Trip Highlights

Trip Highlights

  • Take in the geothermal drama of the Azores while exploring lava tubes, volcanoes, and ethereal crater lakes.
  • Set sail alongside a conservationist guide in search of whales and dolphins, and learn about Pico Island’s whaling history.
  • Photograph quaint architecture in coastal cities, and help document endemic plant and bird species in lush nature reserves.
  • Summit Portugal’s highest mountain and snorkel in the crystal-clear waters of a submerged caldera.



Known as the “Hawaiʿi of Europe,” the Azores archipelago lies some 850 miles off the coast of Portugal. These remote Atlantic isles were settled by Portuguese seafarers in the 15th century; today, travelers in the know are drawn by their unspoiled landscapes and stellar reputation for sustainability. Hike through the Azores’ tropical jungles and subterranean lava tubes, meet trailblazing conservationists, and head out to sea to watch for the cetaceans that frequent these pristine waters.


Arrive in Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores. Set out to explore this charming city, founded by Portuguese fishermen in the 15th century, and learn basic Portuguese phrases as you wander the narrow, cobblestoned streets and tree-lined squares.

Begin working on your On Assignment project as we head into the countryside. Climb into ancient lava tubes and learn about the geology of these dramatic landscapes, formed by volcanic activity over millions of years. Keep an eye out for endemic bird species, and hear about the efforts being made to recover their degraded habitats. Then hike up the island’s westernmost volcano for a panoramic view of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, and try capturing the vibrancy of the twin lakes’ ethereal shades on camera. Alongside local conservationists, lend a hand with area reforestation initiatives; then continue your geological adventure on the eastern part of the island, photographing bubbling mud pits, gushing geysers, and hissing steam vents.

Days 6-8: Lajes do Pico, Pico Island

Fly to Pico Island, once a major hub of the North Atlantic whaling industry. Since commercial whale hunting was banned here in 1986, the island has become a global leader in wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism. Meet with pioneers of the whale conservation movement, and visit the Museu dos Baleeiros, a museum dedicated to Pico Island’s whaling heritage. Then set out by boat to spot these magnificent creatures. See resident Atlantic spotted dolphins, as well as sperm whales; and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of a massive blue whale—the largest known animal to ever inhabit the Earth.

Back on land, descend into one of the longest lava tubes in the world, the Gruta de Torres. Emerge into daylight and hike up Ponta do Pico, the highest peak in Portugal. Explore the volcano’s collapsed crater and photograph the sweeping landscapes of the island.

Days 9-11: Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira Island

Sail to Angra do Heroísmo, the Azores’ oldest city. Angra was once an important pit stop for European ships en route to the New World during the Age of Exploration. Roam among the whitewashed, red-roofed buildings of the city, snapping shots of intricate sidewalk mosaics and pastel-colored churches, and head to the marina to join local fisherman on a fishing excursion. Later, hike through a nearby nature reserve to look for endemic bird species and vibrant flowers. Meet with park rangers and hear about a government initiative to protect a percentage of the island for wildlife and forestry conservation, then cool off with a dip under a waterfall or take a soak in a natural hot spring. Afterward, gear up for a canyoneering adventure with professional guides and set off sliding, jumping, and rappelling through rocky crevices and sheets of tumbling water.

Days 12-14: Ponta Delgada, São Miguel Island

Return to Ponta Delgada for your final nights. Recap your adventures while lounging in the pristine waters of the islet of Vila Franca do Campo, a half-submerged caldera just off the coast of São Miguel Island, and go snorkeling in the crater’s natural lake. Wrap up your On Assignment project and present it to the group before flying home.