Europe, July/August, Travel Guide

Guide to the Azores Islands, Portugal

Friday 14 March, 2014
The islands are surrounded by the Atlantic – its influence is key. Photo: Luis Miguel Matos

The islands are surrounded by the Atlantic – its influence is key. Photo: Luis Miguel Matos

Discover a part of Europe you didn’t know existed and fly these lush volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.


“Like flying inside a volcano” is how Cross Country described flying the Azores. The nine islands of the Azores sit in the middle of the Atlantic and are part of Portugal.

The vibe is like a laidback mini Brazil, while the flying takes advantage of the islands’ natural resources: green slopes facing every wind direction with easy access and take-offs at all the highest points. A little like flying inside a giant greenhouse, soaring above the giant ferns and tumbling waterfalls is like being a butterfly in Jurassic Park.

There is a strong local club here, and they recommend starting your trip on the largest island, Sâo Miguel, where you will find many sites and plenty of local pilots.

In summer season ferries run out regularly to the other islands, and locals suggest visiting at least two other islands: Pico and São Jorge. Pico, because it is home to the highest mountain in Portugal (2,350m) and São Jorge because it is literally a 53km long cliff that in parts reaches over 300m high.

There are no budget flights to the Azores, and it’s all the better for it. From thermal pools in the sea to the fat sardines on the barbecue, it really is a place like no other.

It’s a maritime climate. Summer is the best time to visit, since the probability of rain is lower. However, spring and autumn also have very good days with some more instability. Winter is rainier and windier, but there will be at least a few flyable days.

There are launches all round the main island of Sâo Miguel, with soaring or XC possible depending on conditions. Flying XC poses a challenge as thermal activity is mellow and cloudbases are not high, plus there is always an influencing wind from the sea. This makes it technical and fun.

Sete Cidades, one of the main sites, was recently selected by France’s Parapente Magazine as one of the most beautiful sites in the world to fly.

July and August. July is driest, August has the Azores Paragliding Festival.

Launch: From 3m dunes to 2,300m on Pico Island. On São Miguel launches are between 400-950m.
Landing: Usually at sea level
Average cloudbase: 1,100m on a good day. Perfect (and rare) days will be 1,400m. Because of the maritime meteorology, on some islands you can take off one side, fly to the other and be above the clouds.

There are no hang glider pilots on the islands but access would not be a problem.

Touring the island and flying the different sites is the name of the game. Lagoa do Fogo and Pico da Vara in the island’s northeast hold much appeal, while Furnas – “flying inside a volcano” – is a must do.

Classic XC routes in the island that are most frequently done connect the main lakes: Furnas, Lagoa do Fogo and Sete Cidades. On the coast there is a very nice flight from Faial da Terra to Ponta Garça.

Airspace near the airport, where flying south of Serra Gorda, to the east of Feteiras take-off until Ponta Delgada is restricted. All other areas are less sensitive but the club advises pilots always contact a local before flying, since on days where XC is possible they need to contact ATC and let them know.

There are hotels and a youth hostel in Ponta Delgada if you want to stay in town. Many visiting pilots rent houses in villages. Distances are not too big an issue: wherever you are there will be a take-off nearby.

Definitely take the family. From beaches to botanical gardens and thermal pools there is lots to do. In the Ferraria area there is a natural swimming pool in the sea where the seawater is hot, heated by underwater geothermal activity. There is also the Gruta do Carvão, a cave created by lava flows.


Most flights to Ponta Delgada from Europe pass through Lisbon or Porto first, about two hours’ flight away. Local airline SATA fly direct to Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich, London, Boston and Toronto. In the archipelago you can travel by plane between islands or by boat during the summer. Public transport between villages is good but a car is a must to get to the launches.

Club and site guide
Tourism office
Local airline

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Back to Europe July/August Travel Guide
Back to Europe July/August Travel Guide

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