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Cape Verde Destinations

Sal Island — A complete guide of one of the best destinations in Cape Verde

Ilha do Sal, Cabo Verde - Sal Island, Cape Verde

Cape Verde comprises ten islands, but Sal Island is perhaps the best-known destination in this African country.

I traveled around this tiny island for a week, from north to south, east to west, to discover its main attractions.

If you are looking for a beach destination where you can practice several water sports, explore jeep tracks, eat delicious dishes, and socialize with one of the friendliest African people in the world, then read on!

1. Getting to know Sal Island

As I said at the beginning of this travel guide, Sal Island is one of the ten islands that are part of Cape Verde.

Being one of the smallest, with a total surface area of 216 km², it doesn’t take many days to get to know the island’s main attractions.

The landscape is dry and even somewhat desolate, caused by its proximity to the African continent and its exposure to the strong winds that bring the sands of the Sahara desert.

The island of Sal remained uninhabited until the 19th century, when salt extraction operations began in Pedra de Lume.

Despite its volcanic origin — you will get this perception further down when I tell you about Pedra do Lume — Sal is a relatively flat island. The highest elevation is Monte Grande, which reaches 405.3 m of altitude.

Other facts to keep in mind:

  • Sal has 39,000 inhabitants (according to a forecast by Cape Verde’s National Institute of Statistics);
  • The official language is Portuguese, although the local dialect, criollo, is also spoken;
  • Currency is the Cape Verdean escudo, but most prices also appear in euros;
  • The four most populated localities on Sal Island are Espargos, Santa Maria, and Palmeira.

2. What to do in Sal

On such a small island, you’d think there wouldn’t be many things to do. But Sal offers many activities, even more if you are a water sports lover.

Pedra de Lume, Sal, Cape Verde

→ Visit the salt pans of Pedra de Lume

It can be said that Pedra de Lume was at the base of the settlement of Sal. The island was discovered in 1460 and remained uninhabited until 1796, when Manuel António Martins, a wealthy merchant, began exploring salt in that place, and the island started to be inhabited.

The beginning of the history of Pedra de Lume and the salt exploitation in that territory is the same as that of so many other African regions (and not only), built based on slave and exploited labor, of which nobody is proud today.

Infrastructures later created there resulted in an industrialized society with its most significant expression at the beginning of the 20th century. The construction of a long cable car, mechanical mills, and a power plant, among others, were some of those structures.

Pedra de Lume has a sus generis scenario. Located inside the crater of an extinct volcano, the saline waters’ white and pink color contrasts with the brown and dry landscape surrounding it.

The old cable car structures still stand imposing on the site and indicate the way to go when leaving the main road towards the entrance to the mine.

Today the place is oriented towards tourism, as this is one of the island’s main attractions. For this reason, entrance is paid. Inside, a small complex consists of a bar/shop and a spa area, with a shower and chairs for resting and enjoying the view.

The salt pans can be visited along the path that crosses them or around them by the shore, but bathing in that water is the most significant appeal. The sensation of floating in the saltwater is extraordinary, very similar to the experience you can have in the Dead Sea in the Middle East.

| Tip

🐟 Experience the natural beauty of Sal Island on a private half-day trip with a local guide: swim in Salt lake and admire lemon sharks in their natural habitat

Cavalos nas salinas de Santa Maria, Ilha do Sal - Horseback ridding near Santa Maria, Sal Island

→ Horseback riding through the salt pans near Santa Maria

On an island with its name “Sal” — the Portuguese word for “salt” —, it’s natural that the salt pans of Pedra de Lume are not the only ones in this Cape Verdean territory. A few kilometers north of Santa Maria is the Costa da Fragata Natural Reserve, which also has a salt mine complex that is now inactive. This protected landscape can be visited by car via a dirt track (stick to the marked route and don’t go off-roading since it’s in a protected area), but I suggest you go horseback riding here.

Surf na praia da Ponta Preta - Surf in Ponta Preta, Sal island

→ Surfing in Ponta Preta

When it comes to surfing in Cape Verde, Ponta Preta, on Sal Island, is one of the country’s ex-libris.

It’s a wave that runs long and perfect to the right, on rock bottom and crystal clear water.

