Santa Maria, the sunshine island

Baía da Praia Formosa
Place: Ilha de Santa Maria - Açores
Photo: Turismo dos Açores
Photo: Turismo dos Açores

The island of Santa Maria is in the Eastern Group of the Azores archipelago, along with São Miguel, 81km away. The green fields, traditional culture, the chimneys of the whitewashed houses, the dark ochre of the earth, the golden beaches and the turquoise waters make Santa Maria different from the archipelago’s other islands.

Because it is the most southerly and easterly island in the Azores, Santa Maria’s climate is warmer and drier, which contributes to greater aridity on the land and dry vegetation with a yellowish tint, and for this reason it is also known as the Sunshine Island.

The island has two areas with distinctive reliefs and features: one area to the west is flatter and low-lying where the airport can be found, and the houses of Vila do Porto, the largest town on the island, and the parishes of São Pedro and Almagreira; and another more rugged area in the east of the island, with lush vegetation, which includes the Pico Alto mountain, the highest point on the island at 590 metres above sea level, from which you have a wonderful panoramic view. The parishes of Santa Bárbara and Espírito Santo are located in this region.

Santa Maria was the first island to be discovered by the Portuguese explorers, the first to be settled, and was also the first island in the Azores to be formed, so its diverse geological past is etched into its volcanic and sedimentary rocks. This can be seen in Pedreira do Campo, where a basalt flow more than 100 metres high houses within it numerous fossils of marine organisms, proving that this island was submerged until a few thousand years ago. This geological wealth can also be admired in the Dalberto Pombo Environmental Interpretation Centre, right in the historic centre of Vila do Porto.

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