Two Portuguese Archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean – Madeira and the Azores – how similar or how different are they and which one will be best for you?
Are you considering Madeira or the Azores but you aren’t too sure which one should you visit? They are two beautiful archipelagos of volcanic origin belonging to Macaronesia. The islands share not only the same culture and language. In today’s post, we will compare Madeira to the Azores, and especially São Miguel, the largest island of the Azores archipelago.
The part about Madeira was written by me, and the part about the Azores by a great Azores fan and author of an awesome Polish blog called The Lisboner – Anna. Her blog is a great source of information about the continental part of Portugal, and I encourage all Portugal lovers to check it out. In the meantime, however, let’s see: Madeira or the Azores?
Madeira or Azores: How many islands does the archipelago consist of, and are the individual islands similar or very diverse?
The Madeira Archipelago consists of inhabited: Madeira Island and a slightly smaller Porto Santo (“Holy Port”) as well as uninhabited Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens.
Madeira and Porto Santo are very different from each other. Madeira is famous for its beautiful, high mountains, cliffs, levadas (hiking trails along mountain water channels), natural lava pools – a diverse, wonderful, dramatic landscape, exotic flowers and, unfortunately, dark, usually pebble beaches. The south of Madeira is very developed, Funchal is quite a big city with a growing number of hotels, while the north of Madeira is a paradise for hikers, fans of peace and nature.
Porto Santo is a paradise for beach lovers. However, it is much smaller than Madeira, has a smaller airport and does not have many attractions, especially in the low season.
The Azores archipelago consists of 9 islands, which differ in size, landscape and population. The common denominator is the magic of the ubiquitous nature: its virgin beauty and richness.
The island of São Miguel, the largest of the archipelago, delights visitors with a thousand shades of green and the best tourist infrastructure. The island of Santa Maria: the oldest, but discovered first by Portuguese sailors, hides red wilderness among the greenery. Faial Island: a piece of land in the middle of the ocean carved by a volcano. The island of Pico is famous for the highest peak in Portugal (Pico 2351 m a.s.l.) and for its dry wine. São Jorge is famous for its flat terrain beneath the cliff slopes called fajã or the Queijo da Ilha de Sao Jorge, which is a local cheese with a unique taste. Graciosa Island is the flattest island of the entire archipelago and is famous for its whitewashed country houses and Dutch-style windmills. Beautiful and hospitable Terceira: an island that had a decisive role in the history of Portugal. Flores is an island where Europe begins and ends: it’s easy to fall in love with its beautiful landscapes. Corvo: the smallest of the islands (it occupies 17 km2) in no way inferior to other islands.
Madeira or Azores: Summarize it in 5 pictures
Madeira is a perfect mix of different shades of green, brown coloured cliffs, and the blue colour of the ocean. In addition. At the same time it also shows a true, rich and bright rainbow of colours: the colours seen at the Madeira exotic fruit markets, its rich botanic gardens as well as during the annual Flower Festival and Spring Flower Parade. Whereas Porto Santo is just as beautiful, but totally different mix of sparkling gold and white of sand and azure of pure waters surrounding it.
The island of São Miguel impresses visitors with a thousand shades of green and blue-purple hydrangea flowers that grow along the roads or fields. Cows grazing peacefully watching us from their green pastures and dirt roads – also an inseparable symbol of the island.
Madeira or Azores: Is it possible to move between the islands easily and if so, how? By plane or ferry? Can you see all the islands in one vacation?
Yes, there are daily flights, as well as a local ferry. The Porto Santo Line ferry run between Porto Santo and Madeira, so you not only can, but also should visit both islands during the same trip.
I would not advise anyone to go to Porto Santo during rainy weather, because its main attraction is a beautiful, sandy beach. If the weather is great, it is definitely a great idea to stay on Porto Santo for at least one night. However, it’s not required, you can usually return to Madeira the same evening.
The 9 islands of the Azores archipelago can be divided into three groups: Oriental (Eastern), Central and Occidental (Western).
Direct flights from Lisbon to the islands of São Miguel and Terceira are offered by Ryanair, TAP and SATA. Between the islands, it is best to travel by plane (SATA flight connections) and in case of the Central Group islands, also by ferry. Ticket prices change every now and then so it’s best to plan well in advance.
