Santa Maria, Azores Islands Beach
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Azores Islands: Santa Maria Island

Santa Maria Island, often called the “Sunshine Island,” is a unique gem, part of the nine islands of the Azores archipelago created millions of years ago. It is good to note that, Santa Maria is also the oldest island part of the Azores Islands. Located in the southeastern corner of the island chain, it boasts a distinct character with warmer, drier weather and the only white sandy beaches in the Azores. It’s a destination that seamlessly combines relaxation with exploration.

And if you are still wondering if Santa Maria is worth visiting, well, yes it is! Read on!

Santa Maria Island Map

The Story of Santa Maria Island

In the vast Atlantic, a lone island emerged from the depths – Santa Maria, a land of mystery and untapped potential. In 1427, Portuguese navigator Diogo de Silves glimpsed this paradise during his voyage, igniting the curiosity of those who followed. 

Five years later, Gonçalo Velho Cabral claimed the island for Portugal, naming it Santa Maria after the Virgin Mary. In 1439, he returned with settlers, establishing Vila do Porto, the first European settlement in the Azores. The town thrived as a trading port, attracting merchants and settlers. The fertile land yielded wheat and wine, supporting the island’s growth. 

Centuries brought challenges: pirate attacks, droughts, and volcanic eruptions. Yet, the islanders persevered, adapting to their environment. In the 19th and 20th centuries, whaling emerged, with Ponta do Castelo as its center. Santa Maria also became a stopover for transatlantic flights. 

Today, the island thrives on tourism, agriculture, and fishing. Its unique blend of history and beauty draws visitors worldwide. Vila do Porto’s cobblestone streets and historic landmarks whisper tales of early settlers and seafaring adventures. The island’s volcanic origins are evident in its dramatic landscapes, from the red desert of Barreiro da Faneca to the cascading waterfalls of Ribeira de Maloás. Santa Maria stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of its people and the timeless beauty of nature.

Santa Maria Beaches

Praia Formosa: The most iconic beach on Santa Maria, Praia Formosa, is a postcard-perfect scene with its golden sands stretching along the turquoise Atlantic waters. It’s a vibrant hub for swimming, sunbathing, and a myriad of water sports, from paddleboarding to kayaking.

São Lourenço Bay: This picturesque bay offers a different kind of allure. The calm, crystal-clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and diving, revealing a fascinating underwater world. Above the surface, the unique geological backdrop of columnar basalt formations creates a dramatic setting.

Praia da Maia: A secluded gem, Praia da Maia is a haven for those seeking tranquility. The untouched natural beauty and serene atmosphere make it ideal for unwinding and simply soaking up the sun.

Things to Do in Santa Maria Island

Santa Maria, the sun-kissed gem of the Azores archipelago, beckons travelers with its captivating blend of history, natural wonders, and outdoor adventures. From ancient fortresses to vibrant villages, red deserts to cascading waterfalls, this island offers a diverse array of experiences that will leave you enchanted.

Museu de Santa Maria

The Santa Maria Museum is housed in a two-story building with an annex in the center of Santo Espírito parish. Constructed in the early 20th century, the building’s architecture reflects modifications over time, making it not a typical rural house. Notable architectural elements include two tubular chimneys and a rounded oven, characteristic of rural Santa Maria architecture.

In the 1990s, the building was adapted for its new purpose as a museum. The museum’s history dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the parish priest of Santo Espírito, José Maria Amaral, started collecting artifacts from the community to preserve its identity. This led to the establishment of the Ethnographic and Parish Museum of Santo Espírito, which later became the Ethnographic House under the Ministry of Culture. In 1996, it was officially inaugurated as the Museum of Santa Maria Island.

Barreiro da Faneca (Red Desert)

Prepare to be transported to another world as you step onto the otherworldly landscape of Barreiro da Faneca, also known as the Red Desert. This unique geological formation is a testament to the island’s volcanic origins, boasting vibrant red clay soil that contrasts beautifully with the surrounding greenery. 

The barren, undulating terrain creates an almost Martian atmosphere, making it a photographer’s paradise. Hiking trails wind through the desert, offering stunning views of the coastline and the chance to spot unique flora and fauna adapted to this arid environment.

Vila do Porto

Vila do Porto, the oldest town and capital of Santa Maria Island, exudes a captivating blend of history, culture, and coastal charm. Established in the 15th century, it holds the distinction of being the first European settlement in the Azores. Contrary to expectations, it is not Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel Islands. Its rich past is evident in its well-preserved architecture, cobblestone streets, and historic landmarks.

