The White Sand Beaches of Santa Maria Island in the Azores
The island of Santa Maria was the first island in the Azores to be discovered and colonized and located in the archipelago’s southernmost region. Santa Maria has a lot of history that dates back to the initial ‘Age of Discovery’ in Europe. It is a critical strategic island in the North-Atlantic and the last land many discover saw before embarking for the new world. A population of just over 5,500, which is divided into five parish communities, this is a tiny and quaint island where natural beauty is the primary source of revenue for this white sand utopia. The beaches are not the typical small stone beaches you would generally find on the Azores’ other eight islands. The beaches of Santa Maria are white sand beaches. Due to its low profile, the island is unique in the archipelago, less influenced by humidity and more of a Mediterranean climate. In the summer, it is generally dry and warm. It is milder with less precipitation in the winter than the other islands, with median temperatures averaging between 14 °C and 22 °C in the winter months. The region’s diverse flora and fauna have created 13 Nature protected areas on the island with the government making the “Parque Natural da Ilha de Santa Maria” in 2008, which now encompass 13 protected areas into one park, which is open for the public to enjoy. Host to the Azores Islands’ largest music festival is the “International Music Festival” which takes place every August at Praia Formosa on Santa Maria island. This fun and diverse festival seems to only get better every year with tourism and talent. The recent deregulation of the Azores’ airspace has allowed various other competitors to join the air travel market and offer discount airfares while opening new routes to this island. The event draws close to 5 thousand people from all over the globe and has a wide variety of national talent and artists from all over, including France, Morocco, and the United States. The island is also home to one of the most intricate local car rally race in the Azores, with many drivers coming here to better understand the roads before the larger events that are held primarily on Sao Miguel and Madeira islands. The island of Santa Maria is just a short 25-minute flight from the island of Sao Miguel. It can be enjoyed for as little as 40 euros round trip per person with flights on Azores Airlines, the former division of Sata International. There are some very friendly small hotels and bed and breakfasts in beautiful homes that are sure to bring you comfort and relaxation on your holiday. Unlike the islands of Sao Miguel and Terceira that are known for their nightlife, festivals, and large celebrations, the island of Santa Maria is more of the ‘peaceful sister’ of the islands being the place to go and relax, enjoy the climate and explore some of the historical landmarks that exist here. After discovering the new world, most people are unaware that Christopher Columbus arrived here first before making his way back to Spain to announce his discovery. It was here, the first European soil he and his crewmates touched after their long journey, where they held a mass in honor of their discovery and proceeded on his three-ship voyage (one of the ships being the Santa Maria) back to Spain where he has lived in history ever since. Many landmarks such as the church where he held mass still stand today and are just one of the many places to come and explore in this small island oasis. Getting there: There are no direct flights to the island of Santa Maria from the USA, Canada, or Mainland Europe except for from Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel, Azores. So if you are visiting from abroad, you will most likely fly into Ponta Delgada or Terceira and fly direct via Sata Air Acores to Santa Maria. Although direct flights exist between the Azores islands, the main take-off location for Santa Maria is from Sao Miguel island. The Azores ferry service also offers travel by car and foot between the islands in the summer months.