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The volcanic islands of the Azores

In this week’s travel feature, local traveller Shaun Yeo explores Pico Island and Faial Island.

By Shaun Yeo

The Azores is a collection of Volcanic Islands, found in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Azorean Islands belong to Portugal and also make up the Macronesian Archipelago, these consisting of; Canary Islands, the Cape Verdean Islands, Madeira and the Selvagens Islands, and the Azores Islands.

The Azores is composed of nine Islands, just over 1000 miles from the west coast of Lisbon in Portugal.

I travelled to the Islands of Pico and Faial during my diving expedition to the Azores.

Pico Island

Pico Island is found in the central group of Islands, an area that is locally known as ‘Triangulo’ (The Triangle). The Island is 46 kilometres in length, and right in the centre of Pico is a stratovolcano - the tallest mountain in Portugal with an impressive summit at 2351 metres above sea level.

This volcano gives the Islands it name; Pico, meaning peak. The beautiful landscapes on the Island, caused by the Lava ridges of the volcano is breath-taking, and below the surface too.

By Scuba Diving around the coasts of the Island, you can also see mountains of lava, lava ridges, cliffs, caves and caverns, caused by the magma as it poured into the seas when the volcano was once active.

The rich volcanic soil, dominating most of the area in Pico, brings a unique taste to the wine produced on the Island. Wine has being produced here since as far back as the 15th century.

Volcano at Pico Island

Pico is nicknamed the Grey Island due to its lava landscapes and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its lava grape vineyards.

The Island is also famous for its thriving whaling industry in the 20th century. A museum dedicated to the whaler’s is found in Pico as well as frequent Whale Watching and Dolphin watching and swimming trips throughout the day.

Faial Island

Faial Island is also found in the central group of Islands and in the locally known area; ‘Triangulo’.

The Island is referred to as the Blue Island, due to the large quantities of hydrangeas that bloom here during the summer months.

Capelinhos Volcano Crater

The most iconic feature in Faial is the Capelinhos Volcano, which actually last erupted as recent as in 1957 and 1958. Faial is also famous for the whaling industry, with its own museum too.

The scuba diving off the islands of the Azores is amazing. Close to the coast, we find volcanic formations, and further out large pelagic species.

Between both the Islands of Pico and Faial run some Fibre Optic Cables, which apparently attract the local Blue Sharks in the area between July and October.

Local scuba diving companies make day trips to these areas where one can dive in just a few metres under the boat with the beautiful Blue Sharks. Sometimes other pelagic species pass by; like the Mako Shark.

Further out, on a 2.5 hour boat trip, we reach an area called Princess Alice.

This is in the middle of nowhere. From this place, there is no sight of land. The Sea Mount, which rises from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, from 2km to 40 metres below the surface, is found 100 nautical miles from Pico.

Diving with Mantas at Princess Alice

Why go here? It is home to hundreds of Manta Rays. The Mantas circle the underwater pinnacle whilst divers go under to see them. They sometimes even come up to the surface for snorkelers to see.

I thoroughly enjoyed my diving experiences at the Azores; the Blue Sharks and Mantas been my best, as well as visiting the volcanic formations on land.

To read more about Shaun’s travels and diving expeditions check out his blog: www.shaunyeophotography.com