If you are looking for white sandy beaches, turquoise seas and laid back island-vibes for your next romantic break, Cape Verde should be your go-to destination. A collection of 10 tiny islands floating in the Atlantic Ocean, it’s isolated, picture-perfect and warm all year round.
Why Cape Verde?
Technically an African country of its own, Cape Verde’s nearest neighbour is Senegal, just over 500 km away. Unlike Africa’s mainland, each island is unique with its own climate and culture.
We’re regular visitors to Sal island, and we’ve fallen in love with the stunning beaches and year-round sun. Whilst the island has developed a lot over the last decade, it still has an authentic feel. The locals truly live life to the island’s unofficial motto, ‘No Stress’.
While there are sights, water sports, restaurants and bars to keep you entertained, it isn’t over-developed. You can still hire a car and find completely uninhabited beaches and coastlines within a 20 minute drive.
When to visit
Sal is known as the sunny island, with year-round sunshine and very little rain. Even in the rainy season you can expect occasional bursts of tropical rain, immediately followed by sunshine. In the coolest months Sal is still warm at around 24 C.
August to October is typically hottest, with day time temperatures regularly over 30 C, and night time temperatures not much cooler. The trade winds peak between November and March, bringing kite and windsurfers from all over. Visiting Kite Beach is amazing at this time of year.
August and December tend to be the busiest periods, with amazing weather during the school holidays in August, and winter sun seekers over the Christmas period in December. It can feel a little busy at these times, but it is still much quieter than more popular destinations.
While January and February are the coolest and windiest months, it’s still beautifully warm and the island has a great laid-back feel as there aren’t too many tourists. If you are after some winter sun, it can be surprisingly affordable too.
Getting to Sal
If you are visiting Sal from the UK, you’ll likely be travelling with Thompson/TUI. With three large hotel complexes on the island, they capitalise the UK – Cape Verde route.
It will be cheaper booking in the Jan – April months, than in the more popular August – December months. If you are brave enough, keeping an eye on the number of seats left on the plane and booking within the last weeks before the flight can be a great way to save. We’ve saved over £300 on return flights for two by booking this way.
If you are based elsewhere, there are regular weekly flights from Portugal, Italy and Germany. You’ll need to connect to one of these countries to reach Sal, with Lisbon having the most flights available in and out of Cape Verde.
Once you arrive at Amilcar Cabral airport, you’ll either be picked up by a hotel transfer bus or you can grab a taxi outside the airport. To reach the main sea front town, Santa Maria, you should only pay around 10 €, although a couple of euros for a tip is always appreciated by the local drivers.
It’s worth noting but you’ll need a visa to enter Cape Verde. If you’ve booked a packaged holiday this will automatically be included. If not, make sure you have 25 € in cash per person to buy it at the airport on arrival. Visas are valid for 90 days as a standard issue.
Where to stay in Cape Verde
If you visit Sal, you’ll be staying in the seafront town, Santa Maria. Espargos is the only other major settlement on the island, based inland and close to the airport. It’s not geared up towards tourism, and is where many of the islanders live and work.
Santa Maria has a range of bars, restaurants and shops to suit all tastes. We love the Italian influence with coffee, gelato and Italian restaurants dotted throughout the town.
Thompson have three large hotels in, or a short drive from, Santa Maria. They offer a standard package holiday, with all-inclusive food and the expected coach trip excursions. If that’s what you are after, they do it well.
However, we massively recommend renting a local apartment. It’s much more authentic, there’s loads of restaurants to enjoy, and it’s much cheaper! You can rent anything, from a cheap and basic £12 per night dorm room for surfers, right up to a full villa with a swimming pool on the sea front.
Airbnb seems to be the most popular booking platform if you want to book straight with owners. There are a few local hotel/B&B’s or beach bars with rooms as well, if you like the option of breakfast and amenities. Check out our Cape Verde travel guide for more tips on where to stay.
Personally we love the Lleme Bedje apartments. With a beautiful swimming pool and lots of beachfront apartments, it’s an idyllic place to call home for a couple of weeks. You can’t beat candlelit evenings on the terrace listening to the ocean.
What to do in Sal
If you’ve had your fill of sunbathing, freshly caught seafood and the local rum [Grog – named after the ‘groggy’ head sailors had the morning after], there’s plenty of things to keep you busy during the day. Whether you fancy exploring the island, catching some waves or saving turtles, there’s something for everyone.
Get out on the water
Josh Angulo set up base in Cape Verde years before it became a holiday destination. A world champion windsurfer, his beach bar and surf school is worth a visit.
Sal is also a hub for kite surfers, and you can take lessons in kite surfing, wind surfing or surfing from a few operators along the main beach. Not so keen on doing it yourself? Take a trip to Kite Beach and watch the pros.
There are lots of not-so-extreme options too. Jump on a local Catamaran for a day, swim in the empty ocean and dive down to touch the submerged statue of Christ for some Cape Verdean luck.
Or go on a snorkelling tour with a local guide. We spent half a day just the two of us, our guide, and a little speedboat. It’s that isolated experience that you just don’t get at more popular tourist destinations.
Make friends with the animals
Cape Verde is a haven to five species of endangered turtles. A wildlife photographer visited Cape Verde in 2007 and decided to set up an organisation to protect the turtles. You can join them for beach patrols during hatching season or offer to volunteer to help them year-round.
You can take a boat to spot whales and dolphins, or take a trip to shark bay to walk with the lemon sharks. There’s also the local population of cats and dogs on the island who have a tendency to make friends with tourists. They are generally well behaved and friendly, and many of them are owned but left to roam free.
Explore the island
You can hire a 4×4 for as little as €50 per day in Santa Maria, and we highly recommend that you do.
Visit Pedra de Lume, the old salt mines, by taking the main road from Santa Maria through the main town, Espargos, and turning right at the main junction. It’s clearly signposted and you’ll be given a map when you hire the car.
The salt mines are now open for tourists, but used to be Sal’s main trade. For €10 you can enter the volcanic crater and float in the salt water. Take some water shoes though, the salt crystals are incredibly sharp.
Next drive back to the main road and head further across the island to the blue eye. Eventually the ‘road’ stops really being a road, and you’ll find yourself off roading through the desert. Keep an eye out for a random collection of rocks in a straight line. If you pull over here you’ll see a mirage.
The blue eye is a natural phenomenon, where the island’s volcanic rock has been worn away by the sea. The resulting waves make an incredible display, and when the tide is out you can swim in the rock pools. The area is named the blue eye, as when the sun shines down directly above a hole in the rock a bright blue light is naturally emitted and shines out. Hard to describe, but amazing to see.
Chloe, a digital marketer, is blogging anonymously while planning to quit her job and start up the digital nomad lifestyle in August 2017. Together with her wife-to-be Amy, an artist and designer, they blog about their journey. Visit the To Neverland blog for actionable website tips and affordable travel tricks. Or follow their awfully big adventure on Twitter.
“To live will be an awfully big adventure”
J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan