15 Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Ponta Delgada Azores (2023)

If you are considering renting a car in Ponta Delgada, you must read this post.

I have been driving around the island of Sao Miguel for 10 days and rented my car in Ponta Delgada Airport and I had an amazing time.

In this post, I will share everything you need to know, including things I wished I knew before renting.

As the capital of the Azores archipelago, Ponta Delgada is the perfect gateway to São Miguel Island – where you can explore lush landscapes, volcanic crater lakes, hot springs, and much more!

And, with cobblestone streets, historic landmarks, and diverse culture, this coastal city itself is quite charming too (but you don’t need a car for that – more about it later).

Although I still suggest joining a couple of tours, you will definitely need a car to explore the island and visit all the most spectacular viewpoints and main highlights.

I did it, and as I am writing this I am still on the island exploring but I couldn’t wait to let you know all about it. So, without further ado, let’s begin!

PRO TIP – if you are traveling in the summer from May through September, renting a car in Ponta Delgada and all the Azores may be a challenge because it’s high season and cars get booked up quite quickly. Make sure you pre-book your car way in advance otherwise, you won’t find any available. So I was told by the local operators.

Miraduro da grota do infierno
Miraduro da grota do infierno

Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Ponta Delgada

1. What document do I need to rent a car in Ponta Delgada?

You will need your driver’s license, photo ID, credit card, and, in some cases, an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to rent a car in Ponta Delgada.

European tourists don’t need an IDP to rent and drive a car in Portugal. US tourists also don’t need one if they’re staying for less than 6 months.

However, if you’re driving license is not written in Roman letters you will need an IDP.

Salto do Cabalo Road
Salto do Cabalo Road

2. Car Rental Deposits are required (and they can be high!)

Every car rental in Ponta Delgada has a mandatory deposit requirement, so you will have to pay it in order to hire a car.

The deposit amount varies depending on the rental company policies, the car model you pick, and the insurance coverage you’re getting with it.

The deposit can be as high as US$1,500, so make sure you research the rental before booking.

One good way to do this is by using DiscoverCars.com, you can compare prices between a wide range of rentals and see the exact amount you will pay.

Also, you can easily find the best offer on the exact car you need here, saving you a good amount of money.

However, you should know that if you purchase the full insurance with Discovercars, which is very cheap, the car rental company will still hold a high-security deposit which will be released a few days after you drop off the car.

That is if there aren’t any damages, of course.

On the other hand, if you purchase full insurance, which I always do, your security deposit will decrease significantly.

Highway in Sao Miguel
Highways in Sao Miguel

3. Get a Full Car Insurance

Car rentals in Portugal offer different levels of insurance coverage. Going for partial coverage will cost you less, but I recommend getting full insurance coverage.

Full insurance will include everything from tiny scratches to collision and liability coverage, so you will have peace of mind driving on the roads of Ponta Delgada and the island of San Miguel.

Discover cars insurance

4. Automatic cars are not common (book well in advance!)

Car rentals in Portugal mostly have manual transmission cars for hire, with only a handful of automatic ones available.

So if you’re looking to get your hands on an automatic car rental in Ponta Delgada, you should book one at least a month in advance.

Again, DiscoverCars is a great way to make sure you get an automatic car for your Ponta Delgada trip.

The site features tons of car rentals on it, so you can check out each one’s fleet and find the right model for your needs.

What’s more, it offers free cancellation, which means booking even months in advance won’t be an issue.

Countryside road under a cloudy sky
On my way to see the Lagoa de São Brás, Azores

5. Drive on the right side of the road

Portugal is a country that drives on the right side of the road, and that is the same in The Azores as well – so you will be driving on the right in Ponta Delgada.

So if you are coming from the UK, Australia, and other countries that drive on the other side, keep that in mind and take extra caution while you adjust.

6. Affordable Gas & Parking

Renting a car in Ponta Delgada is a great option because both gas and parking are really affordable there. You can go around the island and explore so many places by car, and it still won’t break the bank.

Gasoline costs less than US$5 per gallon, and parking is also cheap at about $0.70 USD per hour (if not free).

While writing this, I just paid my fine online because I didn’t see that I was in a paying car park this morning.

The fine was a whopping 2.10 Euros and I had the option to pay it online within the next 6 months. So honest!

Of course, it’s better if you don’t have to pay it. So mind where you are parking.

POnta Delgada Gas Station

7. Parking in Ponta Delgada city is a nightmare

When I booked my hotel in Ponta Delgada, I wasn’t planning to get a car for my last few days on the island.

