarer, speakers of German, Dutch, Spanish, and other languages can also be found in the Azores.
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.