As the New Year approaches the subtropical archipelago of the Azores unveils bucket-list worthy wildlife, adventure and awe-inspiring experiences – closer to home than expected with a short four-hour flight from London.
There is no other destination in Europe where travellers can enjoy face-to-face encounters with dolphins in their natural habitat, and few other places in the world which offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as the chance to dive with Blue Sharks or look a massive Blue Whale in the eye. As the season’s direct flights from London Gatwick commence on 4 April until 17 October 2015, there’s never been a better opportunity to discover the undiscovered on your doorstep.
DIVE WITH BLUE SHARKS
Experience the intense adrenaline-rush of plunging into the Atlantic in search of Blue Sharks. Wary at first, these curious predators tend to approach and inspect each diver with their keen senses as they gain trust. After this, they will often swim slowly among a group – allowing divers to admire their size and agility. Dive from sites such as Condor Seamount (accessible from Pico and Faial), where average sightings typically range from 5-15 sharks per trip. Summer is best for diving, with dive sites also teaming with manta rays, morays, stingrays, dusky groupers, comb groupers, wrasses, parrot fish, trigger fish, breams and damselfish. Original Diving (0207 978 0505, www.originaldiving.com) offer a seven-night shark diving holiday to the Azores from £960 pp (sharing) in July 2015. The price includes direct flights from London Gatwick, seven nights’ B&B accommodation at the Hotel Caloura on Sao Miguel, a half day shark diving experience and transfers.
LOOK A BLUE WHALE IN THE EYE
There is nothing quite like looking a Blue Whale in the eye. This coming March and April (2015), the mighty Blue Whale – the largest creature to grace the planet – will migrate through the archipelago en route north. Sightings and close-up encounters with these magnificent creatures are common at this time of year. Set off on an exhilarating ride on a RIB boat from Sao Miguel, Pico, Faial or Terceira Islands for the closest possible encounters. Approximately 25 resident and migratory cetacean species can also be seen in these waters including Sperm whales, the Blue whale and dolphin species. Light Blue Travel (01223 568 904, www.lightbluetravel.co.uk) offer a seven-night whale watching holiday staying at the Hotel Talisman in Sao Miguel from £675 pp (two sharing), departing 18 April 2015. The price includes direct flights from London Gatwick, seven nights’ B&B accommodation, a half day whale watching excursion in search of the Blue Whale, and transfers.
CLIMB PORTUGAL’S TALLEST MOUNTAIN
Eclipsing Ben Nevis at 2,351 metres tall, Pico Mountain is a towering volcano, one of the tallest mountains in Portugal and the Atlantic, and dominates the island of Pico. Adventure lovers can climb to its peak, emerging above the clouds on a five hour round trip. En route, they can encounter unusual rock formations, one of the largest lava tunnels in the world known as Gruta das Torres and UNESCO vineyards to reach spectacular panoramic views over the three central islands dotted in the deep surrounding Atlantic Ocean. A guided climb up to the top of Pico can be booked with Futurismo (00 351 296 559 385, www.futurismo.pt) and Sunvil Discovery (020 8758 4722, www.sunvil.co.uk) offer a seven-night stay at the Baia da Barca apartments on Pico from £909 pp (two sharing) in April 2015. The price includes direct flights from London Gatwick, seven nights’ B&B accommodation and transfers.
SWIM WITH WILD DOLPHINS IN THE ATLANTIC
The Azores is the only destination in Europe where travellers can swim alongside wild dolphins in their wild natural habitat. There are no pens; just jump off a RIB boat and swim in the Atlantic Ocean alongside these beautiful creatures. The dolphins will often approach swimmers with curiosity, making this a truly exhilarating experience. The numerous species include orcas, bottlenose, spotted and striped dolphins. Turtles and many other marine mammals can also be seen. Dolphin & Whale Connection (01273 882 778, www.dolphinandwhaleconnection.com) offer a seven-night stay at the Sao Miguel Park hotel on Sao Miguel from £930 pp (two sharing) in July 2015. The price includes flights, three excursions to swim with dolphins (including training and briefing from a Marine Biologist), seven nights’ B&B accommodation and transfers.
CASCADE VOLCANIC WATERFALLS
Imagine cascading down a roaring waterfall, abseiling from towering cliffs, swimming through crater lakes, wading through subtropical fauna and climbing volcanoes. Still relatively unknown, this is the adrenaline-inducing sport known as canyoning. One of the best places to experience this in the world, the four islands of Flores, Sao Jorge, Sao Miguel and Santa Maria boast dramatic, green, lush and volcanic landscapes, provide interesting rainforest-like surroundings and an ideal terrain for canyoning. Azores Choice (01768 775 672, www.azoreschoice.com) offers a seven-night canyoning holiday based on Flores from £1,020 pp (two sharing) departing 6 April 2015. The price includes direct flights from London Gatwick, seven nights’ B&B accommodation, transfers, a half-day canyoning excursion, a half-day jeep excursion and a half-day walking excursion.
Direct weekly flights with SATA International (Sata.pt) will depart from London Gatwick every Saturday afternoon between 4 April and 17 October 2015. Out of season, the Azores are also easily accessible via Lisbon with year-round daily flights from London Gatwick and Heathrow.
8 December 2014
The nine islands of the Azores are in the middle of the North Atlantic and belong to Portugal. They can be reached by direct flight from the UK in less than four hours from April – October, or via Lisbon year round. These volcanic islands are renowned for their craters, beautiful lakes, stunning sea, thermal pools and mountain vistas, their impressive flora and fauna and marine life. The islands have played a hugely important part in European maritime history, due to their strategically significant position as the westernmost point of Europe.
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