This is the ultimate guide to visiting the island of São Jorge in the Azores. From hiking the Topo mountain range to exploring the islands charming towns and fajãs, we cover all of the best places to visit in our detailed 2-day itinerary.
Table of Contents
Sao Jorge Azores Itinerary
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3 (Additional Day)
If you have additional time, explore more unique towns and locations on São Jorge.
Sao Jorge Azores Map
Best Sao Jorge Hike – PR1 SJO Trail
The challenging PR1 SJO trail is a rewarding hike through some of São Jorge’s most beautiful landscapes.
This is a linear trail from the Serra do Topo hills down to Fajã dos Cubres through Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. Many choose to hike only between the two fajãs. We decided to hike the full trail, a primarily downhill hike.
At the start of the day, we parked our car in Fajã dos Cubres. We used the São Jorge Taxi service to take us from our car to the Serra do Topo viewpoint, the start of our spectacular hike.
From the Serra do Topo viewpoint’s parking lot, the trail climbs briefly into the interior highlands before beginning the descent to the coast. We took it carefully as the ground was wet from the previous day’s rain. Everywhere we looked it was a tapestry of shades of green covering the many ridges and ravines.
The trail passes through the Protected Landscape Area of the Northern Fajãs where several endemic species of heather, juniper and holly, unique to the island of São Jorge, can be found. Goats and cattle range free over this area. We encountered 2 cows blocking the trail, causing a small standoff, until a compromise was reached. (One moved and we were able to walk around the other.)
There are a number of incredible spots to enjoy a panoramic view of the hills, valleys and ocean as well as several waterfalls, especially Cascata Pequena.
The main downhill section ends at the village of Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo.
The trail continues along the coast passing through Fajã do Belo, which was inhabited until the 1980 earthquake. Today its buildings are part of a health resort-style accommodation.
The trail eventually winds to Fajã dos Cubres, ending near the Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Lourdes church.
Generally, the 10-kilometre trail is well-marked and maintained. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner, the PR1 SJO trail is a must for anyone looking to explore the natural beauty of São Jorge.
Pico da Esperanca – PR4 SJO Trail
With more time on the island, we recommend a hike to Pico da Esperança, the highest point on the island. The PR4 SJO trail is the perfect way to experience more of São Jorge’s stunning landscapes. The trailhead is on the main road EN3, north from Urzelina.
The trail winds along the island’s central volcanic ridge between Pico do Pedro and Pico da Esperança. The views along the way extend over the coast often as far as the island of Pico. Visit the Algar do Montoso cave at an altitude of 1000 metres, the largest volcanic cave in the Azores. The area is a Protected Area for a number of species.
The hike from the parking area to Esperança and back is around 12 kilometres and is not recommended during times of decreased visibility. These highlands are very windy and humid with frequent fogs and abundant rainfall. It was windy, rainy and foggy when we visited, so we did not hike. The entire trail is 17 kilometres long, ending on the coast in Fajã do Ouvidor.
Sao Jorge – An island of Fajas
What is a fajã? Fajã is the Portuguese term for a delta or plateau at the base of a steep cliff.
Fajãs are very common on the island of São Jorge. There are two types: 1) detritic resulting from the cliffside sliding down the slope, and 2) lavic resulting from an eruption of lava which extends over the sea.
Historically, people settled these areas due to their fertile soils, perfect for growing crops and pasturing livestock. São Jorge has over 70 fajãs, including the beautiful Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fajãs de São Jorge, was recognized in 2016. It covers the entire island, encompassing its fajãs, rugged coastal cliffs and high central elevations. This unique landscape has an abundance of endemic plants, invertebrates and bird species.
Visit these fajãs for stunning beauty and a hint of life in decades past.
Faja da Caldeira de Santo Cristo
The only access to the unique Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo is by foot or ATV on the PR1 SJO trail. The fajã, in the middle of the island’s north coast, is not accessible by car.
This fajã was formed by rockfall, landslide and slumps of the volcanic rocks of the cliffs down the slope to the sea. Fajã dos Cubres, at the end of the hiking trail, formed in the same manner. Both have coastal lagoons separated from the ocean by pebble beaches. This lagoon environment does not exist anywhere else in the Azores. It is believed the lagoons were formed over time by seawater, rainwater and runoff eroding the rocks.
The Protected Landscape Area Fajãs do Norte protects Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo’s settlement, pastures and coastal lagoon.
