A Guide To Pico Island, Azores: How To Plan An Amazing Roadtrip

June 21, 2024
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Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores | A detailed guide to Pico Island...the Azores' Pico Island is a unique roadtrip destination, much less-touristy even than Sao Miguel, with great local culture, stunning wild, lush scenery, & centuries of winemaking history!

Pico Island is often overlooked when visitors plan a trip to the Azores, but it makes for a very unique roadtrip destination…wilder and definitely less developed from a tourism standpoint than Sao Miguel or Terceira.

Because of that you get a beautiful glimpse into the local culture in addition to enjoying stunning lush scenery and exploring centuries of winemaking history.  And you feel like you have it all to yourself!

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - sunset at Mar Sushi

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Why visit Pico Island?

When planning a trip to the Azores, many visitors will skip Pico Island in favor of Sao Miguel and Terceira (both of which have international airports).  And it’s understandable—it takes a bit more work to get to Pico and there are fewer well-known things to see and do.  But I believe it deserves a spot on your itinerary.

Pico is less about ticking boxes and more of a VIBE…driving around, stopping where you feel like it, and just soaking in the island’s culture and scenery.  It’s the most volcanic of the Azores islands, and like many of the other islands, has a mind-blowing abundance of lush plant life.

What most appealed to me about Pico—and earned it a spot on my itinerary—was its UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyards, sheltered in tiny lava rock fences.  It added a unique element to my overall Azores itinerary.

It’s also considered one of the best areas for whale and dolphin watching…I took a tour on Sao Miguel since my time in Pico was more limited, but otherwise would definitely have done it here.  And it’s a great destination for a more active trip, with interesting hiking opportunities.

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - explore the island's centuries of winemaking history

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Here’s what this guide will cover:

  • How to get around / Pico rental car tips
  • Where to stay in Pico
  • Packing tips & a few additional tips
  • What to do & how to plan your roadtrip
  • Where to eat & drink

I’ll cover getting to and from the island at the end of this post, since I want to talk about the ferry process a bit more.  But I flew TO Pico from Sao Miguel, and loved this view of the island on our approach!

beautiful view flying into Pico Island

This post contains some affiliate links. I may earn a small commission from any qualifying purchases through clicks on these links (which I greatly appreciate, and at NO EXTRA COST to you). All opinions are, as always, completely my own. 

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How to get around Pico Island (a.k.a. do I need a rental car?)

Do you need a car in Pico Island?  In my opinion, yes!  I definitely believe you need a car to explore Pico properly, as it gives you flexibility in your itinerary and also…there’s not really public transportation.  Car rental on the island is easy, just like the rest of the Azores, and driving is not difficult (though requires you to pay attention).

However, if you only have a day on Pico and you don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car, you may want to consider a full-day small group tour, or a private tour so you can have more control over the itinerary, or this full day of winery tours if that’s your style (it sure is mine).

For renting a car internationally, I always search in a few different places and compare both the prices and specific offerings/benefits.  My go-to’s are DiscoverCarsRentalCars.com, and AutoEurope, and I found a really good deal on DiscoverCars for this trip as I needed an automatic and they were in short supply.  DC has become a staple for me.

My rental was with Ilha Verde, which seemed to be the only game in town (I also rented with them on Faial) .  The line was long and moved kind of slow, but then I got my car and was on my way.  Sadly though, it had no working A/C on it (and was a bit bigger than I’d have preferred).  One warning, they sometimes only have one person working, so budget some extra time for returning the car, just in case.

Check out my detailed guide to car rental & driving in the Azores!

car rental in Pico Island, how to plan your road trip in the Azores

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Where to stay on Pico Island

I stayed at the gorgeous, unique Casas de Incensos, a handful of the historic lava stone homes typical of the island.  The setting is beautiful, with lush greenery and flowers as well as a view of the ocean in the distance.

The cabins are cute and comfortable (though when I stayed, no A/C), Ana was a super welcoming host, and the breakfast is delicious!  While the location isn’t as convenient as staying in Madalena, it’s a much more intimate, local experience—and there’s a BOMB sushi joint a few minutes away.

Most of the great places in Pico have a 2-night minimum, and some (like the amazing Lava Homes, which I wanted to try out) have a 3-night minimum.  If Casas de Incensos is booked up or not right for you, the others I had really wanted to try were Quinta Pereirinha (a unique farmstay), Pocinhobay (gorgeous, wasn’t available), and Miradouro de Papalva (wasn’t available).

