One Day In Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores
Cruise ships usually stop in the Canary Islands or the Azores when crossing the Atlantic. We were initially scheduled to stop at Tenerife, but Celebrity changed the itinerary as the cruise drew closer. We are rounding out the first week on our Transatlantic Cruise with our first stop to spend one day in Ponta Delgada, the largest city in the Azores.
The change in itinerary is an excellent turn of events for us. We booked a food tour in Ponta Delgada way back in early 2020. That trip didn’t happen, but yay, now we do!
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Arriving in Ponta Delgada
Our ship, the Celebrity Reflection, arrives and is finally cleared by customs in the Azores at 10:00 am, eight days after leaving Florida. Our tour starts at 11:00 am, so we are well-rested and ready to go.
The Azores, an archipelago of nine North Atlantic volcanic islands, are known mainly for flora. Excursions with names like “Ribeira Grande & Fire Lake” and “Sete Cidades Crater Lakes” promise to show you this; just listen to their descriptions:
“The tour winds through farmland, into Ribeira Grande, and one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Azores”
“The volcanic majesty of the Azores is stunningly brought to you.”
Many cruisers choose to take one of the ship’s excursions, and sometimes we do too. But we find time on these excursions is more often spent on the bus than at the sites you want to see. This is why we often choose to do an independent tour.
Our One Day in Ponta Delgada – A City and Food Tour!
Meeting Up With Hungry Whales
Everyone is pretty eager to see land and get off the ship after a week at sea. Fortunately, the cruise dock is very close to downtown Ponta Delgada. Following the directions from Hungry Whales, it’s an easy walk to the City Gates to meet up with our tour guide. Raphael was quite happy to see us this time around!
When we first get to the square, my hubby starts looking around for our guide while I patiently wait by the entrance gates. As I am waiting, a gentleman approaches me and asks if I am looking for a tour. This is common in touristy areas and can be a scam, so I’m cautious in my response. I tell him we have a tour with Hungry Whales.
He tells me that our guide is not here yet but is on the way and introduces himself. His name is Michael; he says he took Raphael’s (the owner of Hungry Whales) Portuguese classes and is now learning to be a guide for the company.
Michael came to Ponta Delgada in 2019 for a five-day vacation from California. He loved this place so much that he started looking at homes to buy on day three. He put an offer on a house on day four, and on day five, he was told the home was his.
Michael went home to California, sold his home there, and moved his family to the Azores. Who has ever met someone that actually did this? So if you are wondering if Ponta Delgada is safe… I can’t quote any statistics, but how many Americans would move their whole family to a brand new place after just five days if they didn’t feel safe.
Soon Raphael arrives at the City Gates, gathers up our group, and makes introductions. There are just five tour participants in total, which is much better than 30+ people on a bus. Raphael describes the historical significance of the City Gates and the port surrounding us. And so the tour begins.
Learning About Ponta Delgada And Enjoying Great Food Along The Way
This tour is a walking tour, but don’t fear; there are no big hills or steep stairways to climb. Just put on your most comfortable walking shoes.
After a quick introduction at the City Gates, our group heads off on our exploration. Raphael stops at the intersection of Rua do Aljube and Travessa do Aljube. Aljube translated from Arabic (he tells us), means the jail. Rua and Travessa are the roads to the jail. Like all of Portugal, the Moorish influence is evident in the Azores.
This is the place of our first restaurant Tasca: in the building that actually used to be the jail. Tasca, the restaurant’s name, is also the style of the restaurant. In Portugal, a tasca is usually found in an older small neighborhood, away from the tourist areas. Tasca’s serve home-style food to local residents at reasonable prices.
At Tasca, we start our feast with a traditional meal of chorizo with bread and roasted sweet potato. The kicker here is we cook the chorizo right at our table. The chorizo sausage is brought to the table in a special cooking dish. Your waitperson lights the fire, and your chorizo begins to cook. It’s proper to cook the sausage till it’s well browned and crispy on the outside.
If you enjoy chorizo made this way, you can make it for yourself when you get home.
With food in our stomachs, it’s time for some more Island history. We head back to the City Gates. This seems odd, but we are doing the tour a bit out of order because of our late start.
About Those Cobblestone Streets in Portugal
All throughout Portugal, including the Azores, the streets are cobblestone. There are many legends about the cobblestone streets. In Ponta Delgada, the tale is that the cobblestones were the residue of the ballast from ships who came to the Azores empty and (hence needing ballast). These ships exchanged their “ballast” for goods and left with their bellies full of fruits and grain.