Caldeira de Santo Cristo Lagoon is an important habitat for birds and aquatic life, particularly for the presence of clams endemic to the island. This is the only commercially harvested clam population in the Azores. The lagoon is also a spawning area for several fish. Originally the lagoon was not directly connected to the ocean. To aid local fisherman, a channel was created allowing tidal influx to the lagoon.
The excellent Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo Interpretation Centre presents the geologic history, culture and natural environment of the area. Exhibits profile traditional activities such as dairy farming, seaweed collection (which was used for fertilizer) and crop production (corn, yams, cabbages) that shaped the local way of life. A film documents the earthquake of January 1, 1980 which changed the lives of many of the residents forever.
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo remains a working agricultural community with opportunities for visitors to enjoy the calm, quiet of this peaceful village. Be sure to visit the Santuário do Senhor Santo Cristo, a beautiful chapel for a quiet rest, first consecrated in 1835.
Faja dos Cubres
This settlement, on the north coast, is accessible down a winding road from Norte Pequeno. The village is where residents and visitors to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo and Fajã Belo must park their vehicles and continue on foot or by ATV. (We parked our car in Faja dos Cubres, as this faja is the end of the PR1 SJO hike.)
On the drive down the winding road to the village, stop at the viewpoint Miradouro da Fajã dos Cubres for a great view of the fajã tucked between the soaring cliffs and the sea. We enjoyed a hazy view of the coast in the morning light.
Fajã dos Cubres’ name comes from the seaside goldenrod plant, plentiful in the area, which produces small yellow flowers. It is commonly found along the eastern coast of North America and has now spread to many of the Azorean islands. It is very tolerant of salty, coastal areas. The village was named one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal – Seaside Villages.
Fajã dos Cubres Lagoon is a pool formed by water runoff from the cliffs which does not drain away to the ocean. It is an important habitat for endemic plant and animal species.
It is thought that landslides resulting from a massive earthquake in July 1757 created most of the land area of this fajã.
The pretty Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Lourdes was constructed in the early 20th century.
Faja do Ouvidor
This fajã is one of three lavic fajãs on the northern coast and formed about 2500 years ago. The small village grew around its rocky cove. Be sure to visit the natural pool Poça de Simão Dias, a great spot for swimming and sunbathing.
The São Jorge Nature Park Visitor Centre (Casa do Parque) is in a former primary school at the top of the cliff. Interactive exhibits highlight the island’s biodiversity and particularly its native flora and fauna. Exhibits also discuss the culture and geology of the island.
Faja das Almas
This lavic fajã is located on the southern side of the island. To access the village, use the parking lot just above the village and walk down to the street along the waterfront. You cannot drive into the village itself.
A short walk west along the waterfront leads to a swimming area and a viewpoint. The bulk of the village is to the east. At the pier, in the centre of the village, there are two more swimming areas. The terrace above the pier is a great place to take a break. Enjoy a bite to eat at the restaurant, open during peak season. (This is the location of the public restroom.)
Continuing east, walk through an open field to the Chapel of Santo Cristo. The front wall of the large church, constructed in the late 19th century, is inscribed with “1876”.
Visit the Miradouro do Espigao, at the extreme east end of the village, for a beautiful view of the bay below.
Faja Dos Vimes
This detrital fajã on the island’s south coast has a unique microclimate allowing coffee plants to flourish. Fajã dos Vimes is the only location in the Azores (and Europe) where coffee is grown.
Visit Café Nunes and try their Arabica coffee from plants grown on their small coffee plantation.
The picturesque village is also known for its woven coverlets. Weaving using manual, wooden looms has been practised in the area since the sixteenth century. Various stitching techniques are applied to produce beautiful blankets and table runners.
The charming town of Velas, on the island’s south coast, is the largest town on São Jorge. In addition to scenic ocean views, the town has many beautiful places to discover. Most visitors to São Jorge arrive by ferry. Decent parking is available at the terminal. Leave the car and enjoy a walk through downtown along its cobblestone streets.
The perfect place to begin is at Portão do Mar, the historic, 18th-century gate which allowed entrance to the walled town from the harbour. Few of the walls, which protected the town against pirate attacks, are visible today.
Visit the impressive Parish Church of São Jorge (Igreja Matriz de Velas) in the centre of town. The first church was built on the site in the late 15th century. The present building was built in the 17th century and added to in the next century. The patron saint, São Jorge, is honoured each April 23rd with a procession through the Velas streets. Visit the adjoining Museum of Sacred Art which houses a large collection of religious statues.
