Great Outdoors,International,Travel

How to Hike Lagoa do Fogo in the Azores and Not Die

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My first international solo trip to Sao Miguel, Azores, an island in the Atlantic governed by Portugal, is still to date one of the best trips ever in the history of evers. When I planned my solo trip to visit the Azores, one of the places I was really fascinated by during my research is Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire). This is a volcanic crater lake high up in the mountains. I saw pictures of its blue/turquoise waters and I knew I had to see it with my own eyes.

I had actually come across this location as being one of the top hikes you should take in your lifetime. I can’t recall the article, but it said the hike was about 8 hours. Ummm… you guys know I love nature but I don’t love it 8 hours worth of hiking.  I’m not there yet, just keeping it real.  Fortunately I came across some other traveler tips on TripAdvisor that mention a much shorter hike down to the shores.  Now this was seeming much more doable.

The biggest problem was going to be getting there. It wasn’t exactly on a bus route and taking a taxi that far up into the mountains would be much too expensive. Ok being totally transparent I had no real plan. I had toyed with the idea of renting a car, but I wasn’t completely sold on that idea.

On my first full day on the island I booked a last minute group tour which did have Lagoa do Fogo as one of its schedule of stops. I thought great, problem solved. I’ll be able to take the shortened version of the hike when I go with the tour.

The weather up in the mountains was very overcast, windy, and cold! While the views were still beautiful, it wasn’t the same breathtaking images I had seen during my research.  The fog was also rolling in quickly and soon the lake wouldn’t be visible to us at all! The clouds rise from the lake resembling smoke from fire, hence the name of the lake.

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Cloudy day at Lagoa do Fogo/Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

Unfortunately the group tour was not going to allow enough time to make the trek to the bottom.  It wasn’t clear how much time would be spent at each stop when I booked it, but that’s what happens when you don’t plan and go with spontaneity. It’s a gift and curse. There were other places where we stayed much longer but this stop was just enough time to take a picture and keep it moving.

After seeing the lake in person, I was determined that I had to do this. I decided I would put my big girl panties on and get up the courage to rent a car and drive myself back up to the lake and make this hike.  So on day 5 of my trip, I rented a VW Golf that I named Dobby and we set out to explore more of the island together!

The freedom of driving yourself around is great! You are able to stop at every single lookout point and take pictures and you are not rushed. It was a very clear morning and the weather looked like it was going to hold up and allow me to make my hike!  I took this as a sign that God wanted me to make this hike too.

I found the parking location located near the steps mentioned by the other traveler tips I read with no problem.  There are 3 overlooks and it’s the 3rd one furthest down the mountain where you should park. There is a dirt path and “steps” that begin to descend down the mountainside. I use the term “steps” very loosely.  These aren’t like stone steps with rails. They are make shift steps that have been crudely carved out of the dirt and fortified with wooden planks.

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Path to Lagoa do Fogo/Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

The views were spectacular on this clear day. This is what I came to see. The turquoise blue colors of the lake’s clear waters were on full display. After taking pictures from every possible angle I decided I would go ahead and prepare to make my descent….alone. This was a huge first for me!!! I had been doing alot more walking and hiking to prepare myself for this hike but nothing I can do in Florida can really prepare me for mountain hiking conditions.

I felt really confident. I had my shoes with a good grip. I had my day pack stocked with first aid kit, water, and most importantly lunch!!! I also had a knife, you know in case I had to kill something. I’m not really sure what exactly but it seemed like an appropriate thing to put in my backpack. I was also wearing my all-weather jacket since it was nippy up in the mountains. I was ready to do this thing!

 

I headed down the path, taking in the views and reveling in how beautiful our planet is.  I couldn’t go more than 5 steps without stopping to take more pictures. I had to tell God, He really outdid himself with this one.

lagoa do fogo

Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

Halfway down the trail I started to get hot and I was thankful that I wore layers.  That’s a tip – write that down. Wear layers or you may sweat to death.

