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SalSal is arguably the jewel in the crown of Cape Verde, an island paradise with picture perfect beaches, first-class water sports facilities and an exciting African-European ambiance. The most developed island of the Cape Verdean archipelago, Sal has already become popular with tourists but its location – in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – means that it manages to remain untouched by the masses.

The island is small even by Cape Verdean standards. Measuring just 18 miles long and seven miles wide, it has a population of around 20,000 inhabitants. But size is often deceptive, no more so than on Sal, to where around 150,000 visitors flock every year. Sal accounts for more than 50 per cent of all Cape Verde tourism, and it’s easy to see why.

A tropical climate

The island, which lies 300 miles off mainland Africa, enjoys a near perfect climate with temperatures hovering around 28C all year round. In fact, as the critics in the Lonely Planet travel guide put it, there are ‘almost more days of sunshine than there are days in the year’.

The sea temperature is just a couple of degrees cooler than the air temperature in the summer months, dropping down to an agreeable 22C in winter. Meanwhile rain is virtually nonexistent,
with an average rainfall of just 8 cm a year. Winds which blow from the north east are plentiful, however, making it an ideal location for sailing and windsurfing enthusiasts.

A rich and varied history

The island is thought to have been formed around 50 million years ago during a huge volcanic eruption and there are signs of its volcanic ancestry throughout, not least of all at Pedra de Lume, where a massive salt lake lies in the mouth of an extinct volcano.
Sal was discovered by the Portuguese in 1460, who named their new territorial gain Llana, which means ‘flat’. It wasn’t until some time later, when salt was uncovered at the lake at Pedra de Lume, that its name was changed to Sal, meaning ‘salt’.

The first settlement on Sal was established by slaves from nearby Boa Vista island. By the late 17th century the demand for salt had grown considerably and traders began to stop at the island for salt supplies.  By the end of the 18th century a small settlement had grown on a site in the south of the island, which is now the village of Santa Maria. However, the village was a million miles from the bustling resort of today. An English explorer called Dampier, who stumbled across the village, described it as having half a dozen inhabitants living “miserably” by exchanging goat skins or a few sacks of salt for used clothing with the odd ship which dropped anchor in the bay.

Business picked up when a local man joined forces with a French company to buy into the salt production works on Sal. A tramway was built to transport salt from Pedra de Lume, a job previously carried out by a team of tired donkeys, and production increased dramatically.

The construction of Cape Verde’s first airport on Sal in 1939 signalled a great leap forward in the history of the archipelago and Amilcar Cabral International Airport offers services to and from a host of countries nowadays.

Certainly the proudest moment in its history was in 1975 when the islands became independent, and the Republic of Cape Verde was born.  It now boasts one of Africa’s most stable democratic governments.

A stunning coastline and an equally dramatic interior

The scenery in Sal is quite simply, stunning. The coastline is one long continuous line of white, sandy beaches, the only interruption being a small fishing village or picturesque port. The hinterland is flat, volcanic and mysterious.

The highlights include:

Santa Maria - The epicentre of Sal’s tourism, as it was hundreds of years ago for the salt trade.  Situated on a bay at the foot of the island, the town is an enticing blend of African and European cultures. Here brightly coloured buildings line the palm-fringed white beach, while further back from the shore you can find cobbled streets opening up into squares packed with cafés and restaurants. The atmosphere in this vibrant party town is legendary. It is also the perfect place for diving, fishing, surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing.

Espargos - the nearest town to the international airport, and the administrative centre of the island. It is also the capital of Sal, and was named after the asparagus vegetable, which grows in abundance on the island. The town has a picturesque main square and is arguably the ‘real’ Sal.

Buracona - a deep water lagoon to the west of the island which fills and empties according to the tide. It is famed for its fishing and diving, and has recently become a protected site.

Pedra de Lume - the oldest village on Sal, situated on the east coast. Here you can still see the 19th century chapel, the old warehouses and the milling and sacking apparatus used to pack and transport the salt. The saline itself is located in the crater of an old volcano, accessed via an artificial tunnel. The site is now protected and is one of the best places on the island for bird-watching.

Along with the other Cape Verdean islands, the island of Sal is being hailed as the new Caribbean – without the hurricanes. Its beaches are certainly amongst the most exquisite in the world. The principal beaches on Sal are:

Ponta Preta - a beautiful beach with a rocky point, located on the west coast, jutting out into the Atlantic. This is the place to come to watch some of the most challenging windsurfing, kite surfing and surfing Cape Verde has to offer.

Calheta Funda - a small, calm bay located further up the coast towards Murdeira town. Accessed by a small dusty road, this is a perfect spot for a picnic, and is frequented by local families in summer walking and camping, as well as being a turtle spawning area.

