Choosing which island in Cape Verde is best to visit can be overwhelming. The islands of Cape Verder are known for their sunny weather and tropical climate, but each island has its own unique things to do.
The best islands to visit in Cape Verde for a beach holiday are Sal and Boa Vista. These islands are perfect for families, couples, and watersports. Santiago, São Vicente, Santo Antão, and Fogo are the best islands to visit in Cape Verde for hiking, nature, and cultural experience. São Nicolau, Brava, and Maio are the most authentic islands to visit.
Cape Verde consists of 10 different islands, from which 9 are inhabited. A common saying among the islands is 10 islands, 10 faces, meaning that each Cape Verde island has its own identity. We traveled around the archipelago for 10 weeks and visited almost every island. During our roundtrip, we experienced the differences and similarities of each island.
This article is a complete guide, where I’ll tell you the best highlights of each island. So you can easily choose which Cape Verde island is the best island for you to visit! Let’s find out!
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Best Islands For A Beach Holiday and Kite & Windsurfing
The most famous and most visited islands of Cape Verde are Sal and Boa Vista. Both islands are perfect for a beach holiday. Families, couples, and solo travelers. Everyone can have a great time on these islands.
Sal and Boa Vista belonging to the Barlavento (windward) islands group. The islands are the most eastern located, and closest to the African mainland.
Because both islands are flat, the climate is greatly influenced by the tradewinds coming from the Sahara Desert. These winds creating ideal conditions for kite and windsurfing enthusiasts.
The travel company TUI is the largest provider of holidays to these Cape Verde islands. They have like a monopoly on these islands owning many hotels and resorts. Their quality standards are high, creating unique holiday experiences. Most of the hotels and resorts are affordable in price, which makes it an interesting holiday provider for Cape Verde. Check out their latest holiday packages for Cape Verde on their website.
Sal – The Most Popular Island
The island Sal is the most popular among tourists. According to Cape Verde Trade Invest, almost 48% of all tourist entries are registered in Sal. And that’s quite logical.
Sal is from all the Cape Verdean islands, the easiest to reach traveling from many large cities in Europe and the United Kingdom. You’ll find the most hotels, accommodations, and holiday resorts on Sal, and there are a lot of unique things to do.
The island is perfect for relaxing on the beach and swimming in the sea. But also some great activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sea fishing, kite or windsurfing. And for the real adventurers; You can even go swimming with sharks! Don’t worry, we’re talking about Lemon sharks, the kind that is not dangerous to humans. But still, exciting activity to do!
In our article Best Things To Do in Sal, you’ll find a complete guide of the unique things to do (including a map of the island) while visiting Sal.
Santa Maria is the main ‘city’ at Sal. However, most cities in Cape Verde are very small and feel more like a large village. The same goes for Santa Maria, it is a unique mixture of the Cape Verdean culture, with many western influences. Santa Maria is perfect for trying some traditional Cape Verdean food, souvenir shopping, and enjoying the local nightlife.
Where To Stay in Sal
There’s is a lot to choose from while searching for an accommodation or hotel in Sal. Like we said, the travel company TUI offers many different package deals to the island.
Most of the time, we’re more a fan of booking our trip individual, directly via a hotel or accommodation, and not using package deals. We feel that we have more freedom that way, and the extra costs we take for granted most of the time.
However, when booking a trip to Cape Verde, we found that most of the time, booking a holiday via TUI is the cheapest, most reliable, and best price/ quality ratio. The resorts of TUI are all high standards. So you may end up paying a bit more, but I think its worth it. Having a carefree holiday experience.
Santa Maria – the Best Area to Stay In Sal
TUI offers many hotels and accommodations around the island. I would recommend booking a place in Santa Maria. It is the main town on the island and has the most things to do, and most restaurants. Staying in Santa Maria, you are always close to the beach, and many hotels offer (sometimes several) swimming pools.
Other villages like Espargos, Palmeira, and Murdeira are also nice, but much further away from Santa Maria. I would recommend visiting these villages during a (half-day) trip around the island.
You can find the latest holiday package deals from TUI here.
Boa Vista – Perfect For A Beach Holiday
The island that’s the second most popular is Boa Vista. Boa Vista is famous as a beach destination. And also very popular among kitesurfers and windsurfers.
Boa Vista is a relatively small island, but it offers many unique activities. The island provides a safe bay for humpback whales to breed and for sea turtles to lay their eggs on the beach. Depending on the time of the year you’re visiting the island, you might be able to experience some natural wonders!
The whale season is between March and May; during these months, it is possible to join several whale watching tours. Turtle seasons runs from July until October.
Boa Vista means Beautiful View. It got his name when one of the Portuguese sea explorers first set foot on the island and was amazed by the beautiful views he saw. One of those views was in the Viana Desert, a real extension of the famous Sahara Desert! It is a unique place to visit and a nationally protected park in Cape Verde. Tradewinds coming from the African mainland are bringing Sahara sand with them, and creating this desert strip on the island.
Best Time To Visit Boa Vista
Boa Vista is an ideal holiday location year-round. However, because the island is relatively flat, weather conditions are more influenced by the trade winds than on Sal. Still, the tradewinds can create some refreshing temperatures on the warm island days.
When you’re planning to visit Boa Vista for a relaxing summer holiday, and not keen on planning many different activities; you can go whenever you want. The ‘coldest months’ are January and February, with temperatures on average around 68 Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).
If you want to go whale watching or turtle spotting, make sure to book your trip to Boa Vista during the correct season.
We wrote several articles about the island which you might find interesting. In our article What Can You Do in Boa Vista, we tell you more about the unique activities on the island.
And when you’re planning to go kite or windsurfing, our article Best Surf Spots in Boa Vista is a complete guide of the best surf spots on the island, and a must-read for every surfer visiting Boa Vista.
Places To Stay in Boa Vista
Just like at Sal, the travel company TUI offers the most hotels, resorts, and complete holiday packages for staying at Boa Vista.
When we were staying at Boa Vista, we didn’t book our stay via TUI, but that was because we did a complete roundtrip through the different islands and didn’t have a strict travel plan. We wanted to have some more freedom, our stay at the island was a bit cheaper than when you would book with TUI. However, it wasn’t any luxury at all. It was okayish, but we were traveling on a budget for a long time, so we couldn’t afford luxury holiday resorts all the time 😉
I would recommend booking your stay in Boa Vista via TUI. The location of most resorts is a bit remote, and you’ll need to rent a quad or car or take a taxi to reach Sal Rei (the main village of the island). But if you don’t want to leave the resort and just relax for the complete holiday, it’s also possible. And for traveling around the island, it is recommended using a quad or four-wheel drive anyway.
One of the best resorts in Cape Verde is on the island of Boa Vista, Rui Touareg. The resort literally everything you’ll need and is managed by, of course, TUI. It’s a 5-star accommodation with different swimming pools, restaurants, a private part of the beach. The complete all-inclusive package! You can find the latest prices and package deals on the website of TUI.
Travel Must-Haves For Every Traveler
These items are must-haves for every traveler, and I can highly recommend them without any hesitation:
This lightweight hammock is made of ultra-light parachute silk material. The hammock fits in a small portable bag and is very-easy-to you use. You can relax comfortably anywhere: on the beach, by the lake, in the forest, campsite, your hotel, Airbnb and even at home!
The North Face Backpack:
This is a high-quality, versatile, and practical daypack from one of the best brands in the world. It is a perfect choice, no matter what kind of travel plans you have.
Oasis Kindle E-reader:
A waterproof E-reader for unlimited reading while traveling. It is a must-have for every traveler that enjoys reading. This E-reader has an adjustable warm light to shift screen shade from white to amber. It also works with Audible, so you switch effortlessly from reading to listening.
Sony Noise-canceling headphone:
A world-leading noise-canceling headphone to make your travel trip more comfortable and less exhausting. One of the best travel products out there. Either for listening to music, podcasts. Or to block all the noise during traveling, for example, when you’re in an airplane.
