On a clear bright day, it is possible to view Santa Maria from southern cities in São Miguel.
One main distinction between Santa Maria and the closest neighbor, São Miguel, are the white and yellow sand beaches (in Sao Miguel and the other islands, the beaches take on a dark, near black, hue). A reason may be the lack of active volcanic behavior on the island. It is the oldest island in the group, geologically.
Like other islands, cliffs frame much of Santa Maria. There are few major cities to visit and much of the area is composed of natural ecosystems, many which are protected today. Walking and hiking are popular pastimes, like the other islands in the Azores, and hiking allows visitors to see some of the protected ecosystems that are otherwise difficult to visit.
One thing you may notice missing from Santa Maria is the abundance of cattle. The other islands rely heavily on their cattle farming, but Santa Maria is the outlier. It is heavily influenced by the maritime industry, however, like the other islands.
As one of the smaller islands, it is also one of the least populated. That fact may help keep each town more picturesque and less urbanized than others from the larger islands. You can also avoid much of the summertime crowds who do head to the Azores, many which prefer the larger Sao Miguel and Terceira islands. And while travel costs through the Azores are fairly inexpensive (especially compared to more popular summertime hotspots), it is likely to find greater restaurant and activity deals throughout the smaller islands.
And no trip to Santa Maria is complete without visiting its Praia Formosa, known as the “beautiful beach". In order to reach this jewel, you must first meander along paths through the cliff-sides. The beautiful blue hue and calm waters make this cozy spot a safe heaven. As with other parts of the Azores, it's incredible that more people don't know about Praia Formosa, as it's a pure natural beauty.