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Overview

Introduction

The Island of the Sun

Santa Maria is the oldest island of the archipelago. It was here that Christopher Columbus sought refuge in 1493 on his return from his voyage to America. Santa Maria is different from the other islands in that it is flatter and therefore dryer, warmer and with a lower humidity. The west, being the flatter area of the island, has higher temperatures and low growing vegetation. The central mountainous area and the rest of the island are more heavily wooded (with many endemic plants) with high cliffs and hillsides plunging into the ocean. To the South is Praia Formosa, one of the best beaches of the Azores (Blue Flag status) – and one of the few white sand beaches in the archipelago and the Baia da Praia nature reserve.

There are wonderful exploratory itineraries around the island.

Anjos, where Columbus landed, the quaint town of Sao Pedro, the white Algarve style houses of picturesque Santa Barbara in the forested north and Pico Alto (587m) from where one can see the whole of the island.

The 15th century town of Vila do Porto is the oldest in the Azores and has long streets leading to the 16th century cliff top fort of Sao Bras with the port below.

At the tiny village of Maia, the steep hillsides leading down to the ocean have been terraced with black volcanic rocks over many generations to hold the fertile soil in place in order to grow vines, wheat and corn. Maia also boasts a natural swimming pool that has achieved Blue Flag status.

There are also the Baia de Sao Lourenco, Ilheus das Formigas and Baia da Maia nature reserves – all wonderful places to explore.

Read more

About Santa Maria

Area: 97 sq. km
Length: 17 km (11 miles)
Width: 9.5 km (6 miles)
Population: 5,500 inhabitants
Capital: Vila do Porto

Highlights

Sweet Tooth
Traditional home-made biscuits and cakes can be found in local bakeries. You must try the Pastel de Nata – a deliciously creamy custard tart! There is a good bakery near Santo Espirito.

Pico Alto
The highest point on the island offers magnificent views over the whole island.

Anjos Chapel
The chapel at Anjos is one of the oldest in the Azores. Christopher Columbus attended mass here on his way back from America.

Handicrafts
Traditional handicrafts include weaved table cloths and clothing.

Colourful houses
The window frames and borders of traditional houses on Santa Maria adopt a colour associated with their specific village. Blues, yellows, greens and reds are used.

Festivals

  • Festas de Santo António (Santo Espírito) – 2nd week of June
  • Festas de Sao João (Vila do Porto) – 24 June
  • Festas N.Sra da Assunção (Vila do Porto) – August
  • Festival Maré de Agosto (music festival in Praia Formosa) – 3rd week of August

Note: Dates subject to change.

Activities

Guided Walks

 

The islands of the Azores, with their mild climate (day time temperature ranging from 14-22 degrees), are the most wonderful islands for walking. Our suggested walks incorporate some of the best scenic walks on the island. 

 

Entre Serra e Mar (Half Day)


This 9.5km (2.5 hours) circular walk starts and ends at the parish church of Santa Bárbara and passes typical houses and through rural landscapes. As you travel around the island you will notice the distinctive house chimneys, unique to Santa Maria and the varying number of colours used – the colours relate to the parish in which they are located. Following well used tracks, this walk offers excellent views of the bay of São Lourenço. Grade 2 (Medium)

 

Pico Alto - Anjos (Half Day)


This 14km (4 hours) walk starts on the Pico Alto forest road (587m), the highest point on Santa Maria, with views over the whole island – São Miguel Island can also be seen on a clear day. You will pass through the Barreiro da Faneca, a unique ecosystem made up of reddish clay soil known as the ‘Red Desert of the Azores’, and a forest of Japanese red cedar trees. Throughout the walk travellers are treated to views of Anjos, Ponta da Baleia, the Baía da Cré and the Lagoinhas Islet. Grade 2 (Medium)

 

Santo Espírito - Maia (Half Day)


This 6.8km (3 hours) walk begins in the parish of Santo Espírito passing through Maia and ending at the whaling factory in Ponta do Castelo. The route runs through the village and passes by the splendid waterfall of the Aveiro in Ribeira Grande, the Gonçalo Velho Lighthouse and through terraced vineyards. Grade 2 (Medium)

 

North Shore (Half Day)


This 6.7km (3 hours) walk starts in Feteiras de Baixo and ends at Baía dos Anjos. The trail goes through Baia do Raposo, Ribeira do Engenho, Barreiro da Faneca (a unique ecosystem in the Azores, made up of reddish clay lands, also known as the “Red Desert of the Azores”) and Baía da Cré, places with great geological interest and classified as Geosites. Grade 2 (Medium)

 

South Shore (Half Day)


This 8.5km (3 hours) trail begins at the Dalberto Pombo Environmental Interpretation Center, where this naturalist’s vast fossil and taxidermy animal collection is displayed. Continue towards Forte de São Brás, Ribeira de São Francisco, Pedreira do Campo (Geosite classified a natural monument), Gruta do Figueiral (Fossil Cave), Touril and Prainha. After a relaxing swim you will proceed to the Fort of Prainha and choose between climbing toward the viewpoint of Macela or follow the slope to the Praia Formosa area where you can relax on the white sandy beach. Grade 2 (Medium)

