Pico Island is famous for it’s Volcano hike, Mount Pico, at 2351 meters it is the highest place in Portugal. I am an avid hiker and have climbed a number of peaks over 3500 meters. Pico as a challenge. To me it is best described as a climb rather than a hike. I would not discourage anybody from climbing Pico, the crater is surreal and the views from the summit are stunning, but it is one of the more crowded places on an otherwise peaceful island. Pico is also frequently covered in clouds and climbing a mountain to see nothing does not make much sense to me. If you are fit and the skies clear, go for it, otherwise a list of some enjoyable act ivies on Pico are listed below.
- Swimming or snorkeling the numerous natural swimming holes
- Hike the Nove Canadas da Ribeirinha trail
- Hike the Ponta da Ilha Loop
- Visit the whaling museums in Horta and Sāo Roque
- Explore the north shore and visit the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture Interpretation Centre and the Volcano house.
- Go fishing, all the locals do.
1. Swimming or snorkeling natural swimming holes. Every town seems to have a cement pond of some sort filled with water from the ocean. Seek them out. If you preference is ones that are more swimming pool like visit Ribeiras, Calhau or Mantenha. Stunning natural options are available in Calheta, Lajes and at various locations along the coast. They are worth the time to seek out and travelling by bus is inexpensive (http://www.cristianolimitada.pt/horarios_cristiano_limitada.html). Careful planning may offer time to enjoy a couple different in a day by bus or several by rental car.
These swimming holes are also good place for beginner snorkelers since they are well protected from the sea and contain enough marine life to keep marine enthusiast entertained. More advanced snorkeling is available for those with experience. I found the water quite tolerable into late November without a wet suit and the locals seemed to agree. They even brought toddlers.
2. Hike the Nove Canadas da Ribeirinha trail. This trail was recommended by a couple of locals as their favorite. It would be a good option for people who want a workout and only have time for one hike. It is an opportunity to to experience the feel of the island. The hike has it all, black rock walls, pasture lands, vineyards, vertigo inspiring vista views, villages, charming churches, drinking fountains and swimming holes. One has to start early to catch the bus back to the trail head, set up a shuttle or be willing to hike the 6 miles back. The 12 miles is very feasible but the trail does have a good amount of up and down. A very appealing option might be to set up accommodations and try to create you own walking tour along the awe inspiring northern coast of the island. Trails are maintained from São Roque to Calheta. I started to bring my mask and swimsuit everywhere I went on the island. For more information on hiking in the Azores see www.trails.visitazores.com
3. Hike the Ponto da Ilha Loop. I recommend this hike to those who want an easy walk along a striking black volcanic coastline with a spectacular lighthouse. Halfway along the coast is the swimming hole that is the featured image on the top of this blog. Currents can be a bit strong and getting out of the swimming hole can be a challenge. Water shoes are highly reccomends and strong swimming skills are a must. Remember you are in the middle of the Atlantic. Parking near swimming area or the Portinho in the town of Mantenha will enable hikers to cool off in the swimming hole in the city after the hike.
4. Visit the whaling museums in Horta and Sāo Roque. The whaling museum in Horta is very well done. A “macho” 1970s era documentary style film educates visitors on the old school way whaling was conducted on the island. The Azorean people are not proud of this part of their history and if your squeamish skip the film. The boat building and scrimshaw exhibits are also both worthwhile. The industrial whaling museum in São Roque is much more gruesome, real about the horrors of whaling and may only be of interest to people who like enjoy learning from history. Many of the devices used for render whale products are displayed and how they work is described. They certainly seemed to try and use each part of the whale.
5. Explore the north shore and visit the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture Interpretation Center and the Volcano house. These two museums style buildings are side by side, cost 8 euros to visit and both are educational. The interpretive wine center did a great job explaining the reason for all the effort that generations of people put into astonishing rock walls. A free sample of wine is offered at the end of the tour. Visiting this before touring one of the local wineries may help appreciate the wines of the island more fully. and there was also some information about local flora and fauna. The volcano house seemed well suited for kids. The virtual reality earthquake simulator certainly brought of my inner-child! For geology enthusiasts the volcano house is a must.
6. Go whale watching or fishing. Some argue whales should only be watched by land but the companies on the Azores seem to do a relatively good job at minimizing the impact of boat-based whale watching. They have very high success rates. You are nearly guaranteed to see whales. The same is not true for catching fish but the fishing around the islands is some of the best in the world. I love the sea and recommend getting out on it.