Eventually, you can follow the shore from Santa Maria on a long walk that goes beyond 30 minutes. But if you want to get there faster, the way is through the resorts by jeep along a dirt track.

The wave can go from 150 to 300 m in length, but unfortunately, when I was there, there was no swell, even though this place is indicated as a frequently working wave.

🏄Time to catch a wave

Sal is probably the best place to learn surfing. You can do it in a group or one-on-one with the trainer – it’s up to you!

Book the lesson here
Ponta do Sinó, Sal, Cabo Verde

→ Beach walking at Ponta do Sinó

And since we are talking about the way to Ponta Preta, if you go by the seaside, part of it is done by Ponta do Sinó.

This extensive stretch of sand is the beachfront for numerous resorts on Sal and is also the southernmost point on the island.

Passing even a little unnoticed, since it doesn’t present the format we are used to, is the Ponta do Sinó Lighthouse. This structure was built in 1892 and reaches a height of 9 meters.

Escola de Kitesurf no Sal, Cabo Verde - Kitesurf school in Sal, Cape Verde

→ Learn to kitesurf

Besides being a surfing destination, Sal Island is, without a doubt, a paradise for wind sports lovers, especially windsurfing or kitesurfing.

I confirmed this on my trip, with the wind being a constant throughout my stay.

The potential of this place for these activities is undeniable, and for this reason, there are plenty of learning centers and equipment rental along the beaches. So, if you want to try a new water and wind sport, this is the place to get your first lesson.

Heymondo Travel Insurance Discount Marlene On The Move

Watch the fish selling at Santa Maria Pier

It’s funny that before I read anything about Santa Maria Pier, I was drawn to it while walking through the town center. The constant coming and going calls to us, and we have to go and see what is going on up close.

From young men carving stone and turning it into little white turtles to the girl building bracelets made of shells to the boy playing Cape Verdean sounds on his guitar, and, in the end, the fish vendors taking the scales off the fish that has just been brought in by the boats that pull up to the jetty. The atmosphere is frenetic and makes you feel the local culture.

Travel Tip

Thousands of fish gather beneath Santa Maria Pier, near its pillars. Grab a snorkeling mask and go take a look!

🤿 Take the guided snorkeling tour and enjoy the underwater world under the professional’s control

Book the activity
Comércio em Santa Maria, Ilha do Sal - Commercial street in Santa Maria, Sal Island

→ Buy handicrafts on 1 de Junho

It’s the commercial street in Santa Maria’s city center, and it’s even closed to car traffic, so it’s an excellent place to stroll and see “how the fashions go” on Sal Island.

Look for stores selling local handicrafts, such as bags, fabrics, dresses, T-shirts, and scarves, with the colors and patterns that so characterize Cape Verde. But also look at the art workshops with pieces by local artists or the woodwork stores. In the latter, which range from sculptures to masks, you’ll probably not find anything from Cape Verde but from other African countries.

As you are in the commercial street, it’s natural that you will be approached by vendors trying to attract customers to their stores.

Santa Maria must-try activities

Baía dos Tubarões - Shark Bay

→ Walk among sharks at Shark Bay

Yes, you read that right, walk. Shark Bay is about 10 minutes by jeep from Pedra de Lume, and here you can get very close to the tiny reef sharks.

This bay is another of the island’s tourist attractions, and a local business has developed there.

Upon arrival, we are approached by “guides” who offer to take us to see the sharks in exchange for whatever we want to give them. In reality, they are a group of young people who make a living from this activity and, in my experience, they are super friendly. A friendliness that, by the way, characterizes Cape Verdeans.

If we don’t have any, they provide proper shoes and then lead to the middle of the lagoon with water that reaches your knees. For those who have more difficulty or are not used to walking on the reef, the guides help make the path and prevent greater instability.

Once we arrive at the spot, the guide then throws bait into the water, and soon the lemon sharks come to us, and we can observe and feel them around us.

The lemon shark can reach up to 3 meters, but here, we can observe the young, which remain in shallower depths for several years before venturing into deeper waters. Of course, it goes without saying that they are harmless animals, but we must respect them because we are their guests.

Porto de Palmeira, Ilha do Sal - Palmeira Port in Sal Island

Visit the port of Palmeira

It can be said that Palmeira is the third most crucial town in Sal, but some consider it the first since it has a large port where the most important boats arrive on the island. 

