A Guide to Heaven on Earth: the Azores

Visit and you'll find out why.

Welcome to the Azores, the little-known wonderland archipelago of Portugal. These islands are truly a nature lovers paradise, with hydrangea-dotted rolling hills overlooking the steely Atlantic, and verdant caldeiras housing glittering blue and green lagoas. Boasting a rare combination of impressive mountains, pastoral plains, and lush tropical vegetation–minus the bugs–the Azores' unique allure sets them miles ahead of many other Instaworthy destinations. Moreover, the Azores have been consecutively named one of the most sustainable sites in the world.

If you are looking for a still relatively undiscovered natural paradise where you can spend all day engaging in a range of outdoor activities, the Azores are for you. That said, depending on what time of year you go, it's likely that you'll get rained on, so bring an umbrella, waterproof shoes, and expect some unpredictable weather.

Here are some additional travel tips to make sure you get the most out of these miraculous islands.

When to visit

Ten minutes before the rainstorm

While the Azores have a subtropical oceanic climate (meaning it never really gets below the low 50's) this also means they get a lot of rain. Winter (November – March) is considered the rainy season, during which time it's overcast, gloomy, and wet most of the time. While this may not dissuade hardier travelers, for most people visiting during the summer months (June - August) is ideal. While there may be sporadic rain showers during the day or night, they rarely last for long, leaving you free to enjoy a guilt-free nap or two while you're waiting for the weather to clear up. If you're into swimming or diving, June – September is best, as the weather in the fall months gets too chilly to comfortably spend time in the water.

No matter what time of year you go, crowds should be sparse because the Azores haven't been "discovered" yet by the hordes of tourists. But it does have a steadily growing tourism economy, so go now before the spring breakers and Instagram fiends overrun it.

Getting to the Azores

For a tiny archipelago in the Atlantic, the Azores are surprisingly accessible. Multiple carriers offer daily trips from all over Europe and the US. If you're already in Portugal, the Azores are just a short flight from Lisbon. From the US, Azores Airlines offers a short (4.5 hour) direct flight to the island Ponta Delgada from Boston. Once you're there, you can take ferries or flights to access the other islands.

Choose an island, any island

The fog only adds intrigue to this place

With nine islands to choose from, the Azores have a wide variety of options for those planning a trip. São Miguel is the largest island and hosts some of the more famous natural wonders, like Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. Pico has a colossal volcanic mountain Montanha do Pico that just begs to be climbed. (It doesn't hurt that Pico also hosts Unesco-listed volcanic vineyards and 5 kilometers of lava tubes.) Terceira Angra do Heroísmo is the Azores' oldest city, a primitive 16th century ville that's home to Monte Brasil, a hike up a half submerged crater that meanders through a 500-year old castle's ruins. Faial is best known for its superlative whale-watching expeditions. Flores is the most verdant island, thanks to copious amounts of rainfall, but if you're willing to endure a little moisture you'll be rewarded with beautiful coastal walks and hikes dotted with clambering waterfalls. Corvo is a tiny dot of an island: with just 430 year-round residents who still lock their doors with juniper leaves, this is a quaint island best reserved for avid bird watchers and hikers who are fluent in Portuguese. Graciosa is tiny, but punches above its weight in terms of activities. You can hike, dive, go whale watching, and even explore Furna do Enxofre, a 120-foot tall volcanic cave. Last, but certainly not least, is São Jorge. Rather than wonder what you can do on São Jorge, you should ask yourself what you cannot do. Because the answer is not much. Mountain-biking, swimming, diving, whale-watching, hiking, canoeing, canyoning–the sky is the limit here.

Land bound activities

Hiking is obviously one of the most attractive outdoor excursions in the Azores. With seemingly limitless options throughout the islands, you're never far from a lush jaunt in the pristine wilderness: the volcanic archipelago's terrain is as hilly as the roads are twisted. (Pro tip: if you're prone to car sickness due to winding roads, you may want to reconsider your trip. The Azores are not known for their direct highways.) While you don't technically need traditional hiking apparel like walking sticks, hiking boots, and gators to navigate the often-muddy trails, it may not be a bad idea to pack them if you have them. An unexpected cloudburst can turn a steep trail into a mudslide in a matter of minutes, and your sneakers may not be quite up to the task. It goes without saying that you should never attempt to hike in sandals or open-toed shoes here, as you'll most likely regret it within the first several minutes.


Geothermal pools are also attractive destinations for residents and tourists alike. Furnas, a picturesque town on São Miguel, is neatly situated among a volcanic complex of geothermal springs. Meander up and down tiny cobblestone streets and you'll be surrounded by steam rising from piping hot geothermal springs running throughout the village. If you're feeling peckish, try the local Portuguese stew that cooks while buried underground, courtesy of the heat billowing just under the surface. Every afternoon you can see many locals pulling pots full of Cozido das Furnas out of the steaming ground. Try a bite at Caldeiras e Vulcões; it's a hearty stew made with three different types of meat (pig, chicken, and beef) as well as sweet potatoes, yams, and black pudding (blood sausage). Be warned: it may taste faintly of the sulphur that bubbles through the hot springs. If you're not a fan of potatoes, you may be best served by splitting one of the generous portions with a companion.

The Terra Nostra Gardens, a historical residence-cum-natural park that's been around since the late 18th century, is another must-see. Once inside you can wander the beautifully landscaped grounds (don't miss the topiary garden) or relax in the sepia-colored natural geothermal pool. Just don't wear a bathing suit you care about, as the water has been known to stain fabric.

When the water beckons

Eat my dust, humans!

Whale watching is an appealing option to those who enjoy being surrounded by water but would rather stay dry. Over 20 different cetaceous species reside in these fertile waters and there's something almost magical about watching these enormous gentle creatures crest above the waves.

If diving is more your speed, you'll find pristine bodies of water throughout the archipelago. Princess Alice Bank, situated around 50 nautical miles from Pico, is a prime contender for the best place to dive. If you can stomach the 2.5 hour boat ride to the diving site, you'll be richly rewarded by hordes of pelagic fish and fairytale-worthy deep ridges and gorges, not all that different from the magnificent spectacle above ground.

A must see for outdoor enthusiasts

The Azores is one of the most visually arresting regions in the world. The terrain is a magnificent combination of England's verdant pastures, Iceland's craggy mountains, and New Zealand's shameless explosion of lush foliage. It is truly one of the world's natural wonders and it's opulent beauty will remain in your memory long after you return home. However, take note that the Azores are not a destination for those seeking Michelin-starred restaurants and exciting nightlife. You're far more likely to find unpretentious local bars serving up generously portioned table wine, than au courant clubs prowled by glowering bouncers.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—Workaway.info.

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).

Workaway WoIsango.com

You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker