Which Cape Verde island is right for you?

The glistening mid-Atlantic archipelago of Cape Verde* consists of 10 islands, nine of which are inhabited. Across those nine islands, you'll find dazzling white-sand beaches, world-class water sports, fantastic hiking, isolated hideaways and a brooding volcano all bathed in warm, year-round sunshine.

Cape Verde Guide
Cape Verde Guide - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Most holidaymakers understandably head to the lively, well-equipped islands of Boa Vista and Sal but we want to share more about the other islands, which boast quieter beaches and an abundance of natural beauty, and show why they're worthy of exploration too.

Getting to Cape Verde: find great value breaks to Cape Verde with TUI*, which offers holidays to the archipelago's two main islands.

1. Boa Vista

Boa Vista* is Cape Verde's most-visited island, offering postcard-perfect beaches and excellent water sports. Nearly everyone stays in the giant all-inclusive hotels, ideal for those who like a bit of pampering.

Boa Vista Island beach, Cape Verde
Boa Vista Island beach, Cape Verde - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Sal Rei, the island's capital, is modest and unassuming, but the beach bars south of town inject some late-night liveliness into the sleepy atmosphere.

You'll be able to spy loggerhead turtles, which nest on Boa Vista between July and October and go whale-watching 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 Boa Vista, most visitors are drawn here by the comfortable hotels.

But Santa Maria offers a full range of accommodation, beautiful stretches of white-sand beach, perfect for the inactive, plus ocean waves for exhilarating water sports much-loved by adrenalin-junkies.

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

What's more, Santa Maria has Cape Verde's best restaurants, plus captivating live music in its bars and clubs. Outside of the 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's 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, São Vicente Island, Cape Verde
Carnival in Mindelo, São Vicente Island, Cape Verde - 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 of the islands. If you want a taster of everything that Cape Verde can throw at you, Santiago could be for you. Praia, the capital, has a fabulous plateau location, plus two excellent hotels.

Market in Praia, Santiago Island, Cape Verde
Market in Praia, Santiago Island, Cape Verde - 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 historic site.

Experience some lively African markets for a blast of colour, catch some decent music for your holiday soundtrack; that's Santiago, a characterful favourite in Cape Verde.

5 & 6. Santo Antão & 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 Island, Cape Verde
Rugged landscape, Santo Antão Island, Cape Verde - 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). Meanwhile, São Nicolau has a protected national park, superb for walking. Big-game fishing for marlin is excellent, too.

7 & 8. Brava & 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 2,900 metres, an excellent climb if you have the stamina and a great photo opportunity if you don't.

Pico do Fogo volcano, Fogo Island, Cape Verde
Pico do Fogo volcano, Fogo Island, Cape Verde © SanGero - Fotolia.com

Cape Verde's only wine is made here and the island's town, São Filipe gives a nod to colonial days gone by with its collection of Portuguese 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 guide to Cape Verde 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, Cape Verde
Maio island sunset, Cape Verde - photo courtesy of Cape Verde Tourism

Maio has beautiful white-sands to rival Sal and Boa Vista 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.

Top tips for visiting Cape Verde

Cape Verde is a delicious fusion of African, European and Latin American cultures, a fish lover's dream, a music fan's delight.

Choose your island carefully, arm yourself with some local knowledge, engage with the wonderful people and you'll have a truly memorable holiday.

When people who have already visited insist that Cape Verde is like this or like that, you need to ask which island(s) they've been to. If you're a first-timer, just choose one or two islands, don't try to visit more on your Cape Verdean debut.

Weather in Cape Verde

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

The above guide shows the weather in Boa Vista. You can find out more about the weather in Cape Verde in our complete climate guide to this tempting island nation.

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Murray Stewart

Murray Stewart

Article updated on Thursday 9th June 2022 in: Africa Festival Nature Winter sun

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