Santa Maria is the most southerly of the Azores archipelago, statistically the warmest, and the only island with sandy beaches, but we're really here to enjoy what the island has to offer beneath the waves.
Put simply, the island's deep ocean location means Santa Maria offers ideal access to what we regard as some of the best dive sites in Europe, with some the best visibility to boot. Santa Maria's proximity to the Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Bank natural reserves means there's a good chance of sightings of big stuff including blue sharks and barracudas. Santa Maria is also the closest island to Baixa do Ambrosio, the best dive site in the Azores for sightings of manta and mobula rays, which can be reached by speedboat in 45 mins. Even better, Baixa do Ambrosio is appropriate for intermediate, and not just advanced, divers.
When you're not experiencing the sensational diving, Santa Maria has some overwater charms as well. The sleepy main town of Vila do Porto (population: around 6,000) is worth a wander, and home to pretty white houses, artisanal coffee shops and restaurants with terracotta roofs. For more adventurous visitors (including, presumably, the dive contingent), there's a plethora of activities available from mountain biking to riding past cascading waterfalls and down to spectacular secret coves. One 'must-do' is a leisurely hike up to Pico Alto; the island's highest point, with stunning vistas of the entire island the reward for your exertions.