Traveling to the Azores with babies or young children I. part: How to prepare for an Azorean holiday?
The biggest part of Frequently Asked Questions about the Azores and São Miguel in particular is related to traveling with babies and / or small children. Since I am unfortunately not very well versed in this topic I could not really answer these questions. Until now that is, because a friend of mine (who is also the mother of a beautiful baby) gathered all the information she could find on this topic and I completed what she wrote with my experiences from meeting and doing guided tours with families. So first of all thanks to Kati for the great work, and we hope you will like this series of articles we prepared on this topic and are looking forward to your hopefully positive feedback.
The frequently asked questions about traveling with babies or young children to the Azores have been split into the following 3 main topics:
Part 1 – General information about traveling to the Azores (Which airline to fly with? How long should the holiday be? What kind of accommodation should we consider? What to pack for the baby? Should we rent a car?)
Part 2 – Where to shop and eat out with children, especially if they have food intolerance?
Part 3 – Top 10 list of what to do with children on São Miguel island
This post covers Part 1, and the other 2 topics will be discussed in an additional two posts.
First and foremost I would like to mention that based on my experience the good people of São Miguel love children and have a very positive attitude towards families. The second thing is – what actually really surprised me – that there are not too many playgrounds on the island. Despite recent developments in the last few years where modern playgrounds have been installed São Miguel still has significantly less playgrounds than what you usually find in Europe. However, I am glad to report that Faial has much more playgrounds than São Miguel.
HOW TO PLAN A FAMILY TRIP TO THE AZORES?
A while back I wrote a blog article titled HOW TO GET TO THE AZORES which covers the basics. When traveling with children from Hungary I would definitely recommend flying with TAP Portugal Airline. By flying with the same airline families can purchase a ticket containing all legs of the journey – be it Budapest to Ponta Delgada, or Budapest to Terceira. This means larger pieces of luggage can be checked in all the way to the final destination, which is a huge plus compared to flying with a combination of low-cost airlines. But the major benefit of flying with the same airline all the way is that connecting flights might wait for the passengers in case of a delay and if not, passengers are booked automatically on the next available flight. This allows for a very comfortable and relaxed journey.
If you are not departing from Budapest, you might even be able to book a direct flight to São Miguel or to Terceira. You can fly to São Miguel directly from Boston, New York, Oakland, Toronto, Montreal, London, and even more cities during the summer holiday season. When traveling with small children you might consider booking an overnight flight which they hopefully sleep through.
Please make sure to check the airline’s policy about traveling with children, the applicable luggage allowance including the transport options for stroller, car seat, or (hiking) carrier. For example there are airlines which allow you to bring the car seat into the cabin (but only car seat makes approved by the FAA (USA) or the CE (EU) and in case the baby has a child ticket – meaning they have their own seat). We have collected the infant (< 2 years) and children (2 to 11 years) travel policy pages for your convenience: TAP Portugal Airline, SATA / Azores Airlines, Delta, WizzAir, Ryanair.
DURATION OF YOUR STAY
On most blogs you can read that 4 – 5 days are enough to discover São Miguel island. Personally, I strongly disagree. Especially when a family is traveling with small children 4 – 5 days are not even enough to quiet down from the work stress and the daily grind. I think you need to spend at least 7 – 8 days on the island, and an extra 1 – 2 days if you are traveling with children so that the entire family can benefit from the tranquility emanating from the island. Most of those 4 – 5 days would be spent with feeding and naps when you are traveling with babies and toddlers especially. So please consider this rule of thumb and add 1 – 2 days to your stay. Taking your time and discovering the island calmly and at a slower pace will reward you with a wonderful, stress-free holiday,
I have proof-read the travel plans of a lot of families before their Azorean holiday and I have seen many people doing very detailed planning, a tight schedule with all the viewpoints, events, and activities. Of course I do encourage that everyone prepares for their holiday and checks out a few important facts beforehand, but even the ever changing weather of the Azores makes keeping a strict schedule impossible. Moreover, having a plan and the family not being able to keep up results in unnecessary tension.
