Nearly a thousand miles off the coast of mainland Portugal, travelers will find a total of nine idyllic islands, known collectively as the Azores. While the motorways in Portugal proper's most populated areas have a reputation for being rather harrowing, the slow pace of life on the Azores makes driving there a fairly relaxing affair, especially in terms of the traffic.
While heavy traffic isn't typically a concern on any of the Azores, the roads on the islands can be a bit bumpy. Some are scarcely maintained, and others are little more than two ribbons of dirt, traversing otherwise untouched land.
Road signs and maps of the islands may also leave a bit to be desired in terms of accuracy and detail. The largest of the islands, Sao Miguel, is a mere 54 miles end-to-end, so it's difficult to get too terribly lost here.
Driving in Portugal's Azores Islands is generally a laid-back affair, but it's always best to be on the safe side.
Be aware that pedestrians in the cities of the Azores may not treat moving vehicles with the same level of caution and respect that you may be accustomed to elsewhere. They may walk right out in front of you, so be sure to drive carefully in populated areas.
Portugal is known as a place where it is not unheard of to find a car nonchalantly parked in the lane of traffic. The Azores islands are no exception. Beep your horn once or twice, and the situation should resolve itself in fairly short order.
Approach blind intersections here with caution. Poorly lit carts, bicyclists, and slow-moving vehicles are not uncommon on the islands, so make sure the way is clear before proceeding.
The streets in most towns and villages were originally designed for horse-drawn carts and foot traffic, so you may want to consider renting as small a vehicle as you and your companions can comfortably travel in, when you visit the Azores.
The most populous area in the Azores is Sao Miguel's Ponta Delgada, a bustling little city of 70,000 people. The city is made up of 24 separate parishes, the busiest of which are the three central civil parishes: Sao Pedro, Sao Sebastiao, and Sao Jose. In these areas, expect some street traffic, but major delays are fairly uncommon, even during peak tourism season.
When visiting the Azores, renting a car is really the best way to go. Mass transit on the islands tends to be infrequent, so unless you have plenty of time to kill, relying on the bus system may throw a wrench into your itinerary.
The islands of Pico and Faial are quite close to each other, and ferry service is available between the two, so if those are the only two islands on your agenda, then there's no need to rent separate cars for each. The space between these and other islands must generally be traversed by air, making individual rentals a necessity when traveling to the other islands.
The exception to this rule would be the island of Corvo, where cars are not allowed. It's only 4 miles across, making it the perfect place for a day hike.
The Azores may be quite a distance from the mainland, but the same traffic laws apply here. Driving occurs on the right side of the road, white lines (double or single) are not to be crossed, and speeding laws are enforced by radar and unmarked vehicles.
In the Azores, as in the rest of Portugal, tickets are payable to the issuing officer upon receipt, and drivers must be at least 18 years of age. Your car rental company should provide you with fluorescent vests and reflective triangles to be kept in your car at all times, which should be used in case of emergency. Oh, and don't text and drive; it carries a hefty fine.