Boasting beautiful white-sand beaches, delicious Portuguese food, and a vibrant culture, the island of Sal is a magical place to visit. In fact, it was one of my favorites on my epic week-long adventure exploring Cabo Verde.
Yet, Sal is sometimes mischaracterized as just a place for pale Brits to lay by the beach and (try to) get a tan. But it’s so much more than that.
Yes, the beaches are phenomenal. And yes, you’ll find some tourist resorts and fine dining restaurants in Santa Maria. But with everything from baby turtle hatching to epic quad bike tours to world-class kite-surfing, the island of Sal has so much more to offer.
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1) Explore the pristine sites & epic shipwrecks with an epic half-day dive trip
Sal is a burgeoning dive hotspot, rapidly garnering attention from dive pros around the world. And you can see why, especially when you consider its numerous impressive shipwrecks dating to the colonial era.
The archipelago of Cabo Verde sits in the middle of what used to be a very popular trade route between Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. And its underwater volcanic topography makes for, well, some bad surprises for sailors not paying attention.
Luckily for us, and much to the dismay of many sailors, this lead to many incredible shipwrecks. And many of them are very well preserved.
We loved exploring the world under the sea with Santa Maria Dive Center. It’s a 5-star PADI dive center, also offering all sorts of dive lessons for everyone from beginner to instructor.
2) Go dune bashing on some of the most incredible island dunes in the world
Adrenaline junkies, behold. Sal is paradise for those who love a little rough terrain and a lot of air time. Most of the island is swept by continuous, intense trade winds, leading to seemingly endless sand dunes.
Locals have taken this to their advantage by making riding ATVs (Quads) a home sport. And luckily for you, there are plenty of rentals around the island. But you may want to consider a guided tour – just so you don’t get lost.
We highly recommend No Limits Adventure for an awesome, truly unique tour of the island.
Note: if you want to explore the island with a more comfortable, air conditioned 4×4, consider simply renting a car with CaboVerde Rental Cars. You’ll still get to see most of the same incredible sights – without all the dust!
3) Zip-line over dramatic coastline views at speeds of over 100km/h
Rated the #3 experience in Santa Maria by TripAdvisor, Zipline Cabo Verde offers an adrenaline-inducing, thrilling way to get epic views over the gorgeous island of Sal.
At speeds of over 100km/h (60mph), you’ll literally be flying. But this isn’t just any zip-line. Here in Sal, it comes with dramatic views over the ocean, sand dunes, and beautiful white-sand beaches.
So whether you’re a seasoned thrill-seeker or a first-time adventurer, zip lining in Sal, Cabo Verde promises an unforgettable and adrenaline-pumping escapade.
4) Learn to kite-surf on Santa Maria beach
Sal, Cabo Verde: a true paradise for kite-surfers, thanks to its consistent trade winds and idyllic conditions.
The crystal-clear turquoise waters of Santa Maria beach, the sun, the waves, and the warm ocean breeze create the perfect setting for an exhilarating learning experience. As you step onto the white sand beach, you can feel the palpable excitement building up. This is the beginning of an unforgettable journey into the world of kite-surfing.
With an experienced instructor by your side, you start your training on the sand. Even as a novice with zero experience, you can learn the basics – and most likely, be able to get up and surf – even on your first session.
We recommend Surf Hub Cabo Verde – a top-rated surf school, with a fantastic location in Santa Maria and some of the most experienced instructors on the island.
5) Go on an enchanting half-day Catamaran tour and enjoy Sal’s diverse wildlife
I’ve always been a fan of sailing. If you don’t believe me, check out my 1-week adventure charter across the British Virgin Islands I did during the worst of Covid-19.
But when I tell you that Sal is a special place to sail, I mean it. It’s one of the few places you stand a great chance of seeing turtles, dolphins, flying fish, and even whales – if you’re lucky. And the snorkeling is wonderful here too.
But, and perhaps most importantly for sailing, Sal has some of the most consistent, graceful breezes in the world. This means you’ll be able to enjoy nature at its finest (that is, without the engines running!)
The tour, hosted by Cape Verde Sailing, includes snorkeling equipment, WiFi, snacks and an open bar.
6) Meet “Obama” on a fun, thrilling island tour hosted by this famous lookalike
Known as the most fun guide of the island, Mr. Obama has made many rounds on social media for his uncanny resemblance to the US President.
But even if you don’t care for the President, you’ll surely love this tour guide’s charismatic attitude and fun personality. He offers everything from horseback riding to paddle boarding to biking and more.
Most importantly, he also offers selfies!
7) Enjoy horseback riding on the beautiful white sand beaches of Sal
Immerse yourself in the magical experience of horseback riding on a picturesque beach in Sal, embarking on a journey of tranquility and beauty as you gallop ahead.
