What to do on the beautiful island of Sal (Cape Verde)
The Cape Verde islands, or Cabo Verde (as they’re locally known) truly earn their nickname with the glorious weather, vibrant Creole culture and snow-white beaches of Sal. Throw in a short flight time from Europe, and it’s a no-brainer why the island’s becoming one of the hottest destinations for Britain and Scandinavian people. Here’s what to do on the beautiful island of Sal.
Santa Maria beach
Sal is home to some of the best beaches in Cape Verde, and Santa Maria is where you’ll find clean white sands stretching off to the horizon in either direction. There are good snorkelling opportunities offshore and a turtle hatchery near the Riu Funana hotel, where you can see the impossibly cute hatchlings make for the waves in the evenings during November-December. Despite its increasing popularity with holidaymakers, the 8km beach itself remains relatively unspoiled.
The trade winds blow steadily from November to June, making Sal an ideal destination for surfing of all kinds. In particular, you’ll find the place crawling with windsurfers and kiteboarders in January and February, all keen to make the most of the winter breeze. Punto Preto is one of the main breaks, perfect for riding if you’re experienced, and gazing out onto if you’re more confident on the sand. On Kite Beach, east of Santa Maria, is where to head to see expert kitesurfers cartwheeling over the waves
Sal island has some fantastic underwater caves to explore, as well as unbelievably clear reefs. About five kilometres to the north of Palmeira port is Olho Azul, a water inlet that you can peer into and witness an iridescent ‘Blue Eye’ of seawater gazing back at you.
Salt sea in Pedra Lume
The town of Pedra Lume’s main claim to fame is a volcanic crater filled with what’s known as the ‘salt sea’. Sal means ‘salt’ in Portuguese, and the island was an important source of this precious mineral during colonial times. Nowadays, the salt sea is the perfect spot for a relaxing float, the warm pools are saltier than the Dead Sea, so it’s practically impossible to sink.
Botanical gardens of Sal island
Considering that the interior of Sal is mostly desert, it’s quite a surprise to run across the oasis of green that is the Viveiro Botanical Garden. A pleasant stroll among the palms, surrounded by bright yellow hibiscus and fragrant oleander flowers, makes for a very different experience from careening across the desert on a quad bike – and they’ve even got a tiny zoo complete with donkeys, goats, rabbits, ducks and peacocks.
Funana Casa da Cultura
This is a restaurant, museum, bar hybrid on Santa Maria. If this calm beach holiday has been lacking in nightlife for you, this is where it’s at. Every weekend, and on their Thursday club night, Casa de Cultura hosts evenings of dance typical of Cape Verde, which typically descend into all other types of dance after a few of their heady Caipirinhas. The museum is also worth a look in if you happen to be stopping by for a seafood lunch.
Ilheu Rabo de Junco
This protected islet is opposite Cape Verde, and only 253 metres in length. This is an underwater volcano, which means it’s a great dive site too. If you’re climbing up Monte Leao, you’ll get a great view of Rabo de Junco. Catch a glimpse on your sailing trip, or ask to bypass it if you’re taking a quad bike tour of the island.
Cape Verde is made up of ten islands of varying size, and they differ remarkably in terms of size and geography, so it’s worth saving a day for island-hopping. Whereas Sal is largely flat, Fogo has a volcanic peak rising to more than 2.800 metres, and the spectacular island of Santo Antão is strewn with beautiful canyons and tropical plants. Meanwhile, the beautiful Bay of Faja D’Agua on nearby Brava island provides a green contrast to the red sands of Sal. São Vicente is the place to experience the national music, morna, the Cape Verdean version of the blues, which owes much to the islands’ sad history as part of the slave trade. The distinctive sounds of strings and famous voices like Cesária Évora spill out of cafes and bars across the city of Mindelo, sit and listen over a drink at Bar Lisboa, on Rue de Libertad d’Africa.