Santa Maria Portuguese for Saint Mary, is an island located in the eastern group of the Azores archipelago (south of the island of São Miguel) and the southernmost island in the Azores. The island is primarily known for its white sand beaches, distinctive chimneys, and dry warm weather.
The island of Santa Maria is oblong and measures 97.4 square kilometres (37.6 sq mi), extending 12 km (7 mi) from the northwest to southeast, and characterized by two geomorphological regions:
- A dry clay plain lies in the west, occupying two-thirds of the island, with its highest point 277 meters (909 ft) above sea level (near Piquinhos). Due to the impermeability of the soils, this regions is arid with fewer leafy plants or grasses. To the north and south the principal points of colonization occurred (Anjos and Vila do Porto, respectively), and 65% of the current population resides in this region, which includes the parishes of Vila do Porto, São Pedro and Almagreira. Airport lands represent the largest use of the space, as the Santa Maria airport is located along the western coast taking advantage of the plain and lack of natural obstacles. River valleys along the north and south divide many of the communities.
- The eastern one-third of the island is composed of eroded hills and mountains, covered by areas of thick vegetation, pasture lands and river valleys. The tallest points on the island, Pico Alto (590 m), Cavacas (491 m) and Caldeira (481 m) are located in this region, which includes the parishes of Santa Bárbara and Santo Espírito, the more rural and agricultural lands on the island. This is a region of higher levels of humidity, with greater instances of wind, fog and precipitation, resulting in rich vegetation and endemic plant species.