We just returned from the 7-night BOS to TER vacation advertised on TA and sponsored by AzoresGetaway, and for all of you who may be wondering whether this deal is too good to be true, my answer is it's unbelievable, but true. Our expectations were exceeded in almost every way, and there are no hidden fees, charges, or other surprises. You pay for any optional tours you decide to take, car rental if you choose, and meals other than breakfast--which are incredibly cheap compared to US--but this is an amazing deal. Here are my notes to give you an idea of what to expect.
Flights: After reading many bad reviews of SATA, we had low expectations, but the flights were fine. They left and arrived on time, personnel were welcoming and courteous, planes were clean. It's economy, so the seats are confining, but that's no different than on US lines. There's no entertainment, so take reading material. They do serve a full hot meal which wasn't bad, with complimentary beer and wine. There were plenty of empty seats on both flights, so people were able to spread out if they wanted. The one problem is that the airport in TER is not large enough to accommodate a large plane, so it parks a good distance from the terminal and passengers are bused in. That means no jetway and a rather steep climb up or down steps to enter and exit the aircraft, which could be difficult for anyone with mobility issues (or a heavy carryon). Transfers between the airport and hotel are included and efficient. An agent will greet you outside Customs, check off your name, and direct you to the bus.
Hotel: We could not have been happier with Hotel do Caracol, which was the default hotel on our trip. When we arrived I asked for and was granted a sea-view room at no additional charge. See my review under hotels for details, but know that we were amazed every day that this hotel was part of such an inexpensive deal. One negative is that because the flight arrives so early and most of the hotel guests are leaving on the 12:30 bus, you're left with 6 or so hours to fill before getting into your room (for that nap you want so badly). The hotel will store luggage and you can have breakfast in the buffet (7 euros since the first day is not included in the room rate), but you may want to walk into town for a look around. It's a good idea to have some good walking shoes in easy reach for this purpose.
Weather: We, being weather junkies, had been checking the forecasts for a while before we left and expected lots of rain. It was raining when we arrived (though it cleared in the afternoon) and it rained most of our last day, but in between we had a mix of sun and clouds every day with no rain. A couple of days were warm enough for shorts, but mostly we wore jeans and long or short sleeved shirts. The temperature doesn't drop much at night, so evenings were still fairly warm. Part of the weather difference depends on where you are on the island: one day it was 22 degrees at sea level, but when we got to the top of a mountain, it was 14 degrees with a strong wind.
Dress: The island is very casual, with both locals and visitors in jeans or khakis at most restaurants. The only time we saw anyone dressed up was on Saturday night at the Terceira Mar Hotel where we stopped for a drink on our way back from dinner and found live music and dancing. A bonus for us! Be sure to take a rain jacket and layers. Also, many of the streets and sidewalks in Angra and other villages are cobblestone, which get very slippery when wet. Pack comfortable shoes with grippy soles and leave the heels at home.
Activities: We booked one tour, a full day jeep tour with CommunicAir, through AG prior to the trip. We highly recommend this, and suggest you do it early in your stay, since it gives you a full orientation of the island and information that will serve you the rest of your trip. We were with one other couple and our guide, Sophia, who was an incredible fountain of knowledge. A biologist, she shared her expertise in and love for the island's flora, peoples, and history. We covered lots of ground, including many of the must-see sights as well as hidden places not on the tourist trail, but never felt hurried. We had an extensive lunch in one of the villages, with samples of various local dishes and local wines. The tour, billed as 8 hours, actually lasted ten, since we didn't get back to the hotel until 7:30, tired but very happy. The next day we rented a Smart car and spent three days exploring on our own. It was just the right amount of time to see everything in a relaxed way. The Smart car was good for navigating the narrow roads on the island. Locals drive pretty fast for those roads, especially in towns, but they are very courteous to pedestrians. We did have to give way to goats and cows being herded from pasture to pasture. We did at least one of the public hikes each day, the best one being Baias da Agualva, which gives you several different ecosystems as well as magnificent views in one hike. Be warned: the ratings on the Azores Trails websites, where you can see information about all the public hikes, may be different from yours. They rate this hike easy, but it has long, steep and slippery trails as well as some rock scrambles, which are not easy If you have knee problems. For me, the best thing about hiking in the Azores is that there are no snakes, no ticks, no poison ivy, and very few insects--a perfect environment! We intended to use our last day for shopping in Angra, but discovered that the stores were closed for a holiday. Note also that stores close from 1:00 on Saturday until 10:00 Monday morning--good for family life, but not so much for tourists.
Food: I will post reviews of the restaurants we visited in the restaurant section. Overall, the food on the island is very consistent; you will not find much variety among the Portugese places, and there are few ethnic restaurants. Beef, pork, and fish are the staples. The beef is more likely to be pot roast than steak, and the fish is often fried--but always fresh. Accompaniments are almost always boiled potatoes and rice with the meat, and boiled potatoes and salad with the fish. One time I had broccoli and steamed carrots with my fish, but that was unusual. If you love vegetables, you will probably tire of the food by the end of the week. The good news is that food and drink are incredibly inexpensive. We never hit 40 euros for dinner for two with wine, and our least costly dinner was 17 euros for two full meals and a liter of wine.
Terceira is a beautiful, welcoming island, relaxed but with enough adventure to keep you busy for a week. It's a place we would be happy to return to, and this trip was unbelievable in terms of value. If it comes across your inbox, don't hesitate. You won't find a better deal!