So how do three longtime geocaching friends from the US end up in the Azores for the holidays? It began as a sort of loose daydream of interesting places to travel this year between us. We spun the globe looking for somewhere different from our previous travels. We talked about going to Iceland to see the northern lights, maybe taking that long flight to Thailand for some scuba caching, but when we read about the Azores, we knew it would be the perfect getaway.
Our first order of business was finding out how to get there. Luckily, there was a new direct flight from Boston to the Azores on SATA. Since Koneko lives near Boston and there were inexpensive flights from our home in Nashville, Tennessee, it made travel easy and also helped us choose our ultimate destination of Terceira. With tickets and lodging booked we got into the real fun of planning a trip. We did a lot of research, looking at geocaches online, reaching out to friends who had visited before and finally making connection with some local geocachers for advice.
Fast forward to mid-December and Scoot and I are flying from Tennessee to Boston where we met up with Koneko before catching the overnight flight to Terceira. We arrived just after sunrise and we were immediately struck by the pastoral beauty of the island. In some ways it was reminiscent of Ireland with the incredibly green fields, lined with stone walls, but the soaring Japanese cedars, blooming flowers in December and incredible architecture quickly showed us that we were in a place unlike any we had ever visited. After checking into our new home for the week, the beautiful Pousada Forte de Sao Sebastiao, built entirely inside the walls of the 16th century fort, we walked into the city centre to find breakfast and explore.
Of course, we were excited to get out and find some geocaches, so we made our way to Altar Nave “Em louvor de”(GC38NQG). Not only were we rewarded with a great view of the harbor, but also with a very cleverly disguised cache for our first find in Portugal. From there we headed down to the bay to seek AZGT Cais da Alfondega (GC35WBE) which turned out to be another very cleverly hidden cache in a beautiful location. It was a fitting beginning to what would be a great week of geocaching. Walking the stone streets, we were amazed at every turn by the architecture and layout of the city. Soon we were recovering from jet lag with local pastries and much needed coffee at O Forno. We continued to explore the city letting geocache locations direct our journey. It was a great way to see the city and even when we had the occasional DNF, we still enjoyed the incredible settings, like the Angra Gardens. This would be the theme of the trip, great geocaches in incredible locations.
On day two we greeted the sunrise over the walls of the fort taking in the views of Ilheus Das Cabras from
this vantage point. After breakfast we met up with a local geocacher, the incomparable Pedro Silva, who graciously offered to escort us around Terceira for the day. Our first order of business was to make our way to Praca Velha where we were hosting an event that morning. It is always a pleasure to attend events and meet fellow cachers, but the hospitality we were greeted with just blew us away. Though we were the hosts, our fellow cachers really made us feel like honored guests. Lots of great conversation, advice and offers of assistance from our fellow geocachers. It was truly an honor to be among such wonderful people. Koneko and I had previously traveled to Brazil to find the final Project APE cache and had learned some rudimentary Portuguese for that trip, but our poor skills were met with patience and assistance. Luckily, several people spoke some English which made communication much easier for us, which we appreciated greatly. Even with our poor skills at the Portuguese language, we never felt like outsiders as they made us feel so welcome.
After the event we put our fate in the hands of our host and made our way to enjoy the views and geocaching around Monte Brasil, before making our way toward the interior for our goal of the day, the TER Geo-Art Series. While researching the island’s geocaches, we had discovered the series and gone ahead and worked them out. When Pedro found out that we had already solved them he graciously offered to drive us around the area and help us out. It was a great experience, getting to explore this wilder side of Terceira and learning so much about the island and local geocaching from such a skilled cacher and guide. We had so much fun out there completing the series that we lost track of the time and unfortunately missed the second event of the day near Lajes. We were tired and wet, but happy, when Pedro dropped us off at our hotel with a promise to meet us the next day for some more adventurous geocaching.
After showers and cleaning up we decided to head back to the city centre to attend the Christmas market at the Praca Velha. It was a truly magical experience, as we sampled traditional Azorean Christmas treats and local wines. We were once again amazed by the welcoming atmosphere and made some new friends, even swapping a few recipes. Not only did we have the finest cup of hot cocoa I have ever tasted, but we were introduced to Angelico do Pico and got to try roasted chestnuts for the first time. Though they are mentioned in the Christmas song, chestnuts are actually challenging to acquire in the US, so it was a real treat to get to try them and to discover just how amazing they are. Though we were tired, there was one more event on the schedule for the day, so we ended our evening with coffee and great conversation and fellowship at GeoCaf´ Natalcio – Bye Bye Terceira (GC6XNVC).
