Sal is the most touristic island of the Cape Verde Islands. It is a small island of about 200 square kilometers. The landscape of Sal consists of dry desert-like plains, a few hills, some trees and some dry bushes. It is certainly a lovely island to enjoy a few days of sun, sea and beach. But there is also plenty to do and see. What are the best things to do on Sal?
What to do on the island of Sal on the Cape Verde Islands!
The island of Sal
Sal was discovered in the 15th century by Portuguese explorers and because the Portuguese found out that there was a lot of salt on the island, it was named Sal. Sal literally means translated salt. The island is 30 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide. There are about 25,000 inhabitants living on Sal. On Sal there is an international airport: the Aeroporto International Amilcar Cabral and therefore many tourists who go to Cape Verde arrive on this island. Sal is also an excellent starting point to go island hopping and discover the other great islands. From Sal you can fly domestic flights to the other islands and there are also several ferries to reach the other islands.
The island of Sal is mainly very flat with little vegetation (every now and then you see a few arid bushes and trees), there is a lot of desert sand and there are only a few hills. Sal has a lovely tropical climate with an average temperature of 26 degrees. The sandy beaches are white and vast and the sea always turns azure blue. This makes the island perfect as a sun, surf and diving destination! The average rainfall is only six days a year. The main sources of income of the island are tourism, salt extraction and fishing.
Sal is a small island and the sights on this island can be seen in one day.
14x what to do on the island of Sal, Cape Verde Islands
1. The seaside resort of Santa Maria
The cozy Santa Maria is a nice seaside resort in the south of the island of Sal. Most tourists stay here because almost all hotels on the island are in or near Santa Maria. Santa Maria has beautiful long sandy beaches (8 km in total) and an azure blue sea. Because of the waves it is a great place to surf and therefore there are several (kite) surfing schools where you can take lessons at all levels.
The center is very touristy and has a long main street, but it is attractive because of the colored houses, the nice bars, the fine restaurants and coffee bars, the small shops and the souvenir stalls. In the evening, the main street and the surrounding streets are the place to be if you want to go out on Sal. From about ten o’clock in the evening you can hear the atmospheric live music coming from the various bars!
If you have booked a hotel without a swimming pool or if you do not want to go swimming in the sea, then the swimming pool at the Odjo d’Agua Hotel is very nice! You pay € 8,- per person to be allowed to swim here for a day and € 4,- per person for a lounger. This pool is a true Instagram worthy infinity pool! I think it is the only one on the whole island. It is also certainly nice to walk to the pier once in the morning and see how all the local fishermen are busy cleaning and selling the fish they caught that day.
2. The fishing village of Palmeira
The village of Palmeira is not so touristy, but certainly worth a visit when you are at Sal. It is a small and authentic village where all the houses are painted in a different colour. It seems that they have made agreements about which color your house can be painted in, because the cheerful colors form a beautiful whole together. You can also admire great street art! Take a leisurely stroll through the village and I’m sure you’ll have your eyes peeled! Be sure to take a seat on a small terrace and let the local Cape Verdean life pass you by. Delicious! The harbour is also a nice place to take a look and stare at the many fishing boats that come back with freshly caught fish.
3. The capital Espargos
Fairly central on the island of Sal is the capital Espargos, close to the international airport. Espargos looks like a small, old and a bit dilapidated city. Here you will find just a little more shops and supermarkets, because this is the economic centre of the island. But to be honest, there is not much to do here and it is mainly the place where many of the locals live. Many of these people work in tourism in and around Santa Maria and therefore it is quite extinct during the day. It is nice to drive to the viewpoint on the hill above the city where the telecommunication tower is located. From here you have a great view over the island of Sal!
4. Shark spotting at Shark Bay
In the east of the island is Shark Bay and here you can see sharks swimming in the sea in real life! From the coast you walk about 50 meters into the sea and then you see them swimming just a few meters away. It depends on the current (low or high tide) for a while, but I’m told you always see a number of sharks! I thought it was special to see these not dangerous lemon sharks up close. In total I have seen about ten sharks swimming at only a few meters distance. To be able to walk into the sea you need special water shoes. So take these with you or rent them on the spot for one euro.
5. Admire Buracona: the blue eye of Sal
This is the famous attraction of the island and Buracona is located on the north-western coast of the island. The blue eye is actually just a big hole in a rugged rock. But when the sun is at the right point, the water in the rock turns a beautiful clear blue. Definitely nice to see! The best time to see this is between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, because then the sun is in the best place. I was there in March around 12:30 pm and this was good timing. I am told that in the winter months it is less impressive, because the sun is not quite in the right place. Even when it is cloudy you don’t see much of it. The entrance fee is three euros and keep in mind that it can be crowded and you have to wait in line.
6. Pedra Luma: floating sweet mines
You certainly don’t have to go to the Dead Sea if you want to float on salt water, because that’s also possible on Sal. Because of the high salt concentration of 25 times saltier than normal seawater, you can float in the old salt mines. These salt mines have not been in use for years and they have made them a tourist attraction. How nice is that! It is a very nice complex and they also have showers to rinse you afterwards. The entrance fee is 5 euros.