Depending on how much time we have, it’s best to focus on exploring one or a maximum of two islands at a time. I recommend 5 to 7 days for visiting São Miguel.
Madeira or Azores: What can these archipelagos be most proud of?
Phew, probably too many things to list. As for attractions – Madeira is famous for its beautiful volcanic sea lava pools and hikes along the levadas. As for famous people, Ronaldo is its pride. When it comes to Madeira cuisine, it’s most recommended dishes are the Espada fish served with a banana, beef skewers called Espetada as well as Lapas and Bolo de Caco garlic bread. Madeira is also famous for its spirits, and most of all – Madeira Wine and sweet Poncha.
The Azores are famous for their dairy products: delicious butter, milk and cheese (slightly spicy in taste cheese from the island of São Jorge – Queijo da Ilha São Jorge). The Portuguese call the island of São Miguel “Ilha das vacas felizes” or “the island of lucky cows” because, thanks to the climate, cows can graze here all year round.
There are two tea plantations on the island of São Miguel – the only ones in Europe (Chá Gorreana and Porto Formoso).
Madeira or Azores: Portuguese words typical of these archipelagos, describing something that is not common or does not exist elsewhere in the world
Levadas – Madeira “aqueducts”, which were constructed to transport water from the mountains, and now also used as beautiful hiking routes
Levadeiro – the person responsible for maintaining levadas, cleaning them, unblocking and managing the distribution of water in Madeira
Fajã – a flat, fertile land that lies at the foot of a cliff, cut off from the rest of the island
Toboggan – the famous road wicker sledge tourist attraction in Funchal
Laurissilva– UNESCO protected Laurel forests
Calderas – inland lakes in craters of inactive volcanoes
Fumaroles – openings in the ground which emit steam and gases
Bolos Lêvedos – Small loaves of bread similar to Madeira’s Bolo do Caco
Cozido das Furnas – a local dish from São Miguel: meat and vegetables baked for several hours in a dish placed inside the geyser
As well as Fajã and the Laurissilva forests.
Madeira or Azores: Climate and weather
The climate of Madeira is very pleasant – winters are not cold and summers are not too hot. However, you must remember that Madeira is a mountainous island with many microclimates and large temperature differences.
In summer (June-August), temperatures average 24° C during the day, and at night temperatures do not fall below 17 ° C. In the summer season rainfall is low. In autumn (September-November) it is still warm, but the risk of rainfall is higher.
Winter (December-February) is a low season, despite the fact that the weather is also pleasant.
In the summer months, temperatures do not exceed 28 degrees, and in winter do not fall below 10 degrees Celsius.
The weather in the Azores can be capricious. One day we can sunbathe, and in a moment run away from the rain to enjoy the sun again after an hour.
The islands are characterized by high humidity. Very strong winds blow from February to November, the rainfall is also high. The best time to travel is May-September.
Madeira or Azores: Where will we find better beaches?
In the Azores, you’ll find sandy beaches with dark brown sand, as well as rocky beaches hidden between picturesque cliffs.
An interesting alternative are natural hot sulfur springs, especially pleasant in colder weather. The water in such pools has a temperature of 26 to 39 degrees Celsius, so it is a real spa under the open sky.
Madeira or Azores: Hiking
Madeira is a paradise for all hikers. In Madeira, there is a considerable network of hiking trails: in the mountains, coasts, peninsula and the most famous – routes along the levadas.
The most famous trails are the “trail in the clouds”, between the Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo peaks and the trail on the Ponta de São Lourenço. The most famous levada is probably the 25 Fontes and Risco. My favourite hikes apart from the ones listed above are: Vereda do Larano and Levada Faja do Rodrigues.
In the Azores, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails with different levels of difficulty.
The largest of the islands – São Miguel has the best hiking paths network. Interesting suggestions include the Vista Do Rei trail overlooking the two colourful lakes of Sete Cidades (trail length 7.7 km) or Faial da Terra – Salto do Prego, at the end of which you will see a beautiful waterfall (trail length 4.5 km). On Pico Island, we can climb the volcano carrying the same name.