GoPro HERO 8:
We’ve been using a GoPro camera since the first generation came on the market. It is our go-to travel camera ever since. Perfect for making the best pictures and memorable videos. It’s easy to use, waterproof and fits in your pocket or daypack. The new generation has a built-in stabilizer so that videos will be even better quality!
Check out our recommendations page for more travel gear and recourses.
Best Islands For Hiking, Nature, and Authentic Culture of Cape Verde
When traveling to Sal and Boa Vista, you’ll definitely have a great time, but you’ll probably not experience the ‘real culture’ of Cape Verde. The famous islands are focused on tourism, and thus the cultural experiences are also focused on tourism on both islands.
Essential for the Cape Verdean economy, but if you want to explore the authentic Cape Verdean culture, you’ll need to go to a lesser-known island. Time to travel off the beaten path.
São Vicente – Cape Verde’s Cultural Heart
Let’s start with the island that’s known as the cultural heart of Cape Verde, São Vicente. It is also part of the Barlevento (windward) island group. Same as Sal and Boa Vista. However, Cape Verde is a few 100 kilometers more to the west, and the island has an entirely different landscape.
São Vicente has a more mountainous landscape, is a bit greener, and has less tropical beaches where you can relax. However, it is the best place where you can celebrate Tropical Carnival in Cape Verde.
Highlights of São Vicente – Tropical Carnival
São Vicente is best known for its natural harbor, which was for a long time, an ideal stopover for sea ships sailing to other areas in Africa and Asia. For a while, Mindelo, the island’s main town, was one of the most important places of Cape Verde. The natural harbor drove much traffic to the island, and the settlement became an important economic factor of the Cape Verdean economy.
Lot’s of sea explorers stayed at São Vicente because of the perfect climate, and relaxing vibe. The island developed in a real melting pot of cultures and nationalities. What we know call a ‘multicultural society’ was already existing in São Vicente from the 18th century.
A mixture of European seafarers, African slaves, and human traffickers, and army officers, created a unique population on the island. Although the economy was thriving, the people weren’t rich. Music, solidarity, and cultural celebrations played a big part in São Vicente’s society.
And it still is today. It is also the reason why tropical carnival celebrations are the most popular on this island. Several carnival associations are creating the best costumes and dances to win the annual carnival parade. Celebrations go on for several days, and even weeks before, you can stumble upon a spontaneous parade at a random place on the island.
Carnival in São Vicente is like the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, only it’s lesser-known and way more authentic. I would say it is the best place to visit tropical carnival in the world!
We filmed the first episode of our travel show videos during the tropical carnival in São Vicente. The video is in Dutch, but it has English subtitles;
Santo Antão – Hiking and Cultural Paradise
Where São Vicente is known as the cultural heart of Cape Verde, the neighboring island Santo Antão is even more authentic. Many people say Santo Antão is the best place for experiencing Morabeza.
Morabeza is a Cape Verdean saying and way of life. When translated, people use words as hospitality, friendliness, kindness, no stress. It is difficult to explain Morabeza because it’s something you’ll need to experience for yourself. It is like Aloha in Hawaii. Not only a way of saying Hello and Goodbye, but also a way of life.
When we were at Santo Antão, we experienced Morabeza the best. People are so friendly, helpful, and always happy. There’s no stress at Santo Antão, life is slow. Nothing compared to a global metropolis, where stress and fast way of living are normal. So when you’re looking to relax and get away from the rat race, Santo Antão is the island where you want to go.
The only way to reach Santo Antão is by taking a ferry from São Vicente. The island doesn’t have an airport, which also contributes to the relaxing vibe on Santo Antão.
Nature & Hiking in Santo Antão
Different mountains and calderas create a unique landscape on the island. Because of the differences in altitudes, tradewinds, and warm climate, you’ll find various microclimates within the island. Making Santo Antão not only great for hiking but also a natural paradise.
Caldeira de Cova is a unique crater which is used by local farmers for agriculture. It is one of the most beautiful craters I’ve ever seen. The green landscape, surrounded by mountains, and clouds constantly sliding over the mountain tops. Breathtaking!