A huge statue of João Inácio de Sousa is in the centre of the Old Market square, where the fruit and vegetable market once stood. This statue honours him for his generosity supporting several institutions on the island. He was born in Velas and emigrated to the USA in the late 19th century. He made a fortune in oil and gas then bequeathed his fortune to his homeland.
The Tourist Information Centre is opposite the statue. It is worth popping in to grab brochures and any further information about São Jorge you may need.
Just up the street from the square, the Casa Museu Cunha da Silveira museum showcases São Jorge’s heritage and culture with rooms dedicated to the sea, agriculture, carpentry and weaving. The building was originally the Cunha da Silveira family manor home. Learn the story and contributions of the wealthy family who dominated the island’s political and social scene.
At this point, return to your car or, for a longer route, walk northeast on Cunha da Silveira Street. The Municipal Market is held just around the corner every second Saturday. Continue to the Garden of the Republic (Jardim da República).
The garden is dominated by the beautiful, red gazebo in the centre. Take a break on one of the benches in the garden and enjoy the quiet among its palm trees, before returning to the ferry terminal to continue touring Velas by car.
For the perfect selfie, the ‘Velas welcome sign’ is just down Avenida da Conceição beside the Velas Cultural Centre and Municipal Auditorium. This building was originally the Fort of Our Lady of the Conception. The fort was built in the 17th century as part of the island’s defensive walls.
On a hot day enjoy the natural swimming pool, Poça dos Frades, nearby.
Continue to the spectacular Arco Natural de Velas. This is a large arch carved in the volcanic rock at the coast by wave action. The park near the arch hosts concerts and entertainment in the summer months.
Stop at the lovely Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Livramento (Our Lady of Livramento Chapel) at the base of Morro Grande de Velas. Built at the end of the 17th century, the chapel and its cross are made of the local volcanic rock.
Follow the path on the left of the chapel up to the Miradouro do Morro das Velas viewpoint for great views of the surrounding islands, the town of Velas and the volcanic crater of Morro Grande de Velas.
If driving out of Velas to the north, the Miradouro do Canavial viewpoint provides a great view of the large volcanic cones, Morro Grande de Velas (left) and the Morro de Lemos (right). These were both formed by underwater eruptions but Morro de Lemos is older and more heavily eroded. Little of its volcanic cone remains. Morro Grande de Velas has a clearly defined cone and crater.
If leaving to the east, drive to the main Velas Viewpoint (Miradouro da Ribeira do Almeida) for a panoramic view over Velas, and on clear days, the neighbouring islands Pico and Faial.
The parish of Rosais occupies the scenic northwest tip of São Jorge.
In the centre of the village of Rosais, the large white building is the Casa Do Povo De Rosais. It houses several local organizations and the offices of the Parish Council. The public areas contain exhibits highlighting the customs and traditions of Rosais. Learn about the handicrafts, agriculture, festivals, and religious celebrations of the area.
The small building across the street, called the Império do Espírito Santo (Empire of the Holy Spirit), is important during the Festival of the Holy Spirit. Charity is fundamental during this festival, which is a significant part of the Azorean identity. The festival has both religious and secular ceremonies. These ceremonies include the “coronation” of the Emperor Boy, processions, and the bodo of bread and meat. It begins on the first Sunday after Easter and typically ends 8 weeks later. The time frame and length of the festival varies from place to place. Impérios hold the elements of the festival, namely the crown, the banner and the staffs, and often have kitchens for food preparation during the festival.
The nearby Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Parish Church of Our Lady of the Rosary) has been rebuilt a number of times since its original 19th-century construction due to earthquake damage. Records show that there has been a church on the site since the 16th century.
On the northern side of the parish, relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes (Seven Fountains Forest Park). This park protects the habitat of a variety of flora and fauna, many endemic to São Jorge. “Seven fountains” refers to the freshwater springs found in the area and used throughout history for the local residents’ water needs. The park is about 12 hectares of thick woods with many footpaths and trails. There is a children’s playground and a picnic area.
At the northern entrance of the park, see the ducks, the Ermida de São João (Chapel of St. John), and the restored washing sinks. Instead of carrying more water to their homes for clothes washing, these sinks, close to the water source, were used by residents for clothes washing.