The white sand beaches of Sal and delightful ocean breeze make for an enchanting experience. You might even witness playful dolphins in the distance, or even catch glimpses of a sea turtle floating by.
8) Pedal effortlessly along Sal’s incredible coast and beautiful sand dunes on an electric bike
It’s time for an awesome, eco-friendly adventure across the stunning landscapes of Sal, Cabo Verde with an exhilarating electric bike tour.
Glide effortlessly along the white-sand beaches, past hidden salt mines, and through vibrant neighborhoods, exploring the hidden gems of Sal.
The electric bike allows you to cycle across difficult terrain with ease so you can focus on the scenery without becoming fatigued. Along the way, you’ll learn about the island’s history, culture, and natural wonders. You’ll discover breathtaking viewpoints, pristine beaches, and lush oases that would have been easily missed without the freedom and flexibility of an electric bike.
9) Sharks are friends – not food. And visiting Shark Bay is the perfect place to see why.
On the eastern part of Sal is a beautiful beach called Shark Bay. The crystal-clear waters reveal an abundance of marine life, but it’s the lemon sharks here that steal the show.
With their sleek, yellow-toned bodies and serene movements, the lemon sharks exude an aura of tranquility and elegance. As you observe them gliding effortlessly through their natural habitat, you’re struck by their beauty and grace.
And the best part – you can actually get into the water and swim with them! These sharks pose zero threat to humans, which means you truly get to witness the spectacle up close.
10) Zip along the coastline in a jet-ski
Experience the exhilarating rush of riding a jet ski in Sal, Cabo Verde, as you navigate the sparkling, clear waters of this tropical paradise.
Whether you prefer a leisurely ride along the coastline or a pulse-pounding dash through the waves, jet skiing in Sal offers an adrenaline-fueled escape that will leave you with memories to cherish.
11) Slow down and enjoy a delightful Turtle Watching Adventure
Home to a nesting site for loggerhead sea turtles, Sal offers you the chance to watch these majestic animals in their natural habitats.
Here you’ll be able to witness loggerhead sea turtles leaving the ocean to lay eggs in their natural habitat. And if you’re lucky with your timing, you’ll enjoy the rare opportunity of witnessing the magic of baby sea turtles hatching. As these tiny hatchlings emerge from their nests, they instinctively make their way towards the shimmering ocean – nothing short of a miracle of life.
And by participating in this turtle watching tour, you contribute to the preservation of these endangered species and become a part of the ongoing effort to protect their habitats.
12) Float effortlessly in the Pedra de Lume Salinas, the second saltiest in the world
The Pedra de Lume salt crater is a unique natural wonder that will leave you awe-struck. Located in a dormant volcanic crater, these salt flats offer a mesmerizing landscape that has shaped centuries of salt production.
Here, you can immerse yourself in the therapeutic “Salinas” of the salt pools. The salt concentration, second highest in the world after the Dead Sea, allowing you to effortlessly float on the surface.
You’ll also get a glimpse into the rich heritage of salt production in Cabo Verde, all while unwinding and rejuvenating in this magical part of the island.
13) Take a sound-healing yoga class on the beach with Pure Yoga Magic
Offering all eight limbs of Yoga, Pure Yoga Magic proposes small individualized classes right on the beach. Under the guidance of an experienced yoga instructor, you’ll flow through asanas (poses) that awaken your body, calm your mind, and nourish your soul.
Every day is a different style of yoga, so you can return day after day and learn something new each time.
14) Go on a deep-sea fishing excursion and try your luck at catching local fish
From blue marlin to yellowfin tuna, Cabo Verde is filled to the bream with incredible sea-life.
A deep sea excursion is a fantastic way to enjoy the benefits of being in the middle of the Atlantic. But if you want something a little more simple, trolling and vertical jigging are also offered. Both half-day and full-day excursions are available.
15) Experience the lively nightlife scene of Santa Maria
Santa Maria comes alive after dark with its vibrant and lively nightlife scene. There’s a wide range of dining, tons of entertainment, and epic nightlife options to cater to any taste or preference.
After a fun day of exploring, you can dive right into the buzzing nightlife scene. Walk along the main street and you’ll find tons of bars and clubs offering a mix of live music, DJ sets, and cultural performances. BluBar is a beachfront hotspot with a lively atmosphere and a variety of cocktails to choose from. Budy’s Bar is another popular spot known for its live music and relaxed ambiance. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing drink while soaking up the energetic vibe of the town.
For those who enjoy dancing and late-night parties, Dunas de Sal is a beach club that hosts regular DJ nights and themed parties. It offers a unique combination of beachside relaxation during the day and vibrant nightlife once the sun goes down.