This port bustles with activity, not only with the arrival of ships bringing essential goods for the population but also with local fishing boats or the sailboats of those discovering the various islands of Cape Verde or who arrive there as a gateway to the African continent. Some also take a boat to tour the nearest island, Boa Vista.

Next to this port, you’ll find Esplanada Roterdão, a typical restaurant perfect for eating fresh fish or the lobster of your life. But to learn more, take a look at my article about the best restaurants on Sal Island. (note: it’s still to be written, but stay tuned!)

→ Diving at Buracona

Another of Sal’s great attractions and one I enjoyed visiting the most.

Buracona is in the north of the island, 5 km from Palmeira. On the road leading there, you will find several arrows indicating the way, but be prepared because it’s the most irregular route I took by jeep during my trip to Sal Island.

So much so that halfway through, I started to question if it was worth the effort… it was totally worth it!

Buracona is a bay that is part of a protected landscape area and is distinguished by two attractions: a large natural pool and the so-called “Blue Eye”. The latter is a natural pool that creates a strong blue color effect in the water below as the sunlight passes through the hole in the rock.

This effect is generated around noon and lasts until two in the afternoon. Unfortunately, given the time of year and the sun’s direction, I could only see half of the effect on the water, but it gave me a sense of it.

For me, the best part of this visit was enjoying the large natural pool. Here, the luck factor was in my favor since when the sea is big, the waves invade it, and it is impossible to bathe. However, this was not the case the day I was there when the sea was smaller and the sun was shining.

The Buracona area has yet another curiosity: the reconstitution of the ten islands that make up Cape Verde. Again, Sal has a particular highlight, with a platform to see the prominent landforms and towns from above.

Espargos, Sal, Cabo Verde - Cape Verde

→ Climb to the Espargos Viewpoint

Espargos is not exactly the most attractive place to visit since it’s the most densely populated village on the island. However, follow the arrows that indicate the viewpoint and lead to the highest point of that location. There you’ll have a clear view, not only of Espargos but also of its surroundings.

Mercado Municipal de Espargos - Espargos Municipal Market
Travel Tip

Go to the Espargos Municipal Market to see the paintings outside the building. They are amazing representations of the local vendors!

Monte Leão, Sal, Cabo Verde - Cape Verde

→ Go jeep touring to Monte Leão

On the west coast of Sal Island, we find Monte Leão, a hill that follows us on the horizon whenever we take the road from Santa Maria to Espargos.

But the exciting thing about this area is to get to know it close to the sea, and for that, you have to choose dirt tracks only made by jeep.

The idea is to enter through the town of Murdeira and go north along the coast up to Monte Leão. This is also a great surfing area, so stay alert for good waves. 😉

When you get to Monte Leão, you can either turn back or continue on your way, first to Fontona and then to Palmeira.

Travel Tip

I used the app to guide me through the dirt trails I traveled with the jeep during the trip. Download the map of Sal and keep an eye on all the paths it shows that are traced.

Calheta Funda, Sal, Cabo Verde - Cape Verde

→ Bathing in Calheta Funda

Calheta Funda is a small bay 5 km from Santa Maria, and you may well find it deserted most of the time. It is not easily accessible, and it is definitely advisable to make your way there by jeep. But once you arrive, and if there are no waves, you will find a paradise for swimming.

I didn’t have time to go snorkeling, but I think this may well be an ideal place to do it. However, take the proper precautions if you go swimming. As I said, this is an unguarded and fairly deserted spot, far from the nearest town, so be careful.

3. Taste the flavors of Cape Verde

Going to Sal and not trying the typical local dish is unthinkable! I’m talking about the famous cachupa, of course. This Cape Verdean bean stew has gained fame abroad and for a good reason. Ask for a “Cachupa Rica“, and a very complete dish arrives on the table that combines local vegetables such as beans, corn, or sweet potatoes, as well as sausages, chicken, and even fish.

The best cachupa I ate were at Café Criolo in Santa Maria and Nortenhah in Espargos.

Prato de cachupa cabo-verdiana - Cape Verdean cachupa dish

4. Where to stay on the island

There’s no shortage of lodging options on Sal Island. As one of the most sought-after destinations in Cape Verde, resorts and hotels multiply in Santa Maria, the most touristic place on the island and the one to stay.

