Santa Maria is the main holiday resort in the Cape Verdes, thanks to its excellent flight links to Lisbon, London Gatwick, Manchester and shortly Dublin.  It accounts for perhaps 80% of the tourists to the entire Cape Verde islands, Whilst in many ways this is a pity for the islanders, it reflects both the high cost and the unreliability of the air service to other islands provided by the state monopoly carrier TACV. Inter-island Ferries are really cargo ships, carrying a mixed load of goats, donkeys and passengers, generally overloaded and grubby and with a weekly frequency that makes them useless for short-stay tourists. Hence the focus on Santa Maria, to the exclusion both of the eight other inhabited islands and the rest of the island of Sal.

Sal is windy and flat semi-desert,and contains little of scenic interest and few tourist attractions off the beaches. But Santa Maria has one of the world`s finest beaches 5km of soft sand and calmish seas of warm water. It never gets hot enough to need air conditioning except in the worst designed hotels and it is never cold enough to heat the sea water pools. The sea itself is generally warmer than the pools, being jyst a degree or two less warm than the air temperature for most of the year. It hardly ever rains and most of the time the weather is like a good British, Irish or New England summer day, clear, windy and warm.

It is a place for sea lovers with a wide range of water sports. Wind and kite surfing are popular as there is always a reliable wind, slightly offshore from Santa Maria beach. The World Wave Surf championships were held around the corner at Ponta Preta in 2007.  Board surfing is second only to Hawaii in the variety and size of the waves generated by the Trade Winds,  at Ponta Preta. Diving is attractive because of the warm clear water. Snorkelling is best around the West Coast where there are black, basaltic rocks to be explored.

Hotels range from the well-established and traditional European run beachfront hotels in the centre of town to the new sun factories way out across the desert, with their all inclusive diet of cheap food and free plonk.   Many tourists gravitate to the Riu and hibernate inside its guarded compound for a week, never really savouring the many local restaurants, the limited night-life of local music or the water sports.  Others prefer the Morabeza or Odjo d`Agua with their wonderful positions and much more interesting restaurants. There are also some fantastic beach fron villas at Murdeira on the West Coast with sunset view over Monte Lion. one of th few hills on the island. There has been significant recent development much of which remains unfinished and the is a strong sense of "work in progress" about the island.

Food is mostly beans and fresh fish or lobster with rice. Rubbery chicken from Brazil is available but the islands do not produce much meat so that local cuisine has to make the best of a limited set of ingredients. A typical 2 course evening meal costs only £15 to £25 a head ( $23 to $38) including wine. Wine is grown on Fogo island, the most southerly vines in the Northern Hemisphere. It is good but hard to find and Portuguese wines are cheaper. A drinkable lager is brewed on the island at perhaps £2 to £3 a pint, so all-inclusive is not a saving here.  Good restaurants include Chez Pastis, a tiny Italian run alleyway (although booking appears essential and it is far from cheap), Cape Colonial (good fresh fish but slow service), Zum Fisherman (excellent fish efficiently served and with a "free" end of evening drink), Mediteranneo, Relax (probably the best octopus in town and very good desserts), Leonardos (expensive) and either restaurant in the Morabeza. Tam Tam Bar is good for a beer and snack, Turtle Shack possibly best avoided. Credit cards may be accepted at a premium. Best to pay cash and to get this through the ATMs with which the town is now well provided. Payment can also be made in euro but be aware - locals use a 1 euro = 100 esv conversion rate, the ATM will give you the (much better) official rate of 1 euro = 110 esv.

Visas which are needed by all visitors except African passport holders can be obtained in advance through specialist travel agencies, which can also book trips to the volcano at Fogo or the Saharan sand dunes of Boa Vista.  Since direct flights from the UK commenced in November 2006, the British have joined the Portuguese and Italians as important sources of tourism. Many of the local people are now busy improving their English. But the business culture is very different. For instance many hotels do not respect bookings when they get full in High Season and have turned people away even on Christmas day to accommodate high-rolling late-booking Scandinavians.  Few take credit cards and the queues in banks can take up a couple of hours. So it is best to book in advance through specialist travel agencies, which can be found easily through Google.