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Santa Maria
The Azores

Santa Maria Island, Azores
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Santa Maria, Azores Islands


Santa Maria - The Azores. This is our story.

Santa Maria is the oldest, southernmost and third smallest island within the Azorean archipelago. It is an island of contrasts, especially in its landscape. The west is fairly flat, dry and soaked in sunshine and used in the majority for farming. Moving east and central on the island you come to the mountain peak of Pico Alto (587m/1925ft), which descends onto a totally different hilly landscape, which often shrouded in cloud, is rich in vegetation, and offers some quite spectacular scenery, where cliffs rise 100m from the oceans below.

One of the less visited islands Santa Maria offers you a peaceful and refreshing change of pace. Over 2-3 days perhaps use a hire car to take your time and experience the beautiful landscapes, beaches and nature reserve. Read our Santa Maria adventure below.

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Santa Maria Island, Azores
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Santa Maria - The Azores - Our adventurous two day trip.

Santa Maria - The Azores

Two day walking and camping on Santa Maria
Highlights: The scenery, desert and walk through the forest

Santa Maria panorama view


At 6pm, our ferry leaves Ponta Delgada harbor in the direction of Santa Maria, our ninth and last Azorean island. Arriving there four hours later, it is pitch black and raining. The tourist office in Ponta Delgada told us the campsite on the island was open at this late stage of the season, so we jump in a taxi to take us to Baia da Praia.

With my broken Portuguese I find out that our taxi driver is not sure that the campsite is actually open, but his son-in-law is German, so we quickly stop at his place for a chat. He then tells us that he has a small property near the campsite, where he parks his trailer and built an improvised bathroom shed.

Very friendly, he offers us to pitch our tent and use the bathroom there should the campsite not be open. As we find the campsite closed we are incredibly thankful for the hospitality of our taxi driver and his son-in-law.


This morning, we are woken up by the strong sound of waves slapping onto shore, and peaking out of the tent, for the first time in what seems an eternity, we see blue skies and sunshine.

Thankful for our great overnight resting place, we wash, eat and pack up the tent and begin our exploration of Santa Maria.

After a slightly long uphill detour, we double back and continue along the coastal road; passing cows and bulls blocking the road, past milk transporters, and farm houses, until we find the dirt track taking us inland. From here on, it goes steeply uphill, over cobblestone, through puddles and mud holes, and through a wide, green valley. Finally peace and quiet again. After what seemed a hectic pace of Sao Miguel, this is pure relaxation.

A little time later, we get to a forest park where we cook our lunch and have a well-earned rest. A little, fluffy sparrow keeps us company and happily grabs a few breadcrumbs falling from the table.

Our next stop is the highest peak of the island - Pico Alto. The day is sunny, and at the top we get fantastic views, at least towards the east. Pico Alto is the highest peak of a tree-lined ridge, which cuts through Santa Maria from north to south and separates it into halves. Towards the east, the sky is crystal clear and we can see far over the hills, woods and meadows to the coast. In the west, low clouds race by, and only now and then they part enough to allow a view of the landscape. The west of Santa Maria is as flat as a pancake and almost entirely treeless, as everything has been made farmland.

After waiting half an hour in the hope that the views would clear, we start making our long way down the ridge. Just how long it will be, we find out hours later. It takes us three hours to master this track classed as a 1-hour medium difficult hiking trail. The reason is hurricane Gordon. Where the central islands have been lucky, Santa Maria got the full blast. Big, healthy trees lie across our path, ripped out of the earth in one piece, including the roots. santa maria The azores - Survival training

In total, we have to fight our way over, under, through and around 100's of trees and bushes. We slide down hangs and use the walking sticks to clear the path of brambles and rosebushes. Our rucksacks we constantly have to take off to hand it through or over the fallen trees. On many occasions, we have to find a completely new route as the trail has totally disappeared under all the trees. This is more of a trek through the jungle than a relaxing walk through the forest. Sean and I love it - despite reaching the other end of the woods with cuts, scratches, scruffy, muddy and wet and are thankful that the path did not have a closed sign!.

Twilight is setting in by the time we clear the forest but we decide to walk on for as long as possible, before pitching the tent.

Just as darkness descends, we set up camp in a corner of the clay desert, a natural phenomenon of the Azores, only found on Santa Maria. This bit of earth consists of red and yellow sand, which has been transformed into clay with time. Only in the last couple of years plants have started to grow here. The ground feels hard and soft at the same time, but the pegs easily move deep into the earth. This night will be one to remember for me. It is a very weird feeling to camp in the desert, with a starry sky above and a huge, full moon spreading funny light over the whole scene. 'santa maria The azores - Survival training'


During the night, it rained, and the sandy desert changed into fields of mud. The pegs are full of mud, the tent got a red color and with every step we take, big lumps of earth cling to our shoes. In the distance, we see a boy trying to push his bicycle out of the desert, but he ends up carrying it because it is simply stuck. The clay blocks everything.

Leaving the desert behind, we head for the sea, where there is meant to be a pretty bay. Unfortunately, we don't get very far. A group of locals are hunting rabbits and the shots just come that little bit too close, so we turn around half-way. However, we get a nice view and discover the outline of Sao Miguel in the distance.

'santa maria The azores - columbus' Back inland, we notice that we have a lot of time left till we have to be at the ferry. So we hide all unnecessary luggage behind a wall in a field and take a little detour to the village of Anjos, where Christopher Columbus and his crew anchored on the way back from their America discovery. Upon entering the village, we see the statue put up in honor of the sailor. The village itself seems sleepy, and the bay is everything but inviting for a swim. But there is a track leading up the headland, disappearing around the corner. That's something to explore. On the other side, green meadows that meet the sea, stretch as far as we can see. We see a few fishermen and divers but decide that a swim here is too dangerous for us. We just cool our feet in the water. And of course I cannot keep myself from looking for stones and shells; and am lucky. Why I am not allowed to take that beautiful "chicken god"(stone with a hole washed through it by the sea) I don't understand - it's only the size of an ostrich egg...

Doubling back, we pick up our luggage and walk the final few miles back to the harbour, to board the ferry back to Sao Miguel. It was a short visit to Santa Maria, but one that has shown the beauty of the island, the natural forces that sometimes affect it, and the hopsitality of the people who live there.

The Azores - Nine Islands of adventure - Our stories
left button SAO MIGUEL - Adventure abounds left button FAIAL - Island tour by Scooter
left button FLORES - Walking holiday a must left button CORVO - The good old days
left button PICO - Mountain climb left button SAO JORGE - Beautiful walking
left button TERCEIRA - World Heritage site left button GRACIOSA - Remoter than you think
left button SANTA MARIA - A weekend getaway
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