(pe¯´ko¯) [Port. = peak], island (1991 pop. 15,129), 167 sq mi in the N Atlantic, one of the central Azores. It takes its name from the volcanic mountain, Pico Alto [high peak], which rises to 7,711 ft (2,350 m).
Pico is the obvious choice of name for the highest point in all of Portugal. You cannot miss it! Its giant peak soars about the clouds most days, and it is often seen by approaching planes rising above the cloud cover. It is impressive from any angle! Some intriguing places to visit are Escalada ao Pico where tourists can scale Portugal’s highest mountain, and Quinta da Rosas, a forest park with exotic species. The interior of Pico is mostly a natural park, and the trails are well marked. The climb up to the 7,700-foot summit can take up to 3 hours, but the views are worth it. Hiking is abundant, and trails soar up the mountain and along the coast, with spectacular views.
Pico was settled in 1460, and settlement began in Lajes, the first island municipality. It is the second longest island in the Azores, and it remains largely forested. Most villages are set along the sea, with houses made of black stone, joined in white mortar.
The volcanic explosions that built Pico are visible in the island’s wild landscapes, soaring peaks, and black cliffs that drop into the sea. Many days the peak is covered in clouds; however, on clear days, it can be seen from surrounding islands, with its lava cone rising above the massive volcano. Ancient lava flows are frozen in solid rock in areas called misterios.
Pico is known for its excellent wine. All along the coastal rim of the island, two-foot walls shield the grapes from the sea and elements, to produce a unique vintage with a hint of lava. These areas have been nominated for recognition as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 19th century, even the czars of Russia sent ships here to bring back the volcanic wines of Pico. Yet, it is the sea-faring culture–first whaling, and now tuna–that so defines this place.
This Is Not your Father’s Whale Watching
Whale watching in the Azores is different than in the U.S. In the United States, whale watching involves large groups of people gathering onto large motor ship and clambering for a good seat or a spot by the railing in hopes of catching glimpses of a whale’s tail. In Azores, about dozen people climb aboard a small motorboat that is part metal and part floatation device. This makes the experience very up close and personal, not to mention everyone has a good view. Experienced guides offer insights into the lives of these creatures and, best of all, seeing a whale is almost guaranteed resulting from a system of spotters along the local mountainsides who radio the boats with the position and number of whales. Local whales include sperm whales, northern bottlenose, pilot, sowerby’s beaked whales, and occasionally orcas.
Pico once had a busting whaling trade, and two museums mark the history of this industry. In Lajes, an excellent museum traces how the people of Pico took to the seas in tiny boats to land huge whales. Whale watching in the Azores began here, and Espaço Talassa was the first company to take visitors on the ride of a lifetime. In São Roque, a former whale processing plant shows how industrial whaling was carried out.
There is regular ferry service between São Miguel and most other islands, as well as between the islands of Faial, Pico, and São Jorge, and between Terceira and Graciosa. Pico is only 20 minutes away from Horta by ferry and also very close to Velas on the island of São Jorge.