Home Beach holidays My Cape Verde holiday on the island of Sal

My Cape Verde holiday on the island of Sal

by Sarah Bridge
Cape Verde holiday

My Cape Verde holiday

Within minutes of arriving at our resort for our Cape Verde holiday, we had a drink in hand and had hit the dance floor – wearing jeans in 27-degree heat! Our week of fun had finally started.


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The popularity of holidays to Cape Verde, and to Sal Island, Cape Verde, in particular, has rocketed over the last few years and  it wasn’t hard to see why. If you’re after a relaxing week by the pool or on white sandy beaches, soaking up the rays and enjoying almost constant food and all-inclusive cocktails then a Cape Verde holiday will suit you perfectly.

There are 10 Cape Verde islands in total, covering about 4,000 square km, and the island of Sal is one of the most popular with tourists. We spent the week at the adults-only, all-inclusive resort hotel Melia Llana, having booked a package holiday with holiday company TUI. There are some interesting places to visit outside the resorts but as the island is just 20 miles from head to toe they can be seen in less than a day, leaving you more time to just relax and indulge yourself.

Book Melia Llana on Booking.com

Read about the Island of Sal on Tripadvisor

Melia Llana resort Cape Verde

The Melia Llana resort on the island of Sal, Cape Verde

I’d first heard about Cape Verde, or Cabo Verde, the archipelago of islands off the north-west coast of Africa, when I read about the growing popularity of the country with British holidaymakers.

Cape Verde’s climate of all-year-round sun make it perfect for winter sun while being much nearer to the UK than the Caribbean (average monthly temperatures lie between 23-29C), so the minimal time difference and shorter travel time means less jet leg and more time on the beach.

rooms at Melia Lana on Sal, Cape Verde with swim-up access

Many of the rooms at Melia Lana on Sal, Cape Verde, had swim-up access

Flights to Cape Verde

There are now regular flights from Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and London either direct or via Lisbon and Cape Verde is now one of the fastest-growing holiday destinations for Brits who make up the largest group in travellers to the islands.

The government of Cape Verde, mindful of problems associated with the rapid spread of tourism, has instituted strict planning regulations, such as no building above a certain height and has levied a 25 euro tourist tax on all visitors (you can buy this at the airport when you land if your tour operator hasn’t included it) but there’s no question that I were to return in a few years’ time the landscape would look rather different.

 Melia Llana resort at night

The Melia Llana resort at night

My friend Lisa and I were spending the week on the island of Sal, one of the largest Cape Verde islands and where the tourist industry is really booming.

On the short transfer from the airport to our hotel the landscape changed from untouched featureless scrubland to row upon row of newly-built villas and, on the coastline itself, five or more hotel resorts lined up next to each other on the brand new boardwalk.

Property development company The Resort Group alone is spending £1 billion on building hotels and villas on Cape Verde, including the Melia Tortuga, Melia Dunas, TUI Sensimar and our hotel for the week, the Melia Llana.

The hotel Melia Llana

The hotel Melia Llana has three pools, two restaurants and four bars

Staying at the Melia Llana hotel

The adults-only Melia Llana opened less than a year ago and has three pools, two restaurants, four bars and what seemed like about 10 sun loungers for each person. There was certainly no need to worry about not getting your sunbathing spot for the day. We were given a very smart split-level 72-metre Junior Suite which had a bed and TV upstairs, a lounge with sofa and another TV downstairs, a large bathroom and best of all, a balcony with a great view and our very own hot tub.

lounge and balcony at Melia Llana

The view of my lounge and balcony from the bedroom upstairs

standard room with ocean view at Melia Llana Cape Verde

As members of ‘The Level’, which is the hotel’s VIP club (for which you pay extra), we had a dedicated reception, an automatic late check out, an a la carte restaurant for breakfast and an access to a separate pool and lounge, just for The Level members.

VIP pool Melia Llana Cape Verde

The third pool on the resort is just for The Level members and has cushioned loungers and waiter service

Boasting comfier loungers and waiter service, we spent most of our sunbathing time there, although once we’d got to know more of our fellow holidaymakers we usually migrated to the main pool for the ‘3 o’clock club’ – mojitos and daiquiris in the swim-up bar.

