Santa Maria Travel Guide

Discover the best places to visit, things to do, local food, cultural customs and safety tips for your trip to Santa Maria, Azores.

Are you planning a trip to the Azores? Take some time to explore Santa Maria, one of the hidden gems of this beautiful archipelago. Though the island is small, it is incredibly diverse, offering everything from scenic hikes and beaches to fascinating museums and cultural landmarks. Here is a comprehensive travel guide to help you plan your perfect Santa Maria itinerary.

Introduction to Santa Maria

Santa Maria is the southernmost island in the Azores archipelago, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its warm climate and pristine beaches, the island is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and beach lovers alike. Although not as well-known as some of the other Azorean islands, Santa Maria has a rich history and culture that will captivate any traveler.

List of Places to Visit in Santa Maria

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

Start your visit to Santa Maria by exploring the island’s rich cultural heritage. Some of the must-visit cultural attractions include:

  • Santa Maria Museum: This museum is located in Vila do Porto and offers a glimpse into the island’s past. You can learn about the island’s geology, flora and fauna, and traditional crafts.

  • The Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção: This 16th-century church is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture and features impressive tiles and paintings.

  • Fort of São Brás: Built in the 16th century, this fort served as a defense against French and English invasions. Today, visitors can explore the fort and enjoy stunning views of the island.

Natural Attractions of Santa Maria: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

Nature lovers will be in paradise on Santa Maria, with its beautiful hiking trails, scenic vistas, and pristine beaches. Some of the island’s natural attractions include:

  • Praia Formosa Beach: This stunning beach is one of the most popular on the island and is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing.

  • Pico Alto: If you love hiking, head to Pico Alto, the highest peak on the island. From the summit, you can enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and the surrounding islands.

  • Anjos Chapel: Located on the coast, this picturesque chapel is a great spot to watch the sunset.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a paradise for hikers and bikers, offering a variety of routes ranging from easy walks to challenging treks. Here are some of the most popular hiking and biking routes on the island:

  • Pico Alto Hike: This challenging hike takes you to the island’s highest peak, Pico Alto, and offers breathtaking views of the natural landscape.

  • Circular Route of the Caldeira: This circular hike takes you around the Caldeira, an impressive volcanic formation that offers stunning views of the ocean.

  • Camino de Santiago Route: Travel along the Camino de Santiago on the island of Santa Maria to experience a pilgrimage walk without crossing borders.

Best Things to Do in Santa Maria: Activities and Tours

In addition to hiking, Santa Maria offers a host of other activities and tours for travelers of all ages and interests. Some of the top things to do on the island include:

  • Beach Hopping: With so many stunning beaches to choose from on Santa Maria, you can spend your days wandering from one to the next, trying out the different activities each one has to offer.

  • Whale Watching: Take a boat tour to spot whales and dolphins in the waters around Santa Maria.

  • Cultural Tours: Explore the island’s culture and history with a variety of guided tours, from wine and food tours to cultural immersion experiences.

Week-Long Itinerary for Santa Maria

To make the most of your visit to Santa Maria, consider following this sample itinerary:

  • Day 1: Arrive on the island and explore the local town of Vila do Porto.

  • Day 2: Hike up Pico Alto, the highest peak on Santa Maria.

  • Day 3: Spend the day at Praia Formosa Beach, swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying water activities.

  • Day 4: Visit the Santa Maria Museum and the Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção.

  • Day 5: Take a boat tour to spot whales and dolphins.

  • Day 6: Explore the island’s food and wine scene with a tasting tour.

  • Day 7: Relax on the beach and enjoy the island’s stunning scenery.

Food and Drink Scene of Santa Maria

No trip to Santa Maria would be complete without indulging in the island’s delicious food and local beverages. Here are some of the must-try dishes and beverages on the island:

Must-Try Dishes

  • Alcatra: A slow-cooked beef stew that is cooked with red wine and spices.

  • Azorean Cozido: A traditional meat and vegetable stew that is cooked in a caldeira, a natural boiling-water spring.

  • Bolo Levedo: A sweet bread that is popular in the Azores.

Local Beverages

  • Verdelho wine: A type of white wine that is produced in the Azores.

  • Kima: A soft drink made from the fruits of the passionflower.

  • Cerveja Especial: A craft beer that is produced on the island.

Where to Stay in Santa Maria: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

Santa Maria has a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. Here are some of the best places to stay on the island:

  • Santa Maria Hostel: A budget-friendly hostel in the heart of Vila do Porto.

  • Hotel Colombo: A mid-range hotel located a short walk from Praia Formosa Beach.

  • The Pousada de Juventude: A family-friendly guesthouse in the center of the island, surrounded by natural beauty.

What to Buy in Santa Maria: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Take a bit of Santa Maria home with you by shopping for local souvenirs and products. Some of the best items to buy on the island include:

  • Azorean Wine: Take a bottle of Verdelho wine home to enjoy as a souvenir of your trip.

  • Local Crafts: From ceramics to embroidery, there are plenty of handcrafted items to choose from on Santa Maria.

  • Sweet Treats: Stock up on Bolo Levedo and other local treats to enjoy back at home.

Local Culture and Customs of Santa Maria

While the Azores have a distinct culture and history, Santa Maria has its own unique customs and traditions. Some of the most important cultural aspects of the island include:

  • Religion: The island has long-standing Catholic traditions that are evident in the architecture and art found throughout the island.

  • Festivals and Celebrations: Throughout the year, Santa Maria hosts a variety of celebrations and festivals that celebrate the island’s culture and heritage.

Best Time to Visit Santa Maria

The best time to visit Santa Maria is from May to September when the weather is warm and sunny, and the ocean is perfect for swimming. However, if you’re looking to escape the crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons (April, October).

Do’s and Don’ts of Santa Maria


  • Respect the island’s natural beauty by following Leave No Trace principles.

  • Try the local food and wine.

  • Be respectful of the island’s culture and customs, including dressing appropriately for religious sites.


  • Litter or damage the island’s natural resources.

  • Ignore warnings about dangerous currents at the beaches.

Safety and Health

Safety in Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a safe destination, but travelers should be aware of the following potential dangers:

  • Ocean currents: Always follow posted signage and avoid dangerous swimming conditions.

  • Sunburn and dehydration: Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Health in Santa Maria

There are no major health concerns on Santa Maria, but travelers should be aware of the following:

  • Mosquitoes: Insect repellent can be helpful to avoid bites.

  • Food and water: Stick to bottled water and avoid street food stalls.

Getting to Santa Maria: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Santa Maria

Santa Maria is serviced by the Santa Maria Airport (SMA), which has daily flights from Lisbon.

Bus Stations Near Santa Maria

There is a local bus company that operates throughout the island.

Other Options

There are also ferries that operate regularly between the Azorean islands.

How to Get Around in Santa Maria

The best way to get around Santa Maria is by car or bike. There are several car rental agencies on the island, and bike rentals are available in Vila do Porto.

Where to Go Next from Santa Maria: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

After exploring Santa Maria, consider checking out some of the other beautiful islands of the Azores, such as Terceira or São Miguel.


Santa Maria is a small island with a lot to offer travelers. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply a relaxing beach vacation, you’re sure to find it on this beautiful island. Plan your trip well and make the most of your time in Santa Maria, Azores.