Grande Rota de Santa Maria: The Azores' finest hike

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Grande Rota de Santa Maria: The Azores' finest hike
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Hut-to-hut trekking on the Azores? The Alps or the Pyrenees spring to most people’s minds when it comes to staying in mountain huts on a long-distance hike. The Azores are not well-known as a hiking destination. And even those who do know may not have heard of the Atlantic’s best kept secret when it comes to hiking: the Grande Rota de Santa Maria. The island of Santa Maria is the soul of the Azores and encapsulates everything that is great about this remote archipelago. Think balmy temperatures, evergreen forests, steep sea cliffs, sleepy villages and of course a volcano. This epic 5-day hiking route on Santa Maria has it all.

The best way to explore Santa Maria is on foot. Thanks to its modest size you can circumnavigate the entire island in 5 days. And the great thing is, you can leave your tent at home. After each stage you can check in one of the cozy shelters scattered along the route. The Grande Rota de Santa Maria must be one of the most diverse trekking routes in the Atlantic Ocean. You’re never far from the dramatic coastline, with rugged windswept cliffs and both black and white sand beaches. And at the heart of the island you can climb the island’s highest peak, Pico Alto. Vamos lá!

Santa Maria, a Tiny Island With a Big Hike

Santa Maria is one of the nine islands of the Azores archipelago, and is located roughly 75 km south of Azores’ main island São Miguel. Though separated by Atlantic waters for more than a 1000 km, it is part of Portugal’s territory. Santa Maria is tiny! It only covers less than 100 square kilometers (about the size of the Dutch city of Utrecht). Despite that, Santa Maria is the home of the Azores’ only long-distance hiking route: the Grande Rota de Santa Maria.

The hike starts and ends in Vila do Porto, the island’s principal town. The route winds along the rugged coastline, passing small villages and agricultural fields. Each night you can sleep in one of the beautifully converted barns, which are located in strategic and very scenic places. But don’t be fooled by the modest size and elevation of the island. The average distance is nearly 15 km and the trail has some steep sections, especially the descents and ascents on the coastline.

Santa Maria, a Tiny Island With a Big Hike

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When is the best time to do the Grande Rota de Santa Maria?

Although you can go hiking in the Azores year-round, the best time to go is from mid-June to September. The shoulder season, Spring and Autumn is still very pleasant though it rains more. Winter time is the low season. It can be very windy and it’s obviously colder but this adds to the sense of remoteness.

How do I travel to Santa Maria in the Azores?

For such a remote island, Santa Maria is surprisingly easy to travel to. The local airline Azores Airlines flies twice a week from Portugal’s capital city Lisbon. There are daily flights from São Miguel, making it possible to reach the island from both the United States and Europe each day of the week. There is a ferry between São Miguel and Santa Maria. In summer it runs up to four times a week and takes about three hours.

How do I travel to Santa Maria in the Azores?

The Cosy Shelters on the Grande Rota de Santa Maria

One of the unique things about the Grande Rota de Santa Maria is that you can stay each night in a beautifully converted barn. When we saw these special huts ourselves we got curious and got in touch with the creators of this network of stone shelters, Ioannis and Rita. “It took us more than two years to find land in the right locations” explains Ioannis. “The hiking route was created in 2014, but the shelters came a few years later”. The stone huts are small and can host six people at the time. This keeps the Grande Rota de Santa Maria a small scale hiking destination and offers a counterpart for famous hikes like the Tour du Mont Blanc or the Alta Via 1.

Inside the shelters there’s a cozy common room for dinner, socializing and some sleeping arrangements. Some shelters have a separate bedroom with a double bed. There’s a wood burner to stay warm and an eco-toilet. You can pre-arrange all your delicious meals so there’s no need for cooking. And the shelters are situated in stunning locations, often with views across the Atlantic Ocean. Ioannis' favorite shelter? “The last one, at Baía do Raposo. It has the best views and it is close to a few secluded, black sand beaches”.

The Cosy Shelters on the Grande Rota de Santa Maria

How do I find the way on the Grande Rota de Santa Maria?

The route is way-marked with the typical red and yellow markers with the route number GR01SMA on it. However, we created the route in our favorite trail app Komoot. With this app you can navigate the Grande Rota de Santa Maria very easily.

The Grande Rota de Santa Maria is a spectacular long-distance hiking trail on the island of Santa Maria, in the Azores archipelago. This group of subtropical islands is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is part of Portugal. The most special thing about this trekking route is that every night you sleep in old renovated stone barns, distributed all over the island in splendid locations.

Vila do Porto - Malbusca

Duration: 04:00 h
Distance: 10.4 km
Ascent: 450 m
Descent: 220 m
The trek starts in the “capital” of Santa Maria, Vila do Porto. It’s a stunning day with views of the dramatic coastline and the Atlantic Ocean. Heading east, you quickly reach the first highlight, the Regional Natural Monument of Pedreira do Campo. This sandstone field plays a key role in the geological history of the island and is known for its oceanic fossils that are found here. Halfway through today's stage you pass another interesting feature, the Gruta do Figueiral, a man-made limestone cave. The trail descends briefly to the spectacular shoreline, where you can take a dip in the ocean. After a very satisfying first day you stay in the Malbusca shelter, that looks out across the Atlantic.



