Visit This Cow-Covered Island Where You Can Journey Deep Into A Volcanic Cave

Portugal is best known for its cities like Lisbon and Porto, and the beach resort towns of the Algarve. The European country has seen a surge in tourism in recent years. While you really can't go wrong during a trip to Portugal, the country's islands of Madeira and the Azores are often overlooked when visitors are planning their itineraries.

The Azores, an archipelago located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is the perfect addition to a Portuguese holiday — especially if you love nature and outdoor activities. The Azores is comprised of nine volcanic islands, including Terceira, which has the distinction of being home to more cows than people — a real draw for the animal lovers among us!

Terceira's history of cattle farming dates back to the 15th century when early settlers introduced cows to the island and, over time, it became a crucial aspect of the local economy. The island's landscape also lends itself to this perfectly — it's full of rolling hills and green meadows, giving ample space for cows to graze and thrive. So on a trip to Terceira, don't be surprised when you spot cows at every turn! Of course, the island offers far more than just cows. From history to beaches to walking into a volcano, here's what to do on a trip to this stunning island.

Hike inside a volcano

An activity that you absolutely can't miss during a visit to Terceira is a hike into Algar do Carvão, a volcanic cave that's located near the town of Angra do Heroísmo. Formed over 3,000 years ago, it features a series of chambers connected by passages, adorned with stunning geological formations. You'll also see birds, the occasional rabbit, and a wide variety of plants. 

Once you've walked the 338 steps to the bottom of the cave's chimney, you'll be treated to the sight of a beautiful lake. Depending on the rainfall at the time of your visit, the lake can be up to 49 feet deep, but no need to pack a swimsuit — swimming is not permitted! The lake is also occasionally closed for conservation initiatives.

"As a geologist, the visit to this cavern was the highlight of my trip to Terceira. The feature is a volcanic chimney or vent on the side of a volcanic complex. It is accessed via vertical stairway that leads down into magma chambers," wrote one reviewer on TripAdvisor. "This is a fantastic and rare opportunity to go down inside you [sic] volcanic vent."

Enjoy the history and beaches of Terceira

Terceira also has a rich history. To learn all about the island's fascinating past, start by heading to the capital, Angra do Heroísmo. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is full of charming cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and historic monuments. Wander through the main square, Praça Velha, and visit the Sé Cathedral. Built in 1568, it's the biggest church on all nine of the islands in the Azores. Highlights include the main altar, which is carved in silver from the 16th century, and the impressive collection of paintings and sculptures.

And what would an island vacation be without a beach day (or two... or three)? Praia da Vitória, a city on the east coast of the island, is known for its beautiful sandy beaches. Praia Grande is a public beach and the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the ocean. Although it's popular and in a central location, it's large enough that you'll have no trouble finding space and quieter areas. And if you want a break from the beach, just head to the city's historic center. It's full of great shops and restaurants, including waterfront eateries where you can enjoy incredible seafood and try some of Terceira's local delicacies.