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Would you like to deepen your mindful travel for healing for yourself and others? Are you seeking to experience more inner fulfillment when you travel? How about a trip to the fabulous Azore Islands in Portugal? It’s a win for both!

Here is an approach to get started. It connects your desire to heal with a call to embrace and protect nature. In the process, you’ll learn about sustainable tourism in Sao Miguel from some of the best.

I spent a week exploring Sao Miguel Island, and my favorite thing by far was learning and participating in the marine mammal programs of the tour companies there.

Whether you’re new to traveling mindfully as a self healing strategy or new to animal conservation, there’s inspiration here for you. So what does using nature to heal look like? Read the hows and whys to begin your healing journey.

Self Healing Using Nature

Embarking on a soulful journey to São Miguel in the Azores is more than an eco-friendly vacation. It’s a journey of healing rooted in the power of nature and compassion. How can nature guide you on a path of self-healing? By opening your heart to love…whether it is a person, an animal, or a principle…you are practicing healing. Protecting and cherishing the the environment is an affirmation of compassion and care.

Look around you, there are countless ways to connect to life and heal. Travel is one form of self love and one way to connect. Taking yourself on trips that make your heart sing is another example of this. Taking it one step further, going to destinations that sincerely care to animal conservation deepens this act of self love. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will model and expand this natural joy of living.

The Island

São Miguel is a phenomenal place to start your journey. It’s sanctuary for both the earth and the spirit, inviting you to nurture your own growth alongside all of life. When it comes to Portuguese beaches and natural caves, the Azores is among the best.

When you arrive in Ponta Delgada, the most modern of all the cities in the Azore Islands, you’ll be enchanted by the cozy storybook setting, reminiscent of turn of the century village life. Yet, São Miguel is the most populated and touristy of the Azores. This gives you the best of both worlds. Here you can enjoy the societal values that reflect an old fashioned hamlet, while also engaging in their sustainable world-class tourism practices. With global awards to prove it.

Marine Tours

I experienced two different marine tours from two different companies while I was in Sao Miguel. Consequently, I feel confident in applauding their commitment to conserving the natural beauty and wildlife there. The level of social consciousness with environmental issues is astounding.

Tour Companies

Both tours use Zodiac boats to transport passengers. Snorkeling with dolphins departs from Ponta Delgada and is offered by Picos de Aventura. The other tour, whale and dolphin viewing, departs from Vila Franca do Campo and is operated by Terra Azul.

First up for your marine mammal itinerary is getting into the water with the dolphins and snorkeling. When you embrace this exceptional experience of seeing dolphins up close in the own habitat, it’s unforgettable.

To begin, you practice getting in the water before any dolphins are near. Let me tell you, just plunging into the vast, cold water will take your breath away, both from the thrill and the chill. However, you’ll quickly adjust and focus on the creatures.

We wore wetsuits to regulate our body temperature, which is especially important for autoimmune warriors like me. The cold water didn’t bother me. As a matter of fact, sometimes brisk waters can be empowering. However, warm water snorkeling is also therapeutic.

passengers are in the water searching for dolphins with their mask and snorkels on
Incredible deep sea snorkeling under the careful guidance of the captain and skipper

The company operating in Ponta Delgada for this incredible tour is conveniently located at the marina. Once you arrive, you’ll be fitted for a full-body wetsuit, snorkel gear, and life vest. Participating in their expeditions as part of your mindful travel experience promotes healing in the form of protective love. How does it work?

Throughout the tour, you’ll be taught how to protect the well-being of the dolphins by proactive measures. The local tour operators prioritize the well-being of marine mammals by adhering to strict guidelines, including maintaining safe distances and minimizing noise pollution.

The mindset shifts from approaching the experience as a form of entertainment to one of responsibility for another living being. By the time your tour is over, you’ll have a deeper understanding of these creatures deserving the same rights we humans expect. The playing field levels, we are equals.

author drinking hot tea in Portugal
Free hot tea after the brisk water

This kind of shift creates humility and raises the consciousness of all involved. It just makes you feel good.

