Known as the Island of Sun, small and quiet Santa Maria is only slightly over 90 km2 and has a population of just 5,000 inhabitants. Several protected areas have been specifically created for diving and it now hosts an abundance of marine species.
The Bay of São Lourenço on the northeast corner of the island is one of the main attractions, with its crystal-clear waters surrounded by steep slopes covered with vineyards divided by stonewalls. On the southern coast are the white sands and crystalline waters of Formosa Beach. The majestic Maia lighthouse towers at over 100 metres in height above a fantastic swimming area.
One of the most popular of the protected areas is Ambrósio Reef, located only 3 miles from the coast. It is the closest experience to the more remote seamounts that you can get without travelling the long distances by boat. Divers are likely to see dozens of curious devil rays as well as schools of large pelagic fish. Another reason why many divers choose Santa Maria is the fact that the island is frequently visited during the summer by the largest fish in the world, the whale shark. Often surrounded by thousands of tunas, this diving experience cannot be missed.
Should you decide you do want to venture further from the island, Santa Maria is also the closest departure point to two of the most famous offshore dives of the Azores: the Formigas Islets and the Dollabarat Seamount. Located about 20 miles from the southeast tip of the island, these two sites are known for offering waters with the highest visibility in the Azores. Divers regularly encounter large schools of pelagic fish, devil rays, manta rays, sharks and many other species.