Our trip to Cape Verde was completely different to any of the other holidays that we’ve been on. Unfortunately, Scott went through a very difficult time at work and got signed off with stress, so he needed to get away for a week or two to relax and heal. We went to our local travel agent, Miles Morgan Travel, and asked what holidays there were to fly out the next day; we had a choice of Cape Verde, Jamaica or Dominican Republic, and we chose Cape Verde because it was cheapest and, to quote the travel agent, “if you’re looking to relax then Cape Verde is best as there isn’t really anything to do outside of the resorts”. She was right. It’s a very hot country and the resorts and beaches are beautiful, but the island of Sal itself is pretty barren and everything has to be imported from surrounding islands or Europe.
There are 10 islands of Cape Verde, the three most touristy ones being Sal, Boa Vista and Maio, as they have the white sandy beaches. We stayed at the Melia Tortuga beach resort on Sal Island. I still had to work whilst we were out there, and this was one of the resorts that offered free WiFi.
Because we went with TUI, our transport from the airport to the hotel was a pre-paid coach, however taxis are so cheap over there and it’s only about a 20 minute drive to Ponta Preta, the area with a majority of the hotels and resorts on. From the hotels, it’s only a 5 minute taxi ride into Santa Maria which will cost you just €3 in the daytime and €4 at night (because they have to go to the hassle of putting their lights on….). The island is only 30km long so it’s pretty easy to get about, regardless of your mode of transport, although being such a small island is limiting, as there are no trains.
What to do
Kite Surfing – Cape Verde has some of the best kite surfers in the world, and even hosted the Kite Surfing World Cup in 2020. They have lots of really great beaches where professionals and amateurs go to practice, and you can sit on the rocks or sand and watch dozens of people surfing along the waves!
Sal Experience (Island Tour) – This was without a doubt, our favourite thing to do and the thing we most recommend to people who are visiting the island. As a part of the tour, you visit the salt lakes, shark experience, nearby fishing village for some local liquor tasting, kite beach, the mirage and the blue eye, as well as lunch in a local shanty town. I’ve written a bit more about the specific experiences below, but the reason that we enjoyed this tour so much is that in encompassed everything we wanted to do, and the guide is the nicest, happiest and most genuine person we’ve ever met! His name is Chan (pronounced ‘shan’ I believe) and he absolutely made the experience, there are no words that are good enough to describe him so please just go and book the trip and see for yourself! We booked through Get Your Guide and the price was so reasonable compared to the tours that TUI was offering. It’s a no brainer!
Salt lakes – It’s said that bathing in the salt lakes makes you look 10 years younger…. It doesn’t actually work (otherwise I would have looked 12 and Scott wouldn’t be with me anymore), but it makes your skin feel amazing for a while and is a really cool experience. When we got there, our guide from the Sal Experience scooped up a huge pile of natural mud from around the edges of the lakes and we were told to rub it all over our skin – literally like a mud bath. Once we were coated in this lightly exfoliating mud, we all got into the warm salt lakes (warm from the volcanic rocks underneath), lay back, and watched our whole bodies float to the top of the water. I always imagined that floating in highly saturated salty water would make it feel a lot thicker and almost ‘gunge-like’, but the reality is that it feels just like normal water until you lay back and watch your feet force themselves upwards.
Shark Experience – Now this we were a little disappointed with, as we were told it was like a ‘shark nursery’ whereby the adult lemon sharks leave their babies in the shallows of the water in a little bay/inlet where they live until they’re old enough to swim out into the depths of the sea. When we were there, sadly we didn’t get to see any baby sharks swimming around our legs, but instead we did see 4 adults a little way out swimming around the breaking waves! It would be a really great experience if there were babies around, and loads of other people have seen them, so it seems like it was just our bad luck!
Blue eye – The blue eye is effectively a gap in some rocks where you can see the sea down below. It’s named the blue eye because when the sun shines down into the ‘cave’, it creates a beautifully bright blue oval in the water! It was quite cool to see, and it’s a part of most day tours of the island, however I wouldn’t recommend going out of the way just to see it!