Whatever your choice, the nightlife in Santa Maria promises an unforgettable and energetic experience that you won’t forget.
16) Learn about traditional Cabo Verdean music and dance by attending a live performance or participating in a cultural workshop.
Immerse yourself in the vibrant rhythms and rich cultural heritage of Cabo Verde through traditional dance and music experiences in Sal. One of the must-visit venues for authentic Cabo Verdean music and dance is “Buddy’s Bar,” located in the heart of Santa Maria. Another fantastic venue is “Ocean Cafe“, which also happens to be a great place to eat.
Wherever you go, you’ll enjoy captivating live performances of traditional Cabo Verdean music genres. Some of these include:
- Morna, often considered the national music of Cabo Verde, a soulful genre that showcases heartfelt melodies and poetic lyrics.
- Coladeira, characterized by its infectious rhythm and joyful dance moves
- Funaná, a lively fusion of African and European influences
- Batuque, originating from the island of Santiago, features energetic drumming and dancing that captivates the audience.
Whichever the genre, the liveliness and energy is palpable, making it hard to resist joining in on the action. There’s something truly eclectic and vibrant about the ambiance in the beach bars of Santa Maria.
17) Indulge in relaxing massage therapies and spa treatments on the beach
Looking for the bet massages on the island of Sal? Look no further than the Riu Palace, a five-star resort known for its truly excellent wellness center located right on the beach.
You can choose from a wide array of luxurious treatments and therapies inspired by global wellness traditions. Indulge in soothing massages that incorporate techniques from around the world, such as Swedish, Balinese, or deep tissue massage, to relieve tension and promote deep relaxation.
18) Immerse yourself in the local cuisine by trying local, traditional dishes
For a memorable culinary experience, make sure to indulge in the delicious and delightful local cuisine Sal has to offer. Some of the local dishes you should try in Sal include:
- Cachupa: The national dish of Cabo Verde, cachupa is a hearty slow-cooked stew made with corn, beans, vegetables, and fish or meat.
- Lagosta Grelhada: Succulent lobster typically served with garlic butter or a spicy piri-piri sauce, accompanied by rice and vegetables.
- Polvo Grelhado: Grilled octopus, tender and flavorful, marinated with herbs and spices, then grilled to perfection.
- Pastel com Diabo Dentro: Literally meaning “pastry with the devil inside,” this dish is a deep-fried stuffed pastry filled with a spicy mixture of tuna, onions, tomatoes, and spices. It’s a popular street food snack that packs a flavorful punch.
- Buzio à Cabo Verde: Local Cabo Verdean conch, either sautéed with garlic and butter or simmered in a rich tomato-based sauce.
- Queijo do Fogo: Local cheese from the volcanic island of Fogo. It’s known for its distinct smoky flavor, owing to the volcanic soil and grasses the cows graze on.
In Santa Maria, you have many highly-rated restaurants to choose from. Some of the best include:
- Odjo d’Água, a popular beachfront restaurant known for its delectable seafood dishes
- Chez Pastis, offering a fusion of Mediterranean and Cabo Verdean flavors in a charming setting
- Terra, with a unique farm-to-table dining experience and focus on organic, locally sourced ingredients.
Whatever you end up eating in Sal – even if it’s street food – your taste buds will thank you.
19) Embark on a romantic glamping experience in-between the sand dunes
Imagine the feeling of having the whole island to yourself. That’s the feeling you’ll get when you embark on this epic glamping experience in between the sand dunes on Sal.
Including a delicious, huge lobster dinner and excellent Portuguese wine, with a comfortable bed and airy, large tent, you’re sure to have a wonderful experience under the stars.
20) Learn about local arts and crafts at one of Sal’s center for handicrafts
You can find the best arts and handicrafts center on the island at Djunta Mo Art, a shop committed to helping local artisans share their craft. Djunta Mo Art is also the official distributor of the Women’s Organization of Cape Verde project Mãos de Cabo Verde formed by women’s cooperatives.
If you’re looking for memorable souvenirs and stunning artwork here, you’re in luck. From colorful textiles and clothing to intricately designed jewelry, you’ll find a wide range of handmade treasures that reflect the artistic traditions of Cabo Verde.
Artisans range from women to children to prisoners to the elderly. No matter what you purchase, you’re sure to be helping the locals while adding something unique to your collection.
But what about the other islands in Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)? What is there to do and see?
If you think there’s a lot to do in Sal, wait until you check out the other islands. From hiking an active volcano in Fogo to visiting sea caves in Praia, the islands of Cabo Verde are truly spectacular.
The week I spent exploring Cabo Verde was unforgettable.
My favorite island? Santa Antao, in the north. You can read more about what makes it so special here.