On the tiny island archipelago of Cape Verde can be found the island of Sal and the town of Santa Maria. Located some 15 miles south of Espargos, Sal's capital, this beach resort is home to a number of all inclusive hotels, making Santa Maria the largest tourist resort in the Cape Verde Islands and a top pick for a 2019 / 2020 holiday.
Referred to as the ‘African Caribbean’ and situated in the Atlantic off the West African Senegalese coast, you’ll find colourful surf and craft shops, cafe’s and bars, not to mention endless sandy beaches and bright blue waters. This is a place both for relaxation and adventure, with some of the best windsurfing spots a short walk from secluded and idyllic waterfront hideaways.
Come and experience the magic of a Cape Verde holiday in Santa Maria.
At a glance
- Time Zone: GMT +
- Average flight time: 5h 55m
When to go
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Santa Maria, whilst being Sal’s busiest town, is a relaxed place that’s perfect for beach lovers. Browse designer surf wear in the multicoloured town centre where floral beachwear, sunglasses and other items can be found in abundance. Those taking their Cape Verde holiday in September can experience the Santa Maria Festival (check for specific dates before travelling), a bright and vibrant music festival with live acts and stalls serving up delicious local food and drink.
For an up close glimpse of the island’s flora and fauna head to the Viveiro Botanical Garden, or take a horseback ride along the beach with Santa Marilha horse excursions, a fantastic day out for all the family.
Being influenced by the cultures of Africa, the Caribbean and even Portugal (the islands were under its governance until 1975), Cape Verde and Santa Maria in particular boasts food that’s all about colour and celebration. The island’s signature dish is undoubtedly Catchupa, a delicious stew made from beans, chorizo and slowly marinated meat or tuna. Head to Funana Casa da Cultura, an atmospheric restaurant/museum/live music hall that does a roaring trade in fresh local seafood and island drinks such as fidjos with sugar cane honey. Come on a Sunday, when the owners host a BBQ and mini singing festival.
By nature of its location next to the vast Atlantic Ocean, Santa Maria is home to plenty of individuals and companies offering dolphin and whale watching trips. Adventurous kids will relish the opportunity to scan the blue waters for sightings.
Back on dry land, it’s also possible to take a day trip to the tiny and rugged island of Sao Nicolau via small plane. Kids will love the adventure and the other worldliness of this lush and green island.
Action & Adventure
Whilst kitesurfing and windsurfing immediately spring to mind (lessons can be booked or equipment hired on Praia de Santa Maria), a trip away from the coast comes just as recommended for that dose of action and adventure. Take a 4x4 tour that departs Santa Maria and heads inland, to volcanic lagoons, remote villages and salt lakes that you can take a dip in. Or jump aboard a quad bike and cut across the sand dunes, inland across the island’s salt flats and past pools carved out by lava.
Holidays in Cape Verde may appear to be all about beachside rest and relaxation, but there’s thrills and spills to be had right here in Santa Maria.
With Sal being a small island that can be explored in less than a day, time at the beach features heavily on holidays in Cape Verde. Santa Maria hugs an 8km stretch of white sand, dotted with sun loungers and relaxing visitors and the horizon with surfers of all kinds. Praia de Santa Maria is a wonderful place to spend the day and there’s not a lot you won’t find at this gorgeous beach. Fishermen’s boats line the pier, the catch of the day being fresh tuna. Locals go swimming in the calmer waters, whilst further afield surfers lay in waiting for that hallowed wave. Lovely little restaurants, bars and shops line the beach and there’s plenty of places for a stroll to grab some delicious food, local crafts or simply a spot of shade for an hour or two.
Whilst you’re unlikely to find clubs that stay open till the early hours on your Cape Verde holiday, the Santa Maria beachfront comes to life at nighttime. The waterfront restaurants serve up the freshest local produce only metres from the beach and many of them feature music on a nightly basis. They serve up a mean cocktail here, with plenty of options to choose from. Saturdays are best for something a bit more lively, when musicians come to perform the local morna music – a mixture of Portuguese and Brazilian rhythms.
What says romantic holiday more than an island getaway with plenty of sun, sea and sand? Santa Maria has the added bonus of being off the beaten tourist track, adding that extra special touch to your Cape Verde holiday. Go snorkelling together through the crystal clear waters in search of colourful marine life, or for something a bit more relaxed, take an adult-only Sea Turtle catamaran on a sleek journey across the sea on the lookout for, you’ve guessed it, sea turtles. The friendly crew will keep you fed and watered and it’s a great way to soak up that invigorating sea air.
As is the norm with Caribbean and African nations, song and dance forms a large part of the cultural fabric. Our Lady of Piety day is a one-day festival in August that consists of a morning mass in Santa Maria church. This is followed by a procession down to the beach accompanied by live music, before swimming races are held in the sea. Santa Maria is also home to a buzzing open-air market where you can get a taste for the area’s culture and heritage. Wander the cobbled streets in search of authentic crafts such as hand carved coconut shells, clay figurines, bongo drums and intricate masks. So come and experience culture that’s a little out of the ordinary on your Cape Verde holiday.