The Caldeira is also the starting (or ending, depends where you’re coming from) point of the valley of Paúl. A beautiful green valley, with again, breathtaking views. You can follow several hiking paths through the valley, depending on your skill level.
Hiking in Santo Antão is a great experience, not only because of the beautiful nature but also because you’ll meet many local people. Everyone is friendly, and wants to make a talk, or inviting you for some food or a drink. So make sure you plan enough time for a hike and meet up with the locals!
You’ll probably get offered a local drink, known as Grogue. Grogue is the original Cape Verdean liquor, and on Santo Antão, it is still produced originally. The drink is made of sugarcane, and because it is not produced in a controlled way, the alcohol percentages can vary heavily. If you don’t trust it, you can politely decline to drink it. Probably a good idea, when you still have a long hike ahead of you! 😉
We visited Santo Antão as the second island on our trip to Cape Verde and made this video about the island. Where we also visited a local Grogue brewery in the village, Paúl (the video is in Dutch, but again with English subtitles).
Most Beautiful View In The World
According to National Geographic, Santo Antão has one of the most beautiful views in the world. The village Fontainhas. Which is located north of the island, close to Ponta do Sol. Fontainhas is a small village built on a cliff. The cascade houses, beautiful green cliffs, and stunning views over the sea, and during sunset, making it one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see.
Exploring Santo Antão
A great way to explore the island is by renting a car and follow the old road. You’ll cross many beautiful spots, drive around the valley of Paúl. It is the best way to see the beauty of the island when you’re not going for a hike.
We rented a car with a driver, which was not too expensive, around 50 euros, but the prices can vary, it has already been a few years since we’ve been in Santo Antão.
When you’re not used to driving in a foreign country, and a mountainous area, I definitely recommend renting a car with a driver. The locals know exactly where to go, and can show you the most beautiful spots. And best of all, you can enjoy the stunning views during the trip.
We have been to a lot of places, but the unique landscape in Santo Antão is still one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been to. I think it’s also the authenticity of the island that’s making it so unique. There’s no mass tourism at Santo Antão, so while visiting the island, it feels really unique and original.
Fogo – Volcanic Hiking Paradise
Did you know the Cape Verdean Archipelago are originally volcanic islands? The only active volcano in Cape Verde is on the island Fogo, the volcano is named Pico de Fogo. The last time it erupted was in 2015, but luckily the people got away in time.
Pico de Fogo is the highest peak of Cape Verde, and within the crater, you’ll find an amazing village, Chã das Caldeiras. Many people decide to live close to the volcanic crater, despite the constant threat of an eruption. The best hike in Fogo is hiking to the top of the volcano. A safe hike but always guided by one of the locals.
The land close to the volcano is very fertile, which makes it perfect for agriculture. There’s a thriving wine and coffee industry at Fogo. So Fogo is not only the island of fire but also the island of the bust Cape Verdean wines and coffee. Fogo Coffee is a special coffee with a unique taste that’s also selected in a unique coffee program of Starbucks.
Chã das Caldeiras
The highlight of a visit to Fogo is, of course, visiting the volcano and its village Chã das Caldeiras. If you have any expectations of visiting a volcanic village, you better forget them. This village is something unique, and I can’t describe the feeling you’ll have while arriving at the village.
It is a lunar-like landscape, very quiet and peaceful. But also, you’ll still see the old lava streams of the last eruption. Which destroyed a large part of the village. Old houses where the lava stream ran through, it is all visible. Kind of scary and beautiful at the same time.
The beauty is also in the people who are still living in the caldera. They decided to build their new houses on top of the dried up lava streams. There’s nothing that can stop them from living there.
When we were visiting the village, I was struck by the quietness and landscape of the village. It is literally a different world.
Santiago – The Island That Has It All
The main island of Cape Verde is Santiago. It is the seat of the Cape Verdean government, you’ll find the capital Praia on this island. And most Cape Verdean people are living on Santiago. Santiago is the island that has it all. Tropical beaches, a thriving city, beautiful nature, and perfect hiking trails.
