Visit This Remote European Island For Thrilling Outdoor Adventures

Situated in the heart of the Azores, the island of São Jorge is heart-stoppingly beautiful, a testament to the shaping forces of millions of years of volcanic activity in the archipelago. Its form often likened to a sleeping dragon, the elongated island stretches 34 miles but is only 4.3 miles across at its widest point. In addition to its dramatic cliffs, the island is also known for its curious fajãs — flat coastal areas formed by lava flows or landslides that are home to many of the island's colorful villages. With over 70 of these areas scattered along the coastline, São Jorge is sometimes referred to as the "fajã island." The island's interior landscape is equally magnificent, a patchwork of rugged hills, deep ravines, ethereal forests, and the greenest pastures you've ever seen, dotted with happily munching cows.  

The island's distinct topography makes it an ideal destination for all kinds of outdoor activities, from casual hikes along hydrangea-lined pathways to more thrilling adventures, like rappelling into its gorges and leaping off ledges into the churning ocean. Also, the fact that São Jorge is one of the lesser-visited Azorean islands means visitors have more solitude when exploring its special places — an added bonus for those seeking a true wilderness experience. 

Land-based adventures

São Jorge is a hiker's paradise, with many trails that showcase its marvelous landscapes. One of the most famous hikes is the trail leading to Pico da Esperança, the island's highest point. Those who brave this hike are rewarded with panoramic views of São Jorge along with the chance to glimpse the four other central Azorean islands — Faial, Pico (known for its one-of-a-kind volcanic wine), Graciosa, and Terceira — on a clear day. Another well-known São Jorge trek descends from the Eolic Park of Serra do Topo to the Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo with its serene lake and remote beach that's one of the island's prime surfing spots. This fajã is also the only place in the Azores where the renowned São Jorge clams are harvested. Anthony Bourdain actually feasted on these clams in an episode of his "No Reservations" show back in 2008. 

Thrillseekers who really want to get their adrenaline pumping should opt for a local canyoning or coasteering tour. On a canyoning expedition, adventurers navigate through one of São Jorge's ravines by alternately hiking through forest, hopping across boulders, rappelling down waterfalls, and swimming across blue-green pools, as if auditioning for the next "Indiana Jones" movie. Coasteering — a mix of rock climbing, cliff jumping, and swimming along the coastline — has also gained popularity in recent years and is another exhilarating way to explore the island.  

Sea-based adventures

Ocean swimmers will delight in knowing that São Jorge boasts some of the most iconic natural pools in the Azores. For these folks, the pool at Simão Dias is an absolute must-visit. This glittering blue jewel ringed by intricately carved cliffs tempts even non-swimmers to take a plunge to more fully experience its magic. In the spring and summer months (when the water is less turbulent), another water-based way to explore the island is by ocean kayak. On a 3-hour kayaking trip with Sao-Jorge-based Discover Experience, visitors can spend several hours kayaking the coast and disembark at Fajã dos Vimes to tour Europe's largest coffee plantation, Cafe Nunes, and taste its delicious coffee. You might be thinking that it's unusual for coffee to grow this far north, and you're right. But because of its unique microclimate, coffee plants have been able to thrive in this particular fajã. 

São Jorge can be reached by ferry from Pico and Faial throughout the year and from Graciosa and Terceira in the summer. Its small airport receives flights from other islands but does not receive flights from outside the archipelago. With its stunning vistas, numerous opportunities for outdoor adventures, and distinctive local foods and beverages, this is one Azores island you should visit on your next trip to Portugal.