The path has some very big gaps between the steps the further down you go and then at one point toward the bottom there were no more steps. The path just stopped abruptly. It was about a 7 foot drop from there. Someone had placed a rickety wooden ladder there to get you down to the next level to continue on the path.

Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

I stood there and looked at that ladder and many thoughts passed through my mind. Who put this here and how much do they weigh? Can this thing hold me? Will it splinter when I put my weight on it? If I fall off will anybody hear me halfway down this mountain?  Will I die? All legitimate concerns for a random ass ladder on a mountain in the middle of nowhere where, where I have yet to see a single other human being.

So what to do? Nothing to it but do it. I tossed my backpack down to the bottom. I very very gingerly placed a foot on the ladder from a seated position just to gauge how sturdy it was. It didn’t seem to move so I decided I’d be ok. I turned around to position myself to descend, prayed loudly to God not to take me out like this, and climbed down. With each step I probably yelled out a “Thank you Jesus.” At last, I made it to the bottom!

Praise. The. Lord.

It took me about 45 minutes total to make it down to the shore from the beginning of the path. I stopped alot taking pictures so I’m sure you could do it in less time.  The altitude difference was also a noticeable hurdle for me so I needed frequent breaks due to my asthma.  That’s another tip – Take as many breaks as you need.  It’s not a competition and you have nothing to prove to anyone. The end goal is to finish the hike and not die.

I was so elated to get down to the bottom. I couldn’t even see the top of the path where I started from way down there.  I could just barely make out a few people that looked like dots in the distance up at the lookout spot. I  had done it! I was on the shores of Lagoa do Fogo.

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I made it!! / Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

I set out to start my hike along the shore. I even stopped and did some yoga poses and skipped rocks.  I also stopped to pray and just talk to God. I feel so close and connected with my Creator when I’m in beautiful natural scenery like this.

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Yoga by the lake/ Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

I knew that I would be returning home to deal with the ending of my relationship and I found comfort in knowing that I’m just a tiny speck in this universe. If God can allow this volcanic crater to form and fill with rain water for all of these millions of years, surely He will guide me through something as small as my issues.

lagoa do fogo

Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

I found the perfect spot to have my lunch and just completely relaxed. It was just nice to enjoy the solitude and look at out the water. I observed nature and nature was observing me. There were lots of birds around but they didn’t pay me any attention or try to steal my lunch like the thug-birds I encounter at the Florida beaches. I just ate my sandwich and watched them soar and glide in the wind.

 

In the distance coming from the opposite direction than I had come I could see a dog running toward me. As he got closer I could see a man walking along with him.  Wow! So I’m not down here alone after all.  They came to where I was sitting having my lunch and the guy introduced himself.

His name was Philip and his golden retriever’s name was Scott. He was so intrigued to meet someone from the USA who had come all this way to enjoy this little island in the middle of the ocean. Philip is a gymnastics teacher and native Azorean. He spoke English well enough or us to understand each other and it was a great conversation! I played with Scott, his dog and watched him run in and out of the water. No swimming for us…that water was cold! Philip told me that in the summer months people hike in and camp overnight along the lake and they do swim in the lake. The depths of the lake are unknown and there are lava tubes in the depths that haven’t been fully explored. I can just imagine how incredible it would be, camping under the amazing night sky on the shores of that lake.

The best part of travel is not the food, or the bragging rights of a new stamp in your passport, or even where you visit. It's the connection with people and the exchange of ideas and culture. It's the realization that we are all bonded by our humanity. I hiked down into a volcano crater for solitude and meditation. I never expected to make a friend along the way! This is Phillip, a native to Sao Miguel in the Azores and a gymnastics teacher. He and his golden lab named Scott were so sweet. Through broken English and my sad attempt at Portuguese we had a wonderful exchange! Number 1 question I got from Azorean men was how could any man let me travel across the globe solo and why hadn't I been taken off the market. LOL They were down right baffled. #solotravel #portugal #culture #travelgram #traveltuesday #travelin #adventureisalifestyle #explore #blackgirlshike #blackgirlsoutdoors #outdoorgram #greatoutdoors #iHike #reiproject1440

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The three of us made the ascent back out together. I was curious how Philip would get Scott back up that ladder.  He hoisted him up on his shoulders and climbed the ladder with the dog on his back!