Read my detailed review of Casas de Incensos here!

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - where to stay on Pico Island - Casas de Incensos

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - where to stay on Pico Island - Casas de Incensos

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - where to stay on Pico Island - Casas de Incensos

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I did stay my last night at a different hotel, called Alma do Pico.  I had wanted to be closer to the airport since I had to return my car the night before I left Pico (at the airport), but Alma do Pico felt more out-of-the-way than I’d expected—not in Madalena “proper”.  It was more of a budget option as well vs. the others.

It’s a unique property and the right kind of traveler would love it.  There’s a pool and lots of seating areas, and a cocktail bar (run by the desk manager).  You’re really nestled in nature, it’s a beautiful property, and the rooms are spacious though sparse, with a little kitchenette as well—would be great for a more self-sufficient stay (and a grocery store is walkable).

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - where to stay on Pico Island - Alma do Pico

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - where to stay on Pico Island - Alma do Pico

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores - where to stay on Pico Island - Alma do Pico

Other Azores adventures to help plan your trip:

Everything You Need To Know About Car Rental & Driving In The Azores

A Unique Taste Of History (& Wine!) On Pico Island

Where To Stay On Pico Island: The Unique, Beautiful, & Historic Casas de Incensos

A Detailed Roadtrip Guide to Sao Miguel Island

Exploring the Vibrant, Medieval City of Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel’s Glorious Sete Cidades: Miradouro Vista do Rei & More

Steeped In Tradition: Visiting A Tea Plantation In The Azores

How To Make The Most of a Day on Faial Island

…& more coming soon.  Check out all my Portugal posts here!

What to pack for the Azores

Then there’s the weather and packing.  I visited in early September and it was SO hot….and humid!  I definitely didn’t pack enough cool clothes for the Azores overall.  I was dripping sweat constantly and it’s not uncommon for both hotels/rentals and cars to not have A/C.

I wished I’d brought even more sundresses (a lot of mine are from StitchFix & I love this one from Amazon).  Underneath them I wear my new obsession for warm weather trips, these super thin anti-chafe, cooling shorts.

I had mostly brought lightweight, breathable stretchy travel pants (Athleta and these Eddie Bauer ones are my faves), lightweight sleeveless or short-sleeve tops, and alternated between my beloved cute/comfy walking sandals and my cute white sneakers.  I’d skip jeans (too heavy, don’t dry easily, and take up packing space).

Depending on how much hiking you’re planning to do, you’ll want to make sure you have windproof and waterproof outer layers—the Azores have plenty of wind, fog, and rain!  I brought this super light rain jacket but didn’t end up needing it (this North Face is a good option for cooler weather).

I brought plenty of my fave face sunscreens and relied on my go-to natural non-toxic makeup (which does great in sweaty weather!), a headband (for keeping my hair out of my eyes in the wind), and polarized sunglasses.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - explore the island's centuries of winemaking history & UNESCO World Heritage Site

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General tips for visiting Pico

A couple of observations…

  • You’ll find some things closed on Sundays, and a lot of restaurants closed on Mondays, so it’s good to plan ahead.
  • I didn’t feel like tipping was a big thing, and you won’t be given the option on credit card payments.  Feel free to round up your bill or leave a couple euros.
  • Bring tons of water bottles with you!  Like I said above, it’s hot and humid and I had trouble finding places to just stop and buy water.  So I took to keeping several bottles in my car and filling up whenever I could.
  • I ran into public restrooms rarely.  Make sure to go to the bathroom whenever one’s available (e.g. if you are at a cafe and buy a coffee), and keep some toilet paper on hand because sometimes the public restrooms don’t have it.
  • I was using Google Maps and taking so many photos, and my phone battery was STRUGGLING.  Make sure to have an external battery or two for charging up!

But the most important thing to know about is the island’s webcams, and how to shape your itinerary around the weather!  The islands have a ton of microclimates, and different elevations will have totally different weather.  Weather forecasts aren’t super helpful.

Enter, the webcams…you’ll want to download the SpotAzores app to see a real-time view of the weather in various towns and viewpoints around Pico.  IT’S CLUTCH.  I didn’t need to use it quite as much as I did on Sao MIguel, but you can see in the pic below how Pico Mountain was covered in fog when it was sunny where I was.

clouds covering Mount Pico

Spot Azores webcam to show you the weather on PIco Island

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What to do on Pico Island: my 2-day itinerary

Okay, now on to the good stuff…I’m actually going to share my itinerary chronologically rather than trying to group areas or types of things together.  That’s because Pico’s a small enough island to be easily explored in a day or two, and for the most part you’re going in a circle.

