Cover photo by Rosino as found on Flickr.
“Tips on What to do in the Azores, Santa Maria” is the first installment of a series of nine blog posts about the Azores islands. The posts are meant to give you a detailed overview of each one of them to help you plan your trip, whether you decide to visit one, two, or all nine. If you have any questions or a specific request, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll do my best to answer it or to put you in touch with the right contact.
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 — the most Southern of the nine islands (and the oldest of all of them, geologically speaking, at 8.12 million years old), with a drier climate (compared to the rest), and, just to be wonderfully off-key, with white sand beaches and its 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 small details of the local architecture, like the long and narrow chimneys, and the Alentejo-style painted house facades (white, with colored borders).
Historical records show that Christopher Columbus, on his way back from the “Americas” in 1493, stayed in the island. He prayed at the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos (Our Lady of Angels), the first Catholic temple built in the archipelago.
A photo posted by Steves (@spteves) on
Most Popular Activities
You will probably want to make the best of the dry climate during high season (from June to September) and lie lazily on your towel, both feet buried in the warm sand, lulled by the waves of the deep blue Atlantic. Did I just paint the perfect picture for you? Good.
But take the time to also feel the island’s pulse. Hiking and diving are definitely the most popular, but you can add the offbeat twist to your trip with mountain biking, bird watching, canyoning, coasteering and sailing, if you don’t suffer from sea sickness (the Atlantic can be, let’s say, “moody”).
Recommended Local Companies
Please note that we’re not listing ALL the local companies. These are tailored suggestions that fit the editorial tone of this blog. To narrow down the list we used the following criteria:
- (1) Local companies listed on visitazores.com. We use the term “local companies” for companies that are owned by locals and/or operate locally only.
- (2) A website in English where you can easily browse through photos and gather all needed data for an informed decision (such as prices and previous customers’ ratings).
- (3) Easy to follow on social media and/or easy to contact from abroad (with a working email)
Miguel Marques describes his company as “young and energetic, passionate about the island, Nature, and how to enjoy it to the fullest.” Don’t worry, they don’t cater to “adrenaline junkies” only – there’s an activity for everyone (including borderline couch potatoes like me). Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor
Rua Dr. Manuel Monteiro Velho Arruda 115
9580-530 Vila do Porto
Activities: Hiking (25€/US $27 per person), cycling (13.50€/US $15 per person), mountain biking (50€/US $54 per person), bird watching (25€/US $27 per person) and customised island tours (30€/US $32 per person, meals not included; 50€/US $54 per person, meals included).
The managing partner Roberto Furtado informed me that he’s opening two houses soon (classified as “rural tourism”) in the beautiful Sao Lourenco bay (pictured in the cover). They will be added to the post as soon as they are available. In the meantime, may I entice you with the possibility of booking a romantic tour or sailing at sunset? Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Baixa do Vigário, C
9580-030 Vila do Porto
Activities: Sailboat tours (prices start from 50€/US $55, per person, on low season and from 70€/US $76, per person, on high season) and sailboat rental (prices start from 900€/US $980 on low season and 1300€/US $1400 on high season).
Roughly translated, the name of this company is Portuguese slang for “let’s go”. So you can tell they’re an active bunch, right? They also focus on sustainable tourism which, in the Azores, is crucial. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Rua Teófilo Braga, 66
9580-535 Vila do Porto
Activities: Jeep safari (75€/US $80, per person), canyoning (60€/US $65, per person), coasteering (60€/US $65, per person), rappel (35€/US $38, per person).
The company lists the diving spots by level (beginner, intermediate and expert) and, for safety reasons, demand proof of certification or experience. Some of the species you can find include the local moray eel and the “just passing through” manta rays. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Marina de Vila do Porto
9580-541 Vila do Porto
Activities: Diving (prices start from 44€/US $47, per person) and snorkelling (prices start from 48.50€/US $53, per person).
Check here all the information about this diving center.
Autumn Sunset 🌅 #santamariaazores #azores #igers_azores #azoresislands #visitazores #igersportugal #portugaldenorteasul
A photo posted by Nânci Tavares (@nanci.tavares) on
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. Many Catholic entities are celebrated throughout the year and it wouldn’t be fair to pinpoint just a couple as the most important. The biggest ones, however, are Senhor Santo Cristo in May and the Holy Spirit Festivities (Pentecost) in June/July.
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.
A photo posted by Steves (@spteves) on
I know that the following options will sound slightly heavy right now (and probably strange too) but have you heard that the sea increases your appetite? No? Maybe it’s an Azorean belief then. I guarantee you it does; don’t have the scientific evidence to sustain this theory, though.