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Scott the golden retriever/ Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

 

I made it up the ladder with no problem but then I had another issue. My bladder was calling and there are no port-o-potties in nature. I told Philip to go on without me so that I could find a discreet bush.  That’s the less glamorous side of embracing the outdoors but it can’t be helped. I always pack wipes with me for the occasion.

The hike back out was definitely more challenging. Between the uphill climb and the altitude I was making frequent stops. Eventually I did make it to the top and I felt like I had climbed Everest! I did it! I wished I had been able to spend more time hiking the shores of the lake but I just didn’t have enough hours in the day.

I see now how the hike completely around the lake could take 8 hours. The distance perception from the lookout point is definitely deceiving from how far it actually is. I spent about 4 hours total and I’m so glad I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and rented the car to come back to the lake. Hiking Lagoa do Fogo really was one of the most memorable hikes of my entire life.

hiking lagoa do fogo

Photo Credit: Lauren Gay

Tips:

  • Wear proper shoes. This isn’t a leisurely stroll in flip flops kind of hike. Wear hiking shoes or athletic shoes with grip.
  • Wear layers because the change in temperature from when you start and when you finish could be drastically different.
  • Pack first aid kit, wet wipes,whistle, cell phone, backup charger.
  • Bring that selfie stick and make sure your camera is charged. I wish I had a tripod but at the time I didn’t own one. Instead I was using boulders to stage my pictures. LOL
  • Tell someone where you are going. I told the hotel desk just so they would know. I also wrote a note and left it inside of my rental car, just in case. I also let family and friends back home know my plan for the day.
  • If you are planning to have extreme adventures like this you should really consider having international travel insurance. What if I had to be airlifted out of the mountains?
  • Check the weather. If there’s going to be heavy cloud cover and fog you may find yourself stranded with low visibility on the shores of the lake.
  • Hydrate! This camel pack for water would have been perfect for this journey.  I wished I had it then. It’s super handy.

Have  you had a similar experience that pushed you way beyond your comfort zone? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Kemkem
    September 26, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Fantastic post! I’m so glad you decided to hike with Dobby 🙂 . Most people would have given up after the group tour and just said..hey..l got a pic. Brava! especially on your first overseas trip. It is a stunning place. Glad you loved it, and sorry about the relationship thing..I hope it worked out for the better.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks for reading Kem Kem. I had to keep telling myself YOLO throughout the trip. I didn’t want to leave with any regrets.

  • Reply
    Melanie Edwards
    September 26, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Looks like you had a wonderful time! Love the exchange you had with Phillip. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 27, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Thanks for reading Melanie. That’s why I love travel. I love connecting with locals.

  • Reply
    Tanya Barnett
    September 26, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    I so wish I did this type of stuff when I was younger. I love how you are living life Great post!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 27, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks for reading Tanya! I believe it’s never too late to embark on a new adventure. Go for it!

  • Reply
    CJ from Thirty30Courtney
    September 26, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    I think going to Europe alone for 40 days definitely placed me outside of my comfort zone. I also try to do something new for each trip I go on. But, I’m jealous of your interaction with a volcano. I want to go volcano surfing in Nicaragua sooo badly. One day!

  • Reply
    Danielle
    September 26, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    It’s exhilarating just reading about that hike! And that random ass ladder! lol. And the guy puts the dog on his shoulders? Ahh, what fantastic adventures you have! Would you believe that my parents are actually in the Azores RIGHT NOW? I can’t! Their niece was in a surf competition in Sao Miguel, and after hearing me rave about the place, they said “why not?” I keep getting emails from SATA about good deals on flights and I’m dreaming of going back. Thanks for this post to keep me inspired to make it happen!

    p.s. I was hoping to see you in Orlando last weekend at FL Blog Con. Tia and I were having fun without you. We should get together soon!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 26, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks for reading Danielle! that is so awesome that your parents are there now. I really do hope that you get a chance to go and explore. I have a deal posted from Azores tourism at the end of this post. I hope you can manage to visit there soon.