Depending on your budget, you can choose a large hotel on the beachfront or a more modest accommodation in the town’s interior.

Let Santa Maria serve as a starting point for exploring all the other places of interest on Sal.

Discover the best hotels in Santa Maria

5. How to get there and around

Arrival on Sal is by plane, landing at the Amilcar Cabral International Airport. Ideally, you should rent a car before your arrival so that when you land, you have it waiting for you.

Be sure to rent a jeep if you intend to discover the island independently. Except for the main road that connects Espargos to Santa Maria, the rest of the routes are mostly dirt roads, and many of them require four-wheel drive.

If you don’t want to go around the island yourself, you can take a cab from the airport to your hotel. Then, you can always visit the sights through tours with local operators.

Transporte a usar na Ilha do Sal - Transport to use in Sal Island, Cape Verde

6. How to pay on the island

The local currency is the Cape Verdean escudo (CVE), and you’ll find ATMs where you can withdraw cash, especially in Santa Maria. Some establishments do accept euros, especially in the more touristy areas, hotels, and larger shops. However, it’s not as widely accepted as the local currency, so it’s best to always have some Cape Verdean escudos with you.

Major credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are also accepted in many hotels, restaurants, and larger stores on Sal Island. But, again, it’s recommended that you carry local cash as well, especially for smaller establishments or those in more remote areas.

7. Last note about Sal Island

My last note in this travel guide for Sal Island goes to its inhabitants. These Cape Verdeans conquered me by their friendliness and good mood. Always ready to help, they proved to be the perfect hosts.

Our car got stuck in the sand, and soon someone showed up to help us; The hotel where we stayed gave us a room to rest while we waited for the time to go to the airport (the flight from Sal to Portugal left at 1 am);

Dear Sofia, a born saleswoman, made the souvenirs I brought have even more meaning.

The Cape Verdeans from Sal are used to a very high level of tourism, and that’s not why they stop being friendly, even without receiving anything in return.

Now it’s your turn! Share in the comments box below what you think of this guide.

If you have been to Sal, share your experience, and if you have never gone there, tell me if it’s a destination you would like to visit one day.

As always, my work is even more valuable if it reaches more travelers, so please share this post on your social media. Spread the word!

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Learn all about the incredible Sal Island in Cape Verde. From the activities to its flavours and local people. An article full of tips you can't miss.


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Marlene On The Move

Marlene Marques

Marlene is the creator of Marlene On The Move. A journalist by profession, she created the blog to share her adventures around the world. It is not unusual for her to set off to discover new countries and cultures with a surfboard as luggage.




  • Timmy

    I am retired and have been interested in Cape Verde for some time. I so want to visit, perhaps call it home one day. I can surely adjust, but I speak only English and that is a concern… convince me I’m missing out! Thank you

    • Marlene Marques

      Hello, Timmy. So glad you enjoyed the post. I think Cape Verde will convince you for itself. As for only speaking English, in Sal island everybody is used to tourism, so many Cape Verdeans speak some English. Of course, if you one day spend more time in the islands, I bet you’ll start to speak a little Portuguese ;).
      Happy travels!

      • Caroline

        We were told that on high school they are taught English and French as well as Portuguese – use of English is widespread whilst retaining their Creole routes

        • Marlene Marques

          Hi Caroline! I can’t confirm if English and French are languages taught in school (but I also believe they might be), but I can tell you that many Cape Verdeans know and speak English, especially on the more touristy islands.
          Thanks for sharing! Happy travels!

    • Linda

      Do it I am English and don’t speak the language, but I moved here 2 years ago and love it, the locals are very friendly and most do speak English. Just do it it’s the best thing I ever did

      • Marlene Marques

        Hi, Linda! Thanks for sharing your experience. So glad to hear that you’re having a good experience in this beautiful island.

    • Dr Luke Okojie

      Good job

  • Charles

    I am in Sal right now. You are right, the people are charming. There are a few people that are a bit pushy towards tourists but overall enjoying it I am slightly alarmed by the construction and all the new all-inclusive resorts, but at the moment it is still charming in Santa Maria. Great seafood and of course fab weather in the northern hemisphere winter months. The town also has the best behaved, best presented and most charming stray dogs!

