Lagoa da Conceição
For spectacular scenery, exhilarating water sports or all-night parties, Lagoa da Conceição is a popular alternative to the beaches. Forested hills form a fabulous backdrop for the pretty lagoon. The town of Lagoa, often packed with tourists, sits on a sandbar that divides the two halves of the lagoon and is the island's action-packed center.
With white-sand beaches and mountains that drop into the sea, the south is the most pristine and picturesque part of the island. But south-island residents are engaged in the inevitable struggle between developers and preservers: the former see the potential for more tourists and big bucks; the latter fear that their piece of paradise will soon resemble the north.
From Praia de Jurerê – a requisite stop on the international clubbing scene – to Praia dos Ingleses, the north of the island is designed for mass tourism: calm, family-friendly waters; newly widened roads that provide easy access to the international airport; and lots of anonymous hotels and restaurants.
Santo Antônio de Lisboa
On the west coast, Santo Antônio de Lisboa is among the oldest communities on the island. An old-fashioned, fishing-village atmosphere is complemented by cobblestone streets and Azorean architecture. The most prominent edifice is the Igreja da NS da Necessidade, dating from 1750. Santo Antônio’s seaside setting and fishing heritage guarantee delicious seafood.
Campeche is a bohemian outpost, home to artists, massage therapists and other free thinkers seeking to escape the crowds of the city and the tourist hot spots. The 5km Praia do Campeche is protected, so the beach is completely undeveloped, yet those condo complexes have managed to creep in as close as the law allows.
Pântano do Sul
Fishermen of Azorean descent still inhabit the village of Pântano do Sul, so its beach is dotted with fishing boats and seafood shacks. Ringed by mountains, the protected cove contains calm, cool waters that are ideal for sunning and swimming. From here, you can catch a lift from a local fisherman or hike about 1½ hours to the deserted beach of Lagoinha do Leste.
This little town dates to the 18th century, when it served as a whaling center. The impressive Igreja Santa Ana still stands from these days. While whaling is no longer practiced, the fishing industry still thrives here. Armação provides access to three beaches, all excellent surfing spots.
Praia dos Ingleses & Praia do Santinho
Once among the island’s finest beaches, Praia dos Ingleses has suffered from its popularity. It’s now crowded with high-rise hotels and overpriced restaurants. Further south, Praia do Santinho is quieter, thanks to the protected area of dunes behind it. Santinho is the north island’s best surfing beach, acclaimed for its consistent waves and uncrowded conditions.
Costa de Dentro & Around
This is the end of the road, and it feels like it. These tiny towns are home to a handful of places to stay and eat, but they are left largely to their fishing and farming residents. Costa de Dentro has access to the lovely, calm waters of the Praia dos Açores – making this a good escape from the surfing scene – or continue all the way to Praia Solidão or Saquinho.
Praia da Lagoinha & Praia Brava
The northeastern tip of the island is a slender peninsula, accessed by slow-moving roads that wind around the hills to the beach. These towns are ritzier than their neighbors, though the beaches are still overbuilt. Praia da Lagoinha is a crescent-shaped patch of sand, surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs that keep the water calm.
Barra da Lagoa & Around
In the north, Praia do Moçambique merges with Praia Barra da Lagoa to form a stunning, 14km strand. The beach is hidden from the road by a thriving pine forest. Surfing is sweet all along here: Praia Barra da Lagoa has gentle swells and shallow waters that are good for beginners, while the long stretch of Moçambique has more challenging peaks.