What is there to do in Terceira?
What kinds of things are there to do?” Generally, the answer is this: If you are looking for commercial entertainment or a resort type setting, you will likely be disappointed. However, if you are looking for beautiful nature, peace and quiet, hiking that ranges from easy to difficult, and Old World charm, you’ll be glad you came.
Terceira is small, yet seems far bigger than it actually is. The total land area is 155 square miles (400 square km). Another way to imagine the size is that the island is somewhat of a rectangle with rounded corners and it is approximately 19 x 12 miles (30 x 20 km) in size.
We think the reason it seems larger than it is lies in the diversity of the landscape. We’ve been told there are 4 distinct climates on the island and it seems to be true. If you drive around the perimeter you will easily notice the varying landscape and plants. Some areas are prone to fog, others are warmer and others tend to be sunny.
What is the weather like in Terceira?
Locals say they have 4 seasons of weather everyday. This is true, but the Azorean idea of winter is different than ours, here in Vermont!
The general forecast, September – May, is “cloudy with a chance of rain and sun”, with winter rainier and summer sunnier. It can rain all day at times, especially in the winter months. But, far more often, in all seasons, the rain comes up suddenly, and goes just as quickly, and the sun shines brilliantly for a while before vanishing again.
When the sun comes out, it warms quickly into the 70’s, and it’s humid. Layers of clothing are important – being able to peel down to summer shirts. Walking up the steep hills in the sun, we can get hot and sweaty. What seems to work well is a cotton shirt and a wool zip-up sweater.
In winter, light wool layers, like Ibex, are great. But don’t forget to bring at least one layer of summer with you on the trip, even in the winter months. You’re likely to have at least one, or more, mostly sunny day. You’ll notice the locals are wearing those layers. When it gets warm you simply remove the sweater, when it cools off an hour later, you put it back on. Brilliant!
Because wool is warm when wet this approach works during the short rain showers that come and go nearly every day. You won’t see many umbrellas because it is just not worth the trouble most of the time. Besides the fact that the rain showers usually don’t last long, there is the fact that it often arrives with wind that will turn umbrellas inside out.
It’s better to just wait a heavy rain shower out in a cafe, and most of rain is a warm mist that feels good to walk in. You can understand why the plants are so happy! A good rain jacket is advisable, yet we find that ours stay on the back seat of the car most of the time.
Flowers are everywhere!
Terceira is like a greenhouse full of luscious greens and flowers. Hydrangeas grow like weeds and, no matter what season it is, there are plenty of flowers. Bird of paradise, calla lilies and windflowers are out year-round, mostly as weeds. There are cultivated gardens, including their manicured roadsides, and endless wild areas with delightful flora.
What about the 10 things to do while in Terceira?
OK, here are some of our favorite things to do while visiting the Azores. For this list we will imagine a reasonably fit couple with an adventurous streak and open mind. They will be visiting for a week or two.
Terceira is known in the Azores as the “festa” island. Because there are so many festivals taking place year-round on this island, we won’t try to include a list of those here. Most weekends something is happening on the old square in front of the City Hall in Angra.
Another example – the Festival of the Holy Spirit – is a major annual event for the locals and incredibly interesting, but it takes place on different weeks in every village around the island through the summer months. You’ll notice the tiny gingerbread-intricate chapels unique to each village, as you tour the island. This is a very socially-connected place with wonderful people.
But… back to your “10 things to do” as a tourist:
- Hiking is easy to find, free and a wonderful way to see Terceira. There are hikes all over and the government has done a good job maintaining them and marking the trailheads with large signs. If you don’t see the iconic sign, you haven’t found the trailhead yet. One of our many favorites, we do on every visit, is Baías da Agualva.
- Jeep touring was a pleasant surprise. Some friends talked us into joining them on a jeep tour into the remote areas with a biologist. It was fascinating! In a pouring rain day! She not only got down to fun details about the flora and fauna, and research into bringing back natives versus invasives, but also much about the geology, culture and comparisons among the islands. She loves Terceira! Our tour was sponsored by ComunicAir, in Praia.
- Walking around Anga do Heroísmo, the capital city. From the old central plaza in front of City Hall, Praça Velha de Angra, start wandering around. Check out the Public Garden just to the north, and climb to the top monument. You’ll find the city interesting in every direction and hard to get lost. Cafes with public Wifi everywhere. It is also quite safe, just use common sense.
- Visit Monte Brasil. This is an interesting day trip that can be done on foot or partially by car. It is an old volcano that overlooks the bay and city, making it an ideal location for a defensive military fort. There is still a military presence there and you must respect the rules and boundaries. We asked the guard about a tour and soon had our own, personal tour guide. There isn’t much for the soldiers to do, so we were a nice distraction for him. Our soldier guide spoke fair English and official cleared us, complete with name tags. The jails built into the massive walls were especially interesting to see and imagine being imprisoned in.
- Rent a car and just go exploring. Maybe pick an ultimate destination on the opposite side of the island from where you are staying and just go see what you can find. Our favorites are the swimming pools (“piscina natural”) at Quatro Ribeiras. You may get lost, but not for too long. We advise renting a car with a manual transmission. You’ll need to pay attention while driving because you can meet goats, cattle, trucks, parked cars, bicycles, pedestrians or a parade at any moment. Sometimes you’ll meet several of these in quick succession. The signs saying “Zona de Lazer” and “Zona Balnear” will take you to areas to relax in and swim.
- Try the many excellent restaurants. You might get the impression that Azoreans don’t eat vegetables because they are hardly present in the meat and fish heavy dishes. They’re in the soup! And rest assured, the average João and Joanna do eat vegetables at home!
- Check out the swimming areas in Porto Martins, Biscoitos and Quatro Ribeiras. If it’s warm, go swimming. The water is warm. If it’s too cool, just revel in the unearthly design of these man-made swimming areas in the rocks and the crashing waves.
- Find some local music to enjoy. There is a Fado night club, performing arts center in Angra, plus small, local performances during the weekends. Though you may not understand the Portuguese language, music is universal.
- Try the different Pastelarias, or pastry shop/cafes. One of our favorites is O Forno, in Angra, for their reasonable lunches. They have the best Dona Amelia cakes, a spicy specialty of the island!
- Don’t be in a hurry. Terceira is not the kind of place to just check off of your list of places you have been to. Take the time to slow down. Absorb the enchantment, and let the stress of modern life subside.