On day three the rains came and we spent most of the day dodging weather as we visited some truly incredible geocaches. We began with the oldest active geocache in Portugal, AZGTJ – Translant Chess Cache (GC8EF9). I am a big fan of seeking out Elder Caches, so this was a real treat, especially since it was also Koneko’s 12,000th find. We mainly focused on highly favorited and award winning geocaches while staying as dry as we could, with visits to the awesome multi cache AZGT O Bodo dos Outeiros (GC5R4KT), the tidal pools at AZGT Biscoitos (GC541D9), a truly phenomenal meal at Restaurante Caneta in Altares, before heading back into the highlands for our biggest adventures of the day.
Our first stop was AZGTJ Cave Animals (GC596XK), a highly rated multi-cache that was a finalist as one of the best caches of the Azores in 2014. The experience lived up to its reputation as exploring this lava tube was a great adventure, with very clever containers along the way. The pouring rain outside added to the adventure as a small stream was flowing into the cave and we had opportunities to experience an underground waterfall along the way. We all enjoyed exploring the lava tube, a very different experience from the limestone caves that we are accustomed to in the eastern US. The rain would continue to be a challenge as we made our way to winner of the Best geocache in the Azores in 2015, River Dreams (GC5Q261). What is there to say about this incredible geocache? Very challenging clues hidden in an astoundingly beautiful location, with a number of physical challenges all leading to a very clever final geocache. The rain that had plagued us all day, actually made this geocache, that much better, with raging whitewater along the way. Though it made some of the crossings trickier than they usually are, the sound and excitement of the rushing water only added to the adventure. A truly wonderful geocache and a great way to end our day.
Though we don’t usually do any sort of organized tours, we opted to take a Jeep Tour of the island on day four and it was a great experience. In a wonderful example of synchronicity, we had already met our tour guide, Tiago, while attending the Christmas Market Saturday night, so we knew we were in for a day of fun.
We discussed geocaching and our previous explorations and it turned out that he was not only familiar with geocaching, but had done some himself, so we decided to add a little caching to our Jeep Tour. After a couple of stops we found ourselves at the base of Pico Gaspar – Ilha Terceira (GC6B73W), while working on the answers to the earthcache we noticed that there was a traditional geocache close by and we decided to go for it. We had explained geocaching to the group in the other jeep and as I made my way up the slopes I looked back to see that the entire group had decided to join us. O Pico Gaspar (GC1Y7W7) turned out to be a great introduction to geocaching for the group and a real treasure for me. Not only was it a great location, but the muddy terrain made it challenging to access and the container was incredible. As I climbed to ground zero I spotted a likely location behind a lava rock and went to investigate. I lifted the rock out of the way and found nothing behind it. Imagine my surprise when I turned the rock over to discover it was the container! This is what geocaching is all about. A great container in a beautiful spot with views that I would never have discovered if not for one of my fellow cachers hiding this treasure! After a wonderful traditional meal at Ti Choa in Serreta, the adventure would continue with the great container and views at Let’s go whale watching! (GC186W9) and AZGT Algar Carvao (GC3W6HD). Many times we were impressed with the creativity of the local caches, especially so with these. After leaving the incredible Algar do Carvao (GC33R70) we made our way across the island to watch the sunset from the amazing view at Vulcao dos Cinco Picos (GC5YDQX). It was an amazing day filled with adventures and education. I highly recommend that any geocachers visiting Terceira contact Tiago and Sophie with Communicair Tours for a great geocaching trip to some of the more tourist style locales. They even suggested a great spot for dinner, Marcelino’s for dinner where we had wonderful steaks, barracuda, local wines and Don Amelia for dessert.
On our fifth day we woke to great weather and took advantage of it to explore the city on foot, doing Christmas shopping, having a light brunch at Pastelaria Athanasio before seeking out the excellent Um golfinho passou por aqui (GC6354X). This highly favorited cache offered great views of the bay and an excellent use of terrain for a really cool find that invited you to think outside the box. Our main adventure for the day was a boat excursion to attempt the 5 terrain earthcache ILHA US DAS CABRAS (GC59JRA). After viewing these islets from our room every morning, to get to see them up close was a real treat, made even better by the opportunity to learn about how they were formed through this earthcache. The great weather and gentle swells of the sea made this one of the high points of a trip filled with high points. After sea faring, we met up with Pedro, Luis Serpa and Basousa at O Pirata for an excellent meal, conversation and a chance to attempt one of luis serpa’s famed gadget caches. Once again, we were very impressed the creativity of Terceira’s geocaching community.
