A digital nomad guide to Sal, Cape Verde
I spent one month in Sal, Cape Verde in November 2015 as a digital nomad, both working for my company selling sustainable goods online and kitesurfing. This blog post summarizes my experiences there and gives information and tips for other people intending to spend some time on the island while working. Don’t hesitate to write in the comments if you have additional suggestions of things/places to be added to this post and the map. Enjoy!
Check flightstats for the which airlines fly there. I arrived with Royal Air Maroc — they transported my kite gear for free. Flight was pleasant — 6h layover in Casablanca coming from Malaga. My flight made a 40mn stop in Praia on Santiago Island. Other flights are often from TAP, you can find deals from around 600€ return from mainland Europe.
Sal airport (international code: SID) is pretty small. For most countries you need a visa. They put it on your passport on arrival, it costs 25€ (you can pay in Euro or with credit card) and lasts one month. I arrived at 5am, the whole process was a bit slow but fine (45mn to process 15 people when the 2 booth were open). Try getting out of the plane quickly so you are first in line.
The airport is in the middle of the island. If you are staying in Santa Maria (south of the island), you should take a cab to get there or have your transfer organized directly. There are some at the front and people will ask you if you want a ride. It costs about 15€ and take 15–20 minutes depending on how speedy your driver is. Cars don’t tend to age well between the wind, the sand and the salt. I often found a seat belt at the front but not the back. Most people speak English, even if it’s sometimes a little. The official language is Portuguese but everyone speaks Cape Verdean Creole (creole language of Portuguese basis).
You have quite some hotels on the west side of town, that’s where most of the tourists are. You can get prepackaged trips, buffet meals, swimming pools there.
I was staying on the east part of town in a clean 2 bedroom flat about 50m from the Santa Maria beach (with full kitchen, balcony, washing machine, guard). I found it by contacting an agency. Paolo is super nice and will go out of his way to make your stay pleasant and comfortable. Prices are between 400€-600€ for a 2 bedroom (+200€ deposit). That being said, November is the beginning of the season so expect prices to rise after that for December and January.
The prices you will be given exclude water electricity that you will have to pay separately after. During a month, we consumed for 80€ of water and 40€ electricity for 2 people doing watersports. Also, expect to pay for the final cleaning separately (30€).
The national currency for Cape Verde is Cape Verdean Escudo (CVE). In Sal, especially Santa Maria, you can pay independently with Euros or Escudos (see current exchange rate). Elsewhere, you can only pay in Escudos. Most shops if you pay in Euros will give you back Escudos and you can only withdraw Escudos. At ATMs, you can only withdraw 20’000 maximum per day and there might be times where some ATMs are empty (just factor that in when you decide to pay something expensive). Ask if the shops/restaurants take credit cards as they don’t necessarily do.
Sal is a pretty desertic island, you won’t see many trees there. They make salt in the salinas and there is a good fishing business but the most flourishing industry is tourism. Santa Maria is the town very south of the island. When walking around, you still have a lot more locals than tourists (which is great). Roads inside the town are made of cobbles so if you were planning to skate a lot, forget it ;). It’s quite spread out, you can still walk everywhere but I would consider renting a bike (you can get some for 12€/day in town, probably cheaper if you get a deal for an extended period of time).
Santa Maria is really clean (surprised me) and people are friendly. You might get talked at by the Senegalese people have a shop but other than that it’s pretty safe. Some areas don’t have much street lightning at night so depending on where you live, you might want to carry a flashlight.
Check out this map to get more information about the town including ATMs, restaurants and bars.
FOOD & DRINKS
There are plenty of restaurants both on the beach and inside town (see map). I ate pretty well and the service was good. They make an effort to be pleasant and quick. Food I have mostly seen are: fish, pizza, pasta, beef and hamburgers. A marguerita pizza is about 5€, you can get menus for 10€. Some fancier restaurants you can eat a meal + wine for 30€. There are more than the ones highlighted, I just selected the ones I really liked.
In the only « western » supermarket (see map), assortment is limited and prices are relatively high. Don’t expect much dairy other than milk, butter and a little bit of cheese. That being said, I saw maple syrup and quinoa (expensive!). My point is that, if there a food you love or can’t live without, bring some with you.
