Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

Going to Cape Verde: A Week on the Island of Sal

Cape Verde is an archipelago of a group of volcanic islands located northwest of Africa. The country consists of 10 large and 8 small islands. The capital of Cape Verde – Praia – is located on the island of Santiago. And the most attractive islands for tourism are Sal, Boavista, Fogo, Santo Antão and San Vicente. Our reader from Kharkov Yaroslav Lyubchinsky traveled to Cape Verde and shared his detailed trip plan to this island state in the Atlantic Ocean.

Cape Verde has few tourists, unspoiled nature and excellent beaches. It’s also a little-explored place, which is of particular interest. Well, when we found tickets at a good price, it was almost a crime not to take advantage of the proposal, which can be found once a year.

On the Internet you can come across a lot of contradictory information about the visa: they write that you need to bring 2 photos 3×4, certificate of employment and income, they mention about getting a visa at the nearest embassy, and a lot of other junk. But this information is unreliable. In fact, visas for citizens of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are made on arrival. Prepare for this to stand in line for about an hour, because at an interval of half an hour several planes arrive, and only two windows are working for the issuance of visas. The only saving factor is that there is a good free wi-fi and while waiting you can chat with relatives or post pics in social networks. The visa costs € 25 and a fee of € 31 (in total € 56). Note that you need a Schengen visa for Russians and Belarusians.

“Your first thought – you’re on another planet.

There are not many options for flying to the islands, the most popular is from Portugal. TAP flies to several Cape Verdean islands at once. After Brussels Airlines came to Kiev in 2018, it became very easy for Ukrainians to get to Cape Verde.

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My itinerary consisted of two segments Kiev – Brussels and Brussels – Sal. The second segment of the flight works by the shuttle method: after departure from Brussels the plane landed on the island of Boavista, disembarked some passengers and picked up people who were flying to Brussels, then flew to the island of Sal, where the situation was repeated. The flight Kiev – Brussels – Kiev costs € 65, Brussels – Sal – Brussels – € 130. And the total sum was € 195 (it was a promotional offer only with hand baggage up to 12 kg). The standard cost of flights on this route starts at about € 600. You can also fly from Europe to the islands using the services of tour operator TUI or charter airline Thomas Cook.

Cape Verde has its own currency – the Cabo Verde escudo. It is not necessary to bother with currency exchange, because everywhere you can pay for euros. The official rate is around 110 escudos per € 1, but in general, the calculation equate 100:1. The only time I met the official exchange rate was in the biggest supermarket in Sal Island. There you just give euros, and you can get change in both euros and escudos, or in two currencies at the same time.

You shouldn’t expect to pay with payment systems. For excursions, surfing lessons, restaurants, food and other important things you can pay only in cash. Although there will be places where you can pay by Visa and Master Card.

The main mode of transport on the island is a cab, the standard fare from the airport to the city of Santa Maria is € 15 but you can safely negotiate and knock down the price to € 10. There is a lot of competition, and someone will agree to take you for that money. On the island of Sal there are also shuttles, which run on incomprehensible tracks with a chaotic schedule – they leave only when there is a full cabin.

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You can rent a car, the rental price starts from € 35 per day, but it seems to make no sense – the island is very small and there is not much to go. If you want, you can take a tour around the island for € 25.

Santa Maria is the main town, where everyone who arrives on the island of Sal stops. The town is located 16 km from the airport. You have no problem choosing accommodation – Booking and Airbnb have a lot of offers (from hostels and apartments to luxury hotels). I’ve chosen apartments for myself, which cost from € 150 per week. Apartments are convenient because they have everything you need for life: refrigerator, stove, dishes and cutlery, various household appliances. It is better to rent an apartment away from the city center, where there is less noise and lower prices.

Note that often when booking an apartment, the price does not include tourist fees, as well as bills for light, water and cleaning. This can cost you half the price – pay attention to the bottom line when you pay.

The island’s main provider of food is the ocean. A variety of seafood – tuna, sea bass, sawfish, octopus, lobster – are found off the island. Sal Island cannot boast lush vegetation and fertile soil, so all other products get there through the port. But that doesn’t mean there’s a problem with food on the island. There is a large supermarket in Santa Maria with the groceries we are used to – a small but sufficient assortment. Food prices are higher than in Europe.

On the island, I both cooked myself and ate in various places. Cooking by myself is not much cheaper. Every day from 10 am at the pier (this is, you might say, the central part of Santa Maria) local fishermen return from the ocean with fresh catches. The fish can be bought immediately (cost from € 4 per kg), it will be cleaned immediately.