Pick a 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” – large rice and pork sausages, sliced. In a first glance it seems more meat than you can handle, but the high quality 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.
Praia Formosa Foto ao PC :p
A photo posted by Luciana Magalhães (@luluarte) on
Perfect Local Souvenir
Pottery used to be a big industry on the island but these days I don’t think you will find much of it around for sale (unless you ask around and find someone knowledgeable in local antiques; if you do, feel free to share the tip). A handful of sand of the first island of the Azores to be discovered makes for an emotional souvenir, but my advice is to always invest a bit in the local heritage. Handmade straw hats and wicker baskets are popular, and, if you’re looking for something more portable (and by that I mean easier to pack without destroying it), pay a visit to the Santa Maria’s Handicraft Cooperative (Cooperativa de Artesanato de Santa Maria) to buy some artisanal linen clothes or the typical farmer’s wool cap.
A photo posted by Laurinda Sousa (@casadonorte.santamaria) on
Where to Stay
Please note that we’re not listing ALL accommodation possibilities. These are tailored suggestions that fit the editorial tone of this blog. To narrow down the list of places to stay in the island, we used the following criteria:
- (1) Properties listed on visitazores.com as local accommodation and/or rural tourism (AL, CC, TH, TR). We excluded chain hotels.
- (2) A website in English and/or a listing on Booking.com* where you can easily browse through photos and gather all needed data for an informed decision (such as prices and previous customers’ ratings).
- (3) Easy to follow on social media and/or easy to contact from abroad (via a working email)
No minimum stay. Complete breakfast included. Unlimited free WiFi. Option to book individual rooms or a whole house. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Prices for 3 or more nights:
Low season (October to May): Prices start at 59€/US $63, per night
High season (June to September): Prices start at 70€/US $75, per night
Prices for 1-2 nights:
Low season (October to May): Prices start at 69€/US $75, per night
High season (June to September): Prices start at 80€/US $87, per night
Typical local house. Two terraces and a traditional front balcony. Refurbished keeping the classical elements (like the facade and the chimney). 2.5Km from the Praia Formosa beach. Free WiFi. Casa de Almagreira is to be rented as one whole unit, no rooms are let individually. Rating of 9.7 on Booking.com*
Low season (October to May): Prices start at 120€/US $130, for two people.
High season (June to September): Prices start at 150€/US $160, for two people.
“Oleiro” means potter in Portuguese, so the house name links to the former local industry. Typical local house. Refurbished keeping the classical elements (like the other style of chimney that can be found in the island). WiFi.
Low season (October to May): Prices start at 50€/US $54
High season (June to September): Prices start at 70€/US $76
Typical local house. Refurbished keeping the classical elements. Located in the North of the island, with ocean and mountain views. Internet available upon request. Rated as Excellent on TripAdvisor.
Low season (October to May): Prices start at 60€/US $65, per night for two people
High season (June to September): Prices start at 70€/US $76, per night for two people
A photo posted by Laurinda Sousa (@casadonorte.santamaria) on
Territory: Santa Maria is one of the two islands in the Eastern Group (Grupo Oriental) of the Azores Archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal.
Time zone: GMT -1 hour
Currency: Euro (€)
Banks and ATM machines available? Yes.
Post office? Yes.
Visa Requirements*: Same as other Schengen area territories. 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 vaccinations needed? No.
Health facilities in the island: pharmacies and health centers (known as “centro de saude”).
Voltage: 220 volts (round two-pin plugs)
Public transport: Buses and taxis.
Area: 97.42 Km2
Distance from Lisbon (approx.): 1500 Km
Population (as of 2011): 5547
How to reach: By plane – between islands, SATA Air Acores; from the Portuguese mainland and other countries, via Ponta Delgada (S. Miguel), SATA Azores Airlines, Tap Air Portugal, Ryanair, EasyJet. By boat (seasonal, from May to September): Atlanticoline SA (Source).
Weather: Climate: Mediterranean. Temperature: average high 20.1°C / 68.2°F. Average low 14.9°C / 58.8°F. Average relative humidity: 76.8%. (Source) For up to date information from the Azores Weather Institute, you can download the free app Meteo IPMA for iOS* or for Android (Downside: all the information in the app is in Portuguese.)
Best time to visit: July and August for the beach season and the cultural events.
Seismic activity*: Low. (Source)
*Note: seismic activity is constantly monitored in the Azores.
WiFi coverage: Yes.
Cell phone coverage: Yes.
Porque Santa Maria tem destas coisas!! #santamariaazores #azores #today #nofilter #sunset #nikond3200
A photo posted by Filipe Figueiredo (@filipefigueiredo1993) on
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