Home EuropeAzores Pico Island Azores – The Ultimate Guide to Things To Do on Pico

Pico Island Azores – The Ultimate Guide to Things To Do on Pico

by Andy Vanr

Hike challenging Mount Pico.  Walk the UNESCO-recognized, centuries-old, stone-walled vineyards, then enjoy a glass of unique Pico wine.  We cover these must-see attractions and more in this ultimate travel guide to Pico Island Azores.  Explore the best things to do in Pico, on our detailed 3-day itinerary.

3 Days on Pico Itinerary

How many days do you need on Pico Island?  We recommend a minimum of two days to experience Pico’s highlights.  Three days, or even more, is ideal to enjoy all the sights the island has to offer.

This is our recommended 3-Day itinerary.

Pico Island Map

A map showing the locations of attractions on Pico Island Azores.
Click on the Pico map for an interactive version.

13 Best Things To Do in Pico

  1. Visit the Vineyard Culture Landscape Interpretation Centre, a celebration of the island’s wine heritage.
  2. Discover the history of winemaking and taste famous Pico wines at the Pico Wine Museum.
  3. Walk along the old stone walls of the vineyards of Criação Velha.
  4. Climb Moinho Do Frade for stunning views of the surrounding, walled vineyards.
  5. Go wine tasting and savour the unique flavours of Pico’s wine.
  6. Hike 2300-metre-tall Mount Pico.
  7. Learn about the different types of lava formations at Gruta das Torres.
  8. Discover the hidden gem, Furna do Frei Matias, another lava-tube cave.
  9. Drive Pico’s scenic roads, enjoying the beautiful scenery from its many viewpoints.
  10. Visit Arcos do Cachorro, where nature has created beautiful, rock-formation, art along with breathtaking views.
  11. Visit the Whaling Industry Museum in a former oil, flour and vitamins factory to learn about the industrial processes of the whaling industry.
  12. Learn about the Pico’s whaling heritage at the Whalers’ Museum.
  13. Drive the scenic 9 Kilometre Highway, enjoying breathtaking views of Mount Pico.

Pico Wine and Vineyard Culture (UNESCO)

In 2004, UNESCO recognized Pico’s unique viticulture system as a World Heritage Site, “Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture”.  This man-made grid of walls, with the first built as early as the 15th century, are called Criação Velha or ”old creation” and cover more than 2000 acres on the island’s west coast.  They are understood to be the best remaining example of what was once a more widespread method of grape growing.

A Pico Island hillside covered in centuries-old vineyards with a cloudy sky in the background.
The centuries-old vineyards are a series of dry-stone walls of basalt pieces arranged so that the walls create tiny microclimates where the vines are protected from the damaging sea salt and winds. The area is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For vintners to take advantage of the island’s fertile, volcanic soil and mild climate, they needed to adapt to a seaside environment with frequent winds carrying damaging salt spray.  Their solution was small, enclosed plots called “currais”, created by building dry, basalt-stone walls parallel and perpendicular to the shore in a very systematic way.  The currais allow the grapevines to be exposed to the sun and protected from the wind.  As an added bonus, the basalt warmed up in the sun providing extra warmth to the tiny area.

As these vineyards became more successful, manor houses, wine-cellars, distilleries, warehouses and ports in tiny hamlets sprang up around them.  This culture has survived and thrives to this day.  Visit during the wine harvest in September for festivals with song, dance, wine and home-style food.

Two glasses of Pico Island wine and a piece of cake on a table.
Delicious Pico wine and chocolate cake. What a great combination!

Learn more about this area’s unique history of viticulture at the interpretive centre, located near the airport.

Vineyard Culture Landscape Interpretation Centre

This small museum provides a good introduction to the unique World Heritage Site.  Spend about 20 minutes here.

The museum highlights both:

  • The unique geological and climatic conditions that contribute to the island’s distinctive wines; and
  • Traditional techniques and tools used in Pico Island’s vineyards.

These techniques include the building of stone walls using local basalt (lava) rocks to create the vineyard plots, or currais, found on the island. 

A wooden barrel is sitting in front of a huge grape press in a stone room.
All the aspects of the cultivation of grapes and production of wine on Pico Island are explained in the Interpretation Centre. This is a massive grape press.

The island has two main areas which are great examples of this technique of dividing the land into plots.  The interpretation centre is in the area called Lajido de Santa Luzia.  Further to the southwest is Lajido da Criação Velha. Locally the termlajido” refers to lava fields. 

For more information about wine making and wine production on Pico, visit the nearby Museu do Vinho in Madalena.

