The only thing better than an unspoiled paradise is one that nobody you know has visited yet.
Some people can say they're familiar with the Azores, a group of nine islands some 800 miles off the coast of Portugal. But by and large, these rugged, salt-sprayed islands are what USA Today calls "some of the best kept secrets in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."
Picture emerald beaches, dazzling blue lakes, verdant pastures, volcanic caverns, bubbling mud pots, sprawling sunrises and waterfalls cascading deep into ravines (which you can rappel into, by the way). UNESCO designated the Azores a Biosphere Reserve in 2009 for their impeccable preservation. Indeed, the islands make a very good case for heaven on Earth:
In Azores, you might spend your days hopping from island to island: Free diving, waterfall rappelling, volcano hikes and whale watching are everyday happenings here. You can also explore ancient fishing towns, manor houses and 15th-century churches. Stunning manors and chapels -- plus an underground lake -- dot the island of Graciosa. Many islands have been named after their natural elements, like the "Mountain Island," which is also called Pico, or the "Flower Island," which is also called Flores.
Though they're less than a five-hour flight from the East Coast, the Azores remain disproportionately unpopular compared to other island destinations, due to limited direct flights and perhaps travelers' preferences for buzzier vacation spots. The Azores do have their own airline, called SATA: Hop a plane from one of its hubs in the U.S., or make a stop in Europe and fly from there.
However you go, the Azores are nature at its absolute finest. Enjoy!