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Review: In Search of Winter Sun in Cape Verde
March 2024
Reading time 4 Minutes

The North East has a new direct destination for guaranteed winter sun. Living North check it out

Cape Verde enjoys sunshine throughout the year, in fact, in 2023 it only rained once (for half an hour) the entire year and with new direct flights to Sal, one of Cape Verde's 10 islands, it seemed like a great place to go in search of some winter sun.

I have to confess we were somewhat excited as we headed off in search of some January sunshine. The post Christmas malaise can always be a drag, but the prospect of a whole week lazing around a pool, especially somewhere we’d never been to before, was more than tempting.

Invited by Tui, to check out Sal seemed like a no brainer. It’s Cape Verde’s most popular holiday island with long sandy, palm tree-lined beaches and is now just a six-hour flight from Newcastle. And you win an hour back too, as the route zigzags over continental Europe down to the Canaries, then chinking westwards towards the coast of North Africa.

Sal is one of the biggest of the archipelago, and one of only two of the islands with an international airport. Our approach to Sal was telling, with the lack of buildings and infrastructure being the most obvious feature as we flew in low over the sun-parched island.

The airport is small, and efficient, and we were soon in a taxi heading towards our hotel in the south where most of the tourism is and where, it transpires, life revolves around the water and the sandy beaches. The road was really quiet, almost deserted, and on each side sandy scrubland was the persistent feature, but ahead we could see an extraordinary number of colourful kite-surfers punctuating the blue horizon with their wind-fuelled kites.

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modern hotel lobby

We are staying at the Riu Palace Santa Maria and it takes just 20 minutes from airport to door. We are in one of several all-inclusive hotels which are concentrated in this part of Sal but there are no overpowering, soulless buildings so commonly seen on the Costas of Spain and parts of The Algarve. There’s a short queue to check in but once having retrieved our room key and been given the (very necessary) hotel map we head off in search of our home for the week.

The hotel is big – hence the map – but we find the room fairly easily and our luggage arrives in no time. A quick change and we head straight to the pool for a late afternoon dip and drink. Now is perhaps the time to mention this was an all inclusive trip: food, drinks and all types of entertainment too.

Sitting getting the measure of the place in the late afternoon sunshine, the first obvious point is that, despite its scale, the overall feel was one of generous open spaces separated by areas of small trees and shrubs. Glancing at our newly prized map I tried to get our bearings. OK so there’s a pool there, and there, and another there, and two more there (six in total including two with swim-up bars). There’s the gym (looks good I thought determined not to go). There’s a sports bar, a spa, a shop, five different restaurants, and at every point some sort of facility to make your stay that little bit better. This was going to be fun I quickly decided as I was offered another beer.

The hotel is part of Riu Hotels and Resorts who are renowned for creating the best of this type of experience, and although they have several adult-only hotels we were happy to be part of an all age group mix. There was no specific demographic but just after the schools had gone back kids were relatively thin on the ground (although there is a special slide and splash area away from the main pools so maybe they were all hiding out there).

The room types, as you would imagine in a hotel of this size, are varied but all are generously proportioned and ours (on the ground floor) was large with a huge bathroom and walk-in shower, and the major plus of a private plunge pool looking out onto a quiet garden area.

Checking the fridge I found an assortment of soft drinks, water, beers and mixers to accompany the various spirits in the in-room bar dispenser! Having showered and changed, we headed off to dinner which it appears is a relatively smart affair with guests encouraged to dress up a bit. A pre-dinner drink in the now bustling bar seemed a good idea before heading to the hotel’s main restaurant for the buffet. It’s busy and there’s a party mood (we are all on holiday after all) but we quickly find a table, and a waitress immediately arrives to offer drinks (water, wine and beer seemingly the most popular). Then, apart from your plates being cleared from time to time, it’s up to you to help yourself and the choice, quite simply, is vast. There’s no menu as such just a huge multi-split service offering a truly global feast which can be quite mind blowing – although the longer you stay the more you learn to be a bit more discerning with your choices.

There are four other, of-the-menu restaurants dotted about the hotel, a Japanese, an Italian, a steakhouse and the Krystal fusion restaurant, and although quieter, the food is fairly similar throughout the hotel. A word of advice though, book these restaurants early in your stay as they do get full very quickly.

