The Azores are a meeting place for many. Sailors making passages from North America to Europe, or venturing out from the UK to the Med or Caribbean. Whales, dolphins and tuna all congregate here too, feeding in the rich waters of these volcanic islands. Even the world’s best windsurfers, surfers and cliff divers come here each year to take advantage of the extremes these islands provide.
The Azores – or Açores – are nine islands forged by the Earth’s more violent temperaments. They’re Portuguese although where once almost entirely conquered by the Spanish. It was Terceira who put a stop to that- so it goes – her angry bulls charging a Spanish landing party and driving them to death.
You don’t have to go back too far to get to a bloody history here. But perhaps that’s true everywhere.
Terceira means ‘third’ and it’s one of the largest in the archipelago. It’s home to the islands’ oldest city, Angra do Heroísmo which is in itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why Sail to Terceira?
Terceira is the island closest to the UK and Spain and so a good place to make landfall if you’re sailing from Northern Europe. The island makes a good jumping off point for those heading northeast as well and allows the departing sailor to get clear of the Azorean acceleration zones much faster than if you had to weave past the islands first.
Terceira is also not Horta (on Faial) and is considerably less busy with passing yachts. Some sailors only ever go to Horta when they transit the Azores, which is a shame and much like ignoring an entire country just to visit its most major tourist site.
With two marinas, chances are you’ll find space when visiting Terceira.
Angra do Heroísmo (VHF 9/16)
The capital of the island and a sprawling, hilly city, Angra is a wonderful place. It lies on the south side of the island in the centre.
Overlooked by an enormous, wooded fort (parts of which are still an active military base) Angra marina has 260 berths along with a fuel dock.
Right in the centre of the city’s coastline, it’s particularly easy to get around from the marina and there’s also a travel lift and hardstanding available.
Angra has many street cafes and hardware shops although nothing resembling a chandlery except for small fishing boats. Even then, it’s difficult to get marine parts. Anti-foul and topside paint can be found easily though.
Downside: Angra, despite its shelter from the headland, receives more than its fair share of surge within the marina. The island is not only in the midst of the Atlantic winter and spring storms but it’s also round and swell trundles around its curves and gets in almost everywhere.
Supermarkets: Continente – 30 minute walk
Praia da Vitoria (VHF 9/16)
On the west coast of Terceira, Praia da Vitoria is just a couple of miles from Lajes airport which serves the island. This makes the marina a great place to keep you boat if you need to take a jaunt on an aeroplane.
The marina rarely suffers surge and nothing like Angra does. With 201 berths, it sounds large but in reality at least half are taken up with little local motorboats and another quarter or more are taken up with sailors who’ve arrived and never left.
It does have a long visitors pontoon though complete with electricity. It also has a travel lift and hardstanding. Rates are extremely cheap. A 10m yacht could stay for a year and pay just €600.
With showers, toilets, laundry and wifi, Praia marina has every you need and is a ten second walk over the inner mole to one of Praia’s beaches. The marina is at the foot of the town and considerably easier to provision than in Angra, due to its much smaller size.
Supermarkets: Continente and Guarita: 10 minute walk
Website: Praia Marina
Both Angra and Praia are extremely cheap marinas. This is in no way to say they have below standard facilities – not in the slightest. In fact, they’re bafflingly cheap.
Check out Praia Marina’s tariffs here. Visiting yachts come under ‘Local Boat’ tariffs and if you join the Clube Naval than your tariff would be even cheaper.
Angra’s tariffs are more expensive and if you want to stay for a long time, Praia is cheaper and more sheltered. Check out Angra do Heroismo’s prices here.
With two large supermarket brands, Continente and Guarita, Terceira has good provisioning facilities in you’re staying in either Angra or Praia. Both supermarkets also deliver to the marinas if you’re doing a particularly large shop.
The supermarkets don’t have the variety that you might want or need to cross the Atlantic and their tinned supplies aren’t very diverse at all. You can get lots of beans, sweetcorn and chickpeas but not much else. They provide easily enough to get to the UK, France, Spain or the archipelagos Madeira and the Canaries.
Things to See and Do
The landscape of Terceira is dominated by its volcanoes and in the centre of the island is Algar do Carvão. A hollow, extinct volcano, this mesmerising chamber is easily accessible to visitors along with its neighbour, Gruto do Natal, a few miles away. You can access both of them with one ticket but make sure you ask for a ticket that encompasses both as they’re cheaper together.
One Cave ticket: €6
Two Caves tickets: €9
Check out the website for the caves, it’s in Portuguese but Google translate should change it to English for you.
There’s no public transport to the interior calderas and lava tubes so the easiest thing to do is hire a car. There are multiple car hire companies in Angra and if you’re in Praia you can hire one from Lajes airport nearby.
In the summer season, car rentals are busy so book in advance if you plan on sticking around for a few weeks. Before June is much quieter. You can easily drive around the island in a day but two days might be better if you plan on seeing as much as possible.
The interior of the island has plenty of hiking and walking maps are free from the tourist offices in Angra and on the promenade in Praia.
Terceira really is festival island and from April until September you’re almost guaranteed to witness at least one. From rock concerts and carnivals to ethnographic parades and brass band marches, there’s always something happening.
In Praia da Vitoria there’s an annual week long festival that is almost back to back with another festival. All the music is free to see and the caipirinha and beers are readily available and very cheap.
While bullfighting may repel you, Terceira (and the Azores in general) is renowned for it’s Tourada a Corda – Literally, bull on a rope. Terceira hosts over 200 of these events each year and it’s not a tourist thing, it plays out in the middle of quiet residential streets or on beaches for festivals.
You can read about my experience with Tourada a Corda blog post in this I wrote last year.
Terceira has one airport – Lajes (airport code: TER). Just a mile or two from Praia marina, the marina itself is right on the flight path and you’ll witness planes come in every day but rarely during the night.
Lajes is also an American military base and fighter jets, bombers, search and rescue helicopters and huge military planes frequently roar over the marina.
With a fast road between Angra and Lajes, you can get to the airport easily by taxi regardless of which marina you’re staying in.
The airport is small but planes fly to other Azorean islands and the Portuguese mainland. For destinations further afield, you usually change planes in Lisbon or Ponta Delgada on the Azorean island of Sao Miguel.
It’s only a 2 hour flight from Lisbon direct to Terceira and you can fly with Tap, Sata (Azores Airlines) or Ryanair.
Where to Go Next
If you’ve arrived in Terceira in order to explore the rest of the Azores, then you’ve found yourself in an ideal place. With Graciosa to the north east, you can visit this small island from Terceira before continuing on to Velas marina on Sao Jorge.
Anchoring in the Azores is difficult thanks to its volcanic construction and almost constant swell. You can anchor is some places on calm days, even for days at a time, but it’s always wise to know where the nearest sheltered marina is.
Velas on Sao Jorge is a long day sail from Terceira (depending on your yacht!) but you can also get to Pico and Faial easily. Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands, is over 100 miles south of Terceira but the wind will often be with you.
Want to know anything about sailing in the Azores? Ask in the comments!