Madeira or Azores: Do both have levadas and volcanic pools?
The levadas network is so impressive that it is often difficult to choose the best levada. In one short trip to Madeira, you definitely won’t succeed hiking all the recommended routes.
There are several volcanic pools on Madeira, the most popular of which are in Porto Moniz in the north of the island.
SEE POST: PORTO MONIZ LAVA POOLS
On the island of São Miguel we find levadas, although they are not as impressive as those on Madeira. An interesting architectural element that has become part of the green landscape are old levadas covered in moss.
There are also some lava pools in the Azores.
Madeira or Azores: Nightlife
The nightlife on Madeira is better than on the Azores, but fortunately, there is no untamed nightlife as on some of the famous Spanish islands. This is not a place where you can fly to party cheap and loud.
This does not mean that there is nothing to do in the evenings. There are many concerts in Madeira, especially during the festivals. There are also many good restaurants, cafe’s and bars as well as a lovely culture of “going out for a Poncha” with friends.
The Azores is a tourist destination focused mainly on nature and admiring the landscape. You won’t find great tourist resorts or discos here, like on the Spanish Tenerife or Ibiza. There are several bars on the island of São Miguel in Ponta Delgada.
Madeira or Azores: Is this a good idea for a holiday with children?
With small children in Madeira, we will not be able to explore all tourist routes, because many of them will be too difficult for children. However, we can choose other attractions for the whole family, especially parks, theme parks and dolphin watching trips. Many hotels and bathing complexes have swimming pools and play areas tailored to the needs of the youngest.
SEE POST: MADEIRA WITH CHILDREN
Exploring nature is always a good way to spend holidays with children. The islands are very calm. Visiting smoke-blasting Furnas or seeing dolphins can be a major attraction.
Madeira or Azores: How to get there?
There are direct flights to Madeira from continental Portugal and many cities in Europe. Optionally, you can try to fly low-cost to Lisbon or Porto and catch the connecting flight to Madeira from there.
During the last two holiday seasons, there was also a ferry connection. For more information on the Portugal-Funchal ferry I invite you to one of several entries on this topic:
Madeira or Azores: Car, public transport or organized tours?
On Madeira there are several public transport companies, but on some lines, buses run very rarely. There are cities that we can reach with more than one company, but there are also a few places that no bus can reach (Such as the biggest attraction of Madeira – Pico do Arieiro or most levadas). However, the public transport works quite well in and around the biggest city of Madeira – Funchal. Getting from Funchal to the airport is not a problem either.
SEE POST: PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN MADEIRA
Especially if we decide to stay outside Funchal, the car is always the best option, giving us a lot of freedom.
The third option, but not always the cheapest, are organized trips, of which there are many in Madeira.
SEE ALSO: MOTOR AND SCOOTER RENTALS IN MADEIRA
There is public transport on Azores, but buses do not run very often. The best option to get around the island is to rent a car.
On the island of São Miguel you will find a wide range of organized trips: dolphin and whale watching cruises or trips on land: organized hikes, jeep trips or gastronomy tours to get to know local cuisine and its products.
Madeira or the Azores: Relaxing or active holidays? Low budget or luxury?
Active people will love Madeira. Madeira hiking routes are truly unique and there are tons of active ways to explore the island, such as canyoning. Lazy people won’t probably like Madeira as it is a mountainous island. On the other hand – there are many luxury hotels in Madeira, where even those coming here to rest can find something for themselves.
If you prefer 5-star hotels, you’ll find them mainly in western Funchal, especially around Estrada Monumental. This is where, for example, the luxury resort Savoy Palace is located. It has an amazing spa, the best hotel pool on Madeira and it is the first hotel in Madeira belonging to the prestigious group The Leading Hotels of the World.
On Madeira, however, we will find accommodation for every budget – there are many private accommodations and cheap hotels available.
Everyone who loves nature, will love the Azores. Wanderers will find here countless hiking trails and the the less active visitors will especially enjoy São Miguel, where they can get everywhere easily by car, and find many organized tours.
On São Miguel we will find several good hotels and low budget options such as hostels.