Pico Wine Museum

This museum is great for people interested in the art of making wine.  It presents the story of wine production on the island, including discussing the different grape varieties, from its beginnings to the present.

There’s even wine tasting in the reception area. 

After visiting the museum, walk through the grounds.  The property was used by the Carmelite friars of Horta (Faial) as a summer residence, as early as the 17th century.  They tended the vineyards and manufactured wine on site. 

Pico Wine Museum with a yellow walls and a display of artifacts.
The types of grapes and the whole process of wine making are explained at the Pico Wine Museum.
Andy standing in front of vineyards and a red gazebo.
I am looking out over the vineyards at the Pico Wine Museum.

There are beautiful dragon trees, several at least 100 years old.  Walk the boardwalk to the stunning red gazebo for a beautiful view of the basalt-walled vineyard and the sea.  We spent around 30 minutes in the museum and the grounds.

Pico Wine Tasting

When on Pico Island, you must try the wine!  Sample local Pico wines and learn more about the island’s wine culture at these 3 places.

  • Wine Cellar Cooperative
    This cooperative, known as Cooperativa Vitivinícola da Ilha do Pico (CVIP), is a collective of winemakers dedicated to preserving the island’s unique winemaking traditions.  Established in 1949, it plays a crucial role in promoting and marketing the renowned Pico wines, particularly the distinctive Verdelho grape variety.
  • Azores Wine Company
    This winery, founded in 2001 produces high quality wines.  Try wines produced from Verdelho, Arinto dos Açores, and Sercial grapes in their tasting room overlooking the vineyard.
  • Cella Bar
    Located on the coast just outside Madalena, this renowned establishment is known for its traditional Azorean cuisine and wine.  The bar boasts an extensive wine list including selections from the renowned Pico Wines cooperative in a stunning setting.
A collage of pictures of wine cellars, barrel rooms and wine tasting establishments on Pico Island.
We recommend these 3 excellent places to taste great Pico Wine. Clockwise from the top left: Tasting Room at Wine Cellar Cooperative, the unique building of Cella Bar and Azores Wine Company Tasting Bar and Barrel Room.

The Vineyards of Criacao Velha

The Lajido da Criação Velha region beautifully showcases the vineyards and their enclosed currais structures.

The Azores walking trail Criação Velha Vineyard Trail (PR05 PIC) is a great route through the vineyards and the surrounding volcanic landscape.  The wines created from these vines are distinctive and flavorful, a reflection of the unique terroir and the hard work of the people who tend these vineyards.

The trail can be driven or walked.  We drove, starting at Porto do Calhau (Port of Calhau) in Monte.

This area originally had several large estates.  Each had wine production and warehousing facilities near the port and vast vineyards of basalt-walled currais.  Two tidal wells provided fresh water for the people and the distillery operations.  At the end of the 19th century, several small wineries appeared in the area.  Today the small port is used by local fisherman.

Val popping out of the white rental car parked on a rocky beach near the ocean at Pocinho Bay.
We drove the Criação Velha Vineyard Trail and stopped in Pocinho Bay at the public park. What a beautiful spot to take a break!

The trail and road follows the coastline north passing seaside walls and vineyards to Pocinho Bay.  The lovely, little, public park has a natural swimming area, picnic tables and toilets.  The trail continues to follow the road as it bends inland and uphill. 

Turn left at the first road and keep left at the next two intersections to travel around Cabeço do Pé do Monte.  Enjoy the vineyards with their “boxes” created by stone walls built of local rocks piled by hand.  These boxed vineyards create unique microclimates to protect the grapes from sea salt and wind. 

Val standing in the Criação Velha dry-stone walled vineyards with a view of the ocean in the background.
Val is standing in one of the currais, the tiniest walled area within a vineyard in Lajido da Criação Velha. The basalt walls protect the vines from salt and wind creating a microclimate perfect for grape growing.

When the road reaches the coast again, there is a natural swimming spot (Piscinas Naturais da Criação Velha) with a small bar selling food and drink.  Continue along the coast’s black volcanic rock.  

At the intersection of the main road and Canada do Monte, drivers continue straight to a parking area just west of the red windmill in the distance.  Those on foot, walk the path until it meets another road and turn left. 

Walk to the red Moinho do Frade visible in the distance.  We drove to the windmill, but as there was no parking, you are best to leave the car and walk in.

Moinho Do Frade

Climb the ladder to the top of this beautiful, red windmill for panoramic views of the vineyards.

The Friar’s Mill was built in the 18th century to mill grain.  Restored in the 2000s, it is one of the best examples of traditional windmills in the region. 

