Holidays to Sal are all about escapism. This little isle is part of the Cape Verde Islands, and is made up of little more than white-sand beaches and brightly-coloured villages.
Sal is part of Cape Verde, a group of 10 islands off the west coast of Africa. They’re relatively unknown in the mainstream market and, thanks to their location, they’re a unique melting pot of cultures. The islands were originally discovered by the Portuguese, and there’s a mixture of African, Brazilian and Portuguese influences. You’ll see it in the islands’ music, fashions and, perhaps most clearly, the food.
The African Caribbean
The travel guides like to refer to Cape Verde as the ‘African Caribbean’, and the country is deserving of the nickname. Sal, one of the most popular islands, has snow-white beaches and towns painted in rainbow colours, just like those you’d find in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Sal’s busiest town is Santa Maria, a Crayola-coloured hub filled with surf stores, craft shops, and restaurants serving local specialities like steaming catchupa stew. Most of the hotels on the island are lined up along the town’s beach – an 8-kilometre stretch of sand dotted with beach bars and windsurfing centres.
Things to See and Do in Sal
Amazing beaches are what originally put Cape Verde on the map, and Sal offers some of the best in the country. The island has a coastline pockmarked with Caribbean-white bays and golden dunes. And trade winds mean watersports like wind and kite surfing are readily available. Just be sure to pay attention to the flag system if you want to swim in the ocean – red means stay well away, yellow says take care, and green means you’re ok.
The big beach
Santa Maria is the busiest town on the island, and its beach follows suit. That’s not to say it’s overcrowded, though – with 7 kilometres of sand on offer, there’s plenty of room for everyone. The busier areas have beach bars and watersports centres, while the quieter parts tend to just welcome the odd sea bird.
The secret beach
Pedra de Lume is home to a small slither of sand tucked between craggy cliffs. There aren’t any watersports or beach huts here, so if you need to stretch your legs, head up to the volcano that looks over the coast. At its cusp is a salt-rich lake and a few mud baths you can paddle in.
Don’t come to Sal expecting to splurge on big names like Chanel. This peaceful island only has a handful of shops to its name. The closest you’ll get to designer gear is in the surf shops of Santa Maria’s town centre. They stock signature floral beachwear, sunglasses and boards, lots of which are international brands.
The shops in Sal are painted in rainbow brights and, when you step inside, you’ll find the shelves filled with handmade crafts that are just as colourful. The best selection lies within Santa Maria’s Centro de Artesanato. Here, you can get your hands on everything from wooden statues and traditional instruments to works of art made from sand. Most of the buys are made onsite by local craftsmen.
The Sal Indoor Market, in Santa Maria, is your best bet for picking up souvenirs at bargain prices. Work your way around the al fresco tables and you can haggle for the likes of beaded jewellery, traditional clothes and fresh local produce.
The Santa Maria beachfront is great for night-time wanders. The restaurants here serve fresh fish stews metres from the Atlantic Ocean, and the bars specialise in chill-out music and multi-page cocktail menus. Saturday nights tend to see live musicians performing the local morna music – a mix of Portuguese and Brazilian beats.
Santa Maria’s main square comes to life after dark. Locals meet up here to mingle and dance outside the bars and cafés. There are also a few clubs that stay open until the early hours. They’re small by European standards, but play a good mix of music, from merengue to rock and roll.
At island celebrations, locals gather around tables for big bowlfuls of this stuff. It’s a tasty, slow-boiled stew cooked with beans, chorizo and marinated chunks of meat or tuna. There are lots of variations of it, depending on what ingredients are in season.
Bife de atum
Fishing is ripe here, which means seafood is present on practically every Boa Vista menu. According to locals, this is the recipe of recipes. Chefs will take freshly-netted tuna, marinate it in spices and lace it with vinegar, before serving it on a bed of butter-smothered boiled potatoes.
Papaya jam is the jam of choice in Cape Verde, and locals spread it on everything from toast to crepes. Most commonly, though, it’s served alongside goats’ cheese for dessert. Think of it as an alternative to brie and cranberry.
This sugar cane brandy is close to the heart of many islanders – an invitation to try a glass isn’t to be turned down. The locals have grown it in the green valleys of Santa Antao island for centuries. It gets its name from 'grog' – a drink that was a one-time favourite of the British Royal Navy. Be warned, though – it’s 43% proof.
Sip this refreshing, minty liqueur after a big meal, and your food will go down in no time. It’s made by mixing coffee and figs with cinnamon, peppermint and lime. If you’re a little unsure of the taste, try adding a splash of orange juice to dilute it.
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