Amy and I have a special connection with Sal. It was on a deserted unnamed beach, surrounded only by ocean and sand dunes that I bent down on one knee and asked her to be my wife. That was nearly five years ago, and the island has become a little better known in that time.
Sal still feels as if it is hasn’t found its way on to the digital nomad’s map. I’d like to change that, as I believe it is the ultimate place to set up for a month while you work on your blog, do some freelancing and enjoy the island’s motto “No Stress”.
Where is Sal?
Lying 350 miles to the west of Senegal, The Cape Verde islands (pronounced Cabo Verde locally) are a collection of relatively new islands created from volcanic activity. There are ten main islands, of which nine are inhabited and all have a very different feel. For the adventurous traveller, a trip hopping across the islands is a must do. It’s on our bucket list, but not something we’ve had the opportunity (or funds) to do yet. You can only fly in to two of the islands currently, Sal or Boa Vista.
Sal is one of the largest islands, boasting a desert landscape with stunning white sand beaches along its southern coast. Named after its history as a thriving salt mine, the tiny island is well known as the sunniest of Cape Verde. Don’t worry about overheating too much though, as the strong trade wind that is ever apparent from November to June really helps to keep the humidity in check.
When to visit
One of the reasons we are so in love with Sal, is the relatively manageable year-round climate. When planning our round-the-world trip, one thing we really struggled with is where we wait out the winter months between the Americas and Asia. Sal offers long hours of sunshine with low humidity all year round.
January is typically the coolest time of year at around 24 C, but it’s also in the peak of the trade wind season (November to March) meaning you’ll be hanging around with endless kite and windsurfers. The feel of the island at this time is amazing. If you are looking for somewhere to set up base for a month and wait out the bad season elsewhere, a few beers on the beach at sunset with a group of surfers sounds like as good a place as any.
If you want heat, August to October is your best bet with temperatures regularly above 30 C. It feels hotter though! Don’t expect to be out and about in the middle of the day. The turquoise sea is beautiful at this time, typically sitting at around 26 C. Be aware, however, that prices will go up during peak holiday seasons. It might be best to avoid peak seasons in December and August if you are looking for an affordable place to set up your ‘desk’ and do some online freelancing.
What to do & where to eat
Part of the reason I recommend Cape Verde as an affordable base for digital nomads, is that there isn’t a huge amount of touristy companies offering expensive pursuits. I love nothing more than a morning at the laptop, followed by a gelato on the beach thanks to the large Italian expat community in Sal.
There are a good selection of restaurants and bars if you fancy a special evening. I’d highly recommend trying the Caipriniha made with the dangerously strong local rum, Grog. It’s named after the sailors who visited the island in the 1900’s, who had a ‘groggy’ head after a night on the local spirit.
La Tortue at the Morabeza offers lux surroundings with a daily happy hour – making it cheap enough to enjoy even on a budget. Cheap eats include home made pizza at Angulos, owned by award-winning windsurfer Josh Angulo, and a selection of casual bars offering light bites. My favourite restaurant has to be Tam Tams. Set up by an Irish couple, Amy and Ciaran, the bar offers excellent bar food with a friendly feel. Free wifi and affordable prices make this a perfect spot to sit in the shade for the afternoon.
There are two main sites to see on Sal, and do see the section below on car hire for the best way to see them. Located about a 2 hour drive from your main base in Santa Maria, Sal’s abandoned salt mines, Pedra de Lume, were once the main industry on the island. The mines are now abandoned and have passed over to the new source of income, tourism. It’s still pretty cheap, at €5 per person to enter the abandoned salt mines.
The ‘blue eye’ is a simple outcrop of volcanic black rock. At mid-day the sun shines directly down through a hole in the rock to the sea, causing it to shine up and out through the hole. It’s one of those experiences that you can’t really do justice to with a blog or a photo. It is worth the trip. On the drive over keep an eye out for a line of large rocks in the desert landscape. If you pull over by the rocks you’ll see a real mirage. It is the first and only I’ve seen – again one thing you really must see if you visit it Sal.
