Pico, along with Faial and São Jorge, is one of the three Portuguese islands that make up The Triangle. They are part of a larger collection of nine volcanic islands located in the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and the United States. I recently spent two weeks touring five of the nine islands and I have to admit that Pico was my favorite.
What to See:
The Azores are all about nature. The islands contain more natural beauty than almost anywhere else I’ve ever visited, competing solely with Iceland. Some of my favorite memories are of the lush rolling green hills and dramatic cliffs with ocean spraying over the rocks below.
Ponta de Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, is located on Pico. The peak of the mountain sits at 2350 meters or 7770 feet. Although I did not complete this climb myself it is one of the most popular activities on Pico. It is recommended that you hire a guide for the climb. My guide for Pico was the insanely amazing Claudia of Epico Tours. Born and raised on the island she not only knows it in its entirety, but it also seems she knows everyone on it. I highly recommend that you contact her when planning your visit. Her company can provide everything from mountain guide services to custom tours just like the one she arranged for me.
What to Do:
The Azores have been named as one of the top ten places in the world to see whales in their natural environment. Of the nine Azore islands Pico is considered the best for whale watching. Until it was banned it 1984 whaling was a huge industry in the Azores. After the ban, many responsible whale watching companies were created so that we may safely observe the whales migrating through the Atlantic.
I joined Espaco Talassa for one of their daily tours. We started the morning with a thorough briefing about what to expect and what we could possibly see before suiting up and climbing aboard the boat. We learned that the company has a 98% success rate spotting whales when they go out.
Because of poor weather conditions I wasn’t overly optimistic about seeing anything. As the day went on I was feeling more and more like we were going to be part of the 2% that doesn’t get to see any whales. We found a pod of dolphins which was excellent but we weren’t having any luck spotting whales, mostly due to the heavy fog we were cruising through. Then, all of a sudden, the captain spotted something in the distance the rest of us weren’t able to make out. He aimed the boat in the direction of a wall of fog sitting on top of dark, blue-gray waters. Just when I thought we had missed it a huge whale appeared in the near distance. And then another. And then two more. Soon we were surrounded. The whales don’t stay up long before diving back down, but somehow the captain expertly knew where to aim the boat to wait for them to reemerge.
We stayed for nearly an hour as the whales dived and then come back up before disappearing again. At one point they were so near the boat it felt like if you leaned over you would be able to touch them as they passed. I recommend booking your own tour with Espaco Talassa as I found them to be organized, professional and most importantly focused on sustainable tourism.
I also toured Artesanato, the local scrimshaw museum and sales shop. Scrimshaw is a leftover byproduct from the islands previous whaling days. The art of scrimshaw involves carving intricate designs and carvings into whale bone. It was absolutely fascinating to learn about the process and the history behind the art.
Where to Stay:
The Aldeia da Fonte Nature Hotel is a gorgeous property located in Lajes de Pico, on the south end of the island. It’s obvious by the attention to detail that much time and effort has been put into the hotel. The property consists of six stone houses that contain a total of forty rooms.
One of the many features of the hotel is the pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The rooms are large, clean and comfortable- perfect for returning to after a long day of sightseeing on the island.
Where to Eat:
The most beautiful restaurant on the island is Cella Bar. This is definitely where you go for a date night or when you want to impress someone.
Not only is it gorgeous but the food at Cella Bar is also incredible. I was recommended one of the house specials, the roasted octopus. Not just delicious but it made for a nice photo as well:
I was lucky enough to be visiting Pico during one of their many summer festivals. This festival is known as Sentir o Pico. We sampled some typical island food including the first blood sausage I’ve ever enjoyed. This version is very crispy on the outside and you squeeze it with fresh orange just before eating.
The most fun I had during a meal was at Tasca do João. João, the owner, is a larger-than-life character. He offered to bring many small plates from the kitchen rather than us ordering a dish each. This is actually one of my favorite ways to eat. He also treated us to an impromptu cooking demonstration in the kitchen. Be sure to drop by and see what he has fresh that day- you won’t regret it.
Another island favorite is Petisca. This is where I had the best grilled limpets of my visit. If you’re not familiar with limpets, they look similar to clams but are actually more closely related to snails. Petisca serves them perfectly grilled with butter and garlic, and I could have eaten the entire plate myself.
The Azores, Pico in particular, is one of the most incredible places I have ever visited. Have you ever been or would you like to visit one day? Leave a comment in the section below!
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Contact Claudia at Èpico Tours to arrange your own custom tour or arrange mountain guide services.
Room at the Aldeia da Fonte can be booked directly on their website. There are promotions and discounts available on the website that you won’t find on booking sites.
SATA is the only airline to service flights between the islands. Check for promotional rates as early as possible.
Pedro Silva is an island native and award winning photographer. Check out more examples of his work here.