The top 10 things to do in Sal on your Cape Verde holidays
A question we see come up, again and again, is about what to do in Cape Verde and in particular in Sal which is the most popular tourist destination in Cape Verde. There’s not a huge amount of information out there on this topic so we thought we’d give you a little idea of what to expect from your Cape Verde holidays to Sal.
The thing is, the Cape Verde islands are small and there’s actually not a great deal going on there, but that’s part of the charm. The Cape Verde islands are very laid back and mass tourism has not yet taken hold. There is very little development so you get to enjoy miles and miles of unspoiled sandy white beaches (with the odd dog tagging along for the ride) and the warmth of the Cape Verdean smiles.
This is not to say that there is nothing to do there. We had a fabulously relaxing time without the pressure to go and do too much and yet still managed to do enough to keep the whole family entertained for a week. If you don’t know much about Cape Verde itself, here’s some quick good-to-know background information before we get on to what to do in Cape Verde.
Where is Cape Verde?
Cape Verde (or Cabo Verde as it is officially called) lies about 600 km off the coast of Senegal in Africa. There are 10 Cape Verde islands and they vary in size and topography. The most popular holidays to Cape Verde are to Sal and Boa Vista. They are the best islands for beautiful white sandy beaches and there are a whole host of Cape Verde all inclusive holidays on the TUI and First Choice websites. Note that at the time of writing, there were no Jet2 holidays to Cape Verde.
Best time to visit Cape Verde
The best time to visit Cape Verde is between November to June, although it is a great year-round destination as temperatures rarely drop below the mid-20s. The weather is best between these times but if you have always wanted to see baby turtles, the best time is between July and October.
Cape Verde Weather
The big draw for us travelling from the UK is the weather in Cape Verde. It is almost guaranteed year-round sunshine and temperatures in the mid-to-high-20s. There’s very little rain which is why the islands are so arid. The only thing about these islands is that they can get a little windy. This is great news if you’re a kite surfer or a windsurfer.
Flights to Cape Verde
The Cape Verde flight time from UK airports is around six hours for a direct flight. There is a 1 hour time difference between UK and Cape Verde, with Cape Verde being behind the UK. This makes it a great destination to travel to, especially as a family because you don’t need to worry about jetlag.
You can get direct Cape Verde flights from the UK to Sal and Boa with Tui or Air Portugal. Tui operates flights for their package holidays but they do have a few seats available to sell on a non-package holiday basis. They must have been trying to fill up the plane when we went in December because we managed to get very cheap flights to Cape Verde with Tui. If you can be flexible, it’s worth checking the month view on Skyscanner for the cheapest days to fly.
Cape Verde Visa
If you are travelling on a UK passport, you no longer need a visa to travel to Cape Verde if you’re staying for less than 30 days. In place of a visa is an Airport security tax of CVE 3400 (about £26) which can be applied for in advance of your travels. If you’ve booked to go to Cape Verde last minute, you can pay this at the airport on arrival. If you’ve booked a Tui or First choice holiday to Cape Verde, this will be included in the price of your holiday, but you will need to provide passport details before you travel.
Always check the UK Gov website for Cape Verde visa requirements in case of any change.
Things to do in Cape Verde
The main thing to do in Sal is to relax. But that’s not to say there aren’t things to do if you want to get out and about and explore. Tours are run by the main hotels and small local tour operators, or you can hire a car and explore the island yourself. Sal is pretty small so you can hire a car and see most of it in one day. See our tips on car rental at the end of our post.
1. Pedra de Lume Salt mines
Salt is Sal in Portuguese and Sal gets its name from its salt mining industry. These days the salt industry is not as big, but Pedra de Lume is now a big tourist attraction where you can go and have a floating experience in the salty water. Having visited the Dead Sea in Jordan on our 10 day Jordan trip, we opted not to swim here. The high salt content of the Dead Sea was too harsh for the kids’ skin in so we just enjoyed walking around the salt pans. Entry to Pedra de Lume is €5. Don’t forget to bring your swim stuff and a towel if you want to try it. There are shower facilities you can use for €1 to wash the salt off afterwards.
2. Wading with baby lemon sharks
Shark Bay is only about 2 km down the east coast of the island from Pedra de Lume. Bring some water shoes as you have to wade out and it’s very rocky. If you don’t have them, you can rent them from a little shack on the water’s edge – although if you’re there early on your own tour, it may not be open. The water is shallow enough for kids over 4 to wade in, but you may want to carry little ones. The sharks are quite camouflaged against the rocks but you occasionally see a fin cutting through the water. The kids were so excited to see this
3. Visit the Blue Eye (Buracona) in Sal
Buracona (Blue Eye) is one of the top attractions in Sal. It’s a natural pool which is formed by the ocean filling up the hole created by the volcanic lava. When the sun shines down on it, you’ll see a spectacular turquoise colour. You can swim in the natural pools next to the blue eye but on windy days, this can be dangerous. There is a charge of €3 to visit.