There’s less to “do” in Pico, so it’s more about driving around, beautiful miradouros (scenic viewpoints), and delicious meals.  And of course, WINE.  I’ll speak to the winery tours that I did below (but you can check out my deep-dive post on them).  A half-day or full-day tour of wineries is definitely worth your time.

I’d also say that if you can’t do a dolphin and whale watching tour in Sao Miguel, you should do it here.  Also, a shout-out to one other activity that I didn’t even consider, which is hiking up the mountain…this (slightly intense sounding) small group tour with coffee and gorgeous photography is mesmerizing though.

After checking in at Casas de Incensos, I asked my host for a recommendation and she raved about Mar Sushi.  Located just 5 minutes down the road, I was BLOWN AWAY.  It has an amazing view and terrace, and everything is so fresh and delicious!

I ate like an absolute pig, trying their sushi platter, gyoza, tatami, tataki, and bao buns. I don’t know what the waiter was thinking, letting me order that much!  He mostly didn’t even give me a judgy look.  Mostly.  I sipped a delicious local gin & tonic while watching a gorgeous, quiet sunset and congratulating myself on making great life choices.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - watch the sunset & eat at the delicious Mar Sushi

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - watch the sunset & eat at the delicious Mar Sushi

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - watch the sunset & eat at the delicious Mar Sushi

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - watch the sunset & eat at the delicious Mar Sushi

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The next morning I was up early, and after a big breakfast at my B&B, I started in the town of Lajes do Pico. A former whaling village, it’s the oldest municipality on Pico and where the settlers from Portugal first set up shop.  There’s a great viewpoint nearby (Arrife) that I missed somehow).

Stop by the Aromas & Sabores bakery for a sweet treat and some coffee, and keep on going.

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pico island,pico island azores,car rental pico azores,things to do on pico island

pico island,pico island azores,car rental pico azores,things to do on pico island

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I decided to drive eastward, drove through Calheta, and stopped for pics a few times.  I was thoroughly charmed by the São Sebastian church towering over the little boat ramp.

Sao Sebastian church in Calheta on the island of Pico, Azores

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - charming scenery & church at Calheta

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - ocean view

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I stopped to walk around in Piedade for a few minutes, got a coffee at a bar, and made a horse friend.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - the town of Piedade

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - I made a horse friend in the town of Piedade

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - the town of Piedade

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - the town of Piedade

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This beautiful church in Piedade was awesome!

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - the town of Piedade

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - the town of Piedade

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After driving around the coast for a while, I decided to head inland, and took the turn-off up to the Lagoas.  I tried to find Miradouro Do Corre Água but I’m not…actually sure I found it?  It’s one of the interesting wrinkles about Pico—actually locating things both on Google Maps and in real life can be tricky.

I think this might be just some other viewpoint?  But it was a beautiful place to stop and snap a few pics.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores - beautiful view of the ocean & hydrangeas

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Then I continued along the narrow road further up into the hills.  You need to be careful, but it should be drivable unless the weather and roads are bad (like muddy) or if it’s foggy.

There are one or two dicey spots where you need to be careful of your tires, but overall it was a pretty good dirt road until I started to make the circle back (then it got kind of dicey).

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - driving the Lagoas path

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - driving the Lagoas path

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - driving the Lagoas path

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - driving the Lagoas path

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I was confused though, as I didn’t see any lagoas (lakes)???  I stopped at the Caldeira and it was quite underwhelming.  Overall this wasn’t a particularly cool drive in terms of specific things to see or do, but there were some occasional gorgeous panoramas like the pics above.

I ran into a bank of fog on my drive back down that was a bit nervewracking, as I could barely see in front of me or on either side where there were drop-offs.  Thankfully I had Google Maps so I could see where the road was going and use that to navigate.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - driving the Lagoas path

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - driving the Lagoas path & seeing the Caldeira

foggy weather driving on Pico Island

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Once I got back to the main coastal road, I was heading toward my lunch destination, but saw a sign for another miradouro, Miradouro da Terra Alta.  It’s actually a two-parter, with a little shaded path in-between the two different lookouts.  Great for a quick stop!

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - Miradouro da Terra Alta

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - Miradouro da Terra Alta

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - Miradouro da Terra Alta

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Then I pulled up to Magma right as they opened for lunch.  I’d wanted to come for dinner but they were booked up all week (make reservations early!).  Magma is the restaurant at the beautiful Lava Homes, which I wanted to stay at but couldn’t do their three-night minimum.

