It started out simple: I posted a picture of myself swimming in crystal clear waters on Instagram. It was a shameless selfie, but I didn't care. I was swimming in a beautiful, natural, pool with waterfalls cascading behind me.
The pool was emerald green as a reflection of the surrounding trees, and cold water fell from the surrounding waterfalls. The humid air kept by body warm as I moved from deeper to shallow areas. Rocks provided seats, and depths provided swimming room. The water's edge was lined by draping palm trees. Life was good.
And then came the caption:
“Mind fuck: I'm not in the tropics, I'm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean”
Lastly, I geotagged the location. People freaked out; I had comments ranging from "..." to a series of confused and enamored emojis.
My DMs were being slid into more than Kylie Jenner's. I had tons of messages from friends abroad asking me where in the world I possible was.
It was the first time, in a lifetime of traveling, that I had the ultimate traveler bragging rights. I was the first of my friends to visit a place off everyone else's radar. I couldn't be humble about that feeling, I was too excited.
I've spent the past few months traveling the world, so Instagram posts have been few and far between. Rarely, however, do I post in a place literally no one I know has heard of.
That's what happened with a stunning group of islands called the Azores.
I distinctly remember the moment I discovered the Azores. It was not through word of mouth, or friends in Boston (which has a direct flight to the main island). It wasn't even from a really poor episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" series (Don't get me wrong; Anthony Bourdain is a champ, but it was a really horrible episode.)
Instead, I discovered the Azores by sitting bored out of my mind in a desk job and staring at a map on the wall. Seemingly half way between Portugal and the United States there lay a few dots on the map that looked entirely isolated. Smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no other islands nearby.
So, I opened Google. I was shocked (do it, Google image search the Azores, I dare you). The Azores looked out-of-this-world-stunning, filled with lakes, pools, waterfalls and cliffs leading into the ocean.
Three months later, I found myself on the largest island of the Azores, Saõ Miguel. And, to my pleasant surprise, it was even more beautiful than in photos.
Portuguese voices echoed through the streets and cafes. A 20-minute drive in any direction could take you to waterfalls, cliffs, hot springs or the ocean. You could find yourself eating lunch in a small fishing town, spending your afternoon in natural pools under waterfalls and palm trees and ending your day sailing under the sunset.
Simply put, the Azores are a must-see on any traveler's bucket list. With the wide variety of activities and hidden gems, the islands offer something for everyone.
One of the best parts of the Azores is that it feels as if there are almost no tourists when you're there. There's no lines, no one bothering you buy souvenirs and the locals are genuinely happy to see you.
Even better? While there are very few tourists, the islands are still prepared for them. There are hotels, boutique hostels, rent-a-car services, expedition groups, and they run on the Euro.
My advice? Go and discover the islands before everyone else. You will not be disappointed.
This article was originally published on the author's personal blog