An Enchanting Prehistoric Forest in the Azores: Sao Miguel Island

shutterstock_716118829The Azores are lush, green islands situated in an isolated spot of the Atlantic Ocean, where temperatures are mild and change little from season to season. Renowned for their thermal springs, crater lakes,exotic vegetation, and unique grottoes that have resulted from ongoing volcanic activity, these islands hold many special elements of a delicate Eco-system.The climate of the Azores is heavily influenced by the Gulf Stream, with no frost below elevations of 500 m and average temperatures of 21° C in summer and 14.5° C in winter, which allows these unique forests to flourish. The 9 Azorean islands, due to their remote location in the North Atlantic ocean makes them the most isolated region in the European Union.dreamstime_m_83974403 Since the times of discovery in the 15th century by Portuguese explorers these islands have played a key role in transit routes from Europe to the new world. It is said when they initial settlers came they burnt down many of the laurisilva forests that dominated the entire island landscape to clear the lands for cultivation. The islands have small pockets of their original laurisilva forests that still exists, but have been greatly depleted over the last couple of centuries due to expansion. The remaining laurisilva forests are extremely rare in Europe and makes these islands one of the few regions that still have these prehistoric forests. Only 2% of the native laurisilva forest still exists in the Azores.lauras In 1995, a European Union-funded project aimed at restoring and expanding this unique forests with the region of Pico da Vara on Sao Miguel being designated a special protection area. It is here in Pico da Vara that has the largest forested area with the highest concentration of endemic and native plants to the Azores. This is a haven for bird watchers and nature lovers, however as a rule it is important to respect and not interfere with the environment of this special area.shutterstock_705990304.jpgThere are many unique hiking trails and summit points to explore in this forest that goes from Nordeste to Povoacao county on the north tip of the island. This is the  highest point on the island of Sao Miguel and is popular at all times of the day with people who come and hike to the top to watch the sunrise or during a full moon for the ritual full moon hike.  owllongThe Azores are trying to erase 15 years of expansion and deforestation starting in the 1990’s when entering the single European market where subsidies and grants were given to turn forested and uncultivated lands into pastures for grazing cows, with minimum quotas to be met. Over 50% of the natural forested areas in the Azores have been converted in the pastures between the 1990’s and early 2000’s.sao-miguel-acores Over the last couple of years the local Azorean government due to the importance of preserving their unique Eco-system have put a great emphasis on policies in restoring and preserving the local flora and fauna in the region. The people of the Azores have seen to many beautiful, untouched places get exploited by mass tourism and human settlement and do not want this to be the outcome of their islands. Awarded by National Geographic Traveller as the number 1 island destination in the world for sustainable tourism, the Azores government is working hard to create a balance between tourism which represents growth and more jobs while not comprising their delicate Eco-system which is the main reason tourists come in the first place. dreamstimelarge_97690049If you want to visit this special protected area there is a simple form that you need to fill out before with a list of rules of conduct to obey while in this designated area. It just asks you for your name, nationality, date of visit and how many people. The form is available below as an attachment. The hike is about 8km round trip and averages 3 hour in length depending on your pace. This is truly a bucket list experience, hiking through these rare prehistoric woods in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.picovara

 

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