The red Moinho do Frade windmill on a dirt road in vineyards of Lajido da Criação Velha .
The Friar’s Mill sits amid the vineyards of Lajido da Criação Velha, one of two areas protected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture”.
A car is parked on a road within a Pico Island vineyard covered in centuries-old stone walls.
The centuries-old vineyards surround the Moinho do Frade.

From the windmill, continue north along the coast past many impressive rock formations.   The trail ends at the small cove of Porto da Areia Larga.  It was once an alternative port to Madalena but now is only used by local fisherman.

Hiking Mount Pico

At 2351 metres, Mount Pico is the tallest mountain in Portugal.  The youngest volcano in the Azores, it is still considered active.  The round crater at the top is about 700 metres around and only 30 metres deep with some fumeroles.  Its last eruption was in 1720.  

A climb to the Piquinho, or the top, is a challenging bucket-list hike for many visitors to the Azores. 

Val standing next to a trail marker sign on the trail up Mount Pico.
The terrain and vegetation behind Val is typical of much of the hike. Mount Pico is visible in the distance.

How hard is it to climb Mount Pico?

The Mount Pico climb is difficult.  You should be reasonably fit to attempt to climb Pico.  The trail is above the tree-line and over and around sharp lava rocks.

From the trailhead to the top, the elevation change is 1150 metres and the total distance 3.8 kilometres.  In other words, for every 3 metres travelled forward, you must climb almost 1 metre in elevation.  Indeed, a very strenuous hike.

Andy standing on a rocky trail near the base of Mount Pico.
I am hiking up the trail from Mountain House toward the top of Mount Pico. The trail is 3.8 kilometres long one-way with a vertical climb of 1150 metres. There are 47 trail markers between Mountain House and the top of Mount Pico. We hiked to marker 7.

How long does it take to climb Mount Pico?

According to the official Mount Pico website, most hikers take 3 to 4 hours to climb up to the summit.  They also take another 3 to 4 hours to return (descend) back down to the bottom.

Do I need a Guide?  If you are an experienced hiker, you should have no problem, and a guide is not necessary.  To help you stay on the trail, there are 47 trail markers directing you to the summit.

What is the best time of year to climb Mount Pico?

Mount Pico is technically open daily all year.  The best time of year to climb is in the summer and shoulder months.

We do not recommend visiting Mount Pico during the winter months.  Winter is the Azores rainy season and there is often snow at the summit.  When there is snow on the trail, you will not be allowed to climb to the top without shoe crampons.  Be sure to check weather conditions via the Mount Pico webcam and the Mount Pico weather forecast before going.

Our mistake was visiting in the month of November!  When we arrived at the mountain it was raining quite hard.  There was also snow on the summit, with a wind chill temperature of -5 °C.  Not ideal conditions for a hike (and we had no crampons). 

We opted for a shorter hike instead.

Val standing on the side of Mount Pico overlooking Furna Abrigo with the ocean in the background.
Val is standing above Furna Abrigo with the west coast of Pico Island and a bit of eastern Faial in the distance. Furna Abrigo is a perfect short hike up Mount Pico (about 150 metres vertically over 600 metres of trail).

Mountain House – The Trail Start

Checking in at Mountain House (Casa da Montanha) is mandatory to start your climb. 

There are restrictions regarding the number of people allowed on the mountain at any given time.  Booking in advance is highly recommended.  Visit the Mount Pico Reservation website for advanced booking.

Mountain House amenities include washrooms, lockers and a snack shop.  A short film introducing Mount Pico and its ecosystems runs in a small theatre area.

Before leaving the building to begin your climb, you must sign a waiver and receive a GPS tracker.  The tracker is in case of an emergency on the mountain where there is no cellular service.  I asked how often they needed to rescue climbers.  The attendant told us that within the last year, they had performed only 18 emergency rescues out of a total of 22,000 climbs.

A “Short” Mount Pico Hike

This was what we did!  We wanted to experience the beauty of Mount Pico, but we knew we couldn’t go all the way to the summit with the weather conditions.

A great option is to hike only a portion of the trail.  The “shorter” hike to the Furna Abrigo (located near Trail Marker #2) is the perfect introduction to the mountain.  The ascent to the cave is only about 160 metres vertically (over a trail distance of 600 metres) up the mountain.  We found the small cave an interesting place to explore and enjoyed a snack break in the sheltered area.  The total time from the trailhead to the cave and back to the bottom (including time to explore) is around 1 hour 30 minutes.

Val walking down into Furna Abrigo cave on Mount Pico.
Val is on her way down into Furna Abrigo. We enjoyed a snack in the sheltered interior.