Vila do Porto was founded by Gonçalo Velho Cabral in 1439, marking the beginning of European colonization in the Azores. The town’s strategic location as a safe harbor played a crucial role in its development as a center for trade and maritime activity. 

The town’s historical center showcases a variety of architectural styles, from Manueline to Baroque. Whitewashed houses adorned with colorful tiles and wrought-iron balconies line the streets, creating a picturesque scene. 

There are plenty things to do while you are in Vila do Porto and Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Assunção is one of them. This 15th-century church is a testament to the island’s rich religious heritage. Admire its intricate woodwork, ornate altarpieces, and serene ambiance. 

You can also pass by Praça do Município, the main square is the heart of Vila do Porto, where locals gather and events take place. The square is surrounded by historic buildings, including the Town Hall and the former Customs House. 

Next is the Museu Municipal de Santa Maria where you can delve into the island’s history and culture at this museum, which houses a collection of artifacts, exhibits, and documents that trace Santa Maria’s evolution from its early settlement to the present day. 

Located in Vila do Porto, the oldest town and capital of Santa Maria Island in the Azores, the São Brás Fort was built between the late 16th and early 17th centuries to protect the coast from pirate and privateer attacks that plagued the Atlantic for centuries.

The fort underwent restoration in the 1960s and is now open to the public, offering stunning panoramic views.

The architectural complex includes a small bulwark, the Command House and Troop Quarters, the beautiful Chapel of Our Lady of Conception, and an obelisk designed by Raul Lino. It also houses artillery pieces within its walls.

Roam through the charming streets and alleys, get lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleys that wind through the town. Discover hidden squares, quaint shops, and traditional cafes where you can savor local delicacies and soak up the atmosphere. 

Vila do Porto is a captivating town that invites you to step back in time and immerse yourself in its rich history and culture. Whether you’re exploring its historic landmarks, wandering its charming streets, or savoring its culinary delights, you’ll find plenty to discover in this enchanting Azorean capital.


Anjos is a historic village located on Santa Maria Island, the southernmost island in the Azores archipelago, known for its white sand beaches. It is claimed to be the landing point of Christopher Columbus on his return voyage from America, making it a significant historical site for the Azores Islands. 

This picturesque village with traditional Azorean architecture, featuring white houses with colorful doorways and windows is home to the Hermitage of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos, a 19th-century shrine. However, Anjos is mostly known for its beautiful natural pools with surrounding steps, ideal for swimming and relaxation

Ribeira de Maloás

Nature lovers will find solace in Ribeira de Maloás, a lush valley carved by a flowing stream. Embark on a scenic hike along the riverbed, surrounded by verdant vegetation and the soothing sounds of cascading waterfalls

The trail winds through a variety of landscapes, from dense forests to open meadows, offering glimpses of the island’s diverse flora and fauna. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and bring a camera to capture the natural beauty of this hidden gem.

Ponta do Castelo

Ponta do Castelo, a dramatic headland on the southeastern tip of Santa Maria Island, is steeped in history and natural beauty. This prominent landmark was once a thriving whaling center, playing a crucial role in the island’s economy during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Ponta do Castelo served as a base for whaling operations, with lookout posts strategically positioned to spot whales. The remains of an old whaling factory can still be seen, providing a glimpse into the island’s maritime past. 

The Gonçalo Velho lighthouse, named after the island’s discoverer, stands tall on the headland, guiding ships safely through the waters. Its powerful beam can be seen for miles, offering a beacon of hope and safety to mariners. 

It is a prime spot for whale and dolphin watching. Take a boat tour or simply observe from the cliffs as these majestic creatures grace the waters with their presence. Plus, you will get some of the most dramatic landscapes, rugged cliffs, and historic ruins that make Ponta do Castelo a photographer’s dream. Capture the essence of this unique place with your camera.

Last but not least, the area is home to a variety of bird species, including Cory’s shearwaters and Bulwer’s petrels, making it a haven for birdwatchers. So, make sure to not miss out on this!

Recreational Forest Reserve of Fontinhas

Nestled in the heart of Santa Maria Island, the Recreational Forest Reserve of Fontinhas is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. This protected area boasts a diverse range of flora and fauna, including endemic species found only in the Azores. 

The forest reserve is home to a variety of trees, including Japanese cedars, eucalyptus, and acacias. The undergrowth is rich with ferns, mosses, and wildflowers, creating a vibrant tapestry of colors and textures.

Birdwatchers will delight in the opportunity to spot endemic species like the Azores bullfinch and the Azores wood pigeon. Other wildlife includes rabbits, lizards, and various insects.

