The Island of Sal is the main tourist destination accounting for over 50% of all travellers to Cape Verde. They are drawn to the beautiful all year round climate, fantastic beaches and world-class water sports. Sal is certainly the most developed of all the Cape Verdean Islands from the point of view of tourism and caters for all budgets from 5* resort style hotels to small bed & breakfast and residential apartments. Sal is the gateway to the other Islands and therefore acts as an ideal base. Santa Maria which has just now been declared as a city, is situated to the south approximately 20 minutes drive from the airport.
The spectacular chalk white sandy beach is the glittering centrepiece to Santa Maria, the main tourist centre on Sal, and the clear turquoise waters are the main draw. Resort style hotels line the main bay, a haven for water sport enthusiasts. The beauty of the beach is its proximity to the main town, and most amenities and attractions are within a short walk from the beach. Forget big and bustling holiday destinations although this is the main tourist centre it is by no means over crowded and remains unspoilt.
The beach acts like a municipal park, especially in the early morning or late afternoon, where people exercise. See locals perform various acrobatics and also practice Copercia, a spectacular Brazilian martial art.
The beach is naturally divided by the pier, which separates the local beach section from the tourist beach section where the resort hotels are situated, the best part of the beach is arguably from the Morabeza hotel to the Farol hotel. The surf break is to the left hand side of the pier and you will find more local people there enjoying the beach especially in the summer months.
The pier is the centre of activity and the main focal point of Santa Maria beach and is a fascinating place to visit especially mid morning. See the local boys fishing and diving off the pier or buy delicious fresh tuna (look to pay around 5 Euro per kg, depending on how plentiful the fish are). Watch people posing for photographs with their prize catch after a deep sea fishing adventure or divers returning from the exploration of one of the many shipwrecks. Go for a late afternoon swim and then sit on the pier with a few drinks and watch the sun go down, blissful…
Santa Maria is divided in to three main areas, the resort and hotel area, the main village and the residential area toward the east of Santa Maria.
These areas cater for all types of holidaymakers from those who prefer all-inclusive and resort style hotels to people who want the convenience of being closer to the town but in the quieter residential area. The beauty of being close to the town is that you get to experience local life, and you may bump in to one of the ex-pats who will give some great tips on how to get the best from your holiday.
Santa Maria is safe and it's great fun to walk around town, day or night, buy local fruit from the banana ladies, visit the local school, take a refreshing drink in one of the beachside bars or stroll along the beach with a delicious Italian Ice Cream.
The street hawks can be a nuisance but can be easily negotiated; the key is to use decisive body and verbal language. Please do not accept any free bracelets or an invitation to visit their market unless you want to. Everyone is free to choose but please barter aggressively to get a fair price and remember these artefacts are African not Cape Verdean. These people tend to be illegal and do not pay taxes. If you want to support the local village and the people, please buy your gifts from the Cape Verdean market in the centre of the town, these products are 100% Cape Verdean and provide an essential income for the local people.
The cheapest way is to use public transport in the form of local vans called Alugers. The departure point is close to the roundabout opposite the BCA bank in Santa Maria. The price is 1 Euro or 100 Escudos from Santa Maria to Espargos, but remember the van needs to be at least three quarters full before they leave and they will keep beeping their horn and calling out their destination until they have enough people to go. Taking the Alugar can be a fun experience, and you may meet up with like minded independent travellers. It's certainly the cheapest way to travel but not the fastest.
It is important to use only licensed taxi drivers. The cars are light blue with a yellow horizontal stripe, and make sure you get the price before you depart. There is an official day and night time price list for journeys, for example from the airport to Santa Maria. Currently This will cost you 10 Euros or (1000 Escudos) during the day and slightly higher at night.
The price from the RIU hotels to the centre of Santa Maria is 3 Euro (300 Escudos) or 4 Euro (400 Escudos) in the evening, you can then base other journey costs on these prices.
Santa Maria comes alive in the evening with bars and restaurants aligning the main street, catering for all tastes from international cuisine to more local dishes, often playing live music. There are also themed nights, check out the home page diary of local events.
