A holiday to Sal is your ticket to ice-white sands, clear blue seas and untouched islands. Factor in a 'no-stress' mantra, and this place will sweep you off your feet in no time.
An unknown island
If you’re not sure where Sal is, you’re not alone. It's one of 10 tiny islands that make up Cape Verde, and as far as tourism is concerned, it’s still early doors for this necklace of rocks in the Atlantic. To give you an idea, they’re two hours south of the Canaries, just off the west coast of Africa. Thanks to their history and location, you’ll find an exotic mix of African and Portuguese cultures on each island. And wherever you head, you’re guaranteed to find untouched beaches – there aren’t many people around here to share them with.
The island of Sal – Cape Verde’s most cosmopolitan – is dotted with little towns like Santa Maria, where the cobbled streets are dotted with surf shops, market stalls and rainbow-painted restaurants. There’s also a square packed with al fresco cafés. The white-sand beach is the big star, though. It stretches for 8 kilometres and ticks off beach bars and sand dunes along the way.
Things to See and Do in Sal
Sands on Sal
If you like your beaches big and your sands pearly white, Sal is bang on the money. It’s part of the Cape Verde Islands, and sits just off the coast of Africa. The coastline is trimmed with wide, sandy beaches, and the trade winds make this a hotspot when it comes to wind and kite surfing.
The big beach
Top billing goes to Santa Maria Beach, a seven-kilometre runway of pristine white sand. There are loads of watersports up for grabs – this is one of the world’s top spots for windsurfing – and you’ve got cafés and restaurants galore in the stretch beside the town. You don’t have to walk far to find a secluded patch either – just head away from the town, towards the dunes.
The secret beach
For sands with a side order of silence, Pedra de Lume Beach is spot on. It’s in a tiny fishing village, so you’ll usually have the sands to yourself. And when you’re done, you can pad over to the Pedro de Lume volcano, where you can float in salt-rich waters and slather yourself in mineral-filled mud.
Bargains like hand-made jewellery and clothes are easy to come by in Santa Maria’s indoor market. It can get quite busy, and bartering for an even better deal is the name of the game – so come expecting a lively atmosphere. You'll find it in the street behind the seafront, between the port and the pier.
Rustic, makeshift shops painted in every colour of the rainbow are what Cape Verde is all about. You’ll come across them in pretty much every town, with people hawking African masks and paintings by local artists. Sal’s Centro de Artesanato is a must-see. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but step in and you’ll find shelves stacked with beaded necklaces, hand-painted vases and ceramic pots.
You won’t find high-end labels hanging in the shops of any Cape Verdean island, however hard you try. That said, the islands are big on surfing, and there are plenty of surf shops where you’ll find beach fashion on offer, along with equipment. There’s a cluster of them in the centre of Santa Maria.
Some of the hotels in these parts really go to town when it comes to evening entertainment, with lively shows, bars worth propping up, and restaurant tables set on the beach. When you fancy heading out, though, the place to be is Santa Maria's beachfront. Go for a wander along here and take your pick of seafood restaurants and beachside bars, where you can sip a cocktail as the sun sets.
For the bars with the most buzz, go to Santa Maria and aim for the street behind the beachfront, just to the west of Porto Antigo. You'll find them pumping out Cape Verde's own style of music, a mix of Portuguese fado and Brazilian beats. There are a few clubs on the island too, around the main square. They're tiny by European standards, but that’s all part of the appeal.
Caldo de Peixe
This traditional soup is packed with the fresh catches of the day – octopus, cod and the like. It’s made by adding the fish to a sizzling broth of tomatoes, onions, peppers and potatoes. It's so hearty you can order it as a main.
This is Cape Verde's national dish and it’s a strong favourite with the locals. Recipes vary from place to place and often depend on what’s in season, but the most common combination is maize, beans, potatoes and marinated pork or tuna.
Bife de Atum
Translated, bife de atum simply means ‘tuna steak’, but it’s served anything but plain. In a nutshell, the fish is marinated in garlic, herbs and spices, sautéed in olive oil and served with cubes of fried polenta.
There aren’t many restaurants in Cape Verde without this dried salted cod on the menu. The locals say there’s a bacalhau recipe for every day of the year. You’re likely to see it casseroled with tomatoes and onions, but be warned – it’s a bit of an acquired taste.
This heady sugar cane brandy is close to the hearts of many locals – an invitation to try a glass isn’t to be turned down. They’ve grown it in the green valleys on Santa Antao island for centuries. It gets its name from 'grog' – a drink that was a one-time favourite of the British Royal Navy. We'll warn you now, it’s 43% proof.
Places To Stay In Sal View all places to stay »
Things To Do View all »