Sharing this love with the world, giving love from this place, reminds your soul that you are a powerful being that is innately connected to all living things. This creates a sense of belonging, wholeness, and of course healing.

After I had the exhilarating snorkeling experience, I embarked on another tour. This one provided exceptional education while we sat back and took it all in. For this tour, you will depart from the Vila Franca do Campo marina, a charming seaside village that offers quaint shopping and eating options.

harbor in village after whale watching Azores
Picturesque seaside village – Vila Franca do Campo- perfects for your field guide journal

You’ll begin by listening to the boat captains teach the importance of conservation. Their approach is proactive, with wildlife protection the theme in the Azores. Afterwards, you’ll board your Zodiac boat (I recommend sitting up front!) and observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Even though you’ll see the creatures from a greater distance, it is still incredible. Besides the feeling of pride for contributing to the protections of these precious mammals, you will also receive an education during the trip on various habitat topics.

The guides share valuable insights into marine conservation efforts. They patiently and thoroughly explain why we giving the animals their space with detailed examples based on their behaviors they displayed in that moment. It was a lesson in animism I wasn’t expecting, but very thankful to receive.

sao miguel boating view of shore
High powered magnifying binoculars are used by staff on the ground to locate and report marine mammal sightings to the captains onboard.

If you are naturally curious, perhaps you’ll be that patron on board that asks questions at the end. You will learn a lot if you do.

São Miguel Island has tangible proof of its commitment to marine conservation. The Azores is home to the Atlantic Whale Foundation. This organization is a non-profit dedicated to the protection of marine mammals in the region. The foundation conducts vital research, supports educational programs, and advocates for responsible tourism practices. It will be heartening to see so many efforts to safeguard these marine species for future generations.

view from the boat, Azores whale watching tour

In addition, the Azores received top honors as the world’s first leading sustainable tourism destination. Then, in 2019, the Azores were officially recognized as the world’s first island archipelago to be certified under the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination program. This makes it one of the most sustainable tourism destinations in the whole world!

The tour guides didn’t share those facts, I learned about the designated honors while researching for this article. So not only are the tourism experts in Azores passionate and committed, but they are also modest.

As a teacher, I especially enjoyed the staff’s commitment to advocating for wildlife through education. I was happy that my journey included more than just passive observation. For example, I had the opportunity to participate in the pre-boarding educational programs. These deepened my understanding of marine life and the importance of sustainable tourism. Listening to the progressive teachings and engaging in discussions with marine biologists allowed me to connect to the animals. Likewise, I felt a deeper connection to the ocean itself. It was a holistic approach to tourism. It promoted conservation without being preachy.

view from boat in Azores

Another effort of the environmentalists included the ability to engage the local residents. Sao Miguel is a community that holds strongly to values of the past. Yet, the citizens of São Miguel Island are included in modern conservation efforts through outreach to the community.

Two programs, Save The Waves and Surf Protected Areas Network (SPAN) are coalitions that involve the use of resident participation. Together, the groups work to protect surf ecosystems and promote protected areas in the Azores. In turn, both programs actively support the work of Blue Azores Program, an initiative of the Waitt Foundation, Oceano Azul and the Regional Government of the Azores.

The level of sensitivity the staff and scientists of both tour companies have for the gentle sea creatures will inspire you. Their protectiveness for the physical, psychological, and emotional well being of these mammals is remarkable.

Mindful Travel For Healing includes dolphin swim in Azores
Tour guides shifted our viewing to inside the boat when dolphins exhibited signs that our presence in the sea impacted them

Experience São Miguel for yourself, and leave with a deep sense of connection the natural world of the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps even a deeper understanding of our responsibility to protect it. Azores sustainable tourism is at its best on the islands of Portugal.

In addition to environmental protection, this journey provides witness to the love and respect toward marine life everywhere. Leading by example, the bar is raised not only awareness for animal conservation, but also for self compassion. This is because sending the message of love outward always returns tenfold.