We extended our hike a little further, hiking to Trail Marker #7 (approximately one-third of the way up the mountain).  We decided to turn back due to pouring rain and time considerations.  Safely back in the parking lot, our total hike time was 2 hours 30 minutes.

Gruta das Torres Cave

The Gruta das Torres, or Tower Cave is a lava tube, roughly 1500 years old.  The first scientific exploration of the cave was in 1990 and it opened to the public in 2005.

We enjoyed the guided tour which explores a 450-metre section of the 5-kilometre cave, the longest lava tube known in Portugal.  Our guide expertly pointed out the various geological formations.

The cave has unique stalactites and stalagmites made of solidified lava along with the calcium carbonate versions, typical in cave environments.  The guide also noted formations called lava benches, lava balls and ropy lava flows. 

A group of people walking down the steps to enter Gruta da Torres cave.
We enjoyed the guided tour of a 450-metre section of Gruta das Torres. The entrance to the cave was created when the roof of the lava tube collapsed leaving an opening to the cave.
A group of people standing around a section of the floor of the Gruta das Torres cave in the light of flashlights.
The Tower Cave is full of lava formations such as the example on the floor of the cave of ropey or pahoehoe lava.

The tour is about 1-hour long.  Flashlights and hard hats are provided.  The cave is wet so sandals are discouraged.

To visit another lava-tube cave, drive to nearby Furna do Frei Matias.

Furna do Frei Matias Cave

This cave is not on many tourist checklists.  We were curious about a small sign on the road pointing toward a farmer’s field.  The cave’s location was not obvious from the road.

At the top of a small hill, we found an opening into the cave.  The opening was created when the roof of the lava tube collapsed.  Lush vegetation fills the open area where we entered and climbed down to the bottom. 

We walked into the dark tunnel of the lava tube for about 200 metres toward light.  We popped out above ground at the end of the tunnel.  Our exploration was a fun, tiny adventure.

Val standing on a trail near the Furna do Frei Matias cave.
The road is down the hill behind Val. The Furna do Frei Matias cave at her feet is not visible from the road.
Val standing in the dark Furna do Frei Matias cave with moss and an opening in the background.
Val is in silhouette by the exit of Frei Matias Cave. We explored only a short section of the cave.

Driving Around Pico Island

A drive around the island of Pico is definitely worthwhile, offering breathtaking scenery and stunning coastal views. 

Car rentals are available at the airport and in Madalena.  While a drive around the whole island can be done in just a few hours, we recommend slowing down and exploring all the island has to offer.

A white car on the 9 Kilometre Highway with Mount Pico in the background.
All of Mount Pico is visible in the background. We stopped for a picture when the clouds suddenly cleared.

We’ve highlighted Pico’s main towns, Madalena, São Roque and Lajes do Pico, and the charming villages and worthwhile sights in between. 

Madalena

The largest town on Pico Island, Madalena is surrounded by beautiful vineyards with opportunities for wine tasting [internal link] both in and around town.

With several great restaurant and accommodation options, Madalena is a great base for your stay on Pico Island. 

Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of “touristy” activities in town.  Be sure to check out the Igreja de Santa María Madalena (Santa Maria Madalena Church) located near the Madalena Ferry Terminal.

The church, dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of fisherman and Madalena, is the island’s largest church.  Built in the 17th century, its interior is decorated with intricate carvings, gilded woodwork and beautiful azulejo tiles. 

Prior to the 17th century, Europeans were intrigued by blue and white Chinese porcelain but the ingredient to make it did not exist in Europe.  By the 17th century, the Dutch figured it out and the Portuguese ordered Dutch tiles to decorate their buildings.  Eventually the Portuguese manufactured their own tiles.  These blue and white ceramic tiles, called azulejo, are a popular decoration in Portugal and its former colonies around the world. 

The white Santa Maria Madalena Church with two steeples.
Santa Maria Madalena Church was built in the 17th century and is full of beautiful azulejo tiles.

If visiting in July, Madalena comes alive with the Festas da Madalena celebrating their patron Saint Mary Magdalene.  There are concerts and lots of activities.

Driving northeast from Madalena to São Roque, several small villages are worthy stops.

The village of Cachorro is located between the airport and the island’s north coast. 

Cachorro

Visit the Arcos do Cachorro, literally translated as the dog arches, right in the village.  Some of the rock formations created by the lava and erosion by wave action resemble a dog’s head.  (A particularly popular one is on the left as you are approaching the area.  We missed it completely so be on the alert to see it.)