COMMON MISTAKE: underestimating the size of the Azores islands and time required to discover them.
Please consider the following points when choosing your accommodation.
- THE MOST COMFORTABLE OPTION FOR A FAMILY IS PROBABLY TO RENT AN APARTMENT OR (PART OF) A HOUSE
By renting an apartment or a house, you can enjoy all the comforts of a home for the price of a hotel. If you let them know in advance the host can make sure the property is equipped with a baby bed (or at least a travel cot) and a highchair. Another huge benefit of renting an apartment or a house is that it comes with a fully equipped kitchen, which allows you to prepare suitable meals for the children. Self catering also means saving money. The general feedback I heard is that holiday rental properties are very clean and comfortable. The only problem might be the presence of efflorescence on the walls and a few bugs in Ponta Delgada or near other big ports. However, please note that there are no dangerous animals on the island (no poisonous snakes or spiders, etc.).
- IF YOUR CHILD HAS FOOD INTOLERANCE, YOU MIGHT WANT TO OPT FOR A HOTEL
Most hotels on the island are ready to take different food intolerances or allergies into account. Please ask / let them know in advance so they can prepare. By choosing a hotel with half (or full) board you don’t need to start your holiday by looking for special ingredients upon your arrival. Moreover, finding some of these products is by no means an easy feat, but we are here to help you in the next part of this series of articles.
2. AN ACCOMMODATION WITH A POOL MEANS A GREAT BUILT-IN ACTIVITY
Especially in the peak season it might be nice for the entire family to cool down in a pool every afternoon. An accommodation with a pool means you can get “home” quick when the children had enough fun in the water. Going to the pool might also be a great activity on days when the weather is not that great.
3. CONVENIENT PARKING IS IMPORTANT (WHEN YOU ARE RENTING A CAR)
Parking might be a challenge in the peak season, so an accommodation which offers nearby or in-house parking might be beneficial. Having a parking spot nearby is very important and practical (especially when you need to carry a sleeping child from the car to his or her bed). In case you need to use a parking meter, in this blog post you can find out how they work.
There are two main options to get around the island with children: renting a car and personalized guided tours (which includes transportation).
Renting a car is definitely the easiest way of getting around with children. It is a very comforting thought that should the need arise you can get in the car and drive back to your accommodation. Families staying in Ponta Delgada can save one (or two, maybe even three) days of car rental fee if they don’t pick up the rental car at the airport immediately, but opt for picking it up in downtown Ponta Delgada after they have discovered the city on foot.
You must not forget about car seats if you are renting a car. You can rent a car seat from the car rental company (for 5 – 10 EUR a day), but it is important to let the rental company know when you reserve the car. If the airline luggage policy allows you can bring the car seat from home – and either check it in, or have your baby sit in it during the flight (please note that this is only possible if you have purchased a ticket with seat reservation for your child). This way you can ensure that the seat is perfect for your childrens’ needs. If you are planning to rent a car seat for a longer period of time (and don’t bring your own seat from home) you might consider buying a new one in a hypermarket.
Another way to get around the island – especially if you have slightly older children – is to book personalized guided tours. This way – thanks to the local know-how and the experience of your tour guide – you can see more in less time, and also see places you might have otherwise missed. In this case it is recommended that you stay in or around Ponta Delgada. Here you can book Eden Azores private guided tours, if you would like.
ON THE ROAD
Always have a change of clothes and shoes in the car for the entire family. In case you get caught in a sudden downpour it is nice to have a set of dry clothes and shoes waiting in the car.
The beautiful scenic roads of the Azores are long and winding, and you want to make sure to be prepared if your children are prone to car sickness. Bring car sickness pills, acupressure wristbands, whatever works for your children at home and a few disposable barf bags and a roll of paper towels just to be on the safe side.
