Driving in the Azores – What to Know Before Visiting

Driving in the Azores is an adventure in itself. From roundabouts to cow-induced traffic jams to sharing the road with farm vehicles, here is a list of the most important things you should know before you rent a car on the islands. Read this before visiting!

8 minute read
Car parking in a parking lot on São Miguel in the Azores

Contents

Introduction to Driving in the Azores, Renting a Car, Using Taxis and Public Transportation, Road Safety, What To Do After 

Introduction to Driving in the Azores 🚗🚙

When exploring São Miguel or any of the Azores Islands, renting a car is the most dependable option compared to relying solely on the bus system, which can be inconsistent and slow. We personally recommend it simply for the ease of access to the countless stunning mirodouros (viewpoints) around the island along the road. Renting a car will give you the freedom of stopping at whichever viewpoints you find the most interesting!

Mirodouro on the south side of São Miguel

If that doesn't convince you, it is definitely possible to navigate the islands otherwise with some planning and expectation management.

Renting a car - Should I do it? 🚗🚙

For car rentals in the Azores, we have had great luck renting with Ihla Verde (a local car rental company) on multiple of the islands. Booking in advance is really important - during high season here there aren't enough cars here for everyone who wants one. 

Tip:  For automatic transmission, make sure to book in advance. It's not the best place to try manual for the first time, as the roads can get pretty twisty, hilly, and narrow.

**It's important to note that some destinations are not accessible to tourist cars due to overtourism and bad driving practices. An example of this is in Lago do Fogo. If you want to go to Lagoa do Fogo, you will need to drive to Caldeira Velha to park, and wait for the shuttle that will take you up to the viewpoint. It is currently 5 euro per person each way.

Our trustee Citroën, Betsy.

Using taxis and public transportation instead 🚕🚌

(bus stop photo)

If you don't want to rent a car, using a mix of buses and taxis can be a great alternative to getting around in the Azores. In São Miguel, you can find a local taxi in a few different ways. If you get a local sim card and have a Portuguese number, you can download the Taxi link app (this is the local "Uber"). If you don't want to use the app, you can find the number of the taxi service in the upper right-hand corner of the linked page next to "São Miguel".

Tip: Save the number of the taxi driver if you like them! They are usually very happy to take you anywhere you want to go.

Need a taxi from or to the airport?

Welcome to the island! You can click here to find the numbers and fixed prices of taxis to call from the airport.

The general price range varies greatly depending on where you're going. Some quick numbers - It costs 8-12 Euro to get into Ponta Delgada and 65-68 Euro to get to Faial da Terra from the airport in August 2023. There are also upcharges for nighttime, holidays, extra luggage, and larger groups of people.

Need a taxi in Ponta Delgada?

In our experience finding taxis in Ponta Delgada, they gather at the locations mapped out below. We've always used the ones right next to Parque Atlantico (a shopping mall).

Need a taxi in Ribeira Grande?

In the northern city of Ribeira Grande, the taxis gather at the parking lot of the grocery store Continente.

Want to take a bus?

To find out current bus schedules on São Miguel, check out this pdf: https://horarios.visitazores.de/SaoMiguel_Turismo.pdf.

Using the bus in São Miguel is simple once you know how it works. I've created a step-by-step for those who like to be extra prepared :)

   1. Look at the timetables in the link above and find the bus stop you need to be at depending on where you're going.

   2. When the bus arrives, tell the driver where you are going as you enter. They will tell you the price based on how far you're going, and you'll pay right away. Bring cash as they don't accept card here. From our experience most bus drivers do not know English, so be prepared with a few Portuguese words, phrases, and numbers.

   3. Sit back and relax! Usually the bus makes many stops, so you'll get to see parts of the island you probably wouldn't have otherwise.

***What if the bus doesn't show up?

In our experience, the bus system is mostly consistent and will show up on time. That is not to say that it is perfect - sometimes it won't show up, so it's important to have the number of a taxi on hand just in case!

Tip: Buy a local sim card or esim with some data here, especially if you are going to be using the bus or taxis. It will allow you to navigate your way out of any situation that doesn't go to plan.

Road safety

Because renting a car is currently the best way to get around the islands, some car-related problems are quite common during the summer season. From overflowing parking lots at miradouros to confusing roundabouts, here's a look at how to navigate Azorean roads.

Learn more about best driving practices in the Azores in this government issued Driving Flyer.

Parking

As more tourists gain interest in the Azores, the parking lots for popular viewpoints and hikes fill up fast. This can lead people to park on the side of the road instead, which can cause a few problems. Since the main industry is cow farming here, there are many unassuming farm entrances along the road.

Farmers have to be able to access their land, so parking in front of or next to farm entrances is a no-go. Our advice? Be aware of your surroundings and look out for farm entrances before parking anywhere on the roadside. 

Roundabouts

If you are driving in the Azores, prepare for roundabouts. You can’t get around them (no pun intended), as they are ALL over the islands. We have noticed since living here that not many visitors know how to use them. The rules may differ from your home country, so get ready to learn a new way on the island. Misusing roundabouts can be dangerous for everyone involved, so take a second to look at the graphic below to help you navigate them:

This graphic is not legal driving advice; only our observation of how people drive here. Look to the driving flyer linked above to see the driving instructions issued by the government

To recap roundabouts:

Only use the outermost lane when turning right or taking the first exit.  Unless you are turning right, start in the inner lane. When you are ready to exit, signal, and gradually move into the outer lane towards your exit. 

When there are 3 lanes in a roundabout, the same rules apply. Go to the middle lane if you're going straight. Turning left? Start in the most inner lane. Only start in the right lane to take the first exit to the right. When you are ready to exit, signal, and gradually move into the outer lane towards your exit. There is only one 3 lane roundabout on São Miguel. 

Fog

The Azores are notoriously foggy in some areas. If you're on São Miguel, these foggy areas include popular destinations such as Lagoa do Fogo and Sete Cidades. Here’s a few tips and reminders for driving in the fog:

  • Slow down
  • Use low beams or fog lights if you have them. 
  • DO NOT use your high-beam lights. Using high beam lights causes glare, making it more difficult for you to see what’s ahead of you on the road.
  • If it's extremely dense fog and you are uncomfortable driving, wait it out! Usually, fog moves fast on the island.

Cow crossing 🐮

There have been a few times while driving here where almost out of nowhere, a herd of cows pops up around the corner. Farmers move their cows between fields, and sometimes they have to cross the road to do so. 

This is a huge reason not to speed, as crashing into a cow would be heartbreaking for everyone involved. These guys are not small.

Be extra aware when you see a cow crossing sign and be generally cautious on the roads here!

What to do after 

There are so many options! Check out these posts for some inspiration. Enjoy your trip!

Hi we're Sarah & Gregor
We love unconventional adventures and exploring ruins. You can typically find us petting a cat, fermenting veggies, surfing (trying to anyway), or writing another article for you to enjoy.