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Santa Maria is the southernmost island in the Portuguese Azores, boasting the sunniest climate of the archipelago.
About the island
Known locally as ‘the yellow island’, Santa Maria is recognised for its golden beaches and slightly drier vegetation than the other Azorean islands, giving off a blonde tinge. Moreover, it’s noted as the first landfall of Christopher Columbus on his return voyage from the Americas in 1493.
Santa Maria offers the finest swimming conditions and surf breaks of the island chain, with one of the best beaches situated on the southern coast: Praia Formosa. Just south of Vila do Porto, the main settlement, lies the oldest chapel on the island, believed to be Christopher Columbus’ chosen place of worship during his stay in the fifteenth century. However, the prettiest of Santa Maria’s towns is Santo Espirito, towards the east, encircled by verdant pastures and home to just under six hundred people.
For excellent viewpoints, head to the recreational reserve in Fontinhas, and to Pico Alto, the highest peak reaching almost six hundred metres. Any keen geologist should make their way north to the fascinating ‘red desert’, encompassing nine square kilometres of red clay, emitting a spectacular glow at dusk.
The traditional housing found throughout Santa Maria is quite remarkable, characterised by large chimneys protruding from a small pyramid shape, with each town adopting a different colour to contrast against the white washed buildings. Also, be on the lookout for local handicrafts such as intricately hand-woven tablecloths and colourful patchwork quilts.
As with every island on the Azores, the Holy Ghost Festival plays an important role in Santa Maria’s heritage. The celebrations consist of a large procession parading a chosen emperor or empress from the nearby towns, circled by residents performing traditional dances, with food stalls lining the streets serving up freshly caught seafood.
Getting the ferry to Santa Maria?
You can sail to Vila do Porto on Santa Maria’s south coast from the Azores Islands of Graciosa, Pico, Sao Miguel, Terceira, Flores and Faial. These routes are operated by Atlanticoline, providing one to three crossings each week with varying journey times, depending on your island of departure.
The trip itself went relatively well. However, there were some problems with functioning of the website and for a week we could not buy the tickets because the website was not active (in May). I strongly recommend reminding/explaining foreign tourists the car license issues. While buying the ticket online for some reasons there was no option for "car registration/licence no. is unavailable at the moment" or something like this in the beginning of purchasing process. Then it appeared. When we came in a rented car to get the tickets in Madalena, the staff member at the ticket office did not ask us for the car registration number, so we went to the ferry and got to Horta with no car registration number on the tickets but, going back we experienced a big stress, when almost 5 minutes to the departure of the ferry we were told that our tickets are not valid for this car, though we had come without any problems to Horta already. Your staff at the ticket office should be careful. But generally we found this way of moving to Horta and back to Madalena very good.Read More Read Less
"Booking Atlanticoline with Direct Ferries"
Booking with Direct Ferries resulted in major issues which we have had to rectify while on holiday. The Direct Ferries website failed to include a car on the selected ferry crossing. When I contacted Direct Ferries to request that a car be included, I was informed that they would address this within the next 24 hours. I did not hear from Direct Ferries until one week later, shortly before our departure for the Azores, to inform me, as I was already aware, that a car was not included in the booking 2. When I attempted to rearrange the booking, once on the Azores, it transpired that Direct Ferried, despite confirming the booking for the 7th August, had in fact booked the outgoing journey for the 22nd July. Since this date had now passed I had to forfeit the cost of this booking and rebook for the correct date. I was fortunate to be able to include a vehicle in this booking but had to rearrange to a 7.30am crossing which was far from convenient. I will be raising these issues with Direct Ferries on my return to the UK. My advice to other travellers in the Azores would be to book directly with Atlanticoline who proved to be very efficient and helpful while trying to rectify the problems, and on our first crossing the service was excellentRead More Read Less
departure right on time and quick checkinn. that is something your rarely see when travelling by plane. pleasant and beautifull trip sitting on deck with a Nice sunshine seeing all the islands by. What more can jou wish. Only thing to improve is the lunch and diner. Food is good but it is serves in a short periode so the line up is long. Sometimes to long. Why not a buffet??Read More Read Less
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