The Portugese islands of the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands, rise majestically from the immense Atlantic Ocean, 1,360km (860 mi) west of continental Portugal. The scenic islands encompass beauty and adventure, with white sandy beaches, ancient vineyards, towns steeped in history, lush meadows and remarkable volcanic landscapes including geysers, hot thermal water and crater lakes.
There are parks and marine reserves to protect the unspoiled environment while the vineyards of Pico and old town Angra do Heroismo on Terceira are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Adventurous pursuits include whale watching, diving, surfing, hiking, canyoning, cycling and horse riding or take a leisurely walk and explore the stunning scenery. There are lots of festivals and events on the islands, such as the lively wine-making festival celebrated on the island of Pico in September.
More than 24 different types of cetacean are found in the Azores, which is on the migration route of whales. Spotted dolphins, sperm whales, sei whales and baleen whales are more frequent in summer while blue whales can be seen in late winter, spring and autumn. There are resident communities of common and bottlenose dolphins and one of the most popular activities is snorkelling with dolphins. Carried out very much on the dolphins' terms, if they want to join you they will, this is an unforgettable experience. It seems the dolphins are more interactive with tourists early in the season, the best months being April, May and June.
The Atlantic is also home to loggerhead turtles, flying fish and large predatory fish such as blue marlin, sailfish and swordfish. Scuba divers come to the Azores to see devil rays which gather from July to October and there's a wide range of sea and land birds. On the tiny island of Corvo, the stunning crater attracts many species of birds from Europe and America while the endemic Azores bullfinch occurs only on the island of Sao Miguel.