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SUMMARY
+ Generally uncrowded
+ Shapely reef waves
+ Further exploration possibilities
+ Windsurfing heaven
+ Guaranteed sunshine
- Inconsistent, seasonal swells
- Windy
- Flat desert landscape
- Fairly expensive
Blue Tomato



Sal, Cape Verde Islands, AFRICA


Punta Preta, YEP

Surf Spots

Palmeira
Fontana
Curral Joul
Alibaba
Monte Leão
Rife
Ponta Preta
Ponta do Sino
Santa Maria
Fragata

The Surf

The Cape Verde islands are the southernmost group in the boomerang shaped archipelago of Macaronesia. Made up of 10 major islands, the Cape Verde’s were used as a stopping off point for the slave ships heading over to the Americas, and descendants of these slaves have mixed with the Portuguese settlers. Previously known as Lhana, Sal is the flattest island and the main tourist entry point with various European flight connections. The surf potential was first discovered in the late ‘80’s, by windsurfers in Santa Maria on Sal’s southern tip and the island has become synonymous with wind and kitesurfing. The dominant NE trades, powered by the heat of the Sahara are ever-present throughout the year and provide cross or offshore conditions on the west-facing lava reefs that benefit from the Atlantic winter NW swell train. Ponta Preta has emerged as a world-class wind, kite and surf spot, which is quite an achievement to be able to keep all 3 disciplines happy and sometimes sees large waves that tower above the average mast.

Finally, the archipelago of Cape Verde presents an unusual version on the tropical island theme, particularly Sal, which is so arid many of its landscapes would not look out of place on the moon. Dry, hot Saharan winds scour the rocky earth, making it a world-class wind and kiteboarding spot, as well as holding some excellent righthand reefs and points for the sail-less. Boa Vista and Maio look similar to Sal and both have N and S swell exposure if the angles are just right. On Boa Vista, check the sandy Praia de Santa Mónica and Praia Varandinha on the SW coast for offshore conditions, plus around Sal Rei at Cabral, the offshore English Reef (mainly kiting) and the bays to the north. There’s even a tasty wrapping left on the windward east side at Ervatao. Over on Santiago, deep inside the capital’s port Praia, there are clean, tidy lefts peeling over cobbles beside a shipwreck at Praia Negra and waves on both sides of Ilha de Santa Maria. More S swell city reefs to the west like the rocky lefts at Coragi. Ponta do Lobo is the area to search on the choppy east coast, but most surfers will end up in Tarrafal on the NW tip. A string of west-facing, boulder-strewn reefs convert winter W-NW (NW-N is blocked by the other islands) into rights at Punta Brava, Shira and Chao Bom with good lefts at the town break of Caju. There are few beaches on the island and the super craggy coastline is steep and waveless for long stretches, a problem that re-occurs on the neighboring volcano dominated Fogo, where the black sand beaches of São Filipe on the west coast are uninspiring and the soaring 80m cliffs make any of the rocky points unapproachable. The tiny island of Brava has similarly inhospitable geology and while there may be some waves on rocky beaches beneath the steep cliffs, it is not worth the considerable effort to get there. More crazy rock formations characterize the deeply wind and wave etched coastline of São Nicolau, which suffers from filtering by the other islands in S swells, but picks up plenty of NW-N lines. On the sheltered west coast at Tarrafal de São Nicolau, the righthand point at Sabi Sabi is usually offshore and there are rocky black sand beaches, especially at the dried-up rivermouths. Plenty of coastal angles to explore and if the wind drops, north coast beaches like Praia da Areia Branca in small swells. São Vicente is shielded from winter NW swells, but there is still north coast action at the two due N exposed beaches of Salamansa or Praia Grande, near Calhau. Popular with surf and wind/kite schools, it’s often big and messy, with potential for some righthanders off the eastern headlands. Baia das Gatas is scene of a big music festival and some occasional lefthanders sweeping round the breakwall in low or W winds. South coast spots are limited to the big sweep of sand at São Pedro, which is usually shoredump, but the wind/kite crew like the strong trade winds whistling down the airport runway. Finally, the last and most exposed island in the barlovento (windward) chain is Santo Antão, which is unaffected by any swell shadow other than from the E-SE. The young volcanic landscape throws up towers of basalt along much of its littoral extent, so there are less surf spots than might be expected. The northwest coast is fierce and foreboding, with little access to the angry, windblown waves hitting slabs of rock most people would prefer to avoid. From the scary big-wave reef of Ponta do Sol through Ribeira Grande and on to Janela there are miles of boulder-backed black sand beach with some rideable peaks, including the lined-up lefthanders at Vila das Pombas, for confident surfers when the wind drops and the coast road makes access easier. Porto Novo nestles in the SE, missing the bulk of the swell, but can have a wave occasionally. Tarrafal de Monte Trigo is the go to spot for the combination of good N and S swell exposure plus it’s dead offshore in the NE winds that usually rip across the mountainous interior.

When to Go

The Cabo Verde archipelago is advantageously situated within the Atlantic tropics and catches due S and N swells from both hemispheres. The positioning of the islands means they interfere with each other for any given swell direction, and only the biggest ground swells will travel this far. This means that Cape Verde is a relatively inconsistent island destination. Sal is blocked by Boa Vista island from the S-SE swells, and is only able to pick up NW swells, rare WSW and the omnipresent NE windswells. The best swell generators are the lows that come off Nova Scotia and track over the Azores, between November and February. Early season is the better time as there are more E winds blowing offshore. NE winds blowing from the Sahara desert are the standard, year round trades. The later in the winter you visit, the more N-NE winds you can expect, inconvenient for most surf spots. During the summer, you may encounter a rare SW gale. NE trades can create mushy wind swell on the E coast, which can get up to a decent size. Tidal ranges are minimal (<1m), but they still effect the shallow reefs, causing most waves to break too close to the rocks at high tide.

SURF STATISTICS
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
D
dominant swell W -NE W -NE W -SW W -SW W -NE W -NE
swell size (ft) 4 3 2 0-1 2-3 4
consistency (%) 50 40 20 10 40 50
dominant wind NE -NE NE -NE N -NE N -NE N -NE NE -NE
average force F4 F4 F4 F4 F4 F4
consistency (%) 65 61 94 79 82 67
water temp (C) 21 21 24 26 27 25
wetsuit springsuit springsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts
Population
Sal - 35,000

Coastline
87km (55mi)

Timezone
GMT -1hr

Travel Information

Weather

Being the closest islands (620km/387mi) to Africa, Sal and Boa Vista are flat and extremely dry due to the strong trade winds blowing off the desert. This has made the land lightly vegetated, except in the semi-dry riverbeds. Much of the year is reasonably warm (25°C/77°F), although when the dust-loaded, E winds blow from the Sahara (sirocco) they bring intense heat. July to September is the so-called “wet” season, at this time it’s very warm (30°C/86°F) and humid and you may encounter the occasional SW gale and rain on the coast but it’s rare. The cold Canary Current requires a springsuit in the winter to counter the wind chill factor.

Nature

Sal is the place to learn to windsurf or kitesurf with one of the many schools. The diving is some of the best in the West Africa area, such as the Buracona hole. Visit the former salt fields of Pedra Lume. The villages on Sal are quiet, but there are a couple of discos at the weekend in Santa Maria.

Hazards

Sharp lava rocks and urchins are a common danger. Most visiting surfers are actually windsurfers, while the locals tend to ride bodyboards and some have reached a high standard. There’s little localism to worry about, but show respect. The flying windsurfers at Punta Preta can be dangerous. Take plenty of sunscreen.

Hints

Bring everything including booties. There are a few surf shops (Surf ‘n Soul, Tout’sab) and basic rental boards are available through the windsurf schools (Soultripping). Waves don’t often get big and heavy enough to need a gun, although the wind can keep you trapped in the lip of the wave, so a slightly bigger board may be useful.