The idea was to book organized tours and chill. I changed my mind at the last minute, as I usually do and I had my car while staying in a hotel right in the historical center of Ponta Delgada.

Also, my stay fell during one of the most important celebrations in the Azores the Espirito Santo, which meant that the city was packed and I had to park in the nearby town and get a taxi to get to the hotel with all my bags.

That’s what I call bad planning, really!

In general, even if there is not a particular event I would suggest avoiding staying in Ponta Delgada. There are so many pretty towns around the island less busy and with incredible views and lots of parking space.

You can still visit Ponta Delgada in half a day, and park the car in one of the huge parking lots. It comes at a cost but you don’t need more than 3 hours to visit the city.

Ponta Delgada Street
Ponta Delgada Street

8. Unpredictable Weather

The weather tends to be iffy in The Azores, no matter what time of year it is.

This is one of the things that you need to always keep in mind when renting a car here because your safety depends on it.

Rain and fog are two things you need to look out for; they show up without warning, causing little to no visibility on the road and overall dangerous driving conditions.

Always check the weather forecast for the day. Also, when you’re not sure about the weather, just pull over for a while.

Just like the weather changes quickly to bring rain or fog, it also changes quickly enough for them to pass, so you can continue on your way without waiting long.

Road to Sete Cidades
Road to Sete Cidades

9. Condition of the roads

The roads in Ponta Delgada and the rest of Sao Miguel Island are in decent condition and pretty safe to drive on; but they do get very narrow in some places, so it’s better to go with a smaller car if possible (which will also save you lots of money on the rent and gas).

Many times you will find yourself driving on a very narrow road with cars parked on the side.

One day I had to go on the walkway in order to get out of the road because there was no space at all. Crazy!

Then sometimes you will see two cars beside each other with the driver chatting along carless of the people waiting behind. I found it very funny.

So I use that time to appreciate the surrounding beauty.

Other than that, just drive carefully and you won’t have to worry about anything.

Narrow roads to Viola Beach
The narrow road to Viola Beach

10. Mind the mirrors at the crossroads

You will find a lot of crossroads with small streets and sharp turns where you don’t see who’s coming from the other side.

Worry not, just remember to look up because there is always a mirror that will help you see both ways and avoid any crash.

11. Toll-free Roads

Tolls always add an extra sum to your overall costs when exploring a place by car. But you won’t have to worry about them when visiting Ponta Delgada.

Unlike in mainland Portugal, there are no tolls to pay on the roads of Sao Miguel Island.

Even the beautiful and well-maintained highway that runs across the island and around is super fast and spacious and it’s free!

Road lined with plants and flowers
Beautiful road in Sao Miguel – Azores

12. Lots of Roundabouts & come with a specific rule

European countries are known for their abundant roundabouts, and Sao Miguel is no exception.

When you start hitting the roads here, you will encounter so many of these. Oh, and did I mention they have multiple lanes?

Yeah, so stay in your lane and drive carefully.

Speaking of lanes… the one specific rule that you need to keep in mind when in roundabouts is that you need to use the right lane for taking exits.

The left lane is used for overtaking, so stay in that one when not taking the next exit.

Round About in Sao Miguel Azores

13. Great Road Signs

The small size of Sao Miguel already makes it easy to navigate, but the extensive road signage on the island makes things even easier.

You can basically visit anywhere you want following the road signs here, including all the attractions you should check out.

I always use Google Maps, which sometimes is not that accurate in Sao Miguel. But the road signs are really reliable so you are good either way!

Gas Stations Azores

14. Google Maps Coverage is ok

Another really helpful aspect of exploring Sao Miguel Island is Google Maps, even though sometimes it’s not so accurate, especially if they are doing some work on the roads and you need to take some detours.

I use Google Maps but with some common sense.

One time I wanted to check out a beach, Praia Da Viola and google wanted me to take the wrong road basically from the opposite side.

Luckily I decided to visit the lookout point further east and that’s when I realized that there was a beautiful trail that went from a parking lot all the way to the beach and a beautiful waterfall on the other side.

Except from this and other few funny episodes, I always used google maps to find my way around.

However, you will need to be able to use your data to stay connected. You could download Google Maps to use offline but it´s not always totally reliable.

I use Orange SIM card which allows me to be connected all across Europe, since I will be traveling around Europe for a while, for me it didn’t make sense to buy a local card from Portugal.

So the European Ecard was perfect. Check out this site and pick the best options for your travels.