It is paramount that you respect the road rules and driving regulations. Please make sure you only park your car at designated parking spots and never stop the car on the roadside, because the view is so tempting. Visit the viewpoints to take beautiful photos and don’t put your family in danger. The maximum speed limit on the motorway is 110 km/h.
Get informed about where the petrol stations are located. There aren’t too many (30) petrol stations on the island so you might want to refuel whenever you see one. You certainly don’t want to be stuck on the roadside with hungry and tired children screaming on the backseat. On this website you can find the location of all gas stations on Sao Miguel
Charging electric cars. Since last year Sao Miguel boasts 3 EV (Electric Vehicle) charging stations (estação de carregamento de veículos elétricos) located in the three biggest cities (Ponta Delgada, Lagoa, Vila Franca do Campo). According to electric mobility development plans there will be a grand total of 26 charging stations altogether on all the islands of the Azores archipelago. This means you can also opt for renting an electric car to leave a smaller CO2 footprint. Unfortunately I have not tried the charging stations yet, so I cannot tell you about my experiences. However, should you rent an electric car it is recommended you stay in or around the above mentioned 3 cities so you can charge the car in the evening (or you look for an accommodation which has a home EV charger).
The following list contains a few very important items that you might want to bring with you when traveling with a baby or small children.
- Rain jacket or rain cover for the children. It might rain during the day, but mostly in the evenings, even in the summer season. Be prepared.
- Sunscreen and hat. Is an absolute must for children and grown-ups alike, when they are outdoors in the summer. The UV radiation is very high.
- UV tent. If you are planning to spend lots of time on the beach, a UV tent might come very handy. You can pick one up in the Decathlon in Ponta Delgada.
- Waterproof picnic blanket. You can use it on the beach and on your hikes when the baby needs a break or when the family makes a picnic.
- Wetsuit. Recommended especially for younger children planning to swim in the ocean.
- Beach sandals, water shoes. The volcanic grey sand on the beaches of the Azores can get very hot in the summer, and volcanic rocks have sharp edges. Water shoes are a must, especially if you are planning to swim at Ponta da Ferraria.
- Carrier. If you plan on hiking on the island (which is quite likely, otherwise you would not have chosen Azores as your destination) it might be worth investing in a proper baby carrier. Good hiking carriers tend to be very expensive, but if your family does a lot of hiking it justifies the high cost. If your family does not usually hike, ask around – maybe you can borrow one from friends. If the baby carrier has a rain cover, make sure to bring it, too.
- Play mat and toys. On the Azores most houses and apartments have tile floors and no carpets, therefore it is essential that you bring a play mat for your child who is crawling or playing on the floor so they don’t get cold.
The biggest shopping facility on São Miguel island, the Parque Atlantico Shopping Center is located in Ponta Delgada. Here you can certainly buy most things you need for a baby or a toddler. In bigger cities on the island you can find Continente stores, the local grocery chain. There is an Eden Azores blog post which describes all major grocery chains you can find on the island, including a Google map pinpointing all grocery stores.
Moreover, there is also a Decathlon in Ponta Delgada where you can buy sports equipment, swimming goggles, bathing suits, life wests, UV tent, etc. If you already know in advance what you will need you can also shop online and pick the items up upon arrival (Click and Collect). This way you can save a lot of valuable holiday time.
General advice: shop in the bigger cities, because smaller cities might have limited supplies and / or only a limited sortiment available.
You can find out more about traveling to the Azores with babies and small children in two upcoming articles. As already mentioned at the beginning of this post, the 2nd part focuses on food shopping and eating out for families where the children have some kind of food-intolerance; the 3rd installment will list the top 10 to dos with children on São Miguel island.
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If you are curious about traveling to the Azores in general, or would like to learn new things about this beautiful destination, or just want to get the latest update on what is going on in the archipelago – you can find us on Facebook and on Instagram.
If you would like to find out about available guided tours, discounts, and other VIP information you are welcome to join the Eden Azores Closed Group on Facebook (in Hungarian).