Cape Verde holiday Sal outdoor swimming pool

The ‘3 o’clock club’ reconvenes at the swim-up bar in the main pool

The food at Melia Llana was plentiful and excellent, with the ample buffet meaning you were spoiled for choice and likely to put on pounds. There was an air-conditioned gym and fitness classes to try and counter the effect of unlimited desserts but most people opted for a few lazy lengths of the pool instead.

buffet food at Melia Llana Cape Verde

Temptation at the buffet…

buffet food at Melia Llana Cape Verde

Frankly you’re never going to even attempt to lose weight when the food is an all-inclusive buffet

Activities at Melia Llana

During the day there were various activities on offer, such as aqua-aerobics and cocktail-making, and the evening entertainment ranged from local singers and musicians to a juggling unicyclist and fire-eater, but there were several other bars onsite for those who’d rather drink and chat instead. The resort was immaculate and the hard-working and friendly staff put a lot of effort into keeping it so. There’s fast free wifi through the beach resort.

The weather was warm and sunny if strangely overcast for the whole of the week we were there, making for an odd purplish sky, no sun and therefore no sunsets. (I’m told this is unusual). It was a shame to miss out on the blue skies we’d been expecting but it probably made for safer tanning for my fair skin: we’d also been warned that Cape Verde was windy but our part was sheltered from all but a light warming breeze.

sandy beach Santa Maria Cape Verde

The pristine sands of Santa Maria beach

Visiting Santa Maria

One morning I took the free shuttle bus into the local town of Santa Maria, just a few minutes away. The town is small but the Santa Maria beach is impressive and I spent a morning watching the world go by from a local cafe with excellent cappuccinos.

Tourists are prime targets for local Cape Verdeans selling anything from souvenirs to day trips for scuba diving or island hopping, and after ten rather persistent approaches in the first five yards I dashed into a shop to borrow their scissors and cut off my all-inclusive wrist-band which seemed to help a little (the tours reps advise you to hide it under a sleeve but it’s rather hard in a t-shirt!).

cape verde holiday salA colourful bar in Santa Maria

A colourful bar in Santa Maria

Exploring the island of Sal, Cape Verde

We hired a taxi for a longer explore round the island which gave more flexibility than a formal excursion: rather than going swimming at the Pedro Lume salt lakes – Cape Verde’s answer to the Dead Sea – our driver Tony took us on a hair-raising off-road route to get the best views from the top.

Pedra Lume salt flats

The view from high above the Pedra Lume salt flats – you can also swim (or rather, float) in them

From there we went to the Blue Eye of Buracona which is billed as ‘one of Sal’s natural wonders’ – it’s basically a turquoise glow on an underground lake caused by the sun’s light which you queue up to peer at – more spectacular were the nearby waves crashing up into the rocky coast.

queues at the Blue Eye of Buracona

The queue to peer at ‘The Blue Eye of Buracona’

the Blue Eye of Buracona

The Blue Eye itself…

Cape Verde coastline and waves

The rather more impressive coastline

The tourist jeeps and taxis pretty much followed each other across the bleak centre to Terra Boa, a mirage in the desert, but for a local vibe the pretty town of Palmeira was best: wall murals, little shops and bars and locals playing the popular game of ‘ouril’ with ouris seeds – it looked like a version of backgammon and came over with slaves from the west coast of Africa during the Portuguese colonisation in the 15th century (Cape Verde was part of the Portuguese empire from 1462 when settlers came to the uninhabited islands until independence in 1975).

bar in the town of Palmeira

A bar in the pretty town of Palmeira which like many buildings was painted in colourful murals. Palmeira seemed to give off the friendliest and most relaxed vibe on the island

Bikini Beach bar

Signs that Sal is trying to compete with the party spots of Mallorca and Ibiza can be seen at Bikini Beach, a beach bar jutting out into the sea by the Melia Llana resort.

Bikini Beach bar swimming pool cape verde sal

We spent a day tanning on the sunloungers at Bikini Beach bar

It was nice to lounge in the sun somewhere new for a change but it’s early days for Bikini Beach: while the food was good and the music pumping it certainly wasn’t full or particularly lively, but then it’s probably hard to lure people away from free food and drinks in the comfort of their own hotels. (It did serve a great pornstar martini though).

restaurant Bikini Beach bar

There’s a restaurant inside but you can also get served food at your sunning spot (the sushi was particularly good)

However it was interesting to meet The Resorts Group founder Rob Jarrett, who has at least 10 other projects for Cape Verde currently in the pipeline, on Sal and its neighbouring Cape Verdean islands including Boa Vista and Santiago. There’s no question that Cape Verde is going to change dramatically over the next 10 or 20 years – hopefully in a way which keeps and celebrates its original low-key charm.

How to book a Cape Verde holiday with TUI

A week at Melia Llana with tour operator TUI starts at around £900 per person for a standard deluxe room including flights – hotels and flights can also be booked separately.

Book Melia Llana on Booking.com

Visit Melia Llana on Tripadvisor

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