Malbusca - Lapa

Duration: 05:30 h
Distance: 13.6 km
Ascent: 620 m
Descent: 610 m
From the hamlet of Malbusca you follow the country road for roughly a kilometer. You then hit the trail that winds its way around the coastline. You pass a wall of basalt columns with a waterfall plunging off it. Via another hamlet, Panasco, you go inland briefly. The route eventually heads towards the southeasterly tip of the island, which has a spectacular view of the lighthouse and the Atlantic. After that, the route descends to the shore and via the Aveiro Waterfall you climb to the second shelter on the trek at Lapa.




Duration: 05:30 h
Distance: 14.3 km
Ascent: 510 m
Descent: 540 m
This stage takes you to the northern shores of Santa Maria. It’s a diverse day, alternating walking through the fields and villages on the east coast. The second half of this stage skims the coastline, passing the pretty coastal village of São Lourenço, surrounded by steep lush cliffs. After a little loop around the northern cape (with a hidden black sand beach) you’ll spend the night in the Norte shelter.



Norte - Baia do Ropaso

Duration: 04:40 h
Distance: 12.2 km
Ascent: 460 m
Descent: 530 m
Although it’s a short stage, you’ll be climbing the highest point on Santa Maria, Pico Alto. It’s located at the heart of the island and is the best spot to oversee most of the Grande Rota de Santa Maria. The normal route follows the small country road to the 588 meter high top. We have chosen a more exciting shortcut via the trail along the eastern ridgeline. Regardless, it's a fabulous hike up. The descent to Baia do Ropaso runs through a wonderful woodland. Once you arrive at the shelter you can go for a stroll to one of the black sand beaches closeby.

Baia do Ropaso

Baia do Ropaso

Baia do Ropaso - Vila do Porto

Duration: 07:00 h
Distance: 20.8 km
Ascent: 270 m
Descent: 420 m
The final day is the biggest walking day in distance. It covers the rather barren western side of the island. After passing the small airport, Vila do Porto is within reach and you completed the longest hike in the Azores!
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Packing List for the Grande Rota de Santa Maria

No matter where you go hiking or for how long, bringing the right equipment is of utmost importance. For your hike, the first thing you need is a good backpack. The size of it will depend on the number of days you will be trekking, the season and the clothes you take with you. If you have luggage transport, the comfort level of your daypack is most important. We have compiled a packing list with a few essential items of clothing you should bring and some extras you might find useful:
  • Essentials

  • Extras

Safety tips for the Grande Rota de Santa Maria

Although this is far from being a trek in the Himalayas, unexpected things can always happen and you might also find obstacles on the hiking trails along the way. The Grande Rota de Santa Maria is safe, the trails are quite straight forward and there is not an extreme difference in altitude. However, for your safety, every hike deserves a level of respect; respect for the terrain, the trails, wildlife and vegetation, local rules and regulations, and above all, your physical capabilities and safety. Therefore, for an unforgettable and safe hiking memory, please keep the following safety recommendations in mind:

  • Know your limits

    Always prepare each stage carefully to use your energy wisely, respect your physical and mental limitations, and avoid taking unnecessary risks. When ascending or descending, if applicable, always use the aids provided, such as handrails and ropes. Is this trek suitable for you? Well, familiarize yourself with the grading system and figure out if this trek matches your capabilities. If you still need professional advice you can always contact experts.

  • Stay on marked trails

    The most important thing is to never leave the marked paths. For easy navigation we work with our trusted partner Komoot, whose interactive maps, also available offline, provide you with the necessary digital means to get from A to B in the Grande Rota de Santa Maria. As a backup, make sure to bring a hiking guide or a paper map with you.

  • Fully equipped

    Make sure you have the necessary gear for the conditions you'll be facing, including appropriate clothing, footwear, and any necessary equipment for the terrain you'll be hiking on. Always wear clothing adapted to the weather of Grande Rota de Santa Maria and protect yourself from cold and wetness or heat and sun. Besides, make sure you carry enough food and water for the duration of your trek. On the way, you might (or might not) be able to buy snacks.

  • Stay reachable

    If you are hiking solo or in small groups it is advisable to inform people back home about your plans, what route you are taking and when you plan to return. Even small incidents can lead to unpleasant emergencies so make sure you are available at all times. Bring a charged phone containing at least the phone numbers of immediate family members, your accommodations en route and the emergency phone numbers operating in the Grande Rota de Santa Maria.

  • Respect for nature

    Do not litter, prevent noise, stay on the marked trails, do not disturb wildlife or grazing animals, and respect protected areas.

Where Can I Book the Grande Rota de Santa Maria?

At you can book the self-guided Grande Rota de Santa Maria and many other treks. We take care of all the details for you, including arranging accommodations, organizing luggage transportation and providing you with relevant information well in advance of your trek. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

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