Santa Maria, Cabo Verde

Photo: Ian Sherlock from Puriton, UK (Footsprints in the sand) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ian Sherlock from Puriton, UK (Footsprints in the sand) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Hey, beach bum! Are you the type of person who would go anywhere for a long stretch of fine, soft, sparkling sand? Does your vision of paradise always include bright, blue water and spraying waves? Have you been known to hop between hemispheres in search of warm sunshine? If so, here’s a gorgeous location to add to your ever-expanding beach list. Santa Maria, Cabo Verde.

You’ve never heard of Cabo Verde? Maybe you know the 10-island nation as Cape Verde; the country announced it reverted back to its original Portuguese name at the end of last year. The volcanic islands are located in the Atlantic Ocean, 350 miles off the coast of Senegal. They were uninhabited until the 15th century, when the Portuguese discovered the ideal location to base their slave trade. Independent since 1975, Cabo Verde has a stable democracy and one of Africa’s highest standards of living. Both are rarities on the continent. Add those beautiful beaches and 350 days a year of sunshine for a place that’s sure to be on more travel radars soon.

You’re heading to Sal, located in the northeastern part of the archipelago. The island is dry, flat, and sandy; it rarely rains here. Sal used to be known for its northern salt mines. Now people come here for Praia de Santa Maria, the beach on the southern end of the island.

Photo: StanleyMacCoy (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: StanleyMacCoy (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Santa Maria is a 20-minute drive down Espargos Road from the airport. The streets of the formerly tiny fishing village are laid out in a grid. International hotel chains are to the west, an old lighthouse sits on the southern tip, and the long, white beach is right in front of you. Walking along the sand, you’ll see high dunes, the wreck of the Santa Maria, areas sectioned off for nesting turtles, and plenty of spots to relax.

Spend your days scuba diving with octopuses, eels, and schools of fish around the Kwarcit wreck site. Try cave diving. You’ll find old ammunition at the bottom of the cathedral-like Buracona cave and giant spider crabs in the Palmeira cave. Spot humpback and maybe even sperm whales from the shore while you eat a quick tosta mista for lunch. Learn how to windsurf in one of the world’s best windsurfing destinations. Catch big surfing waves in Pedra de Lume. Go trawling for dorade, wahoo, and tuna. Or wait for the fishermen to arrive with the catch of the day before noon.

You’ll be ready for a Strela beer or a poncho cocktail by late afternoon. Grab an outdoor table at Barracuda to eat lagostada or cachupa while the sun sets. Go bar hopping between clubs and Irish pubs. They all have live music, or at least a DJ, on the weekends. And then get a little sleep. You’ll want to be back on the beach first thing in the morning.

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