Madeira or Azores: Safety
When it comes to criminality, Madeira is a very safe destination. I have never heard anyone having problems with pick-pockets and thieves. Dangerous can be sometimes.. the weather. Sometimes you hear news about fatal slips on levadas and accidents where tourists are washed away by high waves during storms.
The Azores is a safe destination, literally, everyone knows each other on the smaller islands. São Miguel is also calm and the inhabitants are friendly and helpful.
Madeira or the Azores: Languages – which language will be the easiest to communicate in?
Of course, the official language is Portuguese, but many residents speak English.
Hotel and restaurant staff often speak amazing German and French. In most restaurants, the menu appears in several languages, sometimes even in 8 different languages.
SEE ALSO: LEARNING PORTUGUESE ONLINE
In the Azores, the official language is Portuguese. On the island of São Miguel, in the city of Ponta Delgada in restaurants, at the airport, when renting a car or in the main tourist attractions, we get along easily in English. Restaurants often offer menus written in several languages, and tours (dolphin watching etc.) are organized with an English-speaking guide.
Madeira or Azores: How long should you stay? How much can you see in a week?
Your stay should be at least one week long.
A trip to Porto Santo Island usually takes a day or two. You can drive around Madeira in a day or two. Funchal and its main attractions will take you at least one day as well. It is also worth hiking at least one mountain/shore trail and at least one levada.
You can see the most important sights of Madeira and Porto Santo in a week, but you won’t be able really exoerience the island. Most tourists return to Madeira to better explore its hiking network.
It is best to dedicate 5 to 7 days for the island of São Miguel. It all depends on what your plans are, but you can generally drive around the island by car and see the most important viewpoints and sights in around 4-5 days.
If you want to spend more time in nature, take a couple of hikes, relax in the hot springs: then it’s best to spend on São Miguel a week.
The other islands of the archipelago are smaller, so we will need less time to explore these.
Madeira or Azores: Crowds – Is is a popular destination?
Madeira is becoming more and more popular. More tourists visit it than the Azores. In Funchal and on the most popular hiking routes we won’t be able to avoid big groups.
For those who really want to avoid crowds, I recommend visiting in the offseason and checking if one of the major festivals isn’t planned on these dates. Madeira likes to celebrate and various events are organized on the island (Wine Festival, Flower Festival, Nature Festival, Atlantic Festival etc.) attracting many tourists in particular periods. I also recommend staying outside of Funchal.
The Azores are a fairly new tourist destination. You won’t come across crowds of holidaymakers there.
The island of São Miguel is becoming more and more popular, especially in the months of June-September, which means that in the main tourist attractions or on the prettiest viewpoints we will meet more people, but it won’t be definitely crowded.
Let’s hope it stays that way;)
Flights between the Azores and Madeira
Those who are lucky enough and enough time, however, do not have to choose. They can visit Madeira and the Azores during one trip.
Azores Airlines and TAP offer direct flights between Funchal and Ponta Delgada. Flight last 2 hours 5 minutes and prices are rather affordable.
And you? Have you visited both archipelagos?
What do you think are the biggest differences between the Azores and Madeira? Which archipelago is more suitable to whom? Which one did you enjoy more and why? Let us all know in the comments!
The Lisboner: Portugal Off the beaten path
Ania has always dreamed of living in a warm country. while still in college she packed her bags and moved to Portugal. He has lived in Lisbon since 2011. she travels, photographs, films with a drone and in her spare time describes Portuguese life on her blog.
The Lisboner is a blog for people interested in Portugal off the beaten path. You will find there anecdotes about the Portuguese language and everyday Lisbon life. Readers will learn what ‘s on, what and where to eat and much more.
Say Yes To Madeira blog: Say Yes To Madeira & Say Yes On Madeira
Travel and wedding blog of a big fan of Madeira Island, Edyta. She exchanged her vows on Madeira in 2017. Since then, on her blog, she inspires other couples to elope and helps them organize a destination wedding on Madeira or Porto Santo.
In addition to the wedding posts and reviews of Madeira wedding venues, her blog includes a large dose of tourist information and local tips about the island.