In the north-west corner of the island, Pedra de Lume is Sal’s answer to the Dead Sea. These salt mines lie in the heart of a deep crater, looking more like the backdrop of a sci-fi flick than a tourist attraction. The mines have been out of use since the Nineties, but the lakes are still open for business. The water is thick with salt, meaning you can float on the surface without even trying. Simply lie back and look at the sky, as the saltwater gently exfoliates your skin. Our top tip? Instead of using a towel to dry off, let your skin dry naturally in the sunshine, so that the salt’s minerals are absorbed into your skin.
If you’re a wildlife-lover, make sure you visit Sal between June and October. Every year, loads of loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, so it’s highly likely you’ll see adults, babies or both. Non-profit organisation Project Biodiversity has two hatcheries on the island, where biologists and volunteers monitor hundreds of nests. When the turtles hatch, they’re taken to a nearby beach and released onto the sand, so they can make their way to sea. You can see the babies, speak to the volunteers, and find out more about loggerhead turtles. And, if you really fall in love, you can even adopt a nest.
Sal is famous for its watersports. If you want to try something new on the water, book your holiday between November and April for the best waves. For windsurfing, it has to be Angulo Beach. Just along the coast from Santa Maria, this sandy stretch is named after Windsurfing World Champion, Josh Angulo. And did we mention that Angulo Beach Club is owned by the great man himself? You’ll see him out on the waves most days. Hire a board and give it a go – and grab a drink in the bar afterwards.
Kite Beach, meanwhile, is the best spot for – you've guessed it – kitesurfing. Just a five-minute drive across the dunes from Santa Maria, this place has a professional kitesurfing school for beginners and pros alike. As it’s on the west coast of the island, Kite Beach has reliable strong winds, so you’ll take off in no time.
With its brightly-coloured buildings and white-sand beach, Santa Maria looks like a real-life postcard. One of the must-sees is the pier. Every morning, between 10am and noon, the fishermen bring in their catch of the day. But we’re not talking about tiny sardines – we’re talking about big game. You can expect to see wheelbarrows full of huge tuna, silvery swordfish and razor-like marlin. As townsfolk and restaurant-owners barter for their fresh fish, you’ll get a great insight into daily life on Sal. Plus, if you fancy a stroll afterwards, the beach is just below you.
Cape Verdean cuisine is a delicious blend of African, Portuguese and Brazilian flavours. For a traditional taste of Sal, head to a restaurant in Santa Maria and order a steaming plate of cachupa. This hearty casserole is made with beans, lentils, corn and sweet potato, along with either slow-cooked chicken, goat or fish. You could also try another variation, called cachupa frita. Often eaten at breakfast time, this dish features cachupa leftovers from the night before, served with a fried egg on top.
Stretch your purse strings with a spot of shopping in Santa Maria or the capital city of Espargos. You can browse colourful market stalls for authentic souvenirs from Sal, like salt soaps, shell jewellery and carvings of turtles. A lot of the handbags, wallets and scarves are made on the neighbouring island of Santiago, while the wooden souvenirs are imported from mainland Africa.
If you want to take home a taste of Cape Verde, buy a bottle of fiery grogue. Made from sugarcane, this rum-like spirit will certainly blow away the cobwebs. For something a little softer, try ponche, which is made with grogue and honey. This sweet drink comes in all kinds of flavours, including coffee, passion fruit and mint.
Every September, the south of the island is taken over by Santa Maria Beach Festival. Usually on the second weekend of the month, this two-day party features a line-up of Cape Verdean performers, with a handful of international acts thrown in for good measure. As with all evening activities in Sal, the festival starts late and finishes even later, with the music carrying on until eight o’clock in the morning. Pay €10 for a wristband, drink caipirinhas with the locals, and dance on the sand until the sun comes up.
Don’t be put off by the word ‘sharks’ – Sal’s residents are more like Nemo than Jaws. Lemon sharks – named after their yellow colouring – are common in the tropical waters of Cape Verde, but they’re generally very gentle and not considered a threat to people. If you’d like to catch a glimpse of one, take a trip to the west coast, where you’ll find the imaginatively-named Shark’s Bay.
This fishing village is a photographer’s dream, with cobbled streets, palm-lined pavements and hand-painted boats. If you own a house in Palmeira, you can paint it however you like. So, unsurprisingly, the houses are every colour of the rainbow, ranging from pale lilac to burning orange. Look out for the blue building with the large map painted on the side – it shows every island in Cape Verde.
As part of our Grill Thrill excursion, you can learn a Cape Verdean dance, the pasada. This partner dance is a cross between a tango and samba, with plenty of hip wiggles and rhythmic twists. Watch some Cape Verdean dancers to see how it’s done, and then take to the floor yourself. Afterwards, you can unwind by a flaming bonfire in front of the sea, as local musicians play on the beach.
Check out our full-day tour of the island, and book your holiday to Cape Verde.
Author: Sarah Reeves
Melia Dunas Resort on the island of Sal, is a huge, glass-fronted hotel right on the beach. Facilities include adults-only rooms, six restaurants and a thirst-quenching 14 bars.
TUI SENSIMAR Cabo Verde Resort teams an oceanfront setting with designer decor and a first-rate dining selection.
All turrets and towers, the stylish Riu Funana is right by a powder-soft beach. And it's just had a fresh makeover, ready for winter 2016.
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