Olá from Cape Verde! More precisely from Ilha do Sal (Salt Island). After sailing the Atlantic Ocean for 5 days, my boyfriend and I are happy to find some rest and just disconnect from the world. Sailing is much harder than I expected... and those night shifts just killed me! :)
Sal is supposedly the most touristy destination of Cape Verde and a good start if you're all new in the Capeverdean archipelago. For my part, I can't wait to just check-in in a nice hotel and enjoy beachlife... for some time only! So here they go, my favorite things to do on Sal, Cape Verde.
Geographic situation: Sal island belongs to the barlavento island group, Cape Verde.
Language: Criol and Portuguese. Limited English or French is spoken.
Currency: escudo caboverdiano
How to get to Sal, Cape Verde:
- By airplane to international Sal, Cape Verde airport from major European airports. Check Skyscanner for national flights and island hopping to Boa Vista or São Vicente. From the airport you need to get an aluguer, collective taxi, to Santa Maria.
- Public Transport: "Aluguer", collective taxis are departing from Santa Maria to all major towns on the island.
Even though it might be hard to get around on the other Capeverdean islands, please do visit the periphery islands, don’t stay in Sal or Boa Vista all the time. Every island is very different and has its own charm.
Best Hotels in Sal, Cape Verde
Whereas Palmeira is the capital of Sal Island, Cape Verde, Santa Maria, in the southern part of the island is the main hub. Most hotels, activities, restaurants are located here.
In Santa Maria, you can find hotels and resorts for any budget:
|Budget Hotels in Santa Maria, Cape Verde|
|Hotel Tropical ***|
Mira Bela ***
Budha Beach Hotel ****
|Oasis Belorizonte ****|
|Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort *****|
|Oasis Salinas Sea *****|
For some, Santa Maria beach might seem an artificial tourist hub (which it totally is, since it happens that locals get their water cut off so that tourists can take long, warm showers, on a desert island), thus if you want to get some of the real Cape Verdean atmosphere I recommend either to stay in Palmeira or/and visit other islands such as the green gem Santo Antao, the cultural hot spot of Mindelo in Sao Vicente etc.
Don't mistake Cape Verde for being only about beach holidays & sun, which is the main theme of Sal Island. Cape Verde has a million more things to offer!
1. Visit Palmeira, the capital
By boat, we arrive in Palmeira, home to the main port of Ilha do Sal. With the size of a fishing village, you can easily see the main spots in a few hours. But first, we need to get our visas at the local police station and that's where we realize that Cape Verde goes on a different rhythm.
Here, 5 minutes mean at least 1 hour. For a "quick" coffee, calculate 30-40 min. No wonder that "No Stress" is the unofficial mantra of the archipelago!
Afterwards we'll realize that Palmeira is with Espargos the most authentic city of Sal island. Santa María, in the south, is on the best way to become a tourist stronghold. What I liked best about Palmeira were its colorful house fronts which transmitted an almost Caribbean feeling. Furthermore prices were half as high as in Santa María.
2. Road Trip From Palmeira to Santa Maria
It takes you approx. 40 minutes to get from Palmeira to Santa María. Take the aluguer (a bus with no fixed schedule leaving when it's full) to Espargos (0,50$) and then another one to Santa María (1$).
Indeed it is a fun ride to enjoy the wind breeze in your hair and watch the desert landscape of Santa Maria. We had quite an adventurous feeling.
If you are looking fo things to do in Sal, a road trip by aluguer or a guided tour, is definitely a must.
3. Santa Maria, Cape Verde
Santa María, end station of Sal's main road, is a bubbly and colourful village on the way to become a major tourist destination. Big hotels are in construction and tour operators increase their volumes every season. Prices are high, many times comparable to Northern Europe.
The fantastic sandy beach with turquoise water and its perfect conditions for kitesurfing are its main attraction. Nevertheless you can still see at any corner tracks of the African-Creole atmosphere like at the Mercado Municipal where you can buy local fruits and crafts.
