Swimming with dolphins and canyoning – Tara Cox spends a busy week in the Azores

"Who wants to stay in their comfort zone?” I asked myself as I abseiled down waterfalls, jumped from cliff peaks and snorkelled beside dolphins.

It was that same thought that persuaded me to board a plane and spend seven adrenaline-fuelled days in the Azores, one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.

I touched down in Ponta Delgada – the administrative capital of the Azores located on São Miguel Island – and less than 3km from the airport was my new home for the week – Hotel Marina Atlântico. A hotel with charm, an indoor swimming pool, perfect central location and a balcony with spectacular sea and harbour views; I couldn’t have asked for much more.

And just in case I needed any more excitement, the base of adventure tour company Picos De Aventura was just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel – and I had a lot to look forward to.

Planned activities for the week included a whale and dolphin-watching trip, rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, swimming with dolphins and canyoning.

But my visit to The Azores was caught up in the path of Hurricane Gonzales, meaning half of the activities had to be cancelled due to safety reasons.

Even that couldn’t put me off though, and I used the spare time to explore the highlights of the island which included hot springs, the volcanic crater of Furnas, the Jardim António Borges pineapple plantation, Goreanna tea plantation and more.

On a trip to The Azores, visiting Sete Cidades is a must; the extinct crater is an enchanting natural wonder boasting two lakes – one blue and one green. And here’s a tip; the best place to enjoy the lakes is from the view point ‘Vista do Rei’, which offers sweeping panoramic views.

The first activity of the week was a three-hour whale and dolphin-watching trip across the Azorean waters, which I was told attract an impressive number of cetacean activity.

A total of 26 of the world’s 80 species have been sighted off the islands’ coast including pods of sperm, pilot, backed, fin, sei, humpback and blue whales. The best time for these trips is the spring and summer months, but even in September I managed to see both bottlenose and common dolphins.

And the emphasis of these trips is not only to see the mammals in their natural habitat, but also on teaching and conservation. But if you think a dolphin and whale-watching trip sounds exciting, the real treat was swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat.

I leapt at the chance offered by Picos De Aventura and took the plunge, swimming alongside common and bottlenose dolphins in the blue Atlantic waters ten miles off the shore. Seeing dolphins swim just metres away is an experience that I won’t forget.

My favourite activity of the week overall has to be canyoning, a sport becoming more popular on the island. São Miguel offers some of the best canyoning opportunities. There really is no better place to take part in this exhilarating sport, which sees adrenaline junkies like me jumping, climbing, scrambling and swimming through canyons.

For those who fancy something different and a holiday filled with excitement, the Azores is a must.

  •  Leading operator to the Azores, Sunvil Discovery, offers a seven-night active holiday on Sao Miguel from £1,067 pp (two sharing).
  • For flights from London Gatwick, seven nights’ B&B, car hire and whale-watching, rock climbing, canoeing, and mountain biking with free entry to the thermal pools at SPA Ferraria). Optional swimming with dolphins is an additional £65pp. Contact Sunvil Discovery by calling 020 8758 4722 or visiting sunvil.co.uk