Exploring the Azorean Culture: Traditional Festivals from May through September
Visit the Azores: what lives on land, in the air and under the sea

Santa Maria: the oldest, the warmest and most southern of all islands

Formosa Beach in Santa Maria Islands, in the Azores
Credits: Azores Photos

Approximately 50 miles from São Miguel, Santa Maria wins the prize for being the warmest and most southern of all islands. The most common way to get to Santa Maria is by plane, but from May to October, a ferry runs from São Miguel.

Geologists believe that Santa Maria is the oldest island in the Azores… and the only one not totally created by volcanic eruptions.  Consequently, it has the best beaches of all the islands, the fewest foggy days, and the only beige-sand beaches (the others have mostly black sand.) 

Santa Maria’s landscape is dotted with small farms and charming villages. The houses are painted blue and white, and are adorned with a type of chimney style imported from southern Portugal by settlers. Homes in Santa Maria often have an outside bread oven attached to them, a holdover from the days when the residents made bread for the many sailors who passed through town.

The main town on Santa Maria is Vila do Porto on the South coast, which is the oldest settlement in the Azores. Its streets are lined with old homes belonging to approximately 5,000 residents who likely emigrated from the Algarve and Alentejo regions of southern Portugal. These newcomers once made a good living by growing woad, a plant from the mustard family that was prized throughout Europe for a blue dye that could be extracted from its leaves.

Santa Maria’s peaceful countryside dissolves at its West coast, where The Allies of World War II constructed a large air base. On the island’s Northern coast, a small statue commemorates a brief visit by Christopher Columbus in 1493, who stopped by on his way home from America. The highest point on the island is Pico Alto. The bays of Maia and São Lourenço both natural swimming pools, and are considered among the most beautiful bays among the islands. 

Santa Maria Island is also consider a Top Spot for Sailing, Diving and Snorkeling. Have fun!

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