4. Watching baby turtles being released
Head to the Hotel Riu Palace Cabo Verde on Ponta Preta beach on the west coast just a little up from Santa Maria and you’ll find the Project Biodiversity’s Turtle Hatchery. If you’re there in the right season, you’ll be able to learn about Loggerhead sea turtle conservation and watch the baby turtles being released into the sea. July to October are meant to be the best months to go, but we were lucky enough to see them in December. There may be small crowds and you will have to stand behind ropes to watch, but this is all for the protection of the turtles.
Volunteers working for the project will give a talk before the release and bring round a bucket with the baby turtles for a close up look. Seeing the baby turtles make it to the water to start their journey is the most magical thing.
5. Dune of Sal
Right next to the Riu hotel where you can watch the turtles being released is the Dune of Sal, the largest sand dune on the island. It’s perfect for letting kids burn off a bit of energy! Sunset is a lovely time to visit, which works perfectly with the time of your visit to see the turtles which should be just before sunset.
6. Kite surfing or windsurfing
Kite surfing and windsurfing are huge in Sal, mainly because of the perfect wind conditions coupled with the warm air and sea temperatures. These sports are more prevalent on the east coast of the island, but there were also people surfing off the Santa Maria beach. Whilst we didn’t join in, it was fun to stop by and watch them.
7. Snorkelling at Mudeira
Mudeira is a lovely spot to stop off on your tour of the island for some snorkelling. There’s a lot of sealife to see here and it is completely uncrowded. When we went, there wasn’t another person on the beach. If you’ve had enough of the beach, you can pop into the Mudeira Village Resort which sits right on the beach. We popped in for some lunch and were able to use the pool area as a paying guest.
8. Watch the fishermen unload their catch at Santa Maria pier
One of the main industries of the island is fishing. You can go along to the pier to watch the fishermen coming in with their catch and local restaurants buying the catch of the day and wheeling it off in a wheelbarrow back to the restaurant. It’s as busy as things get in Sal. Unsurprisingly, tuna is big on the menus in Cape Verde in every form possible and it’s the freshest tuna we’ve ever had!
After all the excitement, chill out on Santa Maria beach, the best and most popular beach on the island. Despite it being popular, you’ll still find a spot to relax.
9. Saturday night in Santa Maria
If you’re in Santa Maria on a Saturday night, head out and about and enjoy a Cape Verdean night on the town. The town comes alive with everyone wandering the streets enjoying the vibrant creole music and dancing.
10. Eating Gelato at Giramondo in Santa Maria
This is a thing, believe us! After you’ve had a meal in one of the lovely (and super cheap) restaurants in Santa Maria, skip your dessert and head to Giramondo for gelato. We’d almost go as far as saying the gelato was as good as anything you can find in Italy.
Cape Verde Hotels
Cape Verde All Inclusive
There are a number of all inclusive Cape Verde resorts to choose from and this seems to be what most people do. They’re mainly located in the South and West of the island on the sandy beaches. If you want to book a package holiday staying in an all inclusive hotel, then check the Tui and First Choice links above.
If you’re used to travelling more independently, then there are plenty of small apartments and hotels to choose from. Accommodation in Sal is very cheap (as is eating out), so you can have very cheap holidays to Cape Verde.
Other Cape Verde accommodation
We mixed up our accommodation in true flashpacking style staying half the week in a cheap self-catering apartment in the Porto Antigo 1 complex in Santa Maria. The location of the Porto Antigo apartment couldn’t have been better. It’s right in the centre of Santa Maria within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. At the same time, it’s right on the beach with a pool and direct access to the beach within the old walled harbour. The walls were perfect for protecting little ones from the sometimes large waves.
The other half of the week we stayed in the Hilton. It is one of the newer hotels in Sal and is a great option for a 5-star hotel. It was a little way out of Santa Maria but was right on the beach and had its own watersports centre. There’s a lovely big pool area in the centre of the hotel and a pool bar and restaurant serving great snack food. We stayed on a Bed & Breakfast rate and while the breakfast was absolutely delicious, the meals at the hotel were not cheap. Luckily there was an amazing Italian restaurant a short stroll from the hotel for the nights we didn’t want to take a taxi into town.
If you’re not taken by either of these options, there are plenty of options on Booking.com if you want to travel independently to the big tour operators.
Car rental in Cape Verde
Renting a car in Cape Verde is a great way to explore the island. The roads are easy to navigate and there’s never much traffic on them. You can easily drive around the whole island in a day, stopping off at the various sites we’ve mentioned above. If you’re travelling with kids, there are little to no car seats available. It’s best to take your own. The standard of the cars available to rent may also not be as you would normally expect. The seatbelts in the first car didn’t work so we asked to change it. The second car was just fine.
The usual big car hire companies don’t operate in Sal so you’ll be dealing with a small, local firm. You can book through the TUI car rental booking site.
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