First, Azoreans are generally quite good drivers and respect the law, unlike, say Peru or Brazil. My friends in those countries wouldn’t even consider letting me drive! They have as many unwritten laws as the written ones that are selectively obeyed. Not so in Terceira.
Tip one: never rent a big car. By big I mean larger than a compact car. There is almost no reason why a tourist would need a full size car anyway. You can easily seat 4 adults in a compact car and, believe me, that is what you want to do.
Tip two: Try to do your driving during the day. I have driven around a lot during the nighttime, and it is not for everyone. The roads are narrow, winding and there are often few streetlights – especially between villages. Plus, there are many one way streets that you really don’t want to be going the wrong way on. I know from experience and have had to back down a steep, cobblestone street in the dark with cars parked on both side of the street.
Tip three: Make sure you understand European street signs. Not knowing what a sign means can get you in trouble quickly. Azoreans are kind-hearted people, but, with more and more roaming tourists gaping at the scenery and ending up where they ought not to be, the natives must get tired of it.
The two that we continually need reminding of are the ones that symbolize “One Way: Do Not Enter” and “No Parking”. Know those before driving into the cities of Angra and Praia.
Tip five: You can save money with car rental insurance by using a credit card that includes car insurance. Some agencies charge $20 a day, which can quickly add up. Check with your credit card company before leaving home and take out a different one, if necessary. We have experience with a minor scrape, unfortunately. Make sure the insurance on the card is applicable internationally, that you use that card to rent the car and to pay for the damages, take photos of the damage (unless it’s a big accident, don’t expect any police or police report), and make sure the damage estimate is broken out into parts and labor.
Tip six: Use your map! The little one that everybody gets from the visitor center, their hotel or car rental agency is good. Terceira is small and, in reality, doesn’t have that many roads. That said, you can quickly become lost if you aren’t careful. Ideally, you’ll have someone riding shotgun to provide ongoing directions and avoid missing your destination.