The island of Sal is part of Cape Verde, a group of ten islands off the west coast of Africa. Thanks to its location, Cape Verde is a unique fusion of cultures. The islands were once discovered by the Portuguese and there is a mix of African, Brazilian and Portuguese influences. You will encounter it in the island’s music, in fashion and most clearly in the food. What can you expect from a visit to Sal, what is there to do and see? Travel guides love to refer to the Cape Verde Islands as the African Caribbean, a nickname that suits the country very well. Sal, one of the most popular islands to visit, has snow-white beaches and villages with houses in all colors of the rainbow, similar to the beaches and buildings in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The motto of the locals is no stress and the atmosphere on the island is relaxed.
Sal was discovered in 1640 and was first called Llana or Plana, which means flat. The current name comes from the discovery of a lake in a crater of a volcano that was no longer active and salt was extracted here when it had rained. The crater is now known as Pedra do Lume. Virtually uninhabited and only used for grazing the animals of the population of the nearby island of Boa Vista, Sal only became more important after the discovery of salt. Salt became the country’s most important export product.
After an investment from Italy and because many countries needed a point to refuel kerosene for flights to South America, the international airport was built in 1939. This made it easier to visit Sal and accommodations for tourists were built.
Location and climate
Sal has a climate similar to other areas at the same latitude. It is a dry and arid island and despite its volcanic origins, the island has become almost completely flat over the centuries due to constant erosion. The highest point is Monte Vermelho with a height of 406 meters. From north to south the island is about 30 kilometers long and its width is no more than 12 kilometers. The area is 216 km². Sal’s international airport is the gateway to the rest of the archipelago.
Sal has a dry and tropical climate all year round, temperatures are always good and there are two seasons: cooler and drier from December to June and higher temperatures from July to November. The afternoon temperature is between 19 and 25 degrees in the colder season and between 24 and 30 degrees between July and November. There is little rain and when it does fall it is usually in July, August or September. The constant breeze is wonderful in the summer months but can be a bit fresher in the cooler months and in the evenings. Be careful in the sun, the sun’s power is strong and the wind makes you not feel how strong the sun is and accelerates the process of burning your skin. Use a sunscreen with a high factor and seek shade in the afternoon.
The busiest town on Sal Island is Santa Maria, a colorful cluster of surf shops, souvenir shops and restaurants serving local specialties such as freshly caught fish and cachupa, a stew of corn, beans, cabbage and meat or fish. Most hotels are located on the town’s eight kilometer long beach. On the path along the beach, which you can’t call a real boulevard, there are several restaurants and surfing schools. Go to the pier in the morning around 10:00, when the fishermen return from the sea in their colorful boats with their catch. The catch is deposited on the pier and cleaned, ready for sale to restaurants, among others.
What can you see and do on Sal?
The sand and the sea
The beautiful beaches have put Cape Verde on the map and Sal has some of the best beaches in the country. The island has a coastline full of white bays and golden dunes. The trade wind makes water sports such as kite and windsurfing possible. Keep a close eye on the island’s flag system if you want to swim in the sea or go surfing, red means don’t swim, yellow means be careful and green means it is reasonably safe. Diving, snorkeling or fishing is possible and there are good swimming pools, arcades, mini golf, volleyball, basketball and tennis courts.
Don’t come to Sal to shop in expensive stores like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. This quiet island has no branches of the well-known retail chains. The surf shops in downtown Santa Maria are the closest you get to designer clothing. They sell colorful surf and beach clothing, sunglasses, surfboards.
The Santa Maria coastline is a nice place to go in the evening. The restaurants all have fresh fish and cocktails on the menu and the bars play lounge music. Saturday is the evening to see live performances of local dance and music in the bars and on the streets, the music is a mix of Portuguese and Brazilian customers. There are a few discos in Santa Maria that are open until the small hours.
Places to visit
Rent a jeep and drive around the island or book an excursion. Without a doubt, Pedro do Lume is the most picturesque place on the island, it is a crater in a volcano that is no longer active. You can visit the crater through a tunnel that was created in 1804. The crater is at sea level and water flows into the crater despite the fact that the sea is 1 kilometer away. The salt pans in Santa Maria are no longer used but are worth a visit, it is about 1 kilometer from the city. In the port of Palmeira, which has facilities for loading and unloading cargo ships, the salt purification installations are interesting to visit. The lobster farms are also worth a visit. Here you can buy good quality lobsters at a low price. Other places worth visiting are Algadoeira, a small oasis, and Buracona, a pool formed by nature that fills and empties with the tides. Near an old lighthouse you will find Calheta Funda and Fiura is an excellent place for fishing and watching the power of the waves around Sal.