Despite our early start, somewhat revived by dinner, we strolled up to the main part of the hotel to look around. The ever popular lobby bar where you’ll find the coffee bar was buzzing but we headed back outside to enjoy a night cap on the terrace and listen to some dulcet tunes from the stage next door.

Although the hotel is huge (more of a village than a hotel) it has plenty of smaller break-out spaces to relax, meet others and take the pulse of the goings on around you. But if you want to party, there’s plenty going on every night, and it’s always different.

The next morning brought us the one thing we’d been looking for; sunshine. And not just sunshine but real warmth (26 degrees). Knowing the weather back home was positively filthy just added to our pleasure.

First job, a coffee on the patio and a plan for the day. And the good news… no plan! Just sunshine and fun all day long. Knowing a day such as this demanded a hearty breakfast that’s precisely where we headed – and if dinner was a feast, let me tell you breakfast does not like to be outdone.

That done, we spent the morning on the beach. Sadly although the sea was the brightest turquoise blue and didn’t seem too rough the red flag was up so we couldn’t swim, but we did have the six hotel pools to choose from when we needed to cool off.

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The pools do get busy but this was high season in Sal and we never struggled to find a sunbed either on the hotel’s beach or near one of the pools, and you could always find a stool or space in the swim-up bar(s). With drinks available all day there was a lot of imbibing but it never became rowdy, and imagine my delight when I found a self-service beer tap (next to the cold water) allowing me (and many others) to pour my own beer when I wanted.

I went on a mission to try all the pools and actually managed 10 lengths of the big one, that’s 700 metres by the way, so no sneering thanks. Each pool is slightly different with different things going on poolside, and a help-yourself-barbecue starts at 11.30am and continues to 6pm, the occasional waft of smoke tempting guests up from their loungers for a snack.

One of the joys of being on the beach was you could easily walk westwards or eastwards along the shoreline. One way took you towards nearby Santa Maria, the other past more hotels and beach-side sun loungers, which for us became a regular thing most evenings.

We were booked into the Krystal restaurant that evening which, in contrast to the very busy restaurant of the previous night, was more refrained and intimate, the food was good and the service more refined. But it’s important not to suggest that the self serve offer is a poor relation, it isn’t, it’s just different, and we should say everywhere throughout the hotel the staff were great, always smiling and always helpful.

So began a hugely relaxing if somewhat routine-filled holiday, which was just what the doctor had ordered. However, to mix things up, the boss had arranged for a day’s excursion. I was somewhat anxious about this, not having really done one before, but we dutifully boarded the small 20-seater bus which came to collect us and other guests for the Postcards Of Sal day excursion. It turned out to be really interesting and our guide couldn’t have been better. Knowledgeable, witty, and prepared to talk about difficult subjects from history, such as the slave trade, and with a light touch on how the islands worked we learnt a lot about Sal itself, and the whole of Cape Verde as we visited some iconic attractions; watched kite surfing up close (Cape Verde have two world champions); tried the local grog (40 percent proof); and watched the waves crashing into a natural rocky cave known as the Blue Eye. After lunch we headed to one of the highlights of the trip to take a dip in the salt lagoons from which the island took its name. I can’t float, I just can’t. Whenever I try I sink like an exhausted dolphin but blow me down if in this lake of salt I didn’t master it.

We ended our tour at a beach bar, which was a lovely end to a good day and we were back at our hotel in plenty of time for a swim before cocktails and dinner.

As we walked down the beach on the final evening enjoying the last rays of sunshine (for some time) we reflected on what was a thoroughly relaxing trip, and for anyone in need of some guaranteed winter sun Sal’s a great choice.

TUI offers seven-night holidays to Sal, Cape Verde staying at the 5T Platinum Hotel Riu Palace Santa Maria on an all-inclusive basis. Prices from £1073pp. Price is based on two adults sharing a Twin Room with balcony or terrace, flights departing from Newcastle Airport on 9th April 2024 with 20kg of hold luggage per person and transfers included. To find out more about this holiday or to book, go to, visit your local travel agent or download the TUI app.

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