The island of Santa Maria is the southernmost island of the Azores archipelago. An untouched gem with breathtaking beaches and natural landscapes.
Santa Maria is one of the most interesting islands of the archipelago of the Azores: it is named “the island of the sun” and it is characterised by a series of traditional villages alternating to ochre plantations and long and golden beaches.
It is the southernmost island of the Azores, which explains its drier and warmer weather conditions compared to the other islands. For this reason its fields are more arid, yellowish, and suitable for a drier vegetation.
Things to do in Santa Maria
There are many things to see in Santa Maria, not only the beaches but also authentic tourist attractions scattered throughout the island: not only cultural attractions but also landscapes: this makes Santa Maria an ideal destination for those who want to experience the vacation through the discovery of the culture of a place, both for those who instead seek “only” to enjoy breathtaking landscapes.
Barreiros of Santa Maria
Discovering the island you can not help but visit the Barreiros of Santa Maria, known and photographed all over the world. Entire expanses of land of bright red color, beautiful to observe especially at sunset. One of the largest has managed to gain the nickname of“red desert“, precisely because it seems almost impossible to see the end.
Church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação
You can not fail to visit the Church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação, a cathedral located in Santo Espirito where you can admire the frescoes typical of the area and the beauty of the furnishings. An authentic pillar of the place, which will help to better understand the mentality of this island of the Azores.
In the area there is also the Pico Alto, the highest point of the island with its 590 meters high. From up here, the panoramic view is unforgettable.
Vila do Porto
Vila do Porto is the largest town on the island. The Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção is among the oldest in the Azores, although it has been modified several times during its history. The Fort of São Brás then, with its cannons, reminds when the islands were plundered by pirates.
Pedreira do Campo
Do not miss a visit to Pedreira do Campo, where inside a basaltic flow there are marine fossils, demonstrating that the island was founded thousands and thousands of years ago.
Protected area of Baía da Maia
It is located in the area of Espirito Santo, in the southwestern part of the island, and is a protected landscape of regional interest. It is characterized by a landscape marked by the presence of vineyards, and protected basalt stone. It is dominated, on top of a cliff at one end, by the Gonçalo Velho lighthouse. The protected area is delimited by the coastline, the Ponta do Castelete and the Ponta do Castelo.
Beaches not to be missed
In Santa Maria there is no lack of opportunities to relax in the sun. Formosa beach is located for example on the south coast of the island, not far from the capital Vila Do Porto, and it is a long sandy beach behind which there is a camping.
Interesting is also the beach of Sao Lourenco, of white sand and with natural pools situated in the homonymous bay, from which it is possible to admire in the distance a curious islet, the Ilheu do Romeiro.
Finally, the Baia dos Anjos is an artificial beach built using cement platforms, where it is possible to lie down in the sun, next to some beautiful natural pools.
Activities in Santa Maria
In Santa Maria there are white sand beaches with natural pools, where you can practice water sports such as surfing, windsurfing, water skiing and sailing. Paragliding is also an activity to practice on the island.
To discover the coast of Santa Maria up close, there is nothing better than a boat trip, passing by the Ilhéu do Romeiro cave, with stalactites and stalagmites.
The underwater life in Santa Maria is varied and abundant, and scuba diving enthusiasts will have their hands full. In addition, it is possible to visit the Formigas, a group of eight islets located almost 40 kilometers from the coast of the island: here numerous sea birds nest, so much so that the area has been declared a Nature Reserve.
With the right equipment, perhaps with the help of one of the expert guides of the place, it is possible to explore the natural caves present on the island of Santa Maria, such as the Furna di Santana and the Furna Velha. On the other hand, there are also man-made caves, such as the Figueiral Cave.
Festivals and celebrations
In all the Azores islands on August 15 is celebrated the feast of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, that is Our Lady of the Ascension, but in this regard the most important feast is held on the island of Santa Maria.
It is also on August 15th that the festival of the August Tides begins on the beach of Praia Formosa, a cheerful event in which many musical groups also participate.
Where to stay in Santa Maria
For sure, hotels and facilities for tourists in Santa Maria are not lacking. The level is good and there are options for all budgets: on average, however, the quality is good and prices are quite low. Vila do Porto is the main town of the island: it is located on the southwest coast and is close to the airport and the seaport, so it could be a good choice to take advantage of transport.
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The island of Santa Maria has its own airport located in the urbanized area of Vila do Porto. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the Santa Maria airport played a fundamental role in the economy of the Azores, as it was the only international airport in the archipelago and also served as a stopover for flights to America by European companies.
This was certainly a great help for tourism, but unfortunately today the airport of Santa Maria has registered a collapse and it is no longer used as in the past: it is only used by Azores Airlines from and to Lisbon and by SATA Air Acores from and to Ponta Delgada.
The alternative is to reach Santa Maria by sea from Sao Miguel: maritime connections do exist, but as it often happens, they are available especially in the summer period; in any case the ferry transport is not very used because it lasts four hours and for this reason it is not very appreciated by tourists.
How to get around
To get around the island of Santa Maria you can rent a car or a scooter, or rely on local public transport such as buses or cabs. You can also use a bicycle, which is an option if you are a sportsman and like to be in contact with nature.
Cabs are usually used for short trips or for airport-hotel transfers and vice versa, as they apply standard rates that are quite convenient. Buses, especially at weekends, run at reduced rates: in this case you risk being left on foot and not being able to discover the island in all its beauty.
The best choice is therefore to rent a scooter or a car, if you want to be more comfortable. Remember that on the island the available cars are limited, so it is strongly recommended to book the car before departure, directly from Italy via the Internet.