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There are a lot of good restaurants and the menu is dominated by seafood, especially tuna dishes. For those who like more familiar dishes, pizza, steaks, burgers and so on are on the menu. Cape Fruit (Rua 15 de Agosto) is one of the best breakfast spots on the island. You’ll have to wait in line, but the food is really worth it. A full breakfast costs €6 (includes freshly squeezed fresh fruit, yogurt and fruit, toast with butter, coffee and scrambled eggs). Be sure to try the pancakes, which are served with chocolate hazelnut paste and banana or with fruit and honey (€5).

The national dish of Cape Verde is cachupa . It is a dish based on vegetables, yams, various legumes, corn with the addition of meat and seafood. There are poor and rich cachupa – so it is called by the locals. Determining which is which is very easy – the more ingredients, the richer the cachupa.

What to do on the island

Sal is the most touristy place in the Cape Verde Islands, so there are plenty of interesting things to do. The main infrastructure on the island is concentrated in the town of Santa Maria, where kitesurfing, diving and windsurfing schools are located.

Sal is the world capital for kitesurfers, here were born and honed their skills several world champions in this sport. There is a constant strong wind on the island, especially in the winter, and this is ideal conditions for kitesurfing. My trip coincided with the World Cup Kite-Surf 2019, so on the beaches of Ponta Preta you could meet the best surfers from around the world. Kitesurfing lessons start at €50 per lesson. To learn the basics of kitesurfing, you need at least 5-6 lessons – this, in my opinion, a very difficult sport. One theory takes 2 lessons.

Surfing lessons cost from € 25, windsurfing lessons from € 50. A boat trip costs €99 for a day or €50 for half a day. The price includes a light lunch and seasickness pills.

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The shores of Cape Verde are washed by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which is rich in marine life. There are valuable species for sport fishing, such as tuna (you may even get a trophy), and the dream of every fisherman – blue marlin. You can go fishing with a group of up to 6 people or individually. The cost – from € 50 per person to € 600 for an individual tour.

On the island of Sal are large dive centers that provide various services, from training to beginners to the rental of equipment. The best months for diving are from April to November. The most popular dive spots are the Blue Room, Burocano Cave, and Ponta do Farol reef.

One of the most memorable events for me on Sala is the island tour. It is a ride in a pickup truck for 5-6 hours with stops at the most interesting locations of the area. The first stop is Murdeira village, where you can see the view of the restless ocean. The next stop is Espargos, the island’s capital and the highest point of the telecommunications center. It’s here that you can get a great view of most of the island and understand how much dust covers this piece of land lost in the ocean.

Next we went to Palmeira, the water gateway to Sal. It’s where the local fishermen hang out – cheerful and open-minded people who know how to enjoy life. They spend all their time fixing tackle, drinking, smoking cigarettes and listening to Bob Marley music. And you can see why the island’s main slogan is No Stress. From here we made our way to Burocano Cave (also called “Blue Eye”), but we couldn’t swim because it was out of season because of the big waves.

After returning to the capital and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we drove to a place called Shark Bay. That’s where you really get to see sharks! Although initially I had fears that when we get to the place, the sharks will not be there, and the guide will start saying that, they say, it’s out of season, the sharks are not in the mood and everything in that spirit. But as we drove up to the place, I saw shark fins in the distance. To get close, you have to have closed rubber shoes. If you do not – do not worry, on the shore you will meet an enterprising locals who rent shoes for € 2. You could get as close as 3 meters to the sharks, and the little sharks swam under my feet – without exaggeration, this is the most striking impression of my entire trip.

“The little sharks floating under my feet was the most vivid experience of my entire trip.”

The salt lake in the crater of an extinct volcano was the final point of the trip around the island. This is where table salt is mined and is entered through a tunnel. When you go through it, a stunning landscape opens up, and the first thought is that you are on another planet. You can swim in the lake, it is similar to the Dead Sea in its properties. Diving and wiping your eyes because of the high concentration of salt is not worth it. Entrance to the lake is € 5. And the whole tour of the island cost € 25. Be prepared that by the end of the tour you will be covered with dust from head to toe.

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For lovers of lazy relaxation, the island has long sandy beaches and an ocean with turquoise water. You can easily find a place of solitude, enjoy the sound of the surf and watch the boundless water element – the mighty and unruly ocean. It’s moments like this that make us realize how much time we are wasting, because there is still so much unexplored on the planet.

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