Behind the City Gates, the cobbles are laid in particular patterns of corn and pineapples. According to Raphael, these items are not native to Ponta Delgada but were very important to its survival. These fruits and vegetables survived and fed the Islands’ people when others failed. The cobblestone mosaic here is an homage to that history
At our next stop, Confeitaria A Colmeia, we sample a pastry made from corn and pineapple. In addition, we have the opportunity to taste the locally grown green tea. Yes, they grow their own tea in the Azores. There is also a tiny sandwich of local bread and cheese from Sao Jorge Island, known as Queijo da Ilha (cheese of the Island). On the table was lovely local winter honey. The honey is traditionally served with cheese.
Walking Around More Of The City
Our one day in Ponta Delgada continues after our early afternoon “tea” with a walk through some of the historic parts of the city. As we wander the narrow streets and small squares, we recognize the traditional whitewashed buildings accented with black basalt that make up much of the Island’s architecture.
We come across a beautiful building from the 16th century at one such square, the Nucleo de Santa Barbara. Initially a Jesuit college and residence, it was abandoned when the Jesuits were expelled from the Island in 1760. This left the church, its grounds, and all artworks, religious items, and tools in the hands of the state.
Nearly a century later, Nicolau Maria Raposo de Amaral acquired the church from the state and 139 years later, in 1977, gave the property to the regional government of the Azores. This is now the Sacred Art Center of the Carlos Machado Museum
We are in port on April 25, Portugal’s “Freedom Day (Dia da Liberdade),” the day commemorating the Carnation Revolution that ended the country’s dictatorship in 1974. Unfortunately, this being a National Holiday, the museum is closed.
From the Carlos Machado Museum, our group heads a bit further west to our next stop at the Jardin Antero de Quental. Here Raphael tells us about de Quental, a Portuguese poet, philosopher, and writer regarded as one of the greatest poets of his generation.
Raphael translates the poem that is written on the monument. While we are listening to this, Patricia, one of our other guides, is busy cutting up one of the Island’s prized pineapples for us to enjoy in the park.
The eight of us sit on the benches under the just budding branches of the large trees circling the fountain in the park and enjoy our taste of the Island’s favorite fruit.
One Last Bite Of Ponta Delgada’s Best Foods
With the pineapple in our bellies, we head out again to our final destination, the restaurant in the 18th Century Art Deco Hotel Talisman. If you are staying in Ponta Delgada, not just visiting for the day, the Talisman is well located in the historic downtown.
Our final tasting is a well-loved dish you will find throughout Portugal, stewed octopus in a tomato broth with potatoes! Octopus is not something Americans are used to seeing on the table. While the group is game for tasting, you can tell this will not be one of the favorites. Good thing we all also had a good pour of wine.
The octopus is followed by a fantastic dessert celebrating the volcanoes of the Islands called Volcanoes of Fire. This is a luscious chocolate cake filled with pineapple cream and meringue.
We finish up the last bits of our chocolate cake, say our goodbyes to Raphael, Michael, and Patricia, and stroll back to our ship. It’s 3:30 pm now; we still have plenty of time before sailing. This evening we have a special treat, we’ve been invited to watch the “sail away” from Ponta Delgada from the helipad of the Reflection. What a great way to enjoy the views of the city and the Island.
How To Get to Ponta Delgada
There are a couple of different ways to get to Ponta Delgada. Obviously, we came on a cruise ship. The Celebrity Reflection, to be precise. Cruise ships still account for the largest influx of tourists each year. This is the reason we are only spending one day in Ponta Delgada.
In the early 1970s, commercial flights began bringing tourists to João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada. Originally, only TAP and SATA, now known as Azores Airlines, flew from the mainland to the Azores. Nowadays, you can find flights from the US on United Airlines and from the UK on Ryan Air.
If you plan to spend more time in the Azores and want to visit the other islands, check out Direct Ferries. They offer 52 Ferry crossings from 11 different ports.
Will You Be Spending One Day In Ponta Delgada Soon?
We loved our one day in Ponta Delgada. The Azorean people we kind and generous. The food was fantastic, and the town was beautiful and full of history. If you have a chance to stop here, on a cruise, or for a more extended holiday, you won’t be disappointed.