Horse Riding – On Scott’s bucket list, he has added that he wants to ride a horse, so when we saw that Roy Nice Guy was organising horse riding on the beach, we had to do it. I have ridden a few horses in my childhood, but this was a first time for Scott and I don’t think he will be rushing back to it any time soon! When we arrived onto the beach and started walking towards two horses, I had a wave of panic rush over me thinking ‘I am going to break this horse’s back’. Of course, I know nothing about horses, and as it was she was completely fine with me riding her for an hour and the men seemed to take great care of the horses, but I do think they could’ve taken more care in picking horses to suit the individual. As soon as I got on, I knew it was going to be a very long hour; I could feel myself slipping off with every step we took. Once we got to our half way point to turn around, we went closer to the water which is when my horse started sinking in the wet sand and completely freaked out – it felt like the scene from The Never-ending Story! It only cost us around €25 per person/hour and if you love horses then it’s a beautiful beach walk, we just decided we prefer our feet on the ground!
There are loads of ‘reps’ hanging out on the beaches around the resorts, encouraging you to book tours and excursions with them, who we were quite wary of at first. We got chatting to Roy Nice Guy quite a lot in the 11 days that we were there, and he definitely lives up to his name as a ‘nice guy’. They work out a lot cheaper than the other organised tours and are completely safe and genuine!
Quad Biking – If you’ve read our blog about Cyprus, then you already know that I cannot ride a quad bike to save my life, so there is no way I was going to pay any amount of money to hire one! We did see quite a few groups of people riding around the island on quad bikes and buggies and I think it was just a different type of tour of the island! There are loads of sand/dirt tracks between the main attractions of the island so for a car/truck it wasn’t too smooth, but for a quad it would be absolutely perfect and so much fun!
Santa Maria – The town of Santa Maria is where you can find a variety of shops and pubs, and get more of an authentic ‘African’ feel. Every morning, bright and early, all of the fishing boats come in with their fresh catch and they set up a fish market on the pier. Sadly, we just caught the tail end of it (pardon the pun) when we arrived at around 10am so I’d advise you to get there as early as you can.
Beach Walk – From Ponta Preta, you can walk along the beach all the way around the coast to Santa Maria. Be prepared for some seriously aching legs by the end of it, but you can walk in the water or on the sand all the way along the 2 hour walk. We got a taxi into Santa Maria and then walked back to our resort for lunch, but we were advised by our TUI rep that in the evening, the sun sets on that side of the island and so it’s beautiful to go late afternoon and watch the sun go down over the horizon. In Santa Maria, as we were setting off to walk back around to our hotel, one of the friendly beach dogs started following us, and walked around the beach with us for well over an hour – chasing the birds and digging in the sand.
All around the island there are stray dogs that are really well looked after by the government. They all get taken in to the vets to be neutered and checked up every so often, so they are friendly and really used to people. On the beaches, if you make friends with one of the dogs, they see themselves as your guard dog from then on and will quite often watch out for you and warn off any potential threats.
Where to eat
We stayed in an all inclusive resort, and therefore ate in it for the whole time we were away. There were four restaurants there – Aqua, Pasta Notre, O’Grille and then the buffet. Aqua serves some really tasty, fine dining Asian food and we’re a little annoyed that we didn’t go back more than once as the food was really good quality. O’Grille had a variety of Mexican, grill and salads which was located right on the beach with a beautiful view of the sea and, in the evenings, the sunset too. The buffet had a really great variety of food as well which was all alternated on a daily basis so that the options didn’t get boring (we actually found this to be our favourite place as it completely accommodated both of us regardless of what we wanted – Pasta Notre on the other hand was NOT somewhere we planned to go more than once as the pasta was watery and the sauces had no flavour to them! The only place we went for food or drink outside of our resort was at a bar called Sal Beach Club, as Manchester United were playing and we needed somewhere that Scott could sit, drink and watch the game. It has a nice relaxed vibe in there, and is known for showing a huge variety of different international sport – they also do table service so you don’t have to leave your seats.
One thing to note is that there are lots of flies and mosquitoes in Cape Verde, so bring plenty of insect repellent!
We wouldn’t necessarily go back here, as we feel like we’ve seen all we can, but it is a great place to go if you’re just after some sun, sea and sand. Another country ticked off the bucket list, and another shot glass to add to our collection!