Santa Maria is the southeasternmost island in the Azores. In good weather, it can be seen from São Miguel, although the two islands are about 80 kilometers apart. Santa Maria is the oldest island in the Azores archipelago. It was discovered in 1427 as the first island by Portuguese sailors and was also the first to be settled.
Santa Maria - stretch of coast near Vila do Porto
Santa Maria - the sunny island
With an area of 97 square kilometers, Santa Maria is the third smallest island in the Azores. Approximately in the middle of the island is the highest mountain at 587 meters. From Pico Alto you can see all of Santa Maria. The eastern part of the island extends on a higher level, the western part is mountainous and impresses with its lush vegetation.
Due to its location, it is somewhat milder, warmer and drier on Santa Maria than on the other Azores islands. Santa Maria is therefore also called the sunny island.
Life on Santa Maria
In 2019 around 5600 people lived on Santa Maria, 1900 of them in the main town of Vila do Porto.
Santa Maria - Vila do Porto
Transport and traffic
Santa Maria owns an airport that the Americans built as a military base for their air force during World War II. Until the 1960s, this airport served as a refueling stop for transatlantic flights and as a hub for Azores flights. There are currently direct connections to São Miguel and Lisbon.
In the only port, the Marina of Vila do Porto, the ferry from São Miguel and cargo ships dock, as do the fishing and diving boats, motor and sailing yachts, and very rarely a cruise ship is in the roadstead.
Santa Maria - Vila do Porto
Santa Maria - Port of Vila do Porto
There are several bus routes, taxis and car rental companies on the island.
There is no industry on Santa Maria. Only the large airport is reminiscent of past economic power. With the start of non-stop Atlantic flights and the relocation of the hub for Azores flights to São Miguel, important jobs were missing. Many people left the island and Santa Maria became less important.
Today fishing, agriculture and cattle breeding characterize the island. There are good fishing grounds around Santa Maria. The soil is fertile, melons and vines are mainly grown. Cattle and sheep can be seen in the pastures.
Santa Maria - Vineyards - Baia de São Lourenco
Santa Maria - North Costa Miradouro das Lagoinhas
Another source of income is tourism.
The island is not a destination for mass tourism. Santa Maria is a natural paradise and is appreciated by individual travelers, water sports enthusiasts and hikers. Many emigrants spend their holidays in their former homeland.
Santa Maria is the only Azores island to have light sandy beaches, such as Praia Formosa and Praia Maia.
Santa Maria - Maia's natural swimming pool
Santa Maria - Praia Formosa
There are well-developed hiking trails with interesting routes to water cascades, rock formations.
The cliffs and the offshore islets offer good diving grounds. Likewise the Formigas, eight uninhabited islands that belong to Santa Maria and form the north-eastern end of the Azores archipelago. Divers are allowed to stay in the area under strict nature protection requirements.
Santa Maria attractions
Santa Maria is a picturesque island. Stone walls limit the pasture and arable land. The small villages look old-fashioned. The houses are scattered around, are white with orange-brown roofs and have large chimneys. The base, window and door niches are set off in contrasting colors. Blue, green, yellow ocher, red or gray: each municipality has its own color.
Santa Maria - Costa North - Miradouro das Lagoinhas
The Pico Alto and beautiful Miradouros
The highest mountain with 587 meters offers a 360 degree panoramic view over Santa Maria. Many hiking trails lead through the sometimes lush vegetation around Pico Alto.
All over Santa Maria there are viewpoints from which one can admire the picturesque landscape, the coastline and the sea. We particularly like these:
The Miradouro Baia de São Lourenço is located above the bay of the same name, which looks like an amphitheater due to its terraced vineyards.
Ponta do Castelo: The Vigia da Baleia viewpoint offers the most beautiful view of the Gonçalo Velho lighthouse.
