Santa Maria was the first to be discovered by explorers and was the first to be formed in the Azorean archipelago, making it incredibly special.
Home to 6,000 locals, Santa Maria is also a lot different than other islands, with yellow beaches and even a “red desert.” Along with São Miguel 81 KM away, Santa Maria is part of the Eastern Group of the Azores, making it great for island hopping.
Let’s take a look at the 5 best things to do in Santa Maria for your next trip to the Azores.
1. Explore the local cuisine of Santa Maria
The best way to get to know an Azorean island is through its cuisine. Exploring the local cuisine of Santa Maria is an activity in itself.
There are a few foods you need to try, such as alheira, limpets, fried mackerel, and local cheeses.
But where to go to taste these traditional foods?
One of our favorite restaurants in Santa Maria is Ponta Negra, located in São Lourenço Bay. This place has a gorgeous terrace where you can enjoy authentic Portuguese dishes from well-renowned Azorean chefs.
Another alternative is A Travessa Cafe Snack Bar in Vila do Porto, a top-rated restaurant known for its quality customer service and artisanal beer. Mesa d’Oito is another great spot for a more luxurious dining experience.
2. Discover the natural pools and beaches
Looking for a dip on a warm day? Santa Maria doesn’t disappoint, featuring some of the best natural pools and beaches in the Azores.
Your first spot should be the Baía dos Anjos (Angel Bay), located in Vila do Porto. This spot also has a wide variety of bird species that you will get to observe.
Another place to not miss is the Azores’ largest waterfall in all of Portugal, Cascata do Aveiro. The waterfall is over 100 meters long and is located in Maia. You can access it through a hiking trail.
Other great swimming spots in Santa Maria to visit are Piscinas Naturais da Maia and Praia Formosa, the latter being a white sandy beach.
3. Explore the red desert of Santa Maria
Who knew Santa Maria would feature a red desert? Barreiro da Faneca is a semi-desert that happens to have a beautiful shade of red. This area is around 8.35 square KM and covers the Bays of Raposo, Tagarete, and Cré.
A protected landscape of the Azores since 2008, the red desert is part of the geological formation called the Feteiras Formation, the last volcanic eruption in Santa Maria. You can discover the red desert by walking the signed paths, but make sure to stay on these.
4. Day trip to São Miguel
São Miguel is only a 4-hour ferry ride away of around €20. The largest island in the Azores, São Miguel is known as the Green Island due to its beautiful greenery. The island has around 140,000 inhabitants, with 45,000 people residing in Ponta Delgada, the island’s largest city.
São Miguel is the perfect spot for those who want to experience the classic Azorean life, as well as a larger city! Therefore, there is so much to do on this island. Here are our favorite things to do in São Miguel:
- Sete Cidades: Sete Cidades is a municipality in São Miguel and probably the most famous place to visit on the island. Here you can visit the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a large lake divided by a bridge into two parts: one green and one blue.
- Ponta Delgada: The capital since 1546, Ponta Delgada is a cosmopolitan town that is full of historical flavor. The best part is that you can walk around the city on foot and that it has the best restaurants on the island.
- Furnas: In the eastern part of São Miguel, you have Furnas, the thermal hotspot of the Azores. There are over thirty geysers around the Furnas village. These are essentially bubbling, steaming caldeiras that smell of sulfur.
- Hiking: São Miguel has the most hiking trails in the Azores, with over 20 to explore. The best hiking trails in São Miguel are Lagoa do Fogo (11 KM, 4h00), Sete Cidades (7.7 KM, 2h00), and Lagoa das Furnas (9.5 KM, 3h00).
5. Walk around the main town
A visit to Santa Maria’s main town, Vila do Porto is a must! This village is where most locals live, featuring houses in Manueline style from when the island was initially settled. You can walk through amazing buildings with unique architecture.
One of the oldest churches in the Azores, the Parish Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção is a must-see, as well as the Church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação.
Make sure to visit the São Brás Fort designed by the Italian Tomaso Benedetti that now is where the Military Museum is located.