How to plan a trip to Santa Maria Island in the Azores

How to plan a trip to Santa Maria Island in the Azores

About Santa Maria

It’s the perfect island destination for lovers of sun, beach, and unusual beauty.

Overall, the Azores islands are known for, among other things, the one-of-a-kind beauty of its black sand beaches and luscious green hills. 

In an archipelago that is already offbeat enough, Santa Maria Island is the most offbeat of them all. It’s the most Southern of the nine islands (and the oldest of them, geologically speaking, at 8.12 million years old), with a drier climate (compared to the rest), white-sand beaches, and a unique red desert.

Santa Maria is known as the “mother island.” It was the first Portuguese settlement in the archipelago, after its discovery circa 1432, and inhabited mostly by Southerners (farmers from Algarve and Alentejo). 

This legacy lives on in the details of the local architecture, like the long and narrow chimneys and the Alentejo-style painted house facades (white, with colored borders).

On his way back from the Americas in 1493, historical records show Christopher Columbus stayed on the island. He prayed at the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos, the first Catholic temple built in the archipelago.

Top things to do in Santa Maria island

You’ll probably want to make the best of the dry climate during the high season (June to September) and lie lazily on your beach towel. With both feet buried in the warm sand, lulled by the waves of the deep blue Atlantic. 

But take the time to also feel the island’s pulse. Hiking and diving are definitely the most popular. You can still add the offbeat twist to your trip with mountain bikingbirdwatchingcanyoningcoasteering, and sailing.

Local companies

Top cultural events in Santa Maria Island

Islanders in general, at least in the Azores, have a somewhat close connection with religion. 

Unshielded exposure to a, sometimes, not kind Ocean, centuries-old memories of pirate invasions, and forced isolation from the rest of the world tend to lead people to find inner peace through prayer. In the end, faith would be one of the few things they could hold on to.

Santa Maria is no exception, celebrating different Catholic deities throughout the year. It wouldn’t be fair to pinpoint just a couple as the most important. Senhor Santo Cristo in May and the Holy Spirit Festivities (Pentecost) in June/July are the largest religious events.

One of the oldest music festivals in Portugal, Maré de Agosto, happens every August at the Praia Formosa Bay. Recent additions to the Santa Maria festival scene include Maia Folk and Santa Maria Blues, both in July.

What to eat in Santa Maria

Pick one of these for the main dish (I have a thing for the octopus, but don’t let it influence you): turnip broth with pork, pork broth with flour cakes, stewed marinated beef, wine-stewed octopus, or Molhos.

At first glance, it seems more meat than you can handle, but the high-quality local beef, pork, and seafood are surprisingly light. That’s what happens when you give things enough time and plenty of freedom to grow.

And if there’s still room for dessert (if there isn’t, make some, just for a nibble at least), I have one word for you: Cavacas. For a sweet treat, these sugar-coated biscuits are not that heavy, really.

Local souvenirs

Pottery used to be a big industry on the island. These days, you might need to ask around to buy a piece or two.

Handmade straw hats and wicker baskets are popular. Suppose you’re looking for something easier to pack. In that case, I suggest you visit Cooperativa de Artesanato de Santa Maria to buy some artisanal linen clothes or the typical farmer’s wool cap.

Find a place to stay

Know before you go

Santa Maria is one of the two islands in the Eastern Group (Grupo Oriental) of the Azores Archipelago, one of Portugal’s autonomous regions.

The same as in Portugal, the Euro (€).

You may need a visa to enter Schengen area territories, including the Azores islands. Click here for detailed information.

* Please note that this information may change over time. Refer to the Portuguese Embassy or Consulate in the country of your departure for updated information.

Special vaccination is not mandatory to enter the Azores region. If you have special health conditions, please seek medical advice.

There are pharmacies and public health clinics (known as centros de saúde) with emergency services on the island.

220 volts (round two-pin plugs).

Yes, there are buses and taxis. You can also rent a car (check the local car rental companies for information).

The area of Santa Maria Island is 97.42 square kilometers (approximately 37.61 square miles).

1,500 km (approximately 932 miles).

5,547 people, according to the last census of 2011.

By plane:

SATA Air Acores – between islands
Azores Airlines, Tap Air Portugal, and Ryanair (via São Miguel) – from other countries and the Portuguese mainland.

By boat (seasonal, from May to September):
Atlanticoline SA.

The climate is Mediterranean. Temperature: average high 20.1°C / 68.2°F. Average low 14.9°C / 58.8°F. Average relative humidity: 76.8%.

July and August for the beach season and the cultural events.

Seismic activity is low. (Source)

*Note: seismic activity is constantly monitored in the Azores.

Check the travel tips for the other Azores islands

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