If like most Europeans, you’re spending cold winter days dreaming about balmy summer afternoons and pleasantly cool evenings, you might want to consider a trip to the Cape Verde Islands.
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, this archipelago of twelve islands can be reached fairly quickly and cheaply from Spain, Portugal or the UK. The eastern, upper-wind islands, Sal and Boa Vista are oriented towards tourists, with sandy white beaches looking out over an azure sea. Aside from enjoying leisure time basking in the sun, you can try windsurfing, kite surfing or snorkeling. If you prefer to stay on more solid ground, an off-road quad tour could fit the bill. I recently took a 4×4 750cc quad ATV for a solo ride around Sal Island.
The fixed route starts in Santa Maria, where the majority of tourists stay. You can check for various rental places or visit a garage near Enacol petrol station; (in Santa Maria there are only two petrol stations, and they’re easy to find), which is what I did. Your costs for the whole day should be around 80 euros.
Once you’re outside of the town, take a “Salinas road” to the kite surfing beach. It is on the eastern part of the Island. About 4 kilometers from Santa Maria. The surface here is smooth and level. It’s a good place to warm up and test your vehicle.
After passing kite beach, the terrain becomes sandy.
Be careful of stones on the road—they’re hardly noticeable. The real adventures begin once you reach the Serra Negra, a mountain that forms part of a nature reserve. Before taking the mountain road, I suggest a detour towards the Ilheu de Fragata remote beach, the perfect location for imagining yourself as Robinson Crusoe.
Moving towards Pedro Lume, stay on the gravel road, with the ocean on your right. Be careful while passing canyons: you’ll be forced to improvise a bit when crossing it, but you’ll soon be back on flat terrain. Look around for a shark bay. It’s worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in knowing what it feels like to have predators swimming around your feet.
Most of the touristic places in Sal Island are located in the village of Pedra Lume, famous for its salt evaporation ponds, which were established in the eighteenth century. The ponds are situated in the crater of an extinct volcano; according to geologists, the waters in the lake rise from deep in the earth rather than from lateral infiltration from the ocean. You can spend five euros to get inside near the lake or drive up the volcano from the right and enjoy the view from the distance for free.
After taking a rest, continue your tour by following the coast towards Monte Grande. The terrain gets rough, so don’t expect to meet many visitors on the mountain road. The most challenging part of this section of the route is the passing point next to Monte Grange. It is steep and curved, with many cracks. Consider your driving skills and the quad’s technical characteristics (perhaps less than 750cc might be not enough). If you decide not to take this particular path, take the straight road to the west coast.
But if you manage to get to the passing point, take a break and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The northern part of the island is covered by savanna bushes and sandy trails. For several kilometers, you can enjoy open, flat desert roads until you reach Buracona, also known as ‘the blue eye’, a lagoon that is known as one of Cape Verde’s natural wonders.
Continue your trip towards Palmeira, which is located on the northwestern part of the island, is the main port of the island of Sal; it is the third busiest of Cape Verde’s ports in terms of freight traffic.
The last waypoint on the route is Monte Leao. Turn right and go off-road just after you pass the fuel storage facilities in Palmeira and continue following the path near the coastline. You’ll experience something new since the trail on this part of the island becomes even rockier and features riverbeds to pass. Look for a driving path leading to the foot of the mountain on the southern side. Once you’ve reached the foot of the mountain, proceed towards Murdeira Village and finish the last section of your tour on the main road.
The whole route around the island is 100 kilometers, which I completed in four hours and thirty minutes; however, for a less intensive approach to the tour, plan on at least six hours.
Any specific advisories?
- Take snacks and water with you. There are no restaurants or shops that sell refreshments on the route.
- Since there are sharp rocks scattered along the road, there is a high risk of tire punctures. Be sure to check your tires before setting out on your tour.
- Since the whole route is super-dusty, use sunglasses or ski glasses and wear a neck gaiter or balaclava.
- Apply sunscreen before starting; keep it in your backpack; sunscreen is important even on cloudy days when only about twenty percent of harmful UV rays are blocked.
Taking a quad tour around Sal Island is an amazing activity, which can be done solo, with friends or in a guided group. Nowadays, there aren’t many places where you can relish the excitement of riding in complete wilderness, catch some waves and lounge on empty beaches. Enjoy your stay and drive safely!