I would certainly recommend going on an Island Tour excursion either through a tour operator or you can hire a car. The other alternative is to hire a local tour guide/driver. Look to pay around 50 Euros for the day, or for the adventurous you can hire a quad bike.
Located on the East coast around 30 minutes drive from Santa Maria lies the fascinating salt mines of Pedra De Lume, one of the major tourist attractions of Sal.
The village of Pedra De Lume has suffered from a long period of decline in line with the fortunes of the salt mine, which stopped any exportation in 1985. The main inhabitants of the village were workers and local fisherman. The good news is that there is a genuine attempt to improve the local area through private investment to create a tourist village with numerous leisure facilities.
The village and small harbour is still a ruin and it looks like redevelopment is painfully slow however there is a nice restaurant over looking the small beach called Ca Da Mosto.
In order to get to the salt mine take the walk up past the church, sign posted Las Salinas. The salt mine has now been branded under the umbrella of 'Las Salinas' with new sign posts and investment in infrastructure. As you climb up you can see the wooden structures, part of the tram way system, approximately every 50 metres apart ,ranging from the centre of the crater all the way down to the sea.
The entrance fee is 5 Euro (550 Escudos) and free to children dependant on their height.
Access to the salt mine is through a tunnel, as you exit let your eyes bask in the magnificent spectacle, which leads down to the main salt plains. Down by the plains there is an attractive restaurant called Entreposto with a traditional straw roof. There is a Spa offering numerous different massages and treatments as well as a small souvenir shop all within an open area containing sun lounges, there are also toilets and shower facilities.
The main draw is to swim in the salt mines. The waters are a fascinating colour combination of oranges and pinks, the salt is very dense and contains nutrients beneficial to the skin and you feel incredibly light as you float around. Make sure you protect you feet by wearing flip flops or sandals in the water, you can then walk up to the Spa area and take a shower, relax on the sun lounges and grab a bite to eat.
Located north of Palmeria
Buracona is a natural swimming pool and one of the best diving points on Sal; make sure you visit on a clear sunny day in the late morning. The key is to wait until the sun is directly above the opening and wait for the spectacular light show as the interior of the cave is bathed in blue light
This area is an important local fishing point. There is a project to create a fisherman residence, gift shop and restaurant and additional tourist services.The access to Buracona is through a dirt track road via Palmeria.
This is the main commercial centre of Sal, where you will find the Police Headquarters, hospital, high schools and law courts. Espargos is interesting to walk around and experience local life. Food prices tend to be lower than Santa Maria and , it's good to climb up to the Viewpoint at Miradouro, which gives great panoramic views over Espargos, the airport and Palmeria etc. Espargos can be a connecting point to get to Palmeria or Pedra De Lume (Alugar 2 euro, taxi 350)
There are also some nice restaurants and bars, so if you want a change from Santa Maria and if you want to experience local Cape Verdean life take a trip up to Espargos.
This is very much a commercial port, and acts as a convenient anchor point for fishing boats, and leisure boats, a starting point for some boat trips which take you around to Muirderia and beyond.
Palmeria is a small village with a number of local bars and restaurants, great to sample local fish but the main draw is to see the local fisherman prepare their catch to sell to tourists who visit as part of the Island tour.
The port of Palmeria is undergoing a major extension as part of the government's commitment to improve the islands infrastructure.
Murderia is a white washed sleepy tourist village with a number of attractive villas and apartments. The area is a little isolated at the moment and is 15 minute drive from Santa Maria, so car hire is essential if you want to use Murderia as your holiday base.
Muirderia Bay is attractive with a small man made beach. The bay itself is protected as an important breeding ground for Whales.
- Take an Island Tour and visit Pedra de Lume and Buracona
- Learn to Dive, Surf, Windsurf or Kitesurf in world class conditions.
- Enjoy a spectacular Cape Verdian evening at the Morabeza hotel.
- Take a Night Time turtle excursion depending on season.
- Visit a local school, and donate books, colouring pens, etc
- Visit Santa Maria and sample the local cuisine and listen to live Cape Verdean music.
- Visit the pier in Santa Maria and buy fresh tuna.