As you can see below, the setting is absolutely gorgeous!  I started with delicious local Pico wine and a bread plate with fresh tuna salad and fresh butter, cheeses, and honey.  The local butter is amazing.

Then I got their steak with honey cheese cream sauce (there were a number of things on the menu I couldn’t eat).  It was rich but delicious, a bit heavier than I had needed, and the fries were fresh and pretty decent.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stop for an amazing lunch or dinner with a view at Magma

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stop for an amazing lunch or dinner with a view at Magma

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stop for an amazing lunch or dinner with a view at Magma

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After lunch I stopped by another nearby viewpoint, the Miradouro do Parque Florestal da Prainha do Norte….hahaha QUITE the mouthful.  I’ve also seen it listed as just “Miradouro Prainha”.  Again, absolutely beautiful sweeping views!  This is another great quick stop.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stop for great views at Miradouro do Parque Florestal da Prainha do Norte

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stop for great views at Miradouro do Parque Florestal da Prainha do Norte

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stop for great views at Miradouro do Parque Florestal da Prainha do Norte

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Now I’m going out of order chronologically, but it makes more sense to group all of my winery and historic vineyard things together.  As I mention at the outset, one of the best things to do on Pico is learn about the winemaking history and taste a lot of the wines.

It was one of the main reasons I chose Pico over other islands, so I dedicated quite a bit of my itinerary to that.  I’ll only cover my experiences lightly here, and then have linked to my detailed post on exploring Pico’s wine below.

Pico wine is practically unknown despite being cultivated for over 500 years.  Their historic currals, or black basalt volcanic stone fences tightly protect the vines from the wind, and cover many parts of the island with a very dramatic black honeycomb pattern.

The winemaking on the island is still done in a very traditional way here, and one of the best things to do in Pico is to visit wineries and walk the historic vineyards.  A visit to Pico wouldn’t be complete without walking through the historic Vinhas da Criação Velha, the historic UNESCO World Heritage vineyards.

There are trails that anyone can use to walk through the vineyards and see the currals and vines up close.  The trail is also known as the Trilha de Vinhas.  I had the hardest time figuring out where to start the vineyard walk and where I could park.  Google Maps tried to take me to the windmill below, which you can’t actually drive to.

I did finally figure how to walk around a bit but don’t feel like I did it *right*.  The post below chronicles my struggles and eventual experience.

Check out my deep-dive post on exploring Pico’s wineries & history!

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - walk the paths of the Vinhas da Criação Velha, the UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyards

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - walk the paths of the Vinhas da Criação Velha, the UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyards

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - walk the paths of the Vinhas da Criação Velha, the UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyards

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I also visited a few wineries for tastings, beginning at Azores Wine Company, which blends modern and historic aesthetics in a unique way.  I’d booked ahead, and did a short tour here and then tasted several wines along with some local cheeses.  Again, you can read more in my Pico wine deep-dive.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - sip local wine & learn at Azores Wine Company

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - sip local wine & learn at Azores Wine Company

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - sip local wine & learn at Azores Wine Company

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I did make a brief stop by the Pico Wine Museum.  I’m not a big museum person and I don’t know that this one is super interesting (though maybe it is if you do a guided tour…the thing is, you get the same info from a tour at a winery).  But that view in the first pic with the pink building is pretty great!

I also did a tasting at the Cooperativa Vitivinicola PicoWines (see more reviews here), a co-op founded in 1949 by producers who were trying to recover the historic grape varieties and cultures.  While the ambiance felt more sterile here vs. being at a vineyad, our guide (a winemaker herself) very knowledgeable and told us a ton about the island’s winemaking history, and we tasted three great wines.

My last winery stop was Adega Vitivinicola Lucas Lopes Amaral.  I was tight on time, so just did a three-wine tasting and a cheese board rather than anything more involved.  It’s a small family-run winery with a lovely view of Pico Mountain, and they offer daily tastings (except Sundays) paired with their own petiscos (snacks) and local cheeses.

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - learn about the island's winemaking history at the wine museum

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - sip local wine & learn at Cooperativa

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - taste the wines and petiscos at Adega Lucas Amaral

Things to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - taste the wines and petiscos at Adega Lucas Amaral

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It was late afternoon after I tried and failed the first time to find the historic vineyard trail, and I wanted a cold drink and some rest.

