In the Azores islands there are plentiful bathing areas, sunning and swimming spots, the soul and health benefits of which are broadly known. All Azorean islands have a considerable number of these locations, where going to sea is made easy to swimmers, be it through natural pools, small ports and pontoons, or sand beaches. Due to the high number of these spaces, we decided to write this article focusing only on beaches.
Below is a list of the 15 best sand beaches of the region.
São Miguel is definitively the Azorean island with the greatest number of beaches. On the northern shore of the island, generally steeper and with more turbulent waters, there are two that stand out. The Areais de Santa Bárbara beach, at the entrance to the city of Ribeira Grande, is one of the largest on the island and in the Azores, and is a prime spot for surfing and body-boarding. Monitored by lifeguards during the summer months, the beach is equipped with an infrastructure geared toward the practice of these sports, which host some of the best competitors of the sport in the world once a year for the Azores Pro championship, one of the stages of the WQS.
Some kilometres to the east of Ribeira Grande, in the parish of Porto Formoso, is its homonymous beach, one of the most beautiful of the region. Nestled in a small bay, and better shielded from the surf than the Areais de Santa Bárbara, Porto Formoso beach is the favoured location for families and young people from the northern shore to spend their summertime. Supervised by lifeguards and equipped with shower areas, a snack bar and a restaurant in its vicinity, Porto Formoso beach is doubtless one of the best beaches on the islands to enjoy the heat and the water. Should you be interested in spending some days there, you can look up our house in Porto Formoso, ideal for some quality vacation time with family or friends.
On the opposite side of the island, to the south, three other beaches are worth mentioning. In the fishing town of Ribeira Quente, in the council of Povoação, Praia do Fogo is an extensive sand beach that was the object of an overhaul a few years ago, and is named as such for having some fumaroles in the sea. Looked after by lifeguards, with a good support infrastructure, it's certainly the most visited bathing area of the island's southeast.
Roughly 20 kilometres away, near the centre of Vila Franca do Campo, is the Vinha da Areia beach. Counting with a seaside promenade lined with bars, restaurants, a gym and even an aqua-park, the waters of this beach are generally calmer, where local families and tourists can be found. Watched by lifeguards during the hotter months of the year, Vinha da Areia beach is an excellent option for someone who didn't manage to score one of the 400 daily tickets to enter the Vila Franca islet.
Still in the same council, near the parish of Água D'Alto, is its namesake beach. With Caloura's normally sun-bathed micro-climate, and only two kilometres away, at a central position on the island's southern coast, the Água D'Alto beach is highly sought out by locals of Vila Franca do Campo, Lagoa, and Ponta Delgada. The beach has lifeguards during swimming season and is served by a shower area and a bar.
Only roughly four kilometres away from Ponta Delgada is the Praia das Milícias. Also known as the Praia Grande ("Big Beach") for being one of the more expansive beaches in São Miguel, it's the southern coast beach most commonly visited by surfers and bodyboarders and a focal point for the youth of the city to meet. Just a few hundred metres beyond Praia Grande is Praia do Pópulo, also known as Praia Pequena ("Small Beach.") Its smaller and more covered sands host primarily families who flock with their children for worriless swims. Praia do Pópulo is equipped with volleyball courts, showers, and a bar on the sand.
In the western tip of the council of Ponta Delgada, in an ideal position to enjoy afternoons contemplating the sunset, there is also the small Praia dos Mosteiros. An incredibly scenic location right in front of the islets that lend their name to the parish – their shape resembling a monastery -, it's highly sought-after by locals and tourists and an excellent summering location.
In spite of the greater concentration of beaches being in São Miguel island, there are excellent beaches in the other islands of the archipelago. With the exception of the Western Group islands – Flores and Corvo – and São Jorge and Pico in the Central Group, which "only" have incredible natural pools or soft stone beaches, in all other Azorean islands it's possible to go to sea with your toes in the sand.
The other island of the Eastern Group of the Azores, Santa Maria, also known as the Sun Island, is home to two of the more beautiful beaches of the archipelago, the only ones composed of white-sand. Praia Formosa, in the parish of Almagreira and a little over five kilometres away from Vila do Porto, it's roughly one kilometre long, with great waves for surfing, and is the stage for one of the largest summer festivals of the islands, Maré de Agosto.
In the northeast of Santa Maria, more precisely in the parish of Santa Bárbara, there's the São Lourenço beach. Nestled in the idyllic bay of the same name, this beach, just as the enveloping area, was classed a natural reservation. In its turquoise waters, which go as deep as twelve metres, one can snorkel, dive, and paddle-board.
In the Central Group there are also several noteworthy beaches. In Terceira island, the beach giving its name to the city and council of Praia da Vitória ("Victory Beach") is to be highlighted. Its bay envelops a long sand beach – the longest in the Azores – and is located right in front of the city itself, connecting it to the sea. There you will find practitioners of sports such as windsurf, kite-surf, and paddle-board.
On the other side of the island, also located within a bay, however more shut-in, is Angra do Heroísmo's Prainha. Facing Monte Brasil, the marina that serves the city to the left and residences behind it, this is a beach commonly visited by locals and tourists due to its proximity to one of Terceira island's population centres. With calm and temperate waters, Angra's Prainha has a bar service, showers, and lifeguard monitoring.
In Graciosa island – the second smallest of the Azores – there is the town of Praia. In spite of the fact that its official name is São Mateus, the settlement has been called Vila da Praia for ages, because there is a small sand beach there, which, during the summer, serves as the meeting point for many swimmers and bathers of the island. With calm waters and nearly white sand, the beach is watched by lifeguards during summertime, and has showers and bathrooms. In front of São Mateus beach is Praia Islet, an important natural reservation and protected area for marine birds.
In Faial island, there are two more of the most beautiful beaches of the archipelago, much due to the view they provide of the tallest mountain in Portugal, Pico. Almoxarife Beach, located a few minutes by car from the city of Horta, is a large sand area protected by a cove, directly in front of the neighboring island's mountain. Its waters, watched by lifeguards during the beaching season, are calm during the summer months, and serve as a spot for the play activities of local children and youths. The beach is equipped with showers, camping park, and a restaurant.
Right at the centre of the city of Horta, in the bay of Porto Pim, is the beach of that same name. The more sought-after bathing area of the island, Porto Pim Beach, of fine and soft sands, goes on for 350 metres and is likely the most shielded beach in the archipelago. Its waters are as those of a lake for the better part of the year. In spite of having its back turned to the mountain island, one can see, at the southern corner of Porto Pim Beach, Pico emerging from the sea. One of the more recognised images of Faial.