If watersports is your thing, there are plenty of options. Diving, surfing, kite surfing and wind surfing are all on offer. You can rent kit and head off, or take lessons with various providers dotted across Santa Maria. Be prepared to pay for these experiences though. Whilst you can get cheap accommodation and food in Sal, the tourism industry is starting to grow with high-priced watersports at the forefront.
Where to stay
I’d forgive you for being surprised when I recommend Cape Verde as a dream location for either digital nomads or those on a budget. Thanks to Thomson capitalising the market with large hotels offering packaged holidays, many are led to believe that a holiday to Sal is an expensive trip for the middle aged with teenagers in tow.
Santa Maria boasts endless accommodation options. From smaller local ‘hotels’ to apartments for short term let, there’s a lot of cheaper (and more authentic) options available. On Airbnb rooms range from cheap and basic at £12 a night through to more luxurious pool or beach side apartments at £40 a night.
We’re big fans of Leme Bedje. Apartments aren’t overly expensive, there’s a shared pool that is always immaculate and it is only a 5 minute walk from the town. Being a few minutes walk out of the town is recommended if you are setting up a base for a few weeks. You’ll avoid hearing the one ‘nightclub’ (if you can call it that) in Santa Maria, Calema, which can go on until the early hours.
How to keep costs down
You could easily blow the budget on Sal, but I believe that could be true of most places. To make the island an affordable base while you work online, make sure you rent an apartment with a kitchen. You can purchase cheap fresh fruit and vegetables from women who walk around the town with huge baskets on their heads every morning.
Italian deli’s and local bakers offer great produce at affordable prices. Low priced supermarkets are easy to reach. Whilst the size of Sal’s supermarkets would really be likened to a corner shop, they sell all the basics including pasta and bottled water.
The local currency is the Escudo, CVE. You’ll find you can pay in either Euros or Escudos in Cape Verde – but it really is worth getting Escudo’s as soon as you land. The exchange rate favours the Escudo, and you’ll often find you are paying 10% more at the Euro price. The currency is closed, meaning you can’t purchase any before you arrive. There are loads of cash points throughout Santa Maria however, so it is easy to grab some on your first day.
Arriving at the only airport in Sal, Amilcar Cabral, you’ll need to grab a taxi to reach Santa Maria. There are always plenty waiting as each plane lands, and you should only be charged €10 for the 20 minute journey.
Taxis in Cape Verde are affordable, and you’ll have very little use for them other than for getting to and from the airport. Whenever you do use one, make sure you agree the price before getting in the car. I tend to hold out the agreed price in notes and ensure the driver has seen it before jumping in. As in many a developing area, taxi drivers are more than happy to over charge a tourist if a price isn’t negotiated up front. Having pale un-tanned skin is all that is needed for the taxi drivers to attempt to overcharge. Remain firm and negotiate, and you’ll be fine.
Once you’ve reached Santa Maria you shouldn’t need a car at all. You can reach everything within a 30 minute walk, unless you take the hike (or very short taxi journey) to Ponte Preta beach. This is the hotspot for kitesurfing and a great way to spend an afternoon.
If you want to explore the island, you can hire a 4×4 for a couple of days. The journey to all the main sites will only take one day, so it’s great to hire a car the night before your trip and return it the next evening. There are two clearly signposted places to rent cars in Santa Maria, and it will typically cost you €60 for 24 hours. You’ll also need to fill the car up at the local petrol station before you return it.
Why we recommend Sal as the ultimate bloggers paradise
The combination of year-round sunshine, low humidity and relaxed way of life makes Sal the perfect place to set up a base and wait out the cold or monsoon drenched seasons elsewhere. Affordable wifi options (completely free if you sit in the town square), white sandy beaches and an endless supply of hammocks make it a great spot to take some time out.
We have a special relationship with this island. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. We’d love to help others find their own little slice of paradise.