Walk the paved walkways, from the parking area, over some of the arches to the edge of the rocky coastline.  Feel the power of the waves.  Enjoy the view of the Atlantic and neighbouring Faial and São Jorge islands.

A view of the jagged rocky shoreline with channels cut into it and filled with sea water.
The Arcos do Cachorro showcase nature’s power. The rock began as hot lava and solidified into sharp, solid basalt. Over centuries, ocean water has worked away at cracks and opened up tunnels into the rock. Stairs and paved pathways allow everyone to really get a look at the area.

Continue east following the north coast to the tiny village of Lajido.

Lajido

The village has two museums.  Visit the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture Interpretation Centre, mentioned previously.  It explains the early vineyard structures, tools and practices which led to the area becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If time allows, the Casa dos Vulcões (Volcanoes’ House) is an interesting place to learn about the volcanic history of the Azore Islands and volcanoes themselves.  This is an interactive, guided tour.  A 3D-model simulates a volcanic eruption allowing you to feel the earth’s power.

Continue east.  Everywhere along this coast, lava from ancient volcanic eruptions has cooled into black, jagged, artistic rock formations.

Santa Luzia

The 17th/18th-century Ermida de São Mateus da Costa is just before the coastal road turns south back to the main road.  The church is built from blocks of basalt, a number of which have been decorated with intricate carving.  The J.F.S.Luzia Cabrito Picnic Park is across the road and there is lots of parking. 

The small stone Sao Mateus of the Coast Chapel with a green door.
Some of the basalt blocks on the front of the Ermida de São Mateus da Costa in Santa Luzia have detailed carving.

Enjoy a short walk admiring the black rock formations, a testament to Pico Island’s fiery past.

Back on the main road, the Igreja de Santa Luzia is beside another pretty park with a gazebo.

Continue east on the main road, ER1.

Santo Antonio

Stop for a browse and maybe a wine tasting at Adega “A Buraca” Wine Store and Museum.  The museum showcases traditional tools and farming equipment. 

A room full of old wooden furniture and a spinning wheel at Adega "A Buraca" Wine Store and Museum.
The Adega “A Buraca” Wine Store and Museum in Santo Antonio has a small museum and a beautiful display of wines for purchase.

Enjoy the pretty area around the Church of Santo Antonio overlooking the sea.

Continue east to the second largest town on Pico Island, officially called São Roque do Pico.

Sao Roque

The protected harbour of São Roque is a busy area.  The São Roque Ferry Terminal is at the north end of the harbour.  The ferry links the islands of São Jorge, Pico and Faial.

The town’s main attraction is on the other side of the harbour.  The Whaling Industry Museum is in a former, whale-processing factory. 

Continuing through town, stop at the Pico Tourist Office (Posto de Turismo Pico).  A beautiful replica of a whale boat is on display inside.

The 18th-century Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara is about 150 metres north of the main road on Rua João Bento de Lima.  To save the building from falling into ruin, it now operates as a hostel accommodation.  The exterior is impressive.  Entry to the interior is only for residents.

Val standing in front of the church at the former Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara, São Roque
Val is standing in front of the church of the Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara, now a hostel. The building is impressive.

Just west of town, along the coastal road, visit the lovely, red windmill of Avenida do Mar.  Leave the car in the parking area and enjoy a walk along the coastline.

Whaling Industry Museum

Pico Island has 2 quite different whaling museums.  The Museu dos Baleeiros, in Lajes do Pico, explains the history of Pico whaling.  In São Roque, the Museu da Indústria Baleeira (Whaling Industry Museum) provides a unique look at the processing side of the whaling industry in the Azores.

Andy standing in front of large tanks inside the Whale Industry Museum, a former factory.
I am looking up at the huge furnaces that processed the whale blubber into oil.

The museum is a former factory.  It operated from 1946 to 1984, when whaling stopped in the Azores.  See the boilers, furnaces, machinery and other equipment used to process the entire sperm whale (blubber, meat, bones and livers) into oil, flour, fertilizers and vitamins.  There is a brief introduction to local whaling through a number of (sometimes grisly) photographs, several scale models of whaling vessels and the massive jaw bones of a sperm whale.

Outside the museum, the statue Homenagem aos Baleeiros (Tribute to the Whalers) reminds us of the tough, dangerous life of the whalers.

A statue of a man in a whale boat in front of the Whaling Industry Museum.
This Tribute to the Whalers stands in front of the Whaling Industry Museum in São Roque.

Depending on the length of your stay on Pico and your interests, there are two options at the traffic circle, on the west side of São Roque.

