Published: May 2012
Four hundred and fifty kilometres off the west coast of Africa you’ll find the Atlantic archipelago of Cape Verde – a cluster of tropical islands that for centuries were popular with seafarers and slave traders travelling between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Over the years, development has been slow, but since gaining independence in 1975, foreign money has been invested and tourist infrastructure has improved. With the additional bonus of year round sunshine, Cape Verde is attracting European holidaymakers and now with direct flights from the UK, word is spreading – Cape Verde is one of the hottest new must-see destinations.
Sal was the first island in the archipelago to erupt from the sea over fifteen million years ago and it’s where I headed to get my first taste of the islands. When budgeting for a holiday in the current economic climate it makes great sense to go all-inclusive, especially on an island that’s still relatively undeveloped. I therefore opted for an all-inclusive break at Hotel Melia Tortuga. The majority of hotels on the island are in and around Santa Maria, the main tourist area. The Melia Tortuga is a good hour and half walk along the beach to Santa Maria (be sure to try it at least once, you’ll welcome the exercise to walk of the excess pounds you’ll no doubt gain from all the delicious food on offer) or alternatively it’s a 10 minute 3 euro taxi ride. By being slightly apart and smaller than the large Rio hotel along the coast, with two pools and beautiful landscaped gardens, the hotel has an air of exclusivity about it. If you’re looking to just literally fly and flop, gaze over the turquoise Atlantic Ocean whilst soaking up the guaranteed year round sunshine then it’s the perfect choice of hotel. For someone more used to action packed holidays, I surprised myself how easily I adapted to the quieter routine. As most of the island’s attractions can be seen in half a day, you’ll be spending a lot of time within the hotel and it therefore makes perfect sense to base yourself somewhere so aesthetically pleasing, peaceful and relaxing. Most of the guests I talked to welcomed the ability to just do nothing and with a flight time of only 6 hours from the UK, it’s a great alternative to the Canaries as a winter sun break.
The hotel has 271 suites, apartments and villas. My 2 bedroom suite was particularly spacious, styled with contemporary furnishings and had the added bonus of a large flat screen satellite TV in both the lounge and master bedroom. The resort also has 3 & 4 bedroomed detached beach front villas with their own private garden and plunge pool. For the spa enthusiast, the YHI spa offers a range of treatments and a thermal circuit including a sauna, steam bath, essence shower, sensations show, colour and contrast show and pediluvio. I’m afraid I have no idea what the latter is as I was too busy doing my daily laps in the choice of two large pools. Of these, one is livelier with an adjoining swim up bar and music and the other is slightly smaller and quieter. There’s also a children’s pool.
Typical of an all inclusive, there’s a good selection of restaurants, so you can alternate lunch and dinner in different venues, the O Grille Beach Club bar and Grill being particularly popular at lunchtime. It’s a great setting and has recently been voted one of the best bars in the world by CNN’s travel website, Global Experiences.
Sal is an island that is best enjoyed by beach lovers. The pristine white sand beaches rival any of those found in the Caribbean and literally go on for miles. In fact with a blend of African, Brazilian and Portuguese cultures, Cape Verde has been dubbed the African Caribbean (but without the hurricanes). There’s no denying that Sal’s beaches are its biggest USP. However, the island’s once mountainous topography has been whittled down by gusty Saharan winds and any vegetation has been obliterated. At first glance the barren interior can be a tad depressing, it’s not as green as the name implies. None the less, there’s still some impressive sights to see and it’s well worth doing the island tour.
Sal was discovered by the Portuguese in 1460 who named their new territorial gain Llana, which means ‘flat’. It wasn’t until some time later, when salt was uncovered at the lake at Pedra de Lume, that its name was changed to Sal, meaning ‘salt’.
Pedra de Lume is a definite highlight of the island tour. The salt lake is situated inside a long extinct volcano and if you’ve not been to the Dead Sea a swim or float in its shallow waters makes for an interesting experience. The lake water is twenty six times saltier than sea water with saliency levels on a par with those found in the Dead Sea. It’s therefore not difficult to get the requisite reading a newspaper whilst floating shot. There’s a shower where you can wash of all the caked salt and a small café. It’s a very atmospheric place, especially with the backdrop of the volcano and long abandoned conveyor system to transport the salt from the mine to the small port below.
Along with stunning beaches, Sal’s other claim to fame is wind. The steady ocean breezes have made Sal one of the top places in the world for kite and windsurfing. So although you might not get to enjoy swimming in the sea, the Atlantic rollers making it too rough, the breeze is a welcome respite from the heat and the champion surfers leaping off the waves make for a spectacular sight.
The slow pace of life on Sal grows on you and for city dwellers used to a frantic way of life there’s something very appealing about just lazing on the sand and relaxing by the pool. If you’re looking for a first class, friendly and all inclusive hotel in a year round sun and sand destination that’s just a little different then the Melia Tortuga Beach on Sal in the Cape Verde Islands comes highly recommended.
Petra joined Travel Channel for its launch back in 1994. She looked after research and worked on all original productions. Petra was one of the most recognisable faces in the the travel industry and when not on the canape circuit promoting the channel, she spent every free moment travelling. She's visited over 80 countries, mainly as a back packer as opposed to in 5 * luxury, unless of course it was in the name of research!
Petra travelled to Sal with The Cape Verde Experience.
To find out more about The Cape Verde Experience visit