I also wanted to try Cella Bar, so climbed up to their rooftop patio and ordered from their expansive local gin & tonic list.  Cella is a famous winery and restaurant in Madalena that’s shaped like a wine barrel.  It’s right on the water, with stunning views!

I got a G&T with the local Baleia gin, and also tried a chilled shot of local passionfruit liqueur.  YUM on both counts!  After some dithering, I also ordered some dinner to go because I was still full from lunch and too tired to feel like venturing out again for dinner once I got back to my hotel (plus I didn’t have a reservation).

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - gin & tonic with a view at Cella Bar

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - gin & tonic with a view at Cella Bar

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - gin & tonic with a view at Cella Bar

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That night on my way back to Casas de Incensos I stopped briefly at a viewpoint between Madalena and my hotel, as well as one the next morning.  I definitely stopped at Moinho de São João (one of their iconic red windmills), and then also Miradouro das Lajes do Pico.

This is Miradouro das Lajes do Pico, overlooking the town.

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - sunset views from Miradouro das Lajes do Pico

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - sunset views from Miradouro das Lajes do Pico

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And the next morning as I headed back toward Madalena, here’s where I pulled over.  I am not positive, but think it might just be a slightly different angle on Miradouro das Lajes do Pico?

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - view of Pico Mountain

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stopping at a miradouro

What to Do On Pico Island, Azores on a roadtrip - stopping at a miradouro

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I didn’t spend much time in Madalena, and wasn’t super impressed with it relative to charming Ponta Delgada (on Sao Miguel) or Horta (on Faial).

pico island,pico island azores,car rental pico azores,things to do on pico island

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Where to eat & drink on Pico Island

I’ve obviously mentioned most of my favorite restaurants and wineries throughout the post, but I’ll consolidate and add a bit here as well.  One thing to know is that a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays, so it’s even more important to get reservations and also just check ahead whether something is open.

I ate breakfast both mornings at my accommodation, as Casas de Incensos provides a delicious breakfast full of local cheese, homemade breads, and hot food as well.  I also stopped by Aromas & Sabores bakery in Lajes do Pico one morning, and Padaria Andrade in Madalena another morning.

For lunch, I ate at the amazing Magma, which I speak to at length above (get a dinner reservation if you can!).  I also grabbed a quick healthy lunch at Mercado Bio in Madalena…it was a nice change of pace, and I enjoyed my tuna cakes, chicken curry, passionfruit cheesecake, and local Baleia gin & tonic.  A great spot!

For dinner, you absolutely have to eat at Mar Sushi, and whether you eat at Cella Bar or just have drinks there, it’s a must.  You’ll also taste all sorts of delicious local cheese, wines, jams, breads, and more throughout your visit.

pico island,pico island azores,car rental pico azores,things to do on pico island

pico island,pico island azores,car rental pico azores,things to do on pico island

pico island,pico island azores,car rental pico azores,things to do on pico island

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How to get to Pico Island

Lastly, let’s talk about how to get to and from Pico Island.  You have two options—fly or ferry.  And it will depend on where you’re coming from and where you’re going to.  I did both.

I flew from Sao Miguel to Pico on a tiny plane.  Sao Miguel and Terceira are the two main international airports you can fly into.  I am obsessed with the views of the island as your plane comes in.

Gorgeous view from plane approaching Pico Island

Since I was going to tiny Faial next, a ferry made much more sense…Pico is connected to Faial, Flores, Sao Jorge, and Corvo (all tiny islands, excepting Pico) by ferry.

I booked ahead of time with Atlantico Lines for €3.80.  The boarding process was smooth, though it was a rollicking 30-minute ride (I don’t have any issues with sea sickness so that wasn’t a problem).  I made a fun IG Reel about it if you want to take a peek!

A Guide to Pico Island, Azores - taking the ferry to Faial

A Guide to Pico Island, Azores - taking the ferry to Faial

A Guide to Pico Island, Azores - taking the ferry to Faial

So if you’re planning a trip to the Azores, hopefully this has given you a good idea of whether Pico Island deserves a spot on your itinerary!

Other roadtrip adventures you’ll love:

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What to Do On Pico Island, Azores | A detailed guide to Pico Island...the Azores' Pico Island is a unique roadtrip destination, much less-touristy even than Sao Miguel, with great local culture, stunning wild, lush scenery, & centuries of winemaking history! From car rental in Pico to where to stay in Pico, where to eat, roadtrip stops, & more! #azores #portugal #picoisland

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