  1. Follow ER1 south and explore the eastern end of Pico, or
  2. Skip the eastern tip.  Take the first exit out of the traffic circle, following Highway EN2, up over the central volcanic ridge on the east of Mount Pico from São Roque to Lajes do Pico on the south shore.

Eastern Pico Island

This optional drive from São Roque to the eastern tip of Pico and around to the town of Lajes do Pico follows the main ER1 highway.  Without stops, the drive takes about an hour, but there are several worthwhile points of interest along the way.

At the traffic circle, on the west side of São Roque, follow ER1 south.  Stop at Miradouro São Miguel Arcanjo, at the top of the hill, for a beautiful view of the shoreline and São Roque in the distance.

A view of the ocean and Sao Roque from the top of a hill at Miradouro São Miguel Arcanjo, Pico Island.
The view of São Roque from the Miradouro São Miguel Arcanjo, high up on a hill, is impressive.

About 17 kilometres southeast, the Miradouro da Terra Alta viewpoint, over 400 metres above the ocean, offers a stellar view of São Jorge Island on the horizon.

Continue driving to Manhenha, the village on the eastern tip of Pico, about 7 minutes off the main highway.  The Ponta da Iha Lighthouse sits on the tip of the island.  Operational in 1946, it was very isolated.  The road connecting the lighthouse to Manhenha wasn’t built until 1959.  Its tower stands 19 metres high.  The buildings surround the tower in a U-shape, an unusual arrangement for a lighthouse complex.  The lighthouse is open to the public every Wednesday afternoon.

The town of Calheta de Nesquim was once a booming whaling community with the island’s first whale-processing factory.  Visit the beautiful 19th-century Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião Mother Church.  The PRC11 Calheta do Nesquim walking trail circles the town stopping at several scenic lookouts and a popular natural swimming area, Poça das Mujas.

Continue to the town of Lajes do Pico.

The 9 Kilometre Highway (EN3)

The highway EN2 from São Roque to Lajes do Pico is a curvy, paved highway through beautiful countryside.  After about 10 kilometres, it intersects the EN3, known as the 9 Kilometre Highway.  This picturesque highway is the best option to get to Mount Pico from either São Roque or Lajes do Pico.

It’s the straightest section of road in the Azores, and perhaps all of Portugal.  We pulled over and took pictures of Mount Pico when there was a sudden break in the clouds.  It was so beautiful!

A car is parked next to Capitao Lagoon on a rainy day.
Capitão Lagoon is part of a protected landscape area where several endemic species of plants and birds exist. The lagoon sits in a depression in the Lagoa do Capitão Fault.

Be sure to stop at Lagoa do Capitão (Capitão Lagoon), only about 2 kilometres west of Highway EN 2 on the 9-Kilometre Highway.  It is shallow lake, a maximum of 4.5 metres deep, and an important source of fresh water.  Migrating birds often stop at the lake.  This area has a stunning view of Mount Pico.  A volcanic ridge, roughly 30 kilometres long, runs from Capitão Lagoon to Ponta da Ilha on the east end of the island.  About 190 tiny volcanic cones are found along it.  The lake is the starting point for the PR13 Lagoa do Capitão walking trail to São Roque . 

Back on EN2 continue south to, Lajes do Pico, the oldest town on the island.

Lajes do Pico

This is the birthplace of the island’s whaling tradition.  Three boathouses, built in the 19th century for whale boats, create a great atmosphere for the Whalers’ Museum.  The port is one of the main departure points for Pico’s whale watching tours.

If visiting during the last week of August, Lajes do Pico holds the Semana dos Baleeiros, a religious and music festival.  It honours the patron saint of whalers, Our Lady of Lourdes, and the town’s whaling history.

Boats docked in the harbour at Lajes do Pico on a rainy day.
Even in November, the harbour at Lajes is full of boats.

Park the car in the abundant parking along the waterfront.  Enjoy a walk through the compact downtown.

Begin at the south end of the waterfront with the pretty Lajes Mill (Moinho das Lajes).  Walk east to the Ermida de São Pedro (São Pedro Chapel).  This chapel was built by first people to arrive on the island in the mid-15th century.

Turn around and walk north into downtown Lajes.  The big church in the middle of town, Igreja da Santíssima Trindade, fronts on a triangular square.  It is named after a local man who climbed military ranks and worked to ensure his home town was properly recognized.  See the small monument to General Francisco de Lacerda Machado.

The white Sao Pedro Chapel with a red door in Lajes do Pico, Pico Island.
The tiny São Pedro Chapel was built in the mid-15th century and is the oldest religious building on the island.
The white and black Church of the Holy Trinity in Lajes do Pico with a car in front of it.
The Church of the Holy Trinity was built in the 19th century to replace a much smaller earlier church.