  • Reply
    Tomiko
    September 26, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    I love the title first and the I’ve never heard of this hike before but you already know the way my arms and leg set up I wouldn’t have made it. Your photos are awesome as well

  • Reply
    Anitra | The Mom on the Move
    September 27, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I’m not very adventurous when it comes to nature, so I have to live vicariously through your blog. No way I’d ever go down that ladder. Beautiful pictures!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 27, 2016 at 9:21 am

      LOL Anitra! I’m happy to bring a little adventure to your life.

  • Reply
    Mimi Green
    September 27, 2016 at 11:19 am

    This was so inspiring. It has me wondering if I could be so bold to set out on an adventure by myself. You’ve inspired me to challenge myself to do things outside of my comfort zone. Nice to see that your adventure turned out very nicely.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 27, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      I love to hear that Mimi! I’m so happy you’re inspired to step outsidie of your comfort zone. I can’t wait to see what you will try.

  • Reply
    Adeola Naomi
    September 27, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I love solo travellers who took the chance to explore the world alone!
    I love the images and adding this to my list!

    http://www.distinguisheddiva.com/2016/09/seventeen-beautyland-event.html

    • Reply
      Lauren
      September 27, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      Thank you for reading Adeola! I’m glad to hear the Azores is now on your list.

  • Reply
    Tiffany H.
    September 27, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I love this post! you threw caution to the wind and you did it solo! I have never rented a car in another country but it sounds like something i should so that i can go explore. Just when you think you are alone, God will send some one along your path. Glad you had a little company. You sound like me when i went on my canoe trip, i though how magnificent God was at that very moment.

  • Reply
    Joanae
    September 27, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    This is something I say I’d like to do in my lifetime, but my husband ain’t down for it. Lol! I love this though. Get out and see this here world!

  • Reply
    Kasi
    September 27, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Kudos to you for stepping out of your comfort zone, that’s a great accomplishment! Your pictures are gorgeous, the views were amazing!

  • Reply
    Latoya @ Life and a Budget
    September 27, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    This place is gorgeous! It’s amazing how many little pretty gems are tucked away on this Earth. I totally admire anyone who can travel alone and experience all of God’s glory. Thumbs up to you, girlfriend!

  • Reply
    Jamila
    September 27, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Beautiful. What a great way to try something new and stepping out of your comfort zone. Seems relaxing and exciting.

  • Reply
    Elle
    September 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    All of your pictures look so peaceful. Looking at the pictures I can imagine the sound of the water and the peacefulness.

  • Reply
    Zahra
    October 1, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    This was an amazing read. I love to hike and your stories of travel are inspiring.

  • Reply
    http://www.thailandvisa.ae/blog/
    November 4, 2016 at 3:04 am

    Wonderful place! It looks like you guys really had so much fun there. I wish to visit such type pf places, but my baby is so small. So this year it won’t be possible :(. But next year I would definitely try to visit this place. Thanks for the great information.

  • Reply
    Eleanor
    November 7, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Brava!!! Well Done Lauren!! I loved reading your story!! I am a fellow adventurer… exploring 24 international and 23 US locations thus far. My journeys began when I decided to be brave and join the exchange program my junior year of college… before making that decision I’d never had an opportunity to travel much, certainly not abroad, and now I’ve been traveling alone and in groups for 30 years. It’s a part of who I am now! I’ve been to India, Africa, France, England, Central and South America, and so on! Spain and Israel are next on my list!! Happy Travels to YOU!!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      November 7, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Thanks so much Eleanor. That’s so wonderful to hear that you have traversed the globe for so long. Happy travels to you!

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