 

Price per walk is £43 per adult and £22 per child (8-11yrs) 

 

Notes

  • Excursion provider: Smatur 
  • Daily pick-up from all hotels at 09:00 or 14:00 
  • Guided walks with English speaking guide  
  • Minimum 2 people  
  • Recommended: Comfortable clothing, walking boots, swim suit, towel, rain jacket, sun lotion, binoculars and a camera

Land Tour

Santa Maria Van Tour (Full Day)

Visit beautiful geological points of interest, wonderful bays, traditional and quiet parishes and historical and cultural heritage. Some of the highlights include the small seaside resort of Anjos and its small chapel where Christopher Columbus attended a mass on his return from America; the pretty village of Santa Bárbara where it is possible to admire the simple and beautiful architecture of the traditional houses of Santa Maria; a viewpoint overlooking the famous and unique landscape of São Lourenço Bay - a volcanic semi-crater covered in terraced vineyards and divided by basalt stone walls; the village of Santo Espírito, surrounded by green pastures and hills with a 17th century baroque church; a visit to Maia, on the south coast, to see the beautiful waterfalls before heading to the beautiful bay and white sand beach of Praia Formosa - where the island’s oldest music festival ‘Maré de Agosto’ takes place. There will be a stop for lunch (included) in a local restaurant.

Price is £98 per adult and £60 per child (3-12yrs) and £11 per infant (0-2yrs)

Notes:

  • Pick up from hotel at Vila do Porto at 09:00 - supplier Smatur
  • Full Day: 8 hours
  • Includes lunch and English speaking guide

Scuba Diving

Santa Maria is a place of unique beauty for divers. The abundance and richness of underwater fauna provides unforgettable moments. The Pedrinha, the islet of Lagoinhas, the islet of São Lourenço, the islets of Formigas and the Dollabarat reef offer an abundance of both Atlantic and Tropical fish life – parrot fish, groupers, sting and eagle rays, moray and conger eels, barracudas, amberjacks, turtles and dolphins. A fully equipped PADI dive centre is based in Vila do Porto.

Price for 1 Dive is £63 per person and £116 per person for 2 Dives

Notes:

  • Meeting point at Mantamaria Office at Vila do Porto harbour at 08:30 - please arrive 30 minutes before departure
  • Daily (01Jan-31Oct)
  • Minimum 6 people required between May - Oct
  • Suitable for all - from complete beginner to the most experienced, with boat trips
  • Dives include a 12 litre steel tank (200-230 BAR), weight belt, dive master guidance and boat transportation to and from the dive sites
  • Wetsuits not included but can be rented locally for approx. 8 Euros
  • All divers have to carry valid diving and medical certificates confirming fitness to dive

Snorkelling with Manta Rays

One of the most sought after experiences by divers who visit the Azores is the chance to snorkel with a group of curious manta rays. Harmless to humans, the rays gracefully dart and swoop around you – an incredible sight.  

Price is £48 per person (Snorkeling around the island - minimum 6 people)

Price is £88 per person (Snorkelling at Formigas Islet or with Whale Sharks - minimum of 10 people)

Notes:

  • Meeting point at Mantamaria Office at Vila do Porto harbour at 08:30 - please arrive 30 minutes before departure
  • Daily (01Jan-31Oct) 
  • Minimum 6 for Snorkeling around the island and 10 people for Snorkelling at Formigas Islet or with Whale Sharks
  • Mask and snorkel included
  • Wetsuits not included but can be rented locally for approx 8 Euros each 
  • Suitable for adults only
  • It is mandatory to have dived less than 6 months ago, otherwise clients will have to take a 'refresh dive' at an additional cost

Useful information

Talk to one of our experts

020 8568 4499

We open today at 9:15 AM

Get in touch
Rebecca in Sweden
Rebecca Staniford
Best time to go
  • JAN
  • FEB
  • MAR
  • APR
  • MAY
  • JUN
  • JUL
  • AUG
  • SEP
  • OCT
  • NOV
  • DEC
Time Difference

GMT - 1 hour

Currency

Euro

Language

Portuguese

Average flight times

4 hours 5 minutes

  • Average temperature

    Average rainfall

Note: Map is for guidance purposes only.

Talk to our The Azores expert

Alison
Alison Garrard

Alison joined the Sunvil team in 2019 but has long been an extended member of our family, having sold our holidays as a travel agent for 25 years! Sunvil is more than a business, our approach to travel - introducing visitor to lesser-known places and placing them among the locals, is a concept that our staff buy into and feel passionate about. Our holidays are those that we ourselves enjoy and would recommend for our friends and family. Alison is no exception having chosen a Sunvil trip to the Azores for her honeymoon and having recently returned from Veneto.

Call one of our experts to discuss your next holiday with Sunvil on

020 8758 4722

We open today at 9:15 AM

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Santa Maria, the Azores

Santa Maria

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774
  • Marketing: 020 8758 4731

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