Sal Island Tour – Deserts, Sharks and More
Beyond diving and the beaches, Sal has quite a few other things to offer. One of them is horse riding in the dunes, an activity that became popular among tourists in recent times.
The other activities can be accomplished by taking the Sal Island Tour. These are usually done in groups of 6 to 12, and are either half day or full day. Tours are 30-45€, but for a little extra, you can get a guide all to yourself.
One popular activity is floating in Salinas, the salt mine on Sal. When the island was discovered, it was originally called Llana. This changed when salt – a highly valuable commodity now, and even more so in those days – was found in massive deposits on the island.
The economy used to revolve around salt mining, but has long since shifted towards tourism. The mine is still in operation, although vastly scaled down. The effects of this shift can be seen in the ruins and abandoned factories and houses that used to be operational around the mines.
There were many people floating in the salt pools, but we declined, as the effect is similar to floating in the Dead Sea. Which is fun but painful, as it feels like being pickled alive. We much preferred to spend our time walking around the derelict factories, warehouses and wrecks that littered the beach of Pedra de Lume.
For a really powerful mirage, head to Terra Boa, a remote area in the Northern part of the island, 4 kilometers north of the capital, Espargos. I always find mirages fun, as I don’t get many opportunities to see them. I find it a wonder that our eyes can be so easily deceived.
The drive to Terra Boa was a tad depressing as there were a few shanty towns, or slums, along the way. Our guide told us these had been growing in size since the financial crash, with a lot of people having ran out of work in the capital. Terra Boa itself is as would you’d expect an African desert to be – covered in sand for miles and miles, shimmering in the dry heat.
The “Blue-Eye” in Buracona
Located in the North-western part of the island, Buracona is a lovely bay area, with several natural pools. To access the pools, you have to climb down staggered rock cliffs. The lagoon is interesting because of the strange rock formations and types, and the aquamarine waves crashing into them. If you’re particularly brave, you can dive from the cliffs into the pools. The “Blue-Eye” itself was rather small and disappointing, but the area as a whole is worth seeing.
At Shark’s Bay, you can have a close encounter with some sharks. Also known as Kite Beach, it is a popular spot for Lemon Sharks, which can grow up to about 3 metres in length. The ones we saw were just slightly smaller. They are social sharks and live in groups. This influences their communication, courtship and predatory behaviour. Have no fear though, they are quite shy and will back away from you as you approach. We did not manage to get very close to them, but did see someone come within a foot of a pair of sharks. If you’re visiting Shark’s Bay, be prepared to come in your swimming things and bring some waterproof shoes that will allow you to walk on the rocky bottom of the bay.
Probably my favorite stop on the tour, Palmeiras is a fishing town also in the North-western part of Sal. The pace of life here is very slow, and when we arrived (around mid-day), most of the bars and restaurants were shut.
The houses were all charming, well-maintained and colourful, and the cafés that were opened are inviting and served delicious Cape Verdean coffee.
I thought the vibe in Palmeiras was more Latin American than African, but I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise as it was probably a popular stop between Europe and the New World.