Santiago was the first Cape Verdean island that was discovered in the 15th century by the Portuguese. They created the first settlement in Cape Verde and named the city Ribeira Grande. Later, during the 18th century, the name was changed to Cidade Velha. It was the first European settlement on a tropical African island. Great navigators like Vasco da Gama and Columbus used the island as a stopover during their journeys around the world.
Cidade Velha – Old Capital of Santiago
Cidade Velha is a Unesco World Heritage site, mainly because it was the first European settlement in the tropics, and was from significant value for the maritime trade routes to Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world. Maritime trade routes in which both the Portuguese and The Netherlands owned several trade routes in the world. At one point, during the 16th and 17th centuries, The Netherlands was even the largest maritime trade company in the world! You can read more about that history in our article What is The Netherlands Famous For.
Maritime trade during those times (between the 16th and 18th centuries) is also known for the trade of enslaved persons. The island Santiago became a trade hub for enslaved persons, because of its location on the trade routes. Luckily it belongs to the past nowadays.
Praia – Capital of Santiago
Cape Verde is known for its relaxing vibe and quiet towns. However, the capital of the archipelago is something different. Praia is a busy city and walking around the city, you directly understand that this is the economic heart of the island.
Many fresh markets, large squares, and even a modern shopping street are creating a unique vibe on the island.
Close to the city, you’ll find the beach Quebra Canela, which is a modern beach, with many restaurants and bars. When visiting Praia, make sure to visit the restaurant and music cafe, Quintal da Musica. Known as the heart of the Cape Verdean (jazz) music.
Tarrafal – Santiago’s Tropical Beach
In the northern part of the island, you’ll find the settlement Tarrafal. A small village, but widely known as the best tropical beach in Santiago.
The beach is located in a half-moon shaped bay, which creates perfect weather conditions. Almost no wind, and a quiet sea where it is ideal for swimming.
We spent a few days in Tarrafal. It is perfect for a beach holiday, there’s not much to do in the village, but if you’re looking for a place to relax on the beach, among the locals, Tarrafal is the place where you want to go.
Hiking in Santiago
Santiago is known as one of the most fertile islands of Cape Verde. Located in the middle of the island, you’ll find many mountains, tropical forests, and beautiful hiking trails.
Hiking in Santiago is a great experience. You can explore the island by yourself, or go on guided hiking tours and even climb the highest peak of the island, Pico d’Antonio, which is 4566 foot (1392 meters) high.
Another great hike is to visit the national park, Malagueta Natural Park. It is one of the three national parks of Cape Verde and has a beautiful landscape.
Other Islands To Visit in Cape Verde
The Cape Verdean Archipelago consists out of 10 islands from which 9 are inhabited. The islands that are also interesting for a visit are Brava, Maio, São Nicolau.
However, these three islands are lesser-known, and a bit harder to reach. Some islands are only reachable using a ferry, but these aren’t that reliable. The sea can be very rough between the islands, so many ferries are canceled often due to the rough sea conditions. For some islands, there is a domestic flight connection that runs a few times a week.
Nonetheless, Brava, Maio, and São Nicolau are all islands that are perfect for a visit when you want to experience the authentic Cape Verdean culture, looking for great places to go hiking. You can read more about these islands and Cape Verde in our article What is Cape Verde Famous For.
Recommended Articles Cape Verde
We wrote many articles about Cape Verde that you can use when preparing for your trip to the islands. You can find a list of all the Cape Verdean articles here.
Some articles that you might find interesting are;
Because of the volcanic landscape and many reefs around the islands, it is not always safe to go swimming in the sea. I wrote this article, which is a helpful guide for the best swimming places on each Cape Verdean island.
Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony until 1975. So the first language that is spoken is Portuguese. Because of the mixture of cultures, Creole is also a widely spoken language that varies on every island. When you visit Cape Verde off the beaten path, you might run into areas where people don’t speak English. In this article, I tell you where you can speak English and how to get around at the remote places.
Most people choose for a holiday to the island Sal. Which is a great thing to do! Perfect for enjoying a tropical beach holiday. In this article, you’ll find a list of the best things to do in Sal, including a map of the island. And local tips for the best restaurants.