Do we need a car?
One of our most frequent questions is whether you should hire a car or not, So we wrote this guide to help offer some advice.
Do we need to hire a car?
The easiest way to answer this is to ask what and how long you will be in the Azores for. If you are here for less than 2 days, a car will probably not be necessary. If however, you want to go off and explore the island then a car is recommended. To get to and from Solar Branco 1885 can be done by taxi, but a car gives you more access and ease of travel. We have plenty of parking on the property so this is not an issue.
Automatic vs Manual Transmission
It is important to point out is that most of the cars available on the islands are going to be a manual transmission. If you are not comfortable driving manual I would not recommend renting a manual car in the Azores. The roads can be windy, bumpy and narrow in places. The motorways however on Sao Miguel are the best in Europe! Brand new and hardly used (thanks to EU funding.) Cars can get booked up in advance, even more so for automatic cars. If you want to avoid the stick shift, then book ahead of time.
Picking Up / Dropping Off Cars
Now that you have figured out which car you want to drive around the island, you need to pick up the car once you land. Thankfully this was a very easy and efficient process to go through. In Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel) there are several car rental companies both at the airport and in town.
Driving & Parking in Ponta Delgada
A quick note for just Ponta Delgada as it is the most popular place to stay in the Azores – the driving and parking situation can be a bit tricky. Some of the roads are very narrow with barely enough room for cars to get through, especially with parked cars and pedestrians walking around. When you are driving in the city center itself, just be aware of this as you will not have the wide roads that you may be used to.
Unless you are staying at a hotel or Airbnb with parking spots, you will have to find a spot on the street. Due to how narrow some streets are don’t be surprised to need to have two wheels on the curb in order to leave enough room for cars to actually drive through. Always keep your mirrors in when leaving your car parked too!
When it comes to the Azores, most things are comparably cheap but that is not the case when it comes to fueling up your car. Gas prices as of August 2018 are ~ 5.50 Euro per gallon / 1.50 Euro per litre. Most rental companies expect you to fill up the tank before you drop it back off at the end of your trip.
Do I need a car on the other islands?
Another question that comes up is whether or not you actually need to rent a car on every island you visit. No question having a car will make your trip much easier and give you the freedom to explore at your pace. Note: We have found that on some of the smaller islands, not having much luck when looking for an automatic transmission.
Taxis in the Azores
Taxis can also be a great alternative to renting a car for the day. Ponta Delgada will have plenty of options and you can take a look at prices for different tours around the island with a taxi driver. This is a great alternative to car rentals if you are only there for a couple days and do not want to go through the car booking process, or if you are just not comfortable driving a car in the first place.
If you are staying on Pico for example and plan to island hop to Sao Jorge or Faial, it might not make sense to rent a car on Pico. There are plenty of drivers with pretty flat rates for tours around the island (based on 4 people around 70-120 euros depending on the number of hours.)
Foggy Roads / bad weather
The weather is the Azores can be pretty inconsistent at times with fog and clouds coming in and out of view during the day. You will find this more often at higher points of the islands. This is where you have to be super careful as at some points you will literally not be able to see just a few feet in front of you. So drive slowly, have your lights on, and stay safe.
Animals on the Road
When driving on the more rural roads, you can come across animals that just wander the streets. Mostly cows and goats blocking the roadways at times. It makes for a fun story and picture but just always be on the lookout for any animal crossings.
Google Maps Can Be Wrong
Last but certainly not least, Google Maps can be wrong at certain points. From people putting their AirBnB in the wrong place to roads that you cannot go down (despite what Google says) you just need to be mindful that the Azores is quite rural.