Santa Maria Island Waterfalls

Santa Maria Island boasts a collection of stunning waterfalls, each offering a unique experience for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Prepare to be captivated by the raw power and beauty of these natural wonders.

Cascata Cai-Agua

Located on the border of the Santa Barbara and Santo Espírito parishes, Cascata Cai-Agua is accessible via a 900-meter hike off the Grande Rota de Santa Maria trail. This waterfall is known for its twin cascades, tumbling down a rocky cliff face into a serene pool below. The surrounding vegetation adds to the enchanting atmosphere, making it a popular spot for photographers. 

Wear sturdy hiking boots and comfortable clothing suitable for walking on uneven terrain. Don’t forget a waterproof jacket, as the mist from the waterfall can be refreshing. 

Cascata da Baía do Raposo

Situated near Barreiro da Faneca (Red Desert), this waterfall requires a bit more effort to reach. It is accessible by hiking down a steep trail from the main road. This hidden gem rewards those who venture off the beaten path with its secluded beauty. The waterfall plunges into a natural pool surrounded by lush vegetation, creating a tranquil oasis. 

Dress for hiking and be prepared for slippery conditions near the waterfall. Bring a swimsuit if you want to take a dip in the pool. 

Cascata do Aveiro

Located in the Maia area of Santo Espírito parish, this waterfall is easily accessible by car. There is a parking area nearby. Cascata do Aveiro is one of the tallest waterfalls on the island, cascading down a cliff face into a picturesque lagoon. The lagoon is home to a resident flock of ducks, adding to the charm of the place. 

Comfortable shoes are recommended, as there is a short walk from the parking area to the waterfall. Bring a camera to capture the stunning scenery. 

Poço da Pedreira

This former quarry is located near Vila do Porto and is easily accessible by car or on foot. While not a waterfall in the traditional sense, Poço da Pedreira is a unique natural attraction formed by a flooded quarry. The steep red rock walls surround a tranquil pool, creating a dramatic and picturesque setting. 

Casual attire is suitable for visiting Poço da Pedreira. Bring a swimsuit and towel if you plan on swimming or relaxing by the water. 

Before heading to these waterfalls, make sure to check the weather forecast, as conditions can change quickly in the Azores. Pack plenty of water and snacks, especially if you plan on hiking to the waterfalls. Be respectful of the environment and leave no trace. If you’re unsure of the trail or conditions, consider hiring a local guide.

Enjoy your waterfall adventures in Santa Maria and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this enchanting island!

Miradouros in Santa Maria Island

Santa Maria, a radiant island in the Azores archipelago, offers a visual feast with its stunning viewpoints. Each vantage point provides a unique perspective of the island’s natural beauty and rich history. Prepare to be enchanted by breathtaking landscapes and panoramic vistas that will forever be etched in your memory.

  • Pico Alto: At the island’s peak, 587 meters above sea level, Pico Alto offers a breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view. Behold the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, the verdant landscapes, and the agricultural fields that stretch to the horizon.
  • Miradouro dos Picos: Located on the road connecting Vila do Porto to Santo Espírito, this viewpoint offers a spectacular view of the island’s southern coast. Admire the rugged cliffs, volcanic rock formations, and the vastness of the ocean that stretches as far as the eye can see.
  • Miradouro Vigia da Baleia: Situated at Ponta do Castelo, this viewpoint offers a privileged view of the sea, where you can often spot whales and dolphins. Immerse yourself in the maritime atmosphere and witness the majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
  • Miradouro de São Lourenço: This iconic viewpoint offers a postcard-perfect view of the São Lourenço bay, with its crystal-clear waters, white sandy beach, and surrounding vineyards. Capture the essence of Santa Maria’s beauty in a single frame.
  • Viewpoint of Pedra Rija: Located near the village of São Pedro, this viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the island’s northern coast. Marvel at the dramatic cliffs, the rugged coastline, and the rolling hills that characterize this part of the island.
  • Miradouro do Tagarete: Nestled amidst lush vegetation, this viewpoint offers a tranquil escape with stunning views of the surrounding valleys and hills. Breathe in the fresh air and soak up the serenity of this hidden gem.