Speed Limit on the car dashboard

15. Speed limits

The speed limits vary depending on the road in Sao Miguel, but the same dynamic limits apply pretty much all across the island.

You can’t go above 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas, roads outside urban areas have a speed cap of 80 km/h (50 mph), and the max speed you can go on motorways is 100 km/h (62 mph).

Keep these general speed limits in mind and look out for speed signs when you’re driving on a road to stay within its specific limit.

And remember that these signs indicate the speed limit in kilometers, not miles. Some cars come with the speed limit sign on the dashboard, which comes handy in case you get distracted.

16. Use the right type of gas

I know this one is obvious, but maybe that’s why it slips out of my mind when renting a car.

Gas is cheap in Ponta Delgada, but putting the wrong type of it in your rental car will be the opposite – so that’s the last thing you want to deal with.

Though almost every car rental in São Miguel Azores uses regular gasoline cars (95) in the majority, be sure to specifically ask the exact type of gas for your car from an agent at the pick-up point and keep it in mind when filling up your tank at gas stations.

It is usually written on the gas tank door, so you won’t be risking making any mistakes.

car dashboard
The right type of Gas is usually written on the car dashboard or by the tank

17. Parking meters can be a challenge

Have you seen those age-old analog computers in ‘90s movies? That’s what the parking meters in Ponta Delgada look like, and they’re in Portuguese!

Using them can definitely be a challenge. But don’t worry, it’s just a few steps.

  • Enter your rental car’s license plate number (keep a photo of it on your phone for extra convenience), and then press on the checkmark sign.
  • Then you will have to select how long you’re going to park your car there. The longest you can do is 4 hours.
  • Your parking fee will be calculated and shown on the screen based on the duration you selected. Insert the coins for the required amount and press on the checkmark sign again to get your parking ticket.
  • Put your parking ticket on the dashboard of your car where it’s visible from the outside and you’re done! Not that hard, is it?

I got fined because I didn’t see I was supposed to get my parking ticket from the machine when I parked in Ribeira Grande and my fine was 2.10 Euro and comes with the instruction to pay online.

Instructions are in Portuguese but they are easy to understand. Or you can download the app from this site.

ponta delgada parking machine
Ponta Delgada parking machine

What is the best car rental company in Ponta Delgada?

Ponta Delgada has some really good rental companies, including popular ones like Ilha Verde, Wayzor, and Atlantis.

That being the case, any one of them can’t be the best choice for everyone alike. So do your research and compare them to find your ideal rental.

As I have already mentioned earlier, one good way to do that is by using DiscoverCars. You can compare deals between so many rental companies in Ponta Delgada.

Another benefit of using DiscoverCars is that there are no hidden fees involved, and cancellation is also free!

But you don’t have to trust me. Check out their amazing reviews from previous customers.

Discover cars reviews for renting a car in Ponta Delgada
Click here to read more Discover Cars Reviews!

Why should you rent a car in Ponta Delgada?

Sao Miguel and all the Azores islands are really convenient and fun to explore by car. There are so many amazing places to see in it, and a car rental is a must if you’re planning on heading out to the rest of the island’s attractions as well.

You can just pick up your car as you arrive at Ponta Delgada Airport and drop it off when you fly out.

This way you will be free to move around the island as you please. It definitely makes for a memorable experience.

Can you get around Ponta Delgada without a car?

You can, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you can afford a rental car. It can actually be cheaper than joining tours or hiring a taxi for sure.

The city itself is pretty much walkable, and to get to other villages and attractions you may use the local busses.

However, it’s not as convenient and fun as having your own car.

If you have been on my site more often you would know by now that I am an advocate of renting a car whenever it’s available and safe, to move around freely at your own pace.

Another reason why I love driving around the island of Sao Miguel it’s to appreciate its beauty. You will drive through its winding road lined with trees and green fields on one side, and rugged coastline on the other.

The landscape of the Azore is one of a kind.

Dirt Road in Sao Miguel
The dirt road to get to a Lookout point

Is it easy to drive in Ponta Delgada?

Absolutely. The roads can get narrow in places, but traffic is very relaxed in Ponta Delgada and the rest of the island.

Plus, the drivers here are generally nice and not aggressive, so that adds to the pleasant experience of driving in Ponta Delgada as well. Just be sure to brush up on the local traffic rules before hitting the road.

How much does it cost to rent a car in Ponta Delgada?

The average cost of renting a car in Ponta Delgada is around $30-50 a day to which you will need to add the full insurance (which I always recommend)

However, your actual overall expense might be more or less, depending on factors like the base rate for the specific car model you picked, any add-ons you get with it, the time of year (tourist activity), and your insurance (I recommend getting the full coverage one, which costs less than $10 a day).

