“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows” – Ralph Marston
Most people instantly have a picture in their mind when you say, “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.” It makes them think of places like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada, The Great Wall of China, and Yellowstone National Park in the US. But what about the more obscure UNESCO designations? What about the Biosphere Reserves?
Unesco Biosphere Reserves of the Azores
There are 686 biosphere reserves in 122 countries. You probably wondering what the heck a Biosphere Reserve is and how a place becomes designated as one. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves is part of the Man and the Biosphere (or MAB) program. The idea is to bring together humans and nature promoting sustainable development.
In order to become a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve several characteristics must be met. A couple of these characteristics include (1) Fostering dialogue for conflict resolution of natural resources use, (2) demonstrating sound sustainable development practices and policies based on research and monitoring, and (3) acting as sites of excellence for education and training.
One area rich in UNESCO biosphere reserves are the Azores, with 4 of the 9 islands having designated biosphere reserve areas. The Azores is one of those undiscovered places. Where cows are more abundant than tourists and very little has changed since the first settlements. Virtually untouched and uninfluenced by the outside world the Azores has a unique beauty that’s perfect for those looking to truly unplug.
Meaning “gracious,” Graciosa is the second smallest of the 9 islands, next to Corvo. The entire island has been designated as a biosphere reserve. Due to the island’s unique natural characteristics it is regularly visited by national and international scientists. Many expeditions include eradication of invasive plant species and habitat restoration.
One quiet island, it is the perfect place to step back in time and go off the grid for a while. With a population around 4,800 small towns have not changed over the years and you may even see farmer’s travelling by donkey along the road. Nicknamed “The White Island” Graciosa boasts such places as “Pedras Brancas” (“White Stones”), “Serra Branca” (“White Mountain”), and “Barro Branco” (“White Clay”).
Visitors of this island, however, are not attracted to what’s on the land, but what is below the ocean depths. The entire coast has perfect conditions for divers with hidden grottos and a plethora of fish species, it’s an underwater utopia. But if diving is not on the agenda, the other main attraction is the sulfur cavern “Gruta do Enxofre.” Heading down a winding stair you entire an enormous vault with a hidden lukewarm lake. A perfect escape.
The newest biosphere designation, awarded in 2016, this island is a hiker’s paradise. You can spend all your time walking the many trails on the island and trying out their island made cheeses.
Not all of São Jorge was designated as a Biosphere Reserve, but specifically the some seventy “fajãs.” These small plains along the sea spawned from landslides and lava, create a unique landscape with lots of potential for promotion of the region and its products. But let’s face it, it’s all about the hiking.
With only 300 inhabitants, located in one small town, Corvo is the smallest of the 9 islands. A haven for birdwatchers, this isolated island. Corvo was designated a Biosphere Reserve in 2009, including all the land area above sea level and a surrounding marine zone. The land and biological value are considered of regional, national, and international importance.
Visiting the island in October brings your best chance of seeing the wide range of bird species on their migration from the US to Africa. Though the terrain is tough with steep cliffs and high stone walls a hike around the island will give you ocean views as well as the internal walk around the caldera.
Being the smallest island, unless you are looking to unplug for a while, you can enjoy Corvo in one to two days before hoping on a short flight or boat over to Flores.
The Isle of Flowers, Flores is what I would consider the most beautiful of the 9 islands. With lots of opportunities to experience nature, this island shows off it’s beauty at all times of the year. A slow pace and kind people enhance the charm of this island. In the summer you can see Flores in all it’s glory with large cabbage sized hydrangeas and various smaller species of wildflowers spilling over cliffs and lining the many pastures on the island.
Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2009, Flores has some of the most important natural habitats. With sweeping cliffs surrounding cute little towns and more waterfalls than you can count, this island is the most stunning place I have ever been.
There are many hikes to choose from including the West Coast Trail and hikes down to the various lagoas (lakes), there is something for every experience level. The lush greens in the humid atmosphere makes the walking slick and your skin glow with sweat, but the beauty of the island is unrivaled. For more information on the various hikes on Flores see my post “A Guide to Hiking in Flores.”
With 9 islands the Azores has something for everyone, though only a few have been given that special UNESCO designation. Having the Biosphere Reserve designation gives these islands a unique opportunity to promote its culture, heritage. If you’re more into cities and historic cultural sites, check out what to do in Terceira here for more inspiration to visiting the Azores.
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Guest post Bio:
Nicole is a full-time veterinarian and travel junky who writes about adventure travel and reconnecting with the world around her. She hopes her blog will inspire and empower you to get out of your comfort zone and live an authentic life on your own terms. Her writing focuses on nature, wildlife, and exploring cultures around the world, off the beaten path. And it is her wish for herself and for others to strive to leave the world better than how you found it, whether that is through volunteering, ecotourism, or conscious travel. If you are looking for an adventure and a way to connect to something deeper, look no further than wanderingwithadromomaniac.com.
Nicole with Wandering with a Dromomaniac