Explore the downtown shops, taking any of the side streets to the left and back to the waterfront.

Just off the ER1 highway when leaving Lajes do Pico to the north, the Centre for Arts and Marine Sciences (Centro de Artes e de Ciências do Mar) is in another former whale-processing factory.  The centre hosts artistic and cultural events promoting the study and appreciation of marine life and local culture.  Multimedia exhibitions discuss the factory and the biology and ecology of whales.

Across the street is a reconstruction of the Fort of Santa Catarina (Forte de Santa Catarina), the island’s only example of military architecture.  It was built in 1792 to protect against possible invasion by Napoleon’s armies (which never came.)

Whalers’ Museum

At the Museu dos Baleeiros, learn the history of whaling, one Pico and the Azore’s most important, historic activities.  The artifacts on display include tools and equipment used in the hunt; carved and engraved art made from whale teeth and bone called scrimshaw and several full-size, whaling boats. 

We were especially impressed by the scrimshaw art created on the large, whale jaw bones.  The museum opened in 1988 in three boat houses built in the 19th century.

A wooden whaling boat is on display in the Whalers' Museum in Lajes, Pico Island.
Replica whale boat in the Whalers’ Museum in Lajes.
A whale jaw bone with a drawing on it at Whalers' Museum Lajes do Pico.
Scrimshaw art is typically engraving or carving done in bone or cartillage of whales. This full picture is in a sperm whale jawbone.

Continue driving west, toward Madalena, along Highway ER1.

Villages of Sao Joao, Sao Mateus, Monte and Criacao Velha

São João is located just west of Lajes do Pico.  This small, quiet village was the perfect base for our 3-night stay on Pico Island.  The area was nicknamed “land of windmills” as there were once 7 operating windmills.  The eastern boundary of the village is marked by the Ponta Rasa Mill (Moinho da Ponta Rasa), one of two remaining windmills.   At the western end of the village, the Sao Joao Forest Park (Parque Florestal e Recreio de São João Pequenino) has a children’s playground and picnic area in a treed area.

The red Ponta Rosa Windmill sits on top of a hill overlooking the ocean.
The Ponta Rosa Windmill in São João is one of two remaining out of 7 that used to operate in the area.

Just past the village of São Mateus, we stopped at Miradouro da Pontinha viewpoint for a quick photo of the rugged shoreline.

The village of Monte has two worthy stops.  Check out the beautiful interior of the Capela do Espírito Santo do Monte and the windmill, the Moinho do Monte.

If you haven’t hiked or driven Criação Velha’s Vineyard Trail, we highly recommend it as a perfect way to return to Madalena.  Start at Porto do Calhau and drive along the coast to the pretty Moinho Do Frade windmill, surrounded by vineyards.

Before finishing the drive to Madalena, stop at Maroiços do Pico, the ‘Pyramids of Pico’.  Some scientists suggested that these large, pyramid-shaped, structures were over 1000 years old, pre-dating European arrival on Pico.  However, locals say that these pyramids were likely created 250 to 300 years ago and over several generations.  The cultivation of food was vital for islanders’ survival so the abundant rocks were cleared from any available land into piles.  Over time, as the piles grew higher, they were shaped into these stable structures.

A group of piles of rocks in the middle of a grassy field on Pico Island.
This is just one example of the Pyramids of Pico Island. These piles of rock are centuries old. The land needed to be cleared of rock in order to grow food for the island’s people. Since the pyramid is the most stable shape, the rock piles became pyramid-shaped over time.

Pico Island Beaches and Natural Pool Areas

Although there are no traditional sandy beaches on Pico, the island does offer many bathing and natural swimming areas.  The natural swimming areas are pools created by the rocks at the shore which are filled by seawater.

The best time to enjoy a swim on Pico Island is in the summer months from June to September.

These are the top 10 swimming areas on Pico, Azores:

NameNearest TownDescription
Furnas de Santo AntónioSanto AntónioSome call this the best natural swimming area on Pico Island.
Piscina Santo AntonioSanto AntónioFor those that don’t want to jump in the ocean, the swimming pool is beside the natural pools.
Madalena Municipal Swimming PoolMadalenaLarge man-made outdoor pool with natural pools as well.
Piscinas naturais da Areia FundaMadalenaNatural swimming area with concrete terrace near the harbour.
Piscina Naturais da São RoqueSão RoqueNatural swimming area with concrete terrace.
Zona Balnear do CachorroCachorroNatural swimming area near the Arcos do Cachorro.  Enjoy the lava rock formations.
Piscina Naturais da Lajes do PicoLajes do PicoNatural swimming area with clear waters.  Large concrete terrace.
Praia do Canto da AreiaPrainhaThe only sandy beach (black sand) on the island.
Poça das MujasCalheta de NesquimVery popular natural swimming area.  Perfect clear waters.
Piscinas naturais da Criação VelhaCriação VelhaSheltered natural swimming area with a snack bar in the summer.  Great place to enjoy the sunset.