You can use Discover Cars to compare rates and get cheap car insurance. If your credit card provides car insurance, make sure you check with them that’s valid in the Azores Portugal, before traveling.

Best Car Rental Deals w/ Free Cancellation, Compare & Save! | Discover Cars

Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!

São Miguel road trip examples

I will write a separate post about a suggested itinerary, but I just wanted to give you a brief idea of what a day with a car in Sao Miguel would look like.

So here you can check out a few itineraries for each day.

Day 1 – Ponta Delgada itinerary

Leave early morning (not later than 8 am) to beat the crowd in the iconic spot of Miradouro da Gruta do Inferno and the closest one Vista do Rey, two of the most spectacular viewing points and unmissable spots.

The lookout points towards two famous lakes in the town of Sete Cidades, northeast of Sao Miguel known for their breathtaking view, Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, separated by a bridge.

The small town of Sete Cidades itself is very pretty. More in another post soon.

After a nice lunch, you can drive all the way to Ponta da Ferraria and admire the spectacular views besides swimming in the natural hot pools right by the sea.

Drive all the way to Mosteiros Beach and enjoy more natural pools and stunning views of the ocean. Make sure you have a nice meal by the sunset bar.

You can spend the rest of the evening walking around the charming capital city if you are staying there.

Day 2 – Ponta Delgada itinerary

Start your second day by driving to another one of the most famous lakes on The Azores, the Furnas Lake (Lagoa das Furnas) on the east of the island.

This is also where the charming Furnas village is, which is famous for its Terra Nostra Park and thermal springs – so hit it up after your visit to the lake and enjoy both of those.

There is so much to see in this area that I am going to write a detailed post on it. Bear with me for a few days. 🙂

Lookout point in Sao Miguel azores

Day 3

Visit the enchanting Ribeira dos Caldeirões before heading back to Ponta Delgada.

This natural park has so many incredible waterfalls and thriving gardens. It’s a paradise for nature lovers, so, if you are one, park your car by the main road and take a walk in it!

You can then go back to the city of Ponta Delgada and make a stop at the Plantação de Ananás dos Açores, the pineapple plantation.

April through October is the best time for whale-watching in the Azores, so make sure you have a noontime tour pre-booked if you’re visiting between those months.

Otherwise, you can go hiking, explore the countryside, or take an adventure tour.

Pineapple plantations azores
Pineapple Plantations Ponta Delgada Azores

Renting a car in Ponta Delgada: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the cheapest rental car agency in Ponta Delgada?

Ponta Delgada has tons of good car rental companies, most of which offer competitive rates.

But the actual amount you end up paying depends on different factors, so you will have to find the cheapest one from them based on those.

Ideally, read reviews about rentals to avoid the ones that charge hidden fees, then compare offers between the reliable ones you find (you can use DiscoverCars to do it easily), and book early to get the best rates.

Why are car rentals so expensive in The Azores?

Car rental prices in The Azores depend on a lot of things.

For example, the rates are higher on the less-visited islands because there are fewer companies on them, while Sao Miguel and other touristy islands have some really pocket-friendly rates on rentals.

Then there are also factors like the kind of car you’re picking (automatic transmission cars are scarce, and cost almost triple the money compared to manual ones), the insurance coverage, time of year, and add-ons.

road to Lagoa Da Sao Bras
Road to Lagoa Da Sao Bras

Does Ponta Delgada have Uber?

Uber is pretty much nonexistent in Ponta Delgada because renting a car is basically a must here.

Other than that, local taxis are also quite reliable and pocket-friendly, so that’s another reason why there is not much demand for Uber.

Should you rent a car in São Miguel?

Renting a car in Sao Miguel makes getting around so much easier, so yes – definitely rent one if you’re planning to explore the island.

You can make do without a car in Ponta Delgada, because it has buses and taxis, but a car is the best way to visit the places and attractions on the rest of the island.

Road lined by pine trees

How much is a taxi from Ponta Delgada Airport to the city center?

Taking a local taxi from the airport to the city center of Ponta Delgada costs around 10-12 Euros.

There is also a shuttle bus service from the airport to different parts of the city.

It costs around 5 Euros per person, so you can use it instead if you’re on a budget.

Final Thoughts: Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada is the perfect destination to explore by car, and – with all things you need to know before renting a car in Ponta Delgada Portugal highlighted in this post – you can go about doing that like a pro.