Please visit the tailor from Senegal, a true artist! I couldn't resist to order him a tailor-made dress with cloth from Guinea-Bissau. In a few hours, he tailors you any model from your favorite fashion magazine. Here, tourism can support a local craftsman!
4. Pedra de Lume Salt Mines
Sal's major attraction are, guess what? The Salt Mines! You easily get there by any island tour from Santa Maria (approx. 25€) or by aluguer to Espargos and taxi to Pedra-de-Lume village. This place seems to be a personified ghost town. A place where ships come to die.
The "village" has gone from the richest place on the island to an almost godforsaken spot. A 100 years ago, the salt mines gave the island international fame until they became unprofitable.
Nowadays you visit them for 5€. I loved the sensation of floating in the salty water. Even when you're standing on both feet, you're still not sinking! Its mud will get you a baby skin again and all my skin blemishes just vanished!
For me, the Salinas of Pedra Lume are definitely a must do when visiting Sal.
5. Visit Espargos
In Espargos you'll imbibe the authentic Capeverdean life: take your time for a coffee & popcorn on the main square and watch life passing by. Indeed most locals do not live in Santa Maria, but in Espargos or Palmeira.
The administrative capital has the most important viewpoint of the island: a hill obscured with satellites controlled by the US from which you can oversee the entire island (only 122km²!).
6. Turtle Watching
Did you know that Cape Verde is recognised as the third most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the world?
Between May and October, you'll have the opportunity to assist turtles nesting and laying their eggs, as well as baby turtles hatching and making for the sea.
Book here your turtle watching experience in Sal, Cape Verde
The activity is carried out at night and you should always keep your distance to the turtles. Be a respectful traveller and listen to your guide.
Keep in mind it’s forbidden to go to the hatching areas on your own, but you can go with a guide. Some of the beaches are even closed during the breeding season.
7. Chill at the Beach, Santa Maria
The beach of Santa Maria, southern Sal island, Cape Verde, is one of the main reasons why travellers visit Sal. Indeed the sand is golden and very fine. The turquoise colored water will remind you of the Caribbean. It is just the perfect place to relax.
There are several bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a drink or a meal with a seaview.
Sal boasts a few beaches, but the one at Santa Maria is definitely the most famous and most beautiful one.
8. Try Kitesurfing
The second beach of Sal, also very close to Santa Maria is known as the "Kitebeach". You can either reach it by aluguer (collective taxi) or by walking 20 minutes from the center of Santa Maria.
From far away you'll already spot dozens of colorful kites.
Sal island is a hub for kitesurfers and hosts several championships throughout the year.
You can easily take a kitesurfing lesson at the Kitebeach where you can also rent the equipment.
9. Scuba Diving in Sal
Sal is a great place to go scuba diving, because the waters surrounding the island are home to a vivid underwater life. Whether it will be your first time doing a SCUBA dive or if you are already a half-pro, you'll love the experience.
Some of the animals that you'll see are for example turtles, puffer fish, little sharks... (They don't do anything though!) If you are super lucky, you'll even spot some whales.
Please remember to be respectful when you do a SCUBA immersion. Don't take anything out from the sea, only memories.
Ilha do Sal, mostly composed by desert, will definitely conquer you by its warm-hearted people and colourful stains sprayed all over the island. Basically it got me excited to discover and get to know more of Cape Verde. I can only recommend to visit this laid back part of the archipelago before it becomes fully exploited by mass tourism.
Get here the best selection on activities and tours in Sal, Cape Verde. From Scuba diving, to Desert Adventures and much more...
I loved to approach the street stalls with local fruits or sweets run by African women. You'll never know what they'll hold for you. In November it was high season on papaya and bananas. But also here prices are comparable to North Europe (!) Sometimes they sell delicious sweets with coco nut and brown sugar. Yummy!
We stayed in Ocean Café Suites. Located at Santa María's main square, this hotel counts 6 carefully decorated Suites, named by famous Capeverdean singers.
For more information about tourism on Sal, Cape Verde, I recommend the following webpage: Tourism of Sal, Cape Verde.