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Renting a Car in the Azores (Info, Steps, Photos, Review)

Renting a Car in the Azores (Info, Steps, Photos, Review)

If you’re planning a trip to the Azores archipelago, you’ll quickly realize that renting a car is essential for getting around and exploring the islands. Public transportation is very limited and mostly available only in larger cities. Additionally, there are no Uber or Lyft services, and taxis can be quite expensive. Since natural attractions are spread out, having a car is clearly a necessity. But how to rent a car there?

1) Check which island you are going before booking

When traveling to the Azores, ensure you select a rental company that operates on the island where you will be arriving. Since the Azores archipelago consists nine islands: Corvo (the smallest), Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico (with the highest peak), Santa Maria (the oldest), São Jorge, São Miguel (the largest), and Terceira.

Most international flights arrive at Ponta Delgada Airport on São Miguel island, or Lajes Airport on Terceira island. From the U.S. United Airlines and Sata Azores seems to be the only one servicing directly the archipelago, but there are more options from Europe from traditional to low-cost. Airports on smaller islands may only be accessible via transfer through these two airports.

2) Choose a local rental company

While you can use comparison websites or check the popular brands, I would like to encourage you to opt for a local rental company in the Azores.

We were invited by Azores Easy Rent to review their services by renting a Mitsubishi Outlander Hybrid for a week while we were exploring São Miguel island. But nobody told me what to write. These are my honest views and the true reflection of my experience. I did not accept any payment in exchange for any coverage.

So why should you choose a local company like Azores Easy Rent? I have six reasons to convince you.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

1. By choosing a local rental company, you contribute directly to the local economy. Your business helps sustain local employment and benefits their community. And it was indeed the case. Azores Easy Rent was established in 2016 and 100% of their employees are people living on the island.

2. Dealing with a local company can sometimes mean less bureaucracy and faster service. Pickup and return processes are often quicker and can be more flexible. When we arrived for a pickup, the car and a lady was already there doing the preliminary checks.

3. Unlike major chains that might see high traffic at airports or major tourist spots, local companies aren’t as busy, offering a more personalised rental experience. We were the only ones there, so all paperwork was done quickly without any queue or wait. During booking we conversed with them via email every time we had a question, and we got an instant reply. It felt more personalised since we were speaking directly with a person as opposed to a customer service.

4. Sometimes local companies offer unique or special vehicles that larger chains don’t. Azores Easy Rent has a fleet of 7 distinct categories: City, SUV, Cabrio, Offroad, Family, Executive, Van, and Motorbikes. From Mini Morris Cabrio with automatic transmission to a stylish Vespa, you will surely find what you are looking for.

5. They possess local expertise. After we booked with Azores Easy Rent, they shared their curated list of the top 47 places to visit on São Miguel Island, giving us insider access to the best spots.

6. Last, but not least, you can get a 10% discount on all types of booking if you add ‘ecolodgesanywhere‘ as a discount code in the form here.

3) Book a car in advance

Summer is the peak season in the Azores, attracting a high volume of tourists. With the majority of visitors planning to rent a car, it’s crucial to research and secure your vehicle well in advance.

If you prefer an automatic transmission, bear in mind that these vehicles are less available and more costly, and they may run out quickly during peak times.

It’s also wise to request child seats or booster seats at the time of booking to ensure availability.

Although we visited in May, we made sure to reserve our car a month prior to our trip to avoid any last-minute inconveniences.

4) Pick a smaller car

We advise you to choose a small or medium-sized car. Many roads in the Azores, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, are quite narrow. Furthermore, parking spaces in the Azores can also be limited and small, especially in popular tourist areas and in the historic centers of towns. A smaller car makes it easier to navigate these tight spaces and roads without the added stress.

Is it easy to drive in the Azores? It certainly is. I think observing the driving culture can reveal a lot about a country. On the roads, there was no honking, speeding, shouting, or any obnoxious behavior. The drivers seemed patient and respectful, contributing to a calm and safe driving environment.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

5) Pick a hybrid or EV

We wouldn’t truly be an ecotourism blog if we didn’t recommend that you choose a hybrid or electric vehicle to explore the islands. Did you know that the Azores was the first archipelago to be certified under the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination program? Thus, they make continuous and concerted efforts to preserve their natural landscapes and reduce their carbon footprint.

By choosing a hybrid or electric vehicle, you not only contribute to these efforts but also enjoy a quieter, smoother ride. We choose a Mitsubishi Outlander Hybrid and it was indeed a smooth ride.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

6) Choose airport as the pickup location

On most islands, the airport is the only pickup location for rental cars. However, São Miguel Island, home to Ponta Delgada—the largest city in the archipelago, despite its modest size of only 90 square miles—offers additional options.

While there are rental car pickup locations at both the airport and in the city center, opting for the airport is far more convenient. Although buses and taxis can take you from the airport to the city center, finding the local office of the rental car company can make your life unnecessarily complicated.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

7) Pick up your rental car at Ponta Delgada Airport

Ponta Delgada airport is quite small with only 10 gates. We traveled with a carry-on luggage and were able to exit the airport in less than 10 minutes after arrival.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

Once outside the airport building, all parking lots and the pick-up locations for rental companies are to the right. Popular rental car companies such as Sixt, Hertz, and Europcar are slightly closer, located in parking lots Nos. 3, 4, and 5. Smaller and local rental companies, like Azores Easy Rent, can be found in Parking No. 6. All of these are within an easy 5-10 minute walk.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

8) Inspect the car before signing

Before signing a rental car contract, it is crucial to thoroughly inspect the vehicle. This process ensures that any existing damage is documented properly, preventing any misunderstandings about your responsibility for such damages when you return the car.

We always check the car’s body for large dents or scratches, the windshield for cracks, and the tires’ condition. We start the car to check the lights, brakes, and interior functions such as the air conditioning and radio to ensure everything is in working order.

We ALWAYS take photos from different angles and close-ups of any dents and scratches. These photos are the best evidence we can have during potential disputes later on. Not that we had any in the Azores.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

9) Rules of driving in the Azores

Portuguese driving laws may differ from those in the U.S., so it’s best to familiarize yourself with them before you arrive to avoid any potential fines.

  1. Drive on the Right: In the Azores, like in mainland Portugal, you must drive on the right-hand side of the road.
  2. Speed Limits: Pay attention to speed limits, which are typically 50 km/h in towns, 90 km/h on open roads, and 100 km/h on highways.
  3. Driver’s License: International travelers should carry their valid national driving license. International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is optional and more for clarity if your national driving license is not in English.
  4. Minimum Age: The driver must be at least 18 years old.
  5. Seat Belts: Seat belts must be worn at all times by all occupants of the vehicle.
  6. Alcohol Limits: The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05%.
  7. Mobile Phones: Using a handheld mobile phone while driving is illegal. Use a hands-free system if you need to make calls.
  8. Roundabouts: Give way to traffic already on the roundabout; traffic flows counterclockwise.
  9. Parking: Be mindful of parking regulations. Parking is prohibited where the curb is painted yellow or where no parking signs are present.

Eco-friendly accommodations in the Azores we recommend

A woman sitting on a mountain. Behind her is a lake.
Travel Writer | Website

Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.