Palmeira - located on the coast directly to the west of Espargos, was originally a fishing village. Today, it houses the island’s main power station and desalination plant, as well as serving as a storage centre for future industrial development on Sal. There is a quaint harbour and some great traditional restaurants serving fresh seafood.

Development and the future

Cape Verde, and Sal in particular, clearly have a great deal to offer. The islands were recently named in the Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Destinations for 2011 – gaining marks for their topicality, excitement, value for money and special ‘X-factor’.

Lonely Planet said that “growing international interest is bringing enormous changes to an archipelago that looks and feels as if it were born from a Caribbean mother and an African father.
“Soaring mountains terraced in green, a volcano with its head in the clouds, world-class water sports and sizzling, saucy festivals – but it was the sun that clinched the deal. With almost more days of sunshine than there are days in the year and with soft sandy beaches to boot…”

Praise indeed for a republic that was formed less than 40 years ago, and was previously known only for its salt mines – and as a stopover for banned airlines.

And things can only get better. Cape Verde is currently one of the hottest property locations in the world, with land values rising rapidly due to the booming tourism industry, which has seen the number of visitors to the islands rising by 107% over the past five years.

Backing this optimism is the Cape Verde Government’s growth figures. The Cape Verdean economy should grow between 4 and 5% next year, according to the head of the bank Banco de Cabo Verde.  There has never been a better time to invest.

Activities on Sal

For those of you who are not content just lazing around on a palm-fringed beach, Sal is the destination for you. Its strong winds have made the island an important centre for water sports, and recent development projects are sure to put Sal firmly on the map as a haven for yachts looking for new waters to explore.

Windsurfing, Kitesurfing and Surfing

Activities on Sal,Windsurfing, Kitesurfing and Surfing

Sal is considered to be one of the best destinations in the world for windsurfing, kitesurfing and surfing, with trade winds from November to March and a tropical climate all year round.  The west coast experiences the biggest waves. Beginners are advised to come from April to June when the waters are calmer.

There are a number of water sport schools that have been set up on beaches around the island over the last decade, such as Angulo Cabe Verde, founded by Windsurfing World Champion Josh Angulo. Josh, who grew up in Oahu and Maui, has now made Sal his home.

Some centres are just dedicated to windsurfing, while others teach all disciplines. A number of specialist companies have also set up resorts in Sal.

There are specially chosen locations for all standards including Canoa, near Murdeira, for beginners and the legendary Ponta Preta, which has been described as the ‘most beautiful waves of Sal’ and ‘one of the most beautiful views on the planet’.


The weather conditions on Sal are perfect for sailing, although fair weather sailors should perhaps stay at home. With winds regularly reaching NE 4 to 5, conditions can be challenging, but ideal for an experienced sailor. 

There are companies in and around Santa Maria that rent sailing boats from 36 to 52 feet, as well as a selection of catamarans. They can be hired either for a bareboat excursion or with a skipper. Other companies offer day trips aboard sailing yachts.

Along the coast at Palmeira there is a commercial port, which is often used as a starting point for the Atlantic Ocean crossing. The port is small, however, and yachts often prefer to move on to the luxury marina at Mindelo on the island of São Vicente, which is also popular with cruise ships.

There are also plans to build marinas on Sal itself, although those plans are still at early construction stage.   


Diving is also very popular on Sal, and a sought-after destination among keen divers. With an ideal climate, diving is possible all year round although the time of year will depend on the types of fish that can be seen. 

Between March and May it is possible to see whales, while whale sharks and mantras can be seen between July and November. Humpback whales have been spotted from time to time on the coast, but it is more common to see fish such as tuna, mackerel, morays and turtles.

The island boasts numerous PADI-accredited diving centres, through which divers can access any number of the 25 dive sites around the island, which include cave dives, wreck dives and coral reef dives.


According to specialists World Sport Fishing the waters off Sal are now reputed to be one of the ‘hottest new fishing areas in the world’. The sea around the island is a magnet to big Blue Marlin, one of which was recently caught weighing in excess of 1000 lb. As well as Marlin, Cape Verde also attracts Wahoo as well as big tuna and sharks.
Numerous companies offering game fishing, trolling, drifting and bottom fishing have been set up on the island.

Quad Fishing

If you are after a bit more adventure on your fishing trip, then look no further. Quad fishing is a unique fishing trip, found only on the Cape Verdean islands. Here, fishermen drive to some of the most stunning fishing spots available on the planet – on powerful quad bikes. The trips cater for all levels and take place under the dusky evening skies. 


Crew from South African airlines used to play golf on Sal in the 60s and 70s, but sadly the course fell into decline. There are now plans to bring the sport back to the island, but again, like the marinas, new golf courses have yet to materialise and are still very much in the development phase.

South African golfer Ernie Els has been invited to design two golf courses, one of which will be near Murdeira Bay. There are plans to build at least three more 18-hole courses on Sal.

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