The Azores are a group of several volcanic islands situated in the middle of the Atlantic, owned by Portugal - more correctly, they are a distanced autonomous region of Portugal.
It could be quite tricky to get to the Azores in a way other than flying. There is a monopol of one airline company - Sata. Which is not as bad as many say. Often, if booked in advance, you can decent deals. Also, they have good promotional prices on return tickets for students.
However, it would be possible to hitch a boat from the Azores to mainland Europe. The reason why it would be harder to hitch a boat from mainland to the Azores is that no-one usually has it as a final destination, so maybe the captain wouldn't take you on board just for the one bit. People stopping there are crossing the Atlantic. Try your luck with the website floatplan. Another tip would be to go to Faiyal instead of Sao Miguel. Sao Miguel is the biggest island and Ponta Delgada the biggest city, but the city Horta on the island Fayal is where most sail boats making the passage will stop.
Travelling between islands
To go between the islands, you would need the ferry. The ferry runs in the season, and is pretty expensive.
You can either fly with SATA or take the ferry (atlânticoline between the different groups of islands or Transmaçor between Central Azores islands). While there are comparatively many flight connections, some ferry connections operate only once or twice a week, so booking ahead is quite important (as some connections are sometimes suddenly booked out). Cancellations of ferries and flights are very common due to unstable weather conditions, so if you have never booked a travel cancellation insurance, the Azores are maybe the place to try it first. ticket prices
If you are under 30 you can apply for a Cartão Jovem ("card for young people") at RIAC offices (they belong to the regional government). It costs 48€ to get this card, but afterwards any ferry ticket will cost you only 5€. So if you plan to visit the Western, Central, and Eastern group of the Azores, you can save a lot of money with this card. Informed yourself about RIAC opening hours and local holidays (as there are quite many, sometimes even only for one municipality) to make sure you apply for this card (a ferry ticket e.g. from Flores to Faial would normally cost already 51€) (as of August 2012).
The Azores are pretty poor - and prices are very low, many things are less expensive in small stores over there then they are in supermarkets in Lisbon!
The islands' main industry is agriculture and farming. Dairy and meat are cheap and usually very good - when you see how happy the cows are.
Hiking around, one can also find some berries - like mulberries or blackberries, as well as almonds or walnuts.
It is very easy to wild camp in the nature. Even if someone sees you, they don't seem to care. There are many beautiful places to visit, hike and wild camp.
If you bring your tent, you can camp easily along secondary roads or walking trails. There are usually some empty meadows where you can put your tent up. It remains unclear whether this is legal or not, but as long as you leave in the morning you're unlikely to get into trouble. To have a shower, go to public "swimming pools" in the Atlantic Ocean or to some beaches. They are marked in free tourist maps you get at tourist informations. At most of these places you can get a shower for free and use bathrooms etc. (e.g. at Varadouro on Faial).
What to do
The islands are perfect for people who like the outdoors.
On Sao Miguel, there are only a couple of things you pay for. It's all hot water springs or waterfalls around Furnes. Specifically - in Furnes you can pay 2E to have excess to hot baths. For 5E you get access to a big beautiful warm pool with yellow water, inside of a pretty garden. The third thing is a hot water waterfall, somewhere near Lagoa do Fogo (a bit north on the west side of the volcano).
Everything else is free! There are no admissions to enter parks, or anything!
Recommended for Sao Miguel:
- SETE CIDADES - very famous place to hike, it's a former volcano with a huge crater where you will find a peaceful small town next to a lake, with lots of forest.
- LAGOA DO FOGO - another former volcano, with less people and more of an adventurous hike. You can sleep anywhere down there and it's ok to swim since there are no people, no agriculture, nothing. Just beauty.
- FERRARIA - a place near Mosteiros, a bit south along the coast. There's a spot where a hot spring enters the ocean! If you go there at low tide, you can experience the difference, swimming in the ocean, which is pretty cool, then getting closer and closer to the spring, which has a starting temperature around 61 degrees!
- MOSTEIROS - is a small village at the western end of the island, which makes it a beautiful place to go watch the sunset.
- NORTHERN COAST - anywhere along the northern coast you can find beautiful viewpoints, with steep cliffs meeting the clear blue sea.
- TEA FACTORIES - the Azores are the only (or one of two) places in Europe where tea is grown. On the northers side of the island one can find several tea factories that offer free tours of the plantations and processing. They also offer tea. All is free.
There is much much more to explore! As well as visit other islands!
But one thing is sure - AZORES ARE UN UNDER-DISCOVERED GEM! Beautiful, remote, very peaceful, not overflown with tourist, inexpensive... If you get a chance, go there!