Faial is one of the nine volcanic islands of the Portuguese Azores. Along with its two closest neighbors Pico and São Jorge it makes up what is known as The Triangle. Faial is commonly considered the westernmost point in Europe, as the two Azorean islands found west of it are actually located on the American plate.
With less than 15,000 people inhabiting Faial it’s not the largest of the Azores but it is home to some of the most beautiful scenery. I was blown away by the vast fields of green and dramatic cliffs.
What to do:
The highlight of visiting Faial is spending time outdoors, exploring the nature. To get the most from your time there you’ll want to hire a local guide. I met with Bruno of Tobogã Azores and I cannot recommend this company enough. A lifelong resident of the island he took all of my interests into consideration and made sure to develop a plan for my time there that was truly amazing. We spent the day on a Jeep tour of the island but he also specializes in adventure sports such as canyoning.
Because he’s spent his entire life on the island it’s no surprise that Bruno knows all of the best spots, including several the larger tour companies do not visit. The highlight of the day was a visit to the caldera. A caldera is a crater left after an eruption that leads to the collapse of the volcano mouth. This particular crater began collapsing approximately 16,000 years ago and only finished within the last 1,000 years. We entered the caldera through a tunnel that ran through the base of the mountain. Slowly working our way through the damp, dark tunnel and exiting into the sun filled crater was an incredible experience.
When Bruno found out how much I love scuba diving and anything related to the ocean he made arrangements for me to spend an afternoon with Ocean Eye. Ocean Eye is one of only several boats like it in the world. Not only is there a huge “eye” at the front of the boat but there is also a plexiglass bottom. This glass bottom allows for you to see what’s happening below the surface without needing scuba or snorkel gear.
Every boat goes out with an actual marine biologist on board to help better explain what you see. The scientist that accompanied our boat was able to point out many different types of fish, coral, and even some gorgeous jellyfish. This activity was fun, relaxed, and definitely family appropriate.
Where to Eat:
The food on the Azore Islands not surprisingly focuses heavily on seafood. While Faial isn’t as known for their wine production as Pico there is still no shortage of amazing food and wine to be found on the island.
One of the best plates of octopus I’ve ever had was from Aldina. As soon as we entered Bruno let our server know we wouldn’t be needing menus- we were both here for his regular plate. The octopus was fork tender and perfectly cooked. I’m glad I took his suggestion and let him order– it was amazing.
Also, the fresh cheese that was sent to the table was the best I had in all of my time on the Azores. They explained that it’s a very small production company, smaller than the room we were dining in actually. Fortunately for me Aldina is attached to a grocer that stocks the cheese. I made sure to buy a large piece before leaving.
For dinner I was treated to an incredible meal and a night of fado at Restaurante Genuino. Fado is a type of traditional Portuguese music. To me it usually sounds very sad, almost mournful. I was surprised this night to hear several versions which were more upbeat. I had heard fado before but it was more touristy. This felt very local and authentic. Make sure to check the calendar and try to dine at Genuino on a fado night, you won’t be disappointed.
Where to Stay:
I stayed at the perfectly located Casa da Baía. The guesthouse is literally in the middle of town with easy access to shops and restaurants. It is also directly across from the port if you choose to do the Ocean Eye excursion. My room was large and comfortable and featured a sea view. There is also a shared kitchen if you prefer to prepare your own meals.
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Although there are ferries the fastest/easiest way to reach Faial is by plane. SATA is the only airline that services inter-island travel. Unfortunately because of this they can basically charge whatever they want. Several times I paid more to go from island to island than I did the much longer flight from the mainland to the islands via RyanAir. If you have more time you could check ferry schedules. If you’re on a time crunch try to book your flights as early as possible. I was told they sometimes run promotions.
Contact Toboga Azores to book your trip or inquire about prices for a custom trip.
Disclaimer: Some of the above listed companies provided me with free or discounted services. However, all opinions about my experiences remain my own.
Faial landscape photos courtesy of: Toboga Azores.
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.