Picturesque bays and beaches
The bay of Anjos is worth seeing in itself. In the village of Anjos you should visit the statue of Christopher Columbus and the Ermida de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos. Columbus is said to have celebrated a mass in the hermitage in 1493. Only an archway remains from the original chapel. The old cross on the hill next door also dates from the 15th century.
Santa Maria - Church of NS dos Anjos
Santa Maria - Columbus Monument in Anjos
The Baia São Lourenço is a long bay with a light sandy beach. The Ilhéu do Romeiro rock spire is located off the coast. In the background are terraced vineyards, always divided and protected by the typical stone walls.
Santa Maria - Baia Sao Lourenco
Santa Maria - Baia Sao Lourenco
Who expects dream beaches in the Azores? Yet they do exist, and on Santa Maria it is the only island in the Azores with light sand. The most famous are Praia Formosa and Praia Maia. The beaches have natural swimming pools and offer good opportunities for water sports.
Chapels and churches
In every parish in the Azores, the churches are one of the focal points of communal life. Although not so conspicuous from the outside, the parish churches of Santa Bárbara and Santo Espérito have particularly beautifully appointed interiors.
Santa Maria - Church of Santa Bárbara
Vila do Porto - Nuestra Senhora da Assuncao
The pilgrimage chapel of Nossa Senhora da Fátima is located near Lagoinhas. 150 steps (analogous to the pearls of the rosary) lead to the gem.
Another chapel worth seeing is on Praia do Norte: Nossa Senhora de Lurdes.
Santa Maria's main town, Vila do Porto
The parish church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção is dedicated to the patron saint of Vila do Porto. It dates from the 16th century and is one of the oldest churches in the Azores.
The Forte de São Brás fortress was also built in the 16th century. It is located above the Marina of Vila do Porto and offers a wide view over the bay.
Buildings worth seeing on Largo de Nossa Senhora da Conceição are the former Franciscan monastery, in which the municipal administration now resides, and the Nossa Senhora da Vitória chapel from the 17th century.
Santa Maria - Vila do Porto - Nuestra Senhora da Vitoria
Our shore excursion - panoramic drive over Santa Maria
In June 2021 we are with the WORLD VOYAGER in the roadstead in front of Santa Maria. Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, we are only allowed to leave the ship in organized groups. We opt for a half-day tour on the bus. Many of the sights of Santa Maria are on the program.
With Zodiacs we go to the Marina of Vila do Porto. The main town of the island with the Forte de São Brás fortress, located a little above the bay, looks picturesque and inviting. In the marina there are several boats and also very nice yachts.
Santa Maria - Vila do Porto - Forte de Sao Bras
We get into a comfortable coach and drive clockwise around the island. We drive past the airport to Anjos. There we visit the Nossa Senhora dos Anjos chapel and the Columbus monument.
We continue overland to the west, past white houses with large chimneys to the Miradouro das Lagoinhas. From here you can see the Caldeira and large parts of the north coast of Santa Maria.
Santa Maria - Costa North
Santa Maria - Costa North
The next stops are the Parque National Costa Norte and the municipality of Santa Bárbara. The village has a particularly beautiful church.
It follows the Baia de São Lourenço. Vineyards surround the picturesque bay like an amphitheater. There is a natural bathing establishment on the bright beach.
We continue to the Miradouro Vigia da Balaia at the Ponta do Castelo. The Goncalo Velho lighthouse is high on the rocky headland, while the sandy bay of Baia Maia is down by the sea. At the next bay, Praia Formosa, we take a walk on the beach.
Finally we stop in Vila do Porto. For a short time we are allowed to explore the place alone. We visit the chapel Nossa Senhora da Vitória, take a look at the former Franciscan monastery and stroll down the main street. The place is not spectacular, but there are well-kept old houses and strikingly nicely designed sidewalks.
Santa Maria - Vila do Porto - sidewalk
The Zodiacs are already waiting at the harbor to bring us back to the WORLD VOYAGER.
A nice day on Santa Maria.