On our visit to the area, it was our intention to visit the Rosais Lighthouse on the northwestern tip of the island. Unfortunately, we felt that the pot-holed road was too rough for our low clearance rental vehicle, so we turned around. This is what you will see on your visit.
The Farol dos Rosais sits on top of 200-metre high cliffs over the Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse was set in motion on May 1, 1958. Due to the distance from the nearest town, light-keepers and their families lived in nearby residences and created a self-sufficient community.
Residents were forced to flee temporarily in 1964 due to an earthquake and nearby submarine volcanic eruption. They returned when the danger passed. The earthquake of January 1, 1980 caused land collapse along the cliffs and serious structural damage to the buildings. The area was permanently abandoned and much of it remains in ruin today. A small, solar-powered, automated light replaced the lighthouse.
Climb the hill behind the lighthouse to visit the Whale Lookout (Vigia da Baleia). The lookout was built at the same time as the lighthouse. It was used to spot passing whales and signal the waiting whalers. The lookout was used until the 1980s when the Azorean whaling industry closed. Enjoy the 360-degree view from the lookout.
The lighthouse grounds and the Whale Lookout are part of the Ponta dos Rosais Natural Monument which encompasses the site, the islets and the surrounding cliffs. Enjoy the stunning view from the grounds to the islands of Faial and Pico when the skies are clear.
The tiny Núcleo Museológico da Ponta dos Rosais (Rosais Museum Centre) was a former milk collection station. Farmers brought their milk twice a day (morning and afternoon). The collected milk was delivered to the cheese factory and the process of manufacturing traditional São Jorge cheese began. The machinery and utensils displayed were used by the former Rosais Dairy Cooperative which operated until 1991 when it was amalgamated into the Union of Agricultural Dairy Cooperatives of São Jorge.
There are several of these unique tiny museum spaces on the island. Each has a wall of glass allowing visitors to always be able to see the exhibits.
The scenic parish of Urzelina, on the south coast, offers several interesting sites.
The Urzelina Church Tower (Torre da Igreja da Urzelina) is a landmark visible from the central square. A volcanic eruption in May 1808 sent ash and lava over the area destroying several houses and the church. The bell tower is all that remains of the church.
At the Cooperativa de Artesanato Senhora da Encarnaçäo (Lady of the Incarnation Crafts Cooperative), watch artisans weave wool into a wide range of products such as blankets, rugs, bags, scarves and more. Others create lace masterpieces. Wool is coloured by hand using local plants. Their creations make wonderful mementos.
To the southwest, in Manadas, visit the lovely Igreja de Santa Bárbara (Santa Bárbara Church) which dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. It was built on the ruins of a 15th-century church. In contrast to its simple exterior, the interior is filled with Baroque religious art. Altarpieces depict biblical scenes, rich gilded wood in the chancel and tiles on the ceiling show the life of Santa Bárbara. This is both a religious art museum and a church open for worship.
Beside the church are the remains of a small fortress built in 1647 as a result of attacks by English, French, Turks and Algerians during the 16th century. It served as a lookout for both vessels approaching the coast and for whales.
The island’s second largest town, Calheta, is in the middle of the south coast.
The main attraction is at the east end of town. The Francisco de Lacerda Museum presents the history, culture and traditions of the island. There are exhibits about the life and work of its namesake, Francisco de Lacerda, a famous composer from the area. The museum was built on the site of a former tuna canning factory on the steep slope with a great view overlooking the Calheta Harbour.
Just before the harbour, the Calheta Parish Church (Igreja Matriz de Calheta/Igreja de Santa Catarina de Alexandria) has a commanding view of the ocean. The first church on this site was built in the late 16th century and destroyed by fire less than 100 years later. It was replaced by the current church which was expanded in the 18th century.
The floor plan is a Latin cross with an attached bell tower at the entrance. Its simply decorated interior highlights the beauty of the main altarpiece painted in blue and gold.
On a hot day, enjoy a dip in the Piscinas Naturais Fajã Grande at the west end of town. A pretty camping area is nearby.
Located at the eastern end of the island, the parish of Topo has several interesting sites. This area of São Jorge has the island’s oldest settlements.
In the small town of Topo, the first Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary Church) was built in the 16th century. It was replaced by the current church which was completed in 1761. There are a number of beautiful paintings inside this pretty Baroque church.
