Pico (opposite Faial and São Jorge) is one of the central group of islands in the Azores. It is the second largest (446 km2) and the highest in the archipelago (2351 m). The volcano that crowns the island is the most outstanding geomorphological feature of the landscape and one of the most important landmarks in the entire archipelago. This stratovolcano has no surrounding caldera and rises above an extensive central plateau. The coastline is rather undulating, except for several sections in the north that barely reach 100 m. There are, however, numerous low-lying platforms such as Ponta do Mistério, Ponta da Rocha, Ponta do Castelete and Cachorro, in the north, and Lajes do Pico, in the south. In fact, practically all the southern shoreline is low and of recent formation. Several islets lie off the coast in front of Madalena, the capital, are the remains of a fragmented, sunken hydromagmatic volcano, heavily eroded by the sea. Because Pico is more recently formed, long tongues of lava extending into the sea can be found at several points along the coast: São Caetano – Ponta da Faca and São João, in the south, Manhenha and Ponta do Castelete, in the east, and Calhâu, Prainha, Ponta do Mistério and Santo António, in the north.
The climate is very similar to that of other central islands in the Azores. Average annual rainfall is around 1195 mm but increases considerably at higher altitudes, producing frost and snow on Pico volcano in winter. Temperatures are milder along the coast, where the sun index is also higher, particularly on the southern flank.
The population of 14 150 inhabitants (2011) is mainly concentrated in Madalena, São Roque do Pico and Lajes do Pico, the three main municipalities of Pico. Mountainous regions and the vast central plateau are completely uninhabited, due to the rigours of the climate. Wine growing is extremely important for the local economy and Pico has the largest extension of vineyards in the Azores—classic Verdelho wine is exported from here. By way of recognition, the traditional vine-growing landscape, essentially the area surrounding Madalena, was recently given World Heritage status. Other vital activities are fishing (particularly the deep-sea variety) and stockbreeding, thanks to large areas of pastureland. In recent decades, mountain tourism has gained in importance, the ascent of Pico being the main attraction.
The first houses on the island were built in Ribeiros, although the first important town was founded at Lajes do Pico, in 1460. In the past, one of the prominent economic activities was the whale factory at São Roque do Pico (established in 1542), which disappeared when whaling was banned in the 1970s. Nowadays, tourism associated with whale and dolphin watching is actively promoted at Lajes do Pico and Madalena. The Azores are located in an Atlantic region of exceptional importance for migrating whales and dolphins, and many species are encountered year round.