Cape Verde guide: one country, nine destinations

In this, the first Cape Verde guide of a three part mini series, we aim to introduce you to the delightful archipelago that lies seemingly cast adrift in the mid-Atlantic. Each of the nine inhabited islands of Cape Verde is very different, so before you book your holiday, you need to know which one - or more - to choose.

Cape Verde Guide - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Across those nine islands, you'll find dazzling, white-sand beaches, world-class water sports, fantastic hiking, isolated hideaways and a brooding volcano. Year-round warm sunshine is the common denominator, and in this initial Cape Verde guide we'll showcase the islands' diverse highlights to help you decide where to start.

Cape Verde guide: island by island

1. Boavista

Boavista is Cape Verde's most-visited island, offering postcard-perfect beaches and excellent water sports. Nearly all visitors stay in the giant all-inclusive hotels, ideal for those who like a bit of pampering. Sal Rei, the island capital, is modest and unassuming, but the beach bars south of town inject some late-night liveliness into the sleepy atmosphere.

Boa Vista beach - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Loggerhead turtles nest on Boavista between July and October, an awe-inspiring sight, and whale-watching is popular in March and April. Water sports provide distractions for the energetic visitor, while island day-trips and quad-bike tours are also popular.

2. Sal

Those seeking Cape Verde's closest thing to a seaside resort choose Sal island and its town of Santa Maria. As in Boavista, most visitors are drawn here by the comfortable all-inclusive hotels. But Santa Maria offers a full range of accommodations, beautiful stretches of white-sand beach, perfect for the inactive, plus ocean waves for exhilarating water sports - perfect for adrenalin-junkies, and a must for any Cape Verde guide.

Sal, hotel on the beach - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Santa Maria has Cape Verde's best restaurants, plus captivating live music in its bars and clubs. Outside town, there are interesting excursions to the salt-pans and the Buracona 'blue-eye' waterhole, but Sal's visitors are largely content with beach, water sports and nightlife.

3. São Vicente

For visitors to São Vicente, the island capital - Mindelo - will be the star attraction. True, there are a couple of beaches and windsurfing destinations elsewhere on the island, but Mindelo is indisputably the cultural capital - and culture here means music.

Carnival in Mindelo - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Mindelo has a boisterous Carnival in February, a mini-Rio de Janeiro with colourful costumes and non-stop revelry, but throughout the year the town's bars and restaurants ooze the vibes that make Cape Verdean music much-loved by visitors. Frenzied funana or doleful morna, something will catch your mood or make you dance. Slightly shabby, hugely atmospheric, Mindelo has personality.

4. Santiago

Cape Verde's biggest island and home of the country's capital is Santiago. This is the most African island. If you want a taster of everything that Cape Verde can throw at you, Santiago could be for you. Praia, the capital, has a unique plateau location, plus two international-class hotels.

Market in Praia - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

In the north of the island, you will find a delightful beach at Tarrafal; in the middle, rugged mountains - great for hiking; in the south, Cidade Velha is Cape Verde's foremost historical site. Experience some lively African markets for a blast of colour, catch some decent music for your holiday soundtrack - that's Santiago and characterful favourite with this Cape Verde guide.

5 & 6: Santo Antão and São Nicolau

Hardcore hikers choose the islands of Santo Antão or São Nicolau. Both islands feature mountains, deep valleys and black-sand beaches. Reachable only by boat, Santo Antão is rugged and occasionally lush, with saw-toothed peaks and a restless ocean. In the west, it's barren and sparsely populated, a peaceful haven.

Rugged landscape, Santo Antão - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

The fertile valleys are home to much vegetation and the abundant sugar-cane makes for the islands' best grogue (rum). São Nicolau has a protected national park, superb for walking. Big-game fishing for marlin is excellent, too.

7 & 8: Brava and Fogo

Brava and Fogo are the youngest of Cape Verde's volcanic islands, separated by a narrow channel, with Brava reachable only by ferry. Fogo's massive, brooding volcano tops out at 2900 metres, an excellent climb if you have the stamina and a great photo-opportunity if you don't.

Pico do Fogo volcano - © SanGero -

Cape Verde's only wine is made here and the island's town, São Filipe, has attractive Portuguese colonial buildings and two museums. Brava is largely unvisited, unspoilt, undeveloped - a place to really escape, with few distractions or modern-world trappings. A day's fishing with a local fisherman is an enchanting experience.

9. Maio

No Cape Verde guide would be complete without a mention of Maio. Appropriately leaving it to last, it's wistfully called - sometimes with pride, sometimes with resentment - 'the forgotten island.'

Maio island sunset - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Maio has beautiful white-sands to rival Sal and Boavista, but no massive hotels, less infrastructure and far fewer visitors. It's home to nesting turtles, whales pass by in season and big-game fishing is a favourite pastime. Above all, it enjoys its sense of peace.

Cape Verde guide: a year-round destination

For those seeking some warmth in winter, or in any season, Cape Verde can provide it, no question. Sunshine is a year-round blessing, pushing it towards the top of your wish-list. Cape Verde is a delightful fusion of African, European and Latin American cultures, a fish-lovers' dream, a music-fans' delight.

Friendly locals - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Choose your island carefully, arm yourself with some knowledge of the islands from this Cape Verde guide and others, engage with the wonderful locals and you'll have a memorable holiday. And when people who have already visited insist that Cape Verde is like this or like that, you need to ask which island they've been to. If you're a first timer, choose one island or two - don't try to visit more on your Cape Verdean debut.

If you're taken with the idea of visiting Cape Verde, don't miss the next two parts of our dedicated guide, which explore everything from the variety of water sports to the many things to do in Cape Verde. You can also see the latest travel deals and discounts as well as offers from leading holiday providers such as First Choice and Thomson.

Murray Stewart

Murray Stewart
Posted on Monday 14th April 2014 in: Africa Festival Nature Winter sun

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