You have plenty of Chinese shops across town (more than what is shown on the map) where you can get all the essentials. It’s cheaper than in the western supermarket but not that much. Expect to spend more on grocery than in Spain for example.
Food availability has been a bit of an issue during my time as the boat delivering food to the island (not much grows there) that normally comes once a week was quite late to the point you could not find fruits or vegetables in the stores. They couldn’t even do caipirinhas ‘cause they were out of lemons!
You should not drink tap water in Cape Verde (unless you want your insides cleaned really well). You can find bottled water in many shops around town. I used 5L bottles mostly (1.5€).
Beer is available in most places (mostly Portugese brands) and is about 2€/bottle. Caipirinhas and mojitos are very popular (around 4€).
Sal is known for its kitesurfing. The main spot is called Kitebeach on the eastern side of the island, about 10mn drive from Santa Maria. I am writing drive as you have quite a fair bit to go in mostly sand and salt so I would not try walking or riding a bike with your gear to get there. Taking a cab is 5€ each way but if you take kitesurfing classes or make a deal with a school, you can manage for 2€.
The touristy season goes from November to February but you have wind until end of June. It’s advised to wear a wetsuit between December and February.
On Kitebeach, you will find Mitu and Djo’s kite school and small restaurant where you can grab a drink or some food. In Santa Maria, check out Kite Verde kiteschool where they offer decently prices lessons and rentals. Odile (the owner) is super nice and she has a great team of Cape Verdean guys working with her at the school. I spent a lot of time just hanging out with them and had a blast!
On the west side of the island, there is the world famous wave Ponta Preta. Only go kiting there is you know what you are doing (offshore wind, high waves, rocks). If not, you can always go and watch, it’s pretty impressive!
Best solution for internet is to by a local SIM card from t+ (called T-Mais by Unitel) with 10Go of data for 25€ and plug it into your phone or mobile wifi device (those are unlocked and function well). You can also buy there a locked USB key to put the SIM card in but you can only use it for your computer. Beware, sometime you can’t find a SIM card on the island and have to wait for a day or two.
Performance with the t+ card plugged into my mobile wifi router was the following:
Sometimes, the network on the island doesn’t work very well, internet is slow and you can’t place calls or send sms. Has only happened for a couple of days when I was there.
When in need, you can find good wifi at Ocean Café and Columbus (see map).
Main roads are ok but you have quite some dirt roads all over (even in town — shortcuts!). During the month I spent there, we had over 10 power cuts (lasting from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours). Most places have a generator so they can still function. Everyone is used to it and you won’t see people stressing over it. They don’t call it Cap Vert No Stress for nothing :)
We also had some issues with our water pump in the building, took a day to be fixed.
During the month I spent in Cape Verde I had no serious health issues. Me and my friend’s intestines took a while to adapt to the place (despite the fact we only drank bottle water and took ice cubes made from clean water) but none of us actually got sick, just sometimes a bit uncomfortable. After an encounter between my board, a wave and my shoulder (the board won), I went to buy some tape from the pharmacy. It’s really well stocked, the employees speak english and some things (like tape) are quite expensive. Following the shoulder incident, I went to see Jo, an Italian osteopath (see details on the map) to put everything back into place. Despite the fact he spoke mostly only Italian, we managed to understand each other and he was very competent (he takes care of the wave kitesurfing world champion during competitions). Worth a visit if you get hurt!
I did not meet any other digital nomads when I was there nor did I encounter any coworking space. I do believe it could be a good place to meet, especially during November and February till June as it’s less busy with tourists! Despite the power cuts and minor issues with internet, I had no problem getting a lot of work done.
All in all, I had a fantastic time in Santa Maria, did good work and clocked some awesome kitesurfing sessions. I can’t wait to go back!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabrielle is a digital nomad with chemical engineering and management degrees. She cares deeply about sustainability and the environment. Previously, she started her own cloth diaper brand Sustain a Bum, has an ecommerce shop selling sustainable products called Sustain a Living and recently launched the world first healthy and organic condom subscription service Green Condom Club.
Gabrielle is based in Geneva, Switzerland for a part of the year and travels the rest of the time as she looks for good winds for kitesurfing and a quiet place to practice yoga.