Click on our interactive map for all the swimming areas.

Andy walking on the rocky shore near the Criacao Velha Natural Pool by the ocean.
There are a number of natural pools around Pico Island. When the lava cooled at the shoreline, it created depressions which fill naturally with sea water and very often are sheltered from wave action. These make great swimming pools. This one is at Criação Velha.

Whale Watching on Pico Island

For the best whale watching options, go to the town of Lajes do Pico. 

April through the summer to October is considered the main “season”.  Different species are in the waters of the Azores depending on the time of year.  Humpback whales are common in the summer.  Sperm whales, Common dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins are in Azorean waters year-round so there is always something to see.

The two, most popular, whale watching tours are conducted by:

  • Futurismo Azores Adventures – This tour includes a marine biologist who expertly points out and discusses all of the marine wildlife around Pico Island.
  • Aqua Açores – A great whale and dolphin watching tour that gets close to the marine wildlife on board their zodiac boat.

Pico Azores Restaurants

These are 10 of the most popular restaurants in Pico’s main towns.

Restaurant NameTownKnown For
Cella BarMadalenaEnjoy local Pico wines with your meal at this stunning oceanside location.
O PetiscaMadalenaGreat Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.  Try the octopus.
O AncoradouroMadalenaRenowned for its seafood dishes and ocean views.
O CincoMadalenaHuge variety of dishes.  100% Azorean.
Bar Clube NavalSão RoqueGreat bar and food on the waterfront.
Restaurante “C Bistrô”São RoqueCharming and quiet bistro.  Great for lunch.
Snack-bar AçoSão RoquePopular place for affordable and quick bites.
Fonte TavernLajes do PicoKnown for its outside patio and delicious food.
Restaurante RitinhaLajes do PicoLocal seafood specialties in a welcoming atmosphere.
Pastelaria Aromas E SaboresLajes do PicoA charming restaurant/bakery with delightful pastries

Pico Island Hotels

Looking for accommodation on Pico Island?

Check out these great options.

  • Miradouro da Papalva Guest House – We stayed here!  This is a beautiful property in the town of São João.  Enjoy their amazing breakfast!
  • Baia da Barca – Superb apartments with panoramic sea views located in tiny bay on the ocean in Madalena.

Here are other great hotels on Pico Island Azores.

The Miradouro de Papalva Guest House with a white fence and plants around it.
Miradouro da Papalva Guest House was our base for our 3-day visit to Pico Island. It was perfect!

Know Before You Go – Visiting Pico Island Azores

What is Pico Island known for?

Pico is known for its history of wine making and the whaling industry.  Walk the old stone-walled vineyards and sample great Pico wines.  Two excellent museums on this small island are dedicated to explaining the history of the whaling industry, boat making and whale processing.

Many visitors also come to Pico Island for the challenge of climbing Mount Pico, the tallest mountain in Portugal.

How to get to Pico Island, Azores

By Air:

Most people arrive on Pico by air.  Direct flights from São Miguel Island (40 minutes), from Terceira Island (30 minutes) and from Lisbon (2 hours 45 mintues) are available on Azores Airlines.  The Pico Airport is just outside the main town of Madalena. 

By Ferry:

The best option for daily ferries is the Green Route ferry that operates between the islands of Pico, Faial and São Jorge.  The sailing time between São Roque (Pico) and Velas (São Jorge) is 50 minutes.  The sailing time between Madalena (Pico) and Horta (Faial) is 30 minutes.

See the Pico Island ferry times on the Atlânticoline website for full details.

Atlantico Line Ferry in harbour at Madalena Pico Island
Atlantico Line Ferries run daily between the islands of Faial, Pico and São Jorge.

How to get around Pico Island

Car Rental:  We recommend renting a car while visiting Pico Island.  This gives you the freedom to discover the island’s many attractions.  Car rentals are available at both the Pico Airport and in Madalena.

Public Bus:  Public buses on Pico Island are operated by Cristiano Limitada but schedules are limited.  There are two bus routes:  Madalena to São Roque and Madalena to Lajes do Pico.  For more information, check the Pico Island public bus timetable


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