7. Terra Boa: Fata Morgana
Terra Boa (=God Earth) is the Fata Morgana on the island of Sal. In the middle of the desert you can see some trees and in the distance you can see a mirage of a true Fata Morgana. Well, that’s all there is to it, but it certainly seems to be. For me the first time I saw something like that and that’s why I certainly liked to visit!
8. Murdeira view
It is one of the best places on the island to go snorkelling. This bay is in a great place and here you have a great view of the rock you can see in the distance. This rock is nicknamed the Lion. The coastline is beautiful to see and there are a number of (luxury) holiday apartments.
9. Viveiro botanical gardens
Just outside the centre of Santa Maria are the Viveiro botanical gardens. I had no expectations, because the island is so dry and arid. But these gardens are certainly a cool exception. Years ago an Italian lady decided to build these gardens. It is beautifully landscaped and full of trees and plants and you’ll even find some goats, donkeys, horses and turtles. The peace and quiet and the scents are wonderful! There is also a small bar with a terrace in the botanical garden where you can relax with a smoothie.
10. Kite beach
For kitesurfing enthusiasts, kite beach is the place to visit. Here are even regularly held the world kite surfing championships. There is a nice beach bar and the air colours cheerfully through all the different kites you are busy with. Very nice to look at or of course to participate!
11. Beaches on Sal
There are several beaches at Sal. Santa Maria beach is very beautiful. But also the Bikini Beach a little further away is a must. Are you there, then also visit the Bikini beach club! From the outside not so very beautiful, but inside you really feel like you’re on Ibiza or something. It is luxurious, with a swimming pool and regularly there are great parties. The drink is very expensive, so take a big wallet with you or keep your head down. Ponta Preta is a beautiful beach with a restaurant with lounge facilities. You walk in about an hour from Santa Maria to this beach which is especially popular among surfers. Ponta de Pareda is a beach with rock pools. Costa da Fragata is located north of Santa Maria and is especially popular with kite-surfers. Baia de Murdeira is located near Espargos and has a few restaurants.
12. Sailing on Sal
One of the best things I’ve done at Sal is to go sailing for a day. I have arranged that through the organization Always Sailing and this is highly recommended! You can arrange this directly through them or through the Dutch travel agency to Cape Verde Islands. It’s great to be on the water for half a day or a full day and to have a breath of fresh air! The owner of the luxury sailing boat is Eugenio and he is a charming and cozy captain who, together with the crew, will pamper you completely. The care on the boat is perfect…. Unlimited drinks, yes also the alcoholic drinks, and also a nice lunch and champagne is included. We stopped several times in beautiful places to go snorkeling (including at the Christ statue which is under water) and to go fishing. Sal is certainly a beautiful island seen from the water. A whole day of sailing costs €99,- per person.
13. Shops, restaurants and bars on Sal
In Santa Maria there are plenty of shops and restaurants to be found. These can all be found in and around the main street of Santa Maria and you can’t miss this street. You will see many boutiques with nice clothes and also some souvenir shops. Restaurants in abundance and plenty of choice for lovers of local food, but also plenty of opportunities to enjoy Western cuisine. I think the Italian restaurant in the main street is highly recommended! But also the Ocean Club is a great place to enjoy a snack and a drink. The Beach Bar on the beach is the ultimate place to enjoy with your feet in the sand. There are also a lot of places where they sell great ice cream.
14. Massages at Sal
I love to have a massage during my holiday and that’s what I did on the island of Sal. I went to any local masseur somewhere on the street. There are a handful of massage parlours in the main street of Santa Maria. For a massage of one hour you pay in a local massage salon about 25 euros. I also went to a luxury massage salon in the Melia Tortuga hotel. This was a great massage in a nice setting, but I paid 65 euro for a massage of 50 minutes. But the massage was so wonderful!
How do you get to Sal?
If you have booked a trip through a tour operator, someone will be waiting at the airport with a bus that will take you to the right hotel. If you have organized your own trip, it is useful to take a taxi from the airport. The ride to Santa Maria takes about 20 minutes and costs 25,-. Taxis on the Cape Verde Islands are not very expensive but certainly not cheap either.
Excursions on the island of Sal
There are several places on the island where you can book excursions. It is also fun to spend a day exploring the island by yourself, for example by renting a bicycle or quad. The main roads are fine, but the other roads are unpaved and consist of many bumps and sand. So keep that in mind! Renting a bike costs €25,- per person per day and renting a quad costs person €75,- per day.
Tip accommodation Sal
Especially around the center of Santa Maria you will find numerous large All Inclusive resorts where you can stay based on All Inclusive, among other things. These resorts are very large and are located outside the center of Santa Maria, so there is not much to do within walking distance.
I have chosen not to stay in an All Inclusive resort, but in a small apartment complex: Villa ao Mar. This is a wonderful place! The apartment is located directly on the beach, so you are within a few meters on the beach. It is located in a quiet place, yet in the middle of the center and everything you need, is within walking distance. Really everything is present in the apartment, so you can cook for example yourself if you want. Beds are lovely and the shower is also nice. The owners are friendly and helpful people. The balcony is super large and there are fine sun loungers available!
- Look here for prices and availability of Villa ao Mar.
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