Perched on the cliff edge, the Ponta do Topo Lighthouse (Farol da Ponta do Topo) opened in 1927 and continues to operate. The round tower is 16 metres high and is attached to a 1-storey keeper’s house. The original Fresnel lens was replaced in 1980 after being damaged in the massive January 1st earthquake. The lighthouse was electrified in 1989 and automated in 2001. The lighthouse is open Wednesday afternoons year-round. Exact afternoon hours vary depending on the season.
Follow the road from the lighthouse down to the Piscina Naturais da Pontinha do Topo. If the weather is warm, jump in for a quick swim.
Finish your visit at the nearby Topo Viewpoint. See the lighthouse behind you and Topo Island 400 metres off the coast.
The entire 12-hectare Topo Island (Ilhéu do Topo) is a Protected Area. Seabirds such as roseate terns, common terns and the Cory’s shearwater nest on the island.
Enjoy the sunset with some light fare at the nearby Olhar Ilhéu Restaurant.
Sao Jorge Cheese
The island is famous for its tradition of cheese making. Family farms have supplied raw cow’s milk to small local factories for over a century.
The local milk is aged to perfection. The result is a pleasant, mild cheese with notes of butter and smoke. Its uniqueness earned São Jorge Cheese the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
The island’s cheese cooperative, known as UNICA (Union of Agricultural Dairy Cooperatives of São Jorge), plays a crucial role in setting quality standards and promoting São Jorge Cheese worldwide.
Visitors to the island can try this delicious cheese in a local restaurant. Enjoy it cubed in a salad, or on the side with fresh bread. Better yet, visit one of the São Jorge cheese factories to sample and buy this wonderful product.
Visit the São Jorge Dairy Cooperative (Uniäo de Cooperativas Agricolas de Lacticinios de São Jorge), located just outside Velas. It has a lovely store full of products. Another good place to stop is at the Finisterra Cheese Factory (Cooperativa de Lacticinios do Topo), as you drive east towards Topo.
Sao Jorge Accommodations
Looking for São Jorge island accommodation?
Check out these great options.
- São Jorge Spot Alojamento – We stayed here! A quiet accommodation located in the centre of the island. From our deck, we enjoyed the picturesque view of Mount Pico across the water.
- Hotel São Jorge Garden – Stay in the main town of Velas at this fabulous hotel.
- Here are other great accommodations in São Jorge.
Know Before You Go – Visiting Sao Jorge
Best time to visit Sao Jorge, Azores?
The best time to visit São Jorge (and any of the Azores islands) is from May to October, when the weather is most pleasant. Winters are fairly mild but, unfortunately, are quite rainy.
We visited during shoulder season, in the month of November, and found the weather fine during our stay, although it had rained just before our arrival.
How many days should I spend in Sao Jorge?
A 2-day visit to the island of São Jorge is ideal. While São Jorge deserves a leisurely visit, you can easily see all the highlights in 2 days.
Our 2-day São Jorge itinerary (which also includes an optional 3rd day), efficiently covers the island and lets you experience the essence of the island’s beauty and culture.
Getting to Sao Jorge, Azores?
Most people arrive on São Jorge by air. The São Jorge Airport is located just outside the town of Velas on the southern coast. Flights from São Miguel Island (40 minutes) and from Terceira (30 minutes) are available on Azores Airlines.
The best option for daily ferries is the Green Route ferry which operates between the islands of São Jorge and Pico. The sailing time between São Roque (Pico) and Velas (São Jorge) is 50 minutes. The sailing time between Madelina (Pico) and Velas (São Jorge) is 1 hour 20 minutes.
See the São Jorge ferry times on the Atlânticoline website for full details.
How to get around Sao Jorge (public buses, taxis)?
Public buses on São Jorge are operated by Rumo à Natureza. However, the schedules can be limited, and some routes may not run on weekends or holidays. Rumo à Natureza provides a map of all bus stops on São Jorge.
Taxi services are also available on São Jorge Island. They are a convenient option for getting around if you don’t have your own vehicle. For example, to reach the starting point of our Topo mountain hike, we called on São Jorge Taxi service.
Since bus and taxi options are somewhat limited on São Jorge, we believe having your own vehicle is a better option.
Where can I rent a car on Sao Jorge Island?
We recommend renting a car for your visit to São Jorge. This gives you the freedom to discover the island’s many attractions.
You can rent a car at the São Jorge airport or in the main town of Velas.
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