In the late 15th century, the ship builders of Portugal invented the caravel.
The caravel was a revolutionary ship: small, robust, and particularly adept at sailing into the wind. With the caravel, the Portuguese finally had a hardy vessel that could brave the harsh conditions of the open ocean.
With their new caravel ships, Portuguese sailors and explorers set forth from Western Europe to navigate to unknown waters and new lands in search of treasure and glory. Their discoveries would open up the New World.
The Age of Discovery had begun.
New and Unknown Lands
These Portuguese explorers sailed from Lisbon into waters unknown.
Along the way, they “discovered” new lands in the name of the Portuguese Crown, from the far reaches of western Africa to the fertile lands of Brazil.
Some of the new lands they found included the remote islands of Sao Tome, the Azores, and Madeira.
What if we wanted to follow in the footsteps of these brave and intrepid explorers?
It is easy to follow in their footsteps with United miles
These voyages of discovery took the early Portuguese explorers years and were conducted under grave threat of mortal danger.
Fortunately, things are much easier now for the intrepid traveler who wants to retrace their steps.
With some United miles at our disposal, we can follow the Portuguese explorers to far-off lands and beautiful islands cheaply and easily.
TAP Portugal is the flag carrier of Portugal and flies to many interesting, far-off destinations that other carriers do not serve. Since TAP is a member of Star Alliance, we can use United miles to book flights on TAP.
From TAP’s main hub in Lisbon, we can fly to almost all of Portugal’s former colonial possessions, including the intriguing islands of Sao Tome, the Azores, and Madeira.
While flights to these remote islands often only operate a few times per week, award availability tends to be excellent in both Economy and Business class.
Best of all, it is easy to connect to Lisbon with direct flights from Newark and Miami on TAP and United Airlines.
(US Airways also flies to Lisbon from Philadelphia, but this flight will be going away if US Air’s merger with American goes through)
1) Sao Tome
Sao Tome is an island tucked deep in the Gulf of Guinea, along the far reaches of Africa’s western coast.
Sao Tome was uninhabited before the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century, who quickly established sugar plantations on the island’s rich volcanic soil.
However, before soon growing sugar became unprofitable as the slave plantations on Brazil were much more efficient. A new cash crop was needed.
Cocoa was introduced in the late 19th century and grew exceptionally well on Sao Tome. The island quickly became world renowned for the high quality of its cocoa beans and chocolate. By the early 1900′s, Sao Tome was the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans.
However, with this chocolate boom came abuses at Sao Tome’s large cocoa plantations, chronicled in an excellent Economist article on a trip to Sao Tome.
While the vast riches of cocoa and sugar plantations may be gone, Sao Tome still has interesting things to offer.
With few other tourists visiting the island, Sao Tome’s colonial history, dense rain forests, and rich marine life may be enticing for the intrepid traveler looking for a new destination well off the beaten path.
Getting to Sao Tome
TAP has a direct flight from Lisbon (LIS) to Sao Tome (TMS). Unfortunately, this flight only operates once a week.
Award availability tends to be very good in both Economy and Business class on the days this flight operates.
Let’s say we wanted to go from New York to Sao Tome.
We can fly on the frequent direct flights between Newark and Lisbon on either United Airlines or TAP. Then we can catch the weekly flight from Lisbon to Sao Tome.
New York to Sao Tome would only cost 80,000 United miles and $108 in taxes!
Everything can be booked online. That is a lot easier than what the old Portuguese mariners had to go through!
2) The Azores
“The Azores” is a name with such a nice ring to it.
These volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic were first settled by a group of sheep (yes, sheep!) let loose on the island of Santa Maria to provide food for the first human settlers in the late 15th century.
The Azores were then settled in sporadic waves over the next few centuries, with the remoteness of the islands leading to the growth of diverse cultural and linguistic traditions.
Unlike the lengthy journey required for those first settlers, it is now easy for the intrepid traveler to visit the Azores using United miles.
You can walk along the historic streets of the intriguingly named Angra do Heroismo, the oldest city in the Azores and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Or, you can hike along the ridge of the twin volcanic lakes of Sao Miguel.
You can even crane your neck to see the massive and imposing Ponta do Pico volcano on Pico Island!
Getting to the Azores
TAP flies to all of the major islands of the Azores from Lisbon.
Let’s say we want to go to Pico Island in the Azores.
TAP has a weekly flight to Pico Island from Lisbon, with excellent award availability in both Economy and Business.
We can fly direct from Newark to Lisbon, and then catch the weekly flight to Pico Island in the Azores.
New York to the Azores would cost 60,000 United miles and $83 in taxes.
The discovery of the Madeira archipelago, a few hundred miles west of North Africa, was the beginning of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
These new Portuguese settlers quickly planted sugar cane on the island and for a brief period the small island of Madeira was one of the largest sugar producers in all of Europe.
However, the good times would not last forever.
By the 18th century, sugar production had moved to the more fertile lands of Brazil and Madeira’s economy switched to producing something even more suited to its hilly geography: great wine.
Getting to Madeira
Madeira is a major year-round tourist destination with plenty of air connections.
Using United miles, it is very easy to fly to Madeira from many cities in Europe on either TAP Portugal or Lufthansa.
|TAP Portugal||Madrid||1x per week (seasonal)|
|TAP Portugal||Barcelona||1x per week (seasonal)|
|TAP Portugal||London Gatwick||Daily|
|Lufthansa||Berlin||1x per week (seasonal)|
|Lufthansa||Dusseldorf||1x per week (seasonal)|
The easiest way to get to Madeira are on TAP Portugal’s daily flights from Lisbon, Porto, and London Gatwick.
There are plenty of award seats available every single day on the 7 daily fights between Lisbon and Madeira.
We can book a flight from Miami to Madeira, connecting through Lisbon.
TAP flies from Miami to Lisbon 3x a week, with very good award availability in both Economy and Business.
A flight from Miami to Madeira would cost 60,000 United miles and $93 in taxes.
The invention of the caravel by Portuguese ship builders led the beginning of the great Age of Discovery. Portuguese explorers sailed to the far, unknown reaches of the world. We can retrace their journeys to the remote islands of Sao Tome, the Azores, and Madeira in much more comfort and style using United miles to book flights on TAP Portugal.
Note: Cover image is of the Cantino planisphere, a map created in 1502 that showed the world before the great maritime discoveries that would come during the great Age of Discovery. Image is in the public domain and was found on Wikipedia.