For our last full day on Terceira, we opted to rent a car to do a little exploring on our own. We immediately made our way to Serra de Santa Barbara (GC19FWF) to visit the islands highest point and, of course, to seek the geocache there. The views were incredible and we were even able to see the summit of Pico rising high above the clouds. From there we drove to AZGT Furnas Do Enxofre (GC374EK) and the earthcache of the same name (GC1DFTW). What an incredible area! Having visited the volcano cavern two days before, we understood the volcanic nature of the island, but this area really made us understand it in a way that all of our previous experiences had not. It was an eerie reminder of what goes on just beneath the surface of the land and how lucky we are to be able to visit such a diverse area. The incredibly crafted containers, taking advantage of local materials, so they blended in perfectly to this beautiful landscape made this cache one of the high points of our day. We returned to Restaurante Caneta in Altares to sample the incredible skewered steak and
Donatario wine, before headed over for a great tour and sampling at the Museu do Vinho. Well-fed we crossed the island once again to visit Porto Judeu to seek out the islands most favorited geocache, AZGTJ The Pirate´s Treasure (GC2MEA1). There is a reason that this geocache has garnered so many favorite points with its great views and beautifully crafted container. Being there at sunset, only made the experience better as we climbed around the rocks above the crashing sea. We celebrated another incredible day of geocaching on Terceira with dinner and excellent sangria at Tasca das Tias before walking back to the Praca Velha for more roasted chestnuts and shopping at the Christmas market.
Our final morning was spent finding a few more geocaches around Angra while shopping for gifts for friends and one last visit to O Forno to purchase Christmas cookies to take back home. We made our way back to Lajes looking forward to seeing our families, but with some regret to be leaving such a beautiful place with such great geocaching. However, our adventures were not at an end as we discovered two great geocaches, actually at the airport. We were really impressed by the creativity and locations for Tb Hotel (Aerogare das Lages) Terceira (GC342CW) and AZGT Aeroporto Internacional das Lajes (GC67KTY). To discover these treasures after we thought we were finished was a fitting end for an incredible trip and it sort of encapsulates our Azorean experience.
When we set out from the states we knew we would find incredible scenery and great food along with a few geocaches along the way, but we discovered so much more. At every turn we met incredibly welcoming people, from the geocaching community and beyond. Each day we saw incredible views, amazing history and architecture. If the geocaches had been mundane, every day sorts of caches, we still would have had an amazing trip, but they were not mundane, they were not ordinary. I truly enjoy geocaching of all types and I have been doing it for over 13 years now on four continents, so I have seen many incredible caches and many “not so great” ones along the way. For me, the qualities of a great cache involve some combination of beautiful location or view or a challenging place to access, or a clever container with great camouflage and perhaps a good story or piece of history. If a cache has any one of these, I am happy; if it has more than one I am impressed. In Terceira, the great majority of the geocaches we found had all of these qualities, I was ecstatic. Time and time again, we were impressed by the overall quality of the geocaches on the island. With each new cache we found ourselves being blown away by an incredible view in a historic location only to find that the geocache itself was also a well thought out container that took time to craft and place. The volcanic rock caches, hollowed logs and caches disguised as animals blended in perfectly and always surprised us and made us smile.
Our hats are truly off to the geocaching community on Terceira. Your hard work, your creativity, your passion for the game make this beautiful island a geocaching jewel to be cherished and admired. We have found a lot of geocaches and traveled to some amazing places in our time, but Terceira rises to the top of those experiences, for the overall quality of geocaching that you have created there and for the incredibly welcoming community of geocachers. I want to say a heart felt obrigado to you all for everything you have done to make geocaching on your island such an incredible experience and I would to encourage others to visit. Terceira is truly a geocacher’s paradise.
Brad Simmons (Monkeybrad) has been Geocaching since 2003 and a Geocaching.com Volunteer Reviewer since 2009. In addition to several articles, he is the author of the current edition of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geocaching”, has served as President of the Middle Tennessee Geocachers Club, and is the creator of the Discover South Central Tennessee and the Jack Trail GeoTours. He is married to Scoot the Frog, father to Liam, and…yeah…the guy in the Geocaching.com t-shirt adverts.