Nine Island isolated and alone, thousands of kilometers from the closest continents. One Archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic, as undisturbed as it gets. The Açores islands are a magical wonder that should be on everyone’s bucket list. From the Eastern shores of Santa Maria Island all the way to the Western cliffs of Flores Island, this archipelago spans a surprising 600 km’s. 600km’s of open ocean, the occasional Açores Island and peaceful coexistence with the natural environment around it. The archipelago is divided up into 3 separate clusters, the Western Cluster; Flores and Corvo, the Eastern Cluster; São Miguel and Santa Maria and finally the Central Cluster; Terceira, Faial, Pico, São Jorge, and Graciosa. Each island would deserve an article on eragreen, due to the diversity and difference that each island represents. Although all volcanic, they came to be through distinct manners and went on their own separate paths to become what they are today. The power of nature can really be felt on the Açores Islands, from its creation thousands of years ago, to the transformation that has occurred, these islands are a prime example of the life that goes on beneath our feet, unseen by our human eyes. We are after all only a small part of life on this planet, a planet which gives so much and only asks that we preserve it. As we go on about our daily lives, take a second to think what is going on under the land on which we stand, what happens above in the atmosphere that surrounds us and around in the oceans that take up 71% of our planet.
It is common to reference the Açores as one single location, forgetting that each island is an individual and as such has different characteristics—a personality if you will, and value added to the ecosystem. Corvo Island, the smallest of the nine islands, is a crater from a major Plinian eruption, leaving to this day a crater that basically spans the entire island. São Miguel, the largest of the nine, a landscape covered by craterous lakes and fields of spatter cones. Faial Island, a shield volcano covered by luscious green flora, with a crater which commands respect. Pico Island, the highest point in Portugal, sitting at 2,351 meters above sea-level and a perfect example of a stratovolcano. Terceira Island, a round island with some of the oldest and most mature forest in the Atlantic, not to mention that the island is home to the largest crater in the region. I could go on and on, describing the ins and the out’s, the intricacies that each island brings to the table…but then again if I did, we would probably have enough content for a whole book on this and none of us would have time for anything else. We will therefore keep it short and sweet and only focus on the central cluster, more precisely on the islands of Terceira, Faial and Pico. Why these three islands you may ask? Because they are the ones we have been too and the only ones we can really write about based on personal experience.
The third island, as its name is when translated into English, will be the first one we will give a go at describing. It would make sense to describe it in third, but the name does not derive from it being the third on our list, but rather from the fact that it was the third island to be discovered in the entire Açores archipelago. Its significance goes far beyond its natural beauty. It was in fact the island which housed the capital city of Portugal—Angra do Heroismo, for a short period back when Portugal was still governed by kings. Its historical value is only overshadowed by its fascinating landscape. As mentioned above, the island holds the largest crater in the region. A crater which has been taken over by virgin forest with environmental significance due to its rich and diverse flora of endemic and relict species. You would expect that the forest types be monotonous and similar across the island, but this is far from the reality on the ground. From 10m tall Cedar tree forests to peat bog and with dense dark green laurel shrub forest in between, walking a kilometer can easily take you on a journey among all these co-existing ecosystems. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Faial island, along with Pico and São Jorge make up the Açores Triangle, a grouping of three islands in the central cluster. Although relatively close to each other, they could not be more different when it comes to the core anatomy of islands. With 17% of this island designated as a natural park, Faial Island truly is a nature lovers paradise. From the stratovolcano caldera which takes center stage and spans a surprising 2km’s with a depth of 400 meters, the recently created Capelinhos on the Western shore of the island—created by a submarine eruption in 1957 to the pristine laurel forests that cover everything in between, this island provides some of the most jaw dropping Eco trails, but also some of the most spectacular views of Pico Island, a fully developed stratovolcano to the East and the main topic for our next article. Stay tuned!