  • Miradouro Barreiro da Faneca:This viewpoint provides a unique perspective of the island’s geological formations, with its red volcanic soil and distinctive rock formations. Witness the power of nature and the island’s volcanic origins.
  • Miradouro da Praia – Macela: Located near Praia Formosa, this viewpoint offers a breathtaking view of the island’s longest beach, with its golden sands and turquoise waters. Capture the essence of Santa Maria’s coastal beauty.
  • Viewpoint Miradouro das Fontinhas: This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the island’s interior, with its rolling hills, verdant valleys, and charming villages. Immerse yourself in the rural charm and tranquility of Santa Maria.

Embark on a visual journey through Santa Maria Island and discover the magic of its viewpoints. Each one offers a unique perspective and a chance to connect with the island’s natural beauty and rich history.

Where to Stay in Santa Maria Island

Santa Maria offers a diverse range of accommodations to suit every traveler’s taste and budget. Charming guesthouses provide an authentic local experience, while boutique hotels offer stylish retreats. For those seeking resort-style amenities, larger properties near Praia Formosa boast pools, restaurants, and direct beach access.

Hotel Santa Maria – Açores: Relaxed rooms & suites at a low-rise hotel featuring a restaurant, a bar & an outdoor pool.

QUINTA DO FALCÃO: Basic quarters in a down-to-earth hostel offering a bar, an outdoor pool & ocean views.

Things to do in Santa Maria Island


Santa Maria Island is a diver’s paradise, boasting clear waters, diverse marine life, and unique underwater landscapes. Some of the must-dive sites include:

  • Baixa do Ambrósio: This submerged reef teems with fish, including schools of barracuda and amberjack, and is also frequented by devil rays and even whale sharks during the summer months.
  • Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Seamount: These offshore dive sites are known for their exceptional visibility and rich biodiversity, including encounters with large pelagic fish, sharks, and manta rays.
  • Wrecks: Explore the Olympia wreck, a Greek cargo ship resting on the seabed since 1921, and discover a thriving marine ecosystem that has made it its home.

Several dive operators offer guided dives, equipment rentals, and courses for all levels, making it easy to explore Santa Maria’s underwater wonders.


Santa Maria Island comes alive with vibrant festivals throughout the year, celebrating its rich culture, traditions, and religious heritage. Some of the most notable festivals include:

  • Festival de Maré de Agosto: This lively summer festival features live music, traditional dance performances, sporting events, and a wide array of local food and drinks.
  • Festa do Espírito Santo: This religious festival, celebrated on Pentecost Sunday, involves colorful processions, traditional costumes, and communal meals.
  • Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos: This August festival honors the island’s patron saint and features religious ceremonies, processions, and lively entertainment.

These festivals offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture, witness age-old traditions, and experience the warmth and hospitality of the Santa Maria community.

Spot Azores

Spot Açores is one of the best things invented for the Azores Islands! It is for sure your go to place when you are deciding what and when to visit. These cameras are located in different areas of all the Azores Islands and will for sure help you navigate easily your trip. The best part is that you can check the weather around the Azores Islands and tweak your holiday to become a never ending sunny trip.

FAQs Answered

Where is Santa Maria Island located? 

Santa Maria Island is the southernmost island in the Azores archipelago, located in the Atlantic Ocean, about 800 miles west of mainland Portugal. 

How do I get to Santa Maria Island? 

You can reach Santa Maria Island by air from mainland Portugal or other Azores islands via SATA Air Açores.

What is the best time to visit Santa Maria Island? 

The best time to visit Santa Maria Island is during the spring and summer months (April to September), when the weather is warm and sunny, ideal for outdoor activities and beach days.  

What is the currency used on Santa Maria Island? 

The currency used on Santa Maria Island, as in the rest of Portugal, is the euro (€). 

What is the official language spoken on Santa Maria Island? 

The official language spoken on Santa Maria Island is Portuguese. However, English is also widely understood, especially in tourist areas. 

What should I pack for a trip to Santa Maria Island? 

Pack comfortable clothes for hiking and outdoor activities, a swimsuit for beach days, a waterproof jacket for unpredictable weather, and a good pair of walking shoes. 

Is there public transportation on Santa Maria Island? 

Yes, there is a bus service that connects the main towns and villages on the island. Taxis and car rentals are also available. Car rentals are preferred!

Is Santa Maria Island a good destination for families? 

Yes, Santa Maria Island is a family-friendly destination, offering a variety of activities suitable for all ages. 

Is Santa Maria Island safe for solo travelers? 

Yes, Santa Maria Island is considered a safe destination for solo travellers. However, it’s always recommended to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings. 

Are there any special events or festivals on Santa Maria Island? 

Santa Maria Island hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, including the Festival of Maré de Agosto (a music festival) and the Festa do Espírito Santo (a religious festival). 

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