Pico Island is not only the second biggest island in the Azores archipelago but also the home of Portugal’s highest mountain called Pico. Here is a destination that will never leave you bored or lost, not knowing what to do. From incredible natural sceneries made of bright green and deep blue to the chance of coming in close contact with some of the most magnificent sea creatures, or just getting rid of the everyday stress in a peaceful and back-to-the-origins atmosphere: here’s a list of what to do in Pico Island.
1. Explore Portugal’s largest lava tunnel
Here is something you definitely don’t get to do every day. If you’re into volcanoes then you’ll love visiting “Gruta de Torres“, Portugal’s largest lava tunnel. Stretching over 5150m, it is estimated to be around 1500 years old. For 1 hour you’re taken on a walk through 450m inside the tunnel in total darkness.
The only thing helping you to know your way is the head lantern they give you at the entrance. It’s truly fascinating to witness the clear traces of the lava that have once slid through it. The ticket for an adult is €8.
2. Climb Portugal’s highest mountain
This is undoubtedly the biggest attraction on the island and a mandatory addition to a list of what to do in Pico Island. The ascent (and descent) to the top of the mountain attracts thousands of visitors every year who go there either for the need to test their limits, or just to experience watching the sunrise in a unique place.
To climb, you first need to register at “Casa da Montanha“, a mandatory stopping point for all visitors, where you’ll be given tracking equipment (GPS) for security reasons. You can choose to climb with a guide through one of the several local tour agencies, or by yourself (in this case, you’ll have to register here). You can also choose a daytime climb, a night climb (beginning at dawn to see the sunrise) or an overnight climb that offers you the chance to watch the sunset, sleep in the crater and watch the sunrise early in the morning.
For more info on Pico Island, check out the article:
Pico Island, Azores | Ultimate Travel Guide
3. Know all about the local wine culture at the Wine Museum
Located next to Madalena, the Wine Museum is a must-see for anyone who wants to know a little more about the picturesque and unique wine culture on Pico Island. The Museum is located in the former “Casa Conventual dos Carmelitas” (Carmelites Convent House), which gives it additional historical interest.
You’ll also find the largest concentration of dragon trees in the country at the Museum’s garden, among which a specimen, in particular, that is said to be the oldest of the Azores.
4. Admire the World Heritage vineyards at Criação Velha
The Criação Velha Vineyards, classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004, constitute one of the most incredible landscapes in the Azores. The vines continue to be cultivated here in small lots of black soil surrounded by walls of volcanic stone that protect them from the wind, following ancestral techniques.
5. Take a photo at the most picturesque mill in Pico: Moinho do Frade
In that same area there is also an old traditional mill extremely well preserved called Moinho do Frade, whose red colour offers an extraordinary contrast with the black and green of the surrounding landscape, and from whose top you can see the vast extension of the vineyard. Don’t miss the opportunity to take that perfect photo to show off to friends and family.
6. Get up and close with whales and dolphins
Pico Island is one of the best places for whale and dolphin watching in the Azores. I had the opportunity to go on a tour in Lajes do Pico and, although it wasn’t the first time whale watching for me (I had already done it in São Miguel island as well), this was definitely an unforgettable experience. The boat I was on had a maximum capacity of 12 people and the tour was accompanied by a marine biologist who would frequently provide useful information about the animals (whales, dolphins and turtles) we saw.
You do have to be careful when choosing the tour operator. Make sure you chose one that takes into account a minimal impact on the environment, not chasing the animals and respecting their wellbeing. Swimming with dolphins (although hard to resist, I know) is actually something that puts the welfare of these animals at stake, so you should always avoid it.
7. Breathe deeply at Lagoa do Capitão (Captain’s Lagoon)
There are several lagoons on Pico Island that you can visit, but this was undoubtedly the one that swept me off my feet. On a sunny day, which allowed me to see the Pico mountain totally uncovered (something very rare), I found discovered in Lagoa do Capitão (Captain’s Lagoon) the representation of what resembled paradise for me.
Imagine this: four cows calmly grazing on the green meadow, two sweet white calves walking slowly towards you, some ducks strolling by the pond and a few birds chirping away right next to you, completely fearless. Is this paradise, or what? It is well worth a visit on sunny days.
8. Go for a swim in a natural pool by the sea
You’ll find plenty of natural pools in Pico where you can take the opportunity to cool off a little, especially during the summer months. These pools are originated from seawater entering closed areas surrounded by rocks. Some of these natural pools have been equipped with infrastructures to allow easy access and provide places to dive from.
Here are some of those pools:
- São Roque do Pico Swimming Pools
- Poça Branca (Prainha de Baixo)
- Baía de Canas (São Roque do Pico)
- Zona Balnear de Areia Funda (Madalena)
- Laja das Rosas ( Lajido da Criação Velha)
- Piscina Natural de São Mateus (São Mateus)
- Poça das Mujas (Calheta de Nesquim)
9. Visit Pico’s largest lighthouse: Farol da Ponta da Ilha
Located on the island’s easternmost tip, in Manhenha, this is the largest lighthouse on Pico, despite being one of the most recent in the Azores, having only been in operation since 1946. The lighthouse is open to free visits every Wednesday, from 2 pm to 5 pm in the summer and from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm throughout the rest of the year.
10. Have a picnic at Florest Park Prainha do Norte
Located on Pico’s north coast, the florest park Prainha do Norte is a great place for a quiet picnic surrounded by nature. There are several support infrastructures, a traditional mill and, of course, incredible views of the ocean and the north coast of the island.
11. Have a sunset drink in one of the “world’s most beautiful bars”
Cella Bar is definitely a must-go-to place in a list of what to do in Pico Island. Located in the easternmost tip of the island, the bar received Archdaily’s award for most beautiful building in the world in 2016. When you visit, you’ll understand why. Its curve lines mix perfectly with the straight ones of the traditional building attached and the sea view is breathtaking. It’s perfect for a glass of wine or a cold beer with some local snacks at sunset.
12. Visit Pico Island’s other lagoons (besides Lagoa do Capitão)
I must admit: I loved Lagoa do Capitão, especially because I visited it on the most perfect day ever and because of its view over the Pico mountain. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other lagoons at Pico Island waiting for you to visit.
At an altitude of 800mt, you’ll find Lagoa do Caiado, perfect for birdwatching lovers; next, you’ll find Lagoa do Peixinho, one of the island’s largest lagoons and close by there’s also Lagoa do Rosado, located in a volcanic crater and surrounded by lush green scenery. So, as you see: plenty of lagoons to admire.
13. Explore the mystical Furna do Frei Matias
Here is one of the most fascinating places on this island, and something that you should definitely add to your list of what to do on Pico Island. Furna do Frei Matias (or Fray Matias’ grotto) is a volcanic tunnel that stretches over 650m, filled with fascinating geological structures. Legend says a hermit monk used to live in this cave, hence the mystical atmosphere.
14. Take a stroll around Pico’s oldest municipality, Lajes do Pico
Lajes do Pico was the first location on the island to welcome settlers. Its historical centre is filled with amazing buildings dating back to the 16th century. Take the opportunity to visit the Igreja Matriz (main church) from the 19th century, the Franciscans’ Convent, the Ermida de São Pedro (São Pedro’s Chapel, one of the first constructions on the island) and the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição.
I do hope this list of what to do in Pico island helps you enjoy this amazing island to the fullest. If you have any questions just let me know in the comments below. I’ll be happy to help!