Exploring Sao Miguel’s Glorious Sete Cidades: Miradouro Vista do Rei & More (Azores Islands)
Shortly after landing on the island of Sao Miguel—after, of course, a coffee and some pasteis de nata—I pulled up the Azores webcam app to see which spots were covered in fog. To my surprise (given the forecast), the vibrant twin lakes of Sete Cidades were pretty clear.
So I took a chance, jumped in my car, and headed toward the famous Miradouro Vista do Rei. And by the time I arrived, the slightly overcast skies had cleared up into stunning sunny blue skies!
I won’t pretend that this isn’t part photo essay, as I had the hardest time narrowing down my pics…but I’ll also share details on visiting Vista do Rei, other miradouros, the town, and more.
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What is Sete Cidades?
This caused me a bit of confusion during my pre-trip research. Sete Cidades refers not only to the famous caldera (volcanic crater) on Sao Miguel, but the whole area and the town itself.
The caldera itself is more often referred to as two separate lakes—Lagoa Verde (Green Lake) and Lagoa Azul (Blue Lake). Local myth says that the lakes’ distinctive colors resulted from a tragic love story between a blue-eyed princess and a green-eyed shepherd, but the real explanation is much more mundane (differences in depth, and algae).
The surrounding area has a number of awesome lookouts (miradouros) that provide views down to the two crater lakes. Of them, Vista do Rei is probably the most famous, and I’ll spend quite a bit of time on it below (but mention others).
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A few details for visiting the Sete Cidades area
For orientation and planning, Sete Cidades is over on the west side of São Miguel. It’s a pretty easy drive from Ponta Delgada, and pairs easily with Mosteiros, Miradouro Vista do Rei, Miradouro da Grota Boca da Inferno, Ponta da Ferraria (where you can swim if desired), and Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado.
The one place I really wanted to see in this area that I failed at was Miradouro da Grota do Inferno. Somehow I kept missing it while driving, backtracking, I couldn’t find signs, and I couldn’t turn where Google Maps told me to. Ultimately I had to give up, but I was bummed about it.
This author’s post goes into serious depth about many of the other miradouros, hikes, and more in Sete Cidades that I was not able to do.
Where to stay in Sao Miguel: I stayed in a beautiful, unique apartment on the north-central coast for most of my visit. I also stayed on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada on my last night before my flight home at the awesome Praia de Santos. I wanted to stay at Casa de Palmeiras or this stunning Santa Barbara eco resort, but they weren’t available my dates.
Other Azores adventures to help plan your trip:
…& more coming soon. Check out all my Portugal posts here!
One of the key things to know in the Azores is about the webcams! Many of the miradouro viewpoints, lakes, scenic drives, and hikes are up high, so are prone to fog and cloud cover that can obscure the view (and be dangerous).
You’ll want to download the SpotAzores app to see a real-time view of the weather. IT’S CLUTCH. Below is a side-by-side comparison I took just this morning, so you can see how important it is.
The weather is very mercurial in the Azores, so weather forecasts are basically useless. You want to instead monitor the webcams and decide based on that.
Once I saw that clear view on the webcam app, I headed out of Ponta Delgada and around the west coast.
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It’s a beautiful drive…very green and lush, with the famous hydrangeas popping out all along the road. I was bummed that there weren’t any pull-outs to stop and snap a picture. Renting a car and driving in the Azores is super easy. The roads are mostly great (if occasionally quite hilly and winding) and not crowded.
I used DiscoverCars to book all three rental cars across the islands and would highly recommend them…good rates, no hassle, and they found me an automatic when no one else could. I also always compare RentalCars.com.
The road was pretty well-signed and I was using my Google Maps as well. As it started to climb toward Vista do Rei, the landscape turned more into forest. Then I saw the lakes on my right as I got near the parking area—it was hard to keep going, not drop everything to stop and take photos!
There’s a small parking lot just past the viewpoint, with a 20-minute limit. You shouldn’t need more than 20 minutes, unless you’re going to explore the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel or hike the caldera (which looked awesome).
The small lot is steep and tight getting in and out (and challenging to turn around to get out if there aren’t spots available), but I got lucky and was able to snag a spot just as someone was leaving. Otherwise there’s a larger deck nearby for longer parking.
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Like, what more can you say?? This is one of the classic Azores views, just saturated with colors and MOOD at every turn. I loved seeing the blue and green lakes spread out in front of me in all their glory, surrounded by greenery, puffy hydrangeas, and blue skies.
If you want, you can take a full-day hike down to the bottom of the caldera to see the lakes up close. But otherwise Miradouro Vista do Rei is one of the easiest and most rewarding views of the Sete Cidades lakes that you’ll find.
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That accessibilitly does come with a price. This is also one of the most crowded places you’ll find on Sao Miguel (outside of the towns).
You won’t get a lot of peace and quiet at the main viewpoint, but I walked back down the road just for a few minutes and had these views all to myself. Literally ALL to myself.
That first pic in particular really looks like Hawaii to me. I know people say the Azores are the “Hawaii of Europe”…I don’t know how the Azoreans feel about that description, but I definitely understand where it came from.
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From Vista do Rei I tried to figure out where Miradouro da Grota do Inferno was, but as I mentioned above, I failed miserably.
But the drive around and down from Vista do Rei is really beautiful. I instead headed toward Miradouro do Cerrado das Freiras, to see Sete Cidades from a different angle.
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Miradouro do Cerrado das Freiras doesn’t get nearly the press that Vista do Rei and Boca do Inferno do. But it’s an easy stop and well worth it!
There’s a very small parking lot and short walk, then you get to see the lakes together more horizontally vs. vertically, with the bridge dissecting them neatly.
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After you’ve had your fill of miradouros, it’s time to head down and see the lakes up close.
Which…spoiler, they look like lakes. Any lake, really.
I noticed quite a lot of sporting activities around the lake, from kayaking to quad biking, if that’s up your alley.
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Just a minute past the bridge you’ll arrive in the town of Sete Cidades.
My first stop here was the beautiful Church of São Nicolau. This Neo-Gothic church was built in the 1800s, and to me is a very traditional example of (what I’d come to recognize as) Azorean architecture.
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I was absolutely famished at this point, so (finally) located Casa de Cha, formerly O Peojo. It’s a teahouse that serves meals as well as homemade cakes and teas from the Cha Gorreana tea plantation.
I enjoyed some pineapple tart (though a bit gluey), orange cake (BOMB), and local white wine on their charming patio. I did not enjoy my roast beef sandwich.
The third pic below is a house right on the edge of Sete Cidades that I just thought looked really cool.
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Hopefully this helps give a better sense of what it’s like to explore the Sete Cidades area in Sao Miguel, and what else you can pair with the famous Miradouro Vista do Rei.
From here I went on to see Ponta da Ferraria, stopped briefly at the beautiful Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado, and walked around Moisteros Beach a bit.
Other scenic viewpoints you’ll love:
- Santorini At Sunrise: Solo Hiking From Imerovigli To Oia
- Arenal Volcano Views at Costa Rica’s Luxury Nayara Tented Camp
- Discovering A Secret Scottish Castle Ruin On A Sea Cliff
- Exploring Historic Fort Jefferson In Dry Tortugas National Park
- Soaking In The Charms Of Tiny Cortona, Italy
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