    • Marlene Marques

      Hello, Charles! Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your experience.
      I couldn’t agree with you more: the people are charming. I also found some vendors a bit pushy, but I talked to some of them and what I gather is that they were without tourists for quite some time because of the pandemic, so since tourism is now returning to the island, they are eager to do some business.
      About the rampant construction, I’ve noticed that too. I’ve even heard that there are plans to build resorts in the Monte Leão area. Unfortunately, I think we have to make the best of Sal (and as quickly as possible) since I think the future is going to be quite different.
      Happy travels!

  • Margaret

    Me and my partner have booked to go to Sal in February 2022 we love a winter sunshine destination and having read your travel guide on Cape Verde Sal we now can’t wait to visit the fabulous places you have talked about.
    Lovely article and really inspiring for anyone wanting to visit Sal.

    • Marlene Marques

      Hello, Margaret! Thank you so much for your message. Sooooo happy you liked the article and it inspired for your next trip to Sal. I hope you have a lovely time. When you come back, let me know how it went and what you liked the most.
      Have a wonderful trip!

  • Pekka

    Hello Marlene, thanks for this presentation of Sal island.
    Can I ask about two practical things, renting a car and the horse riding trip. What car rental agency did you use, and how much did it cost?
    Also, do you have any recommendations on the horseback riding near Santa Maria – what company/farm arranged it, how much did it cost?
    Many thanks

    • Marlene Marques

      Hello, Pekka! Regarding the car rental, I used a local company called M&M Rent-a-Car. Here is their email: I advise you to rent a jeep if you want to go explore the island, as you’ll be doing a lot of dirt roads. We went for a Suzuki Jimny. As for values, I guess it all depends on the time of the year you are going and if they have a lot of vehicles available or not.
      As for the horse riding trip, I didn’t do it, so I can’t recommend you a company. But I saw some activities booking stalls near the Santa Maria pier and I think at the hotel where you stay they may also be able to help you find a good service.
      Hope I could help! Have a great trip!

  • Pamela

    my partner and I have booked to go to Santa Maria in July, have read your article about Sal and found it very interesting.

    We are actually wanting to have a relaxing two weeks holiday, as we are not youngsters.

    Hope that w can find the ype of holiday we are looking for.

    • Marlene Marques

      Hi, Pamela! So glad that you enjoyed the article. I’m confident that you will like Sal, as it is a very peaceful island, where you can relax and enjoy good food. I hope you have a wonderful vacation.

  • Suuz

    Hi Marlene, what an inspiring article you wrote. We are traveling to Sal the end of march 2022. To do some relaxing, but we are also interested in getting to know local and cultural life by visiting a local market e.g. Do you have any recommendations for ones to visit? Again thank you for your article.

    • Marlene Marques

      Hi Suuz! So glad you enjoyed the article and I hope it is useful for your trip! As for markets, check out the fish market at the Santa Maria Pier and the local market at Espargos. I’m sure you’ll have a taste of the local culture. Let me know what you think after you come back from your trip.
      Happy travels!

  • Nikola

    Hi Marlene, great review for Sal, a lot of great information and tips for the place!
    We are going to travel in April if everything is OK in the world by this time… I have a question, please!
    Are we pay in Euro or local currency? If we pay in Euro do we have the change in Euro or not…
    Thank you!

    • Paul Bridges

      Hi you can pay in either currency. Your change will can come back in either currency. We are here at present in Santa Maria. Card accepted also in most places.

  • Chris

    Thanks Marlene, I really enjoyed your entry on Sal. We are digital nomads and rotate destinations every 90 days. Two of those rotations are Tenerife in the Canaries. In-between we went to Dubrovnik. Our new rotation destination for Oct thru Dec is Cape Verde, with Sal, then Boa Vista, then Sal again before returning to Tenerife. If the kite surfing is good, we will visit Sal every six months for three months from now on. Thank you so much for the helpful content, it’s really appreciated.

    • Marlene Marques

      Hi, Chris. So glad you liked the content and thanks for sharing your digital nomad experience. I think you’re going to be back to Sal again and again since it’s great for wind sports. 🙂 Happy travels!!

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