Thursday, July 19, 2007

Travel Guide: Pico Island

Pico Island as seen from the neighboring island of Faial

From Pico Island

Desert flowers flourish in the volcanic soil

Click below the photo to see entire album

While we were traveling in the Azores we found want for a good travel guide in English. We weren't able to get the normal Lonely Planet info like how to get there, where to stay, how much a taxi costs from Point A to Point B, where to find affordable food and if the water is safe to drink. So, we collected some info that we'd like to make available for anyone planning to travel to the Azores. Here's the first segment on Pico Island, the island of the volcano.

Getting there and away:

SATA offers daily flights from PDL (Ponta del Gada). Youth (age 25 and under) can get a 50% discount on fares. With the youth discount, we each paid 57 euros. See SATA for flight schedules and fares.

The airport is situated on the north western part of the island, between Madelena and Sao Roque do Pico. Madelena is the larger village of the two (there are no cities on this island), has more housing options, and offers easy access to Horta, Faial by boat. A taxi to either Madelena or Sao Roque should be about 10 euros.

TRANSMACOR offers boat passage daily from Madelena to Sao Roque, Horta (Faial), and Velas (Sao Jorge). They have two boats harbored at the Horta Marina, the Monocasco and the Catamaran. There are also boats from traveling the Horta (Faial) – Madelena (Pico) – Sao Roque (Pico) – Velas (S. Jorge) – Calheta (S. Jorge) – Angra do Heroismo (Terceira) circuit three or four days a week.

Madelena to Horta takes 30 minutes and costs 3.30 euros on the Monocasco.
Madelena to Sao Roque takes 40 minutes and costs 10.10 euros on the Catamaran.

Arrive at the port at least 15 minutes before departure. You can buy your tickets ahead of time to avoid the crowd, or you can buy them right before the boat leaves.

ATLANTICO LINE offers more comfortable passage on a larger vessel, although you must book ahead and plan your travels well ahead of time. They have two boats, the Ilha Azul (blue island) and the Express Santorini. If you are 25 you can use the carao inter-jovem (inter-youth card) and each boat ride is only 1 euro. We traveled Horta (Faial) – Sao Roque (Pico) – Velas (S. Jorge) (three hours), and then from Velas (S. Jorge) - Praia da Victoria (Terceira) – Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel) for two euros each! The ride from Velas to Ponta Delgada took all day. We arrived at the boat at 7am, departed Velas at 8am and arrived in Terceira at 12:15. We had a three hour stop in Terceira, although the port was too far away from Praia da Victoria to get our and explore. Then we departed at 3:15pm and arrived in Ponta Delgada at 9:00pm.

Food is available on the boat for the cost of a normal snack bar. We recommend that you bring your own snacks, drinks, and plenty of books to read. Arrive about an hour early if you want to get the most comfortable seats. Tickets can be bought from certain travel agencies on each island. Ask around in any major town to find out where you can buy them.

You can also bring a car along with your while you island hop, but this will be more expensive than one euro! Bringing a class A car (no more than five seats) from Ponta Delgada to Sao Roque (Pico) is 122 euros one way and 183 euros return. To buy the ticket for the car you must bring your registration documents and license with you to the travel agency.

You can purchase your cartao inter-jovem in Ponta Delgada without any wait. Just bring 48 euros in cash to pay for the card. They have an office near BCA (bank).

Getting Around:

Taxis are easily found at town taxi stands. You can hire a taxi for the day for about 70 euros. The fare from Madelena to the base of Pico Mountain is between 16 and 20 euros. It is best to arrange for the same taxi driver to pick you up after you descent, as it is a long walk to the nearest town from the base of the mountain. A taxi to or from the airport from Madelena is 10 euros. Taxi drivers usually have their rates posted inside their taxi windows. From our experience they give the honest fare right away and you probably won’t get it much lower by trying to bargain with them.

Buses travel within the three main towns (Lajes, Madelena, and Sao Roque) as well as around the island. There are two main circuits, a northern route and a southern route. Buses from town to town are not very frequent and planning must be done in advance to take advantage of them. You can get the current bus schedule from the Tourist Office, located at the port.

Rental cars are probably the best way to see the island. Two rental car agencies we saw in Madelena were Ilha Verde and Tropical. Tropical seemed to be the cheaper of the two, although with the SATA discount you can get a car from Ilha Verde for 46 euros/day, all insurance and tax included. You must be able to drive standard, as automatic cars are not usually available and come at a significantly higher price.

On foot – the Tourist Office has great maps of pedestrian walks on different parts of the island. The pedestrian walk through Cricao Velha can be walked to from Madelena without a taxi, although other walks would require taxi service to and from the starting and ending points. It is possible to catch a bus to the starting point of your walk and arrange for a taxi to pick you up at the end point. On major roads you can try to get a lift, but in more rural areas passing cars are few and far between.

Places to Stay (Madelena):
The cheapest places to stay are generally rooms in private homes (alojamentos particular).

Fernando Espirito Santo (2 Rooms) 25 euros/night
Rua do Valverde #36 Phone: 916-017-865

One of the two rooms at Fernando Espirito Santo

We were the first visitors of the season at this house about a 15-20 minute walk (1 km) from the city center. It’s a bit of a hike, but the price and hospitality is well worth it. The couple that owns the house lives downstairs and has a separate kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms upstairs which they rent out to tourists. Their bedroom is the only room they use upstairs. We had full use of the kitchen (stove, coffee maker, toaster, electric kettle, dishes) and were treated to pitchers of wine straight from their own vineyard. On clear days there is a great view of Pico Mountain from the terrace.

To get there, walk south from the port towards the Health Center (Centro de Saude -#7 on the Tourist Map) and Rua D. Jaime Goulart. You’ll see the Health Center on your left. Keep following the road at the fork and don’t bear left. Go up a hill and keep walking until you see a white sign on your left for “Valverde.” Take a left towards Valvarde and keep walking until you see #36 on your righ thand side. It’s a big white house with gardens and grape vines. Call ahead to make sure that she has room and so that she can wait outside the house for you.

Jose M. Avila 30 euros/night
About 1 km from the city center
Phone : 292-622-873

Alojamento Mobilado 35 euros/night
Located near the city center
Phone : 917-767-386

Joe’s Place (3 rooms) 40-50 euros/night breakfast inc.
Phone: 292-623-586
Currently this is the most popular place with tourists, and if you arrive at the port you will most likely be greeted by Joe himself who will give you one of his cards. Don’t let the name fool you, he’s Portuguese but he speaks English well. He has three rooms for three different prices, 40, 45, and 50 euros.

Apartments: You can also stay in furnished tourist apartments. Rate info is unavailable here but the phone numbers are listed by the tourist office.
Alberto Oliveira
Phone: 919-590-975

Jose M. Azevedo
Phone: 917-537-910

Renato Ferreira
Phone: 919-589-124

Upscale –We weren’t really looking at anything over 40 euros/night, but we did see one poster for a nicer looking resort called Pocinho Bay –

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