When we were planning our trip to Cape Verde, we found out that the archipelago exists out of 10 different islands. So we thought it would be interesting to find out which Cape Verdean island is the biggest island and what the difference is with the other islands.
What is the biggest island of Cape Verde? Santiago is the biggest island. It is 382 square miles big, 35 miles long, 18 miles wide, and the highest point of Santiago (Pico de Antónia) is 4,567 ft. Santiago is home to half of the nation’s population and is also the main island of Cape Verde.
Many people say that Santiago is the Cape Verdean island that has it all! Santiago is excellent for hiking, culture, and beach lovers. There is much to discover on Santiago, but don’t forget the other big islands of Cape Verde.
The Biggest Island: Santiago
The Cape Verde Islands are a melting pot of different cultures and influences. The vibes on the islands are a mixture of European, African, and Caribbean. Every island has its mixed vibe cocktail, and Santiago has the most African vibe out of all the islands of Cape Verde.
Santiago is the cultural, economic, political, and historical heart of the Cape Verde Islands. Praia, in the south of Santiago, is the capital of Cape Verde.
The landscape of Santiago is very diverse from bounty beaches in the north, mountains with lush valleys in the middle to the bustling city life in Praia in the south.
Cidade Velha (Old Capital)
Cape Verdean islands were uninhabited until the Portuguese discovered the islands in 1456. And because of the remote and strategic position between Africa and the Caribbean, the islands of Cape Verde became the perfect intermediate station for the transatlantic slave trade. And on the island of Santiago is where you can explore most of this history, in the old capital of the island, Cidade Velha.
For that history lesson, you have to visit the former capital of Cape Verde Cidade Velha. It is the oldest settlement in Cape Verde and is a UNESCO world heritage site since 2009. Visiting this village is an absolute must on your travels to Santiago.
There is the oldest street in Cape Verde: Rua de Banana, and Fort Felipe, which was the first settlement. For a long time, Cidade Velha was the most important settlement within the Cape Verdean Islands.
Cape Verdean Music – Morna
If you’re into music, then Santiago is also a great place to visit. This island is where the heart and roots are of the music of Cape Verde. There many music festivals on the island during the year, and a visit to Quintal da Musica in Praia is something you don’t want to miss.
Cape Verdean’s most famous music style is known as Morna. A mixture of inspirational music, with lyrics that are most of the time in Creole. Creole is the commonly spoken language in Cape Verde. Césario Évora became the most famous Cape Verdean singer in the world. She even was awarded a Grammy for the music she made.
Santiago is not the only island where you can explore the best music and culture of Cape Verde. The island São Vicente is known as the cultural heart of the island group. Mindelo, the main town on São Vicente, was an important maritime hub with a large port. Many travelers, sea explorers from all over the world stayed on this island for centuries. They used it mainly as a refill station on their journeys to other parts of the world. However, a lot of people stranded on São Vicente or decided to stay because of the relaxing vibe and weather. It created a unique cultural mix that is still experienced today.
Bounty Beach Tarrafal
Back to Santiago. When you head to the northern part of the island, you’ll reach Taraffal. A small village and a great place to experience the only bounty beach on the Cape Verde Islands.
Following the route to Tarrafal is also perfect if you want to go hiking on the island. It’s best to go to Assomada in the middle of the island. This village is a great starting point to hike through the mountain ranges of Santiago.
The second biggest island of Cape Verde: Santo Antão
The second-largest island is Santo Antão and is 301 square meters big, 26 miles long, 15 miles wide, and the highest point (Tope de Coroa) is 6,493 ft. Santo Antão is part of the windward islands and is the most northwestern island of Cape Verde. About 50.000 people live in Santo Antão, and there is no mass tourism, which is why this island is very much unspoiled.
You can reach Santo Antão only by ferry via the neighboring island São Vicente that has an international airport. The ferry leaves twice a day and is both for cars and passengers and takes about 1 hour.
Santo Antão has a different vibe than the island Santiago. It’s one of the most laid back islands where the Creole phrase Morabeza originated. The meaning of Morabeza is similar to the Aloha in Hawaii. Morabeza means being open-spirited, welcoming, and hospitable to everyone you meet. This vibe resonates through the island, and it’s what’s so special about Santo Antão.
The Most Beautiful Island
This island is also famous for being the most beautiful island of Cape Verde. It’s very green, lush and humid in the north and dry in the southern part of the island. Santo Antão is a real paradise for hikers because of the stunning valleys and mountain ranges. It’s the best island to experience the Cape Verde culture in the most authentic way possible.
For the best views, you can drive over the old route from Porto Novo to the capital of the island Ribeira Grande which leads through the mountains and valleys of Santo Antão. National Geographic awards the village Fontainhas in the northwest as one of the towns with the most beautiful views in the world. You can hike or drive to this village from Ponta do Sol, which is a cute fishermen town overlooking the oceans with amazing sunsets.
The Third Biggest Island of Cape Verde: Boa Vista
Next up is the island Boa Vista. This island is the third biggest island of Cape Verde and is 244 square miles big, 20 miles long, 18 miles wide, and the highest point is (Monte Estância) 1,270 ft. Boa Vista’s capital is Sal Rei. This island is the least densely populated (15.000) of all other islands of Cape Verde. Due to the growing tourism industry it has, it’s own international airport.
Boa Vista is closest to the African continent. The distance between Boa Vista and Senegal is about 380 miles. The island is predominantly flat with a couple of mountains, and the Viana Desert on the island is an extension of the Sahara desert in Africa. Due to the strong Sahara wind is how these sand dunes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean exist. It’s a great place to go quad biking or gazing at the stars at night.
The name Boa Vista means beautiful view in Portuguese. The surroundings and white sandy beaches of Boa Vista are stunning. Which is the reason why Boa Vista is becoming a more popular destination for tourists. It’s the second most popular island of Cape Verde.
Sal is the most popular island of Cape Verde. Both islands are quite similar in terms of landscape and things to do. Read more about Sal, the most popular island of Cape Verde in this article.
Exploring Wildlife in Boa Vista
On Boa Vista, you can find the third-largest population of nesting loggerhead turtles. The best time to spot these turtles is between July and October. The nestling of these turtles is a delicate process, and you can only visit the specific beaches while taking a guided tour.
If your planning on visiting Boa Vista in the months April and May, you have hit the jackpot. In these months, the bay of Boa Vista is the breeding place for humpback whales. The whales coming from colder waters in the north use the warm waters around Boa Vista to mate, socialize and give birth to their calf.
So whale watching in Boa Vista is some of the top things to do in these months. If you’re lucky, you don’t even have to book a boat tour you can watch the whales from the little harbor in Sal Rei or one of the many beaches in Boa Vista. Find out more in our article What Can You Do In Boa Vista?
Kite & Windsurfing in Boa Vista
The excellent conditions for wind and kitesurfing are what make this island also very popular. Thermal winds consistently create good conditions for these unique sports. With many different beaches, there’s always a new surfing spot to find.
On Boa Vista, you’ll find beaches for every experience level. It is also a great place if you want to learn how to kitesurf. Find out more in our article Best Surf Spots in Boa Vista.
The Fourth Biggest Island of Cape Verde: Fogo
The fourth-largest island of Cape Verde is Fogo. The island is 184 square miles big, 16 miles long, 24 miles wide, and the highest point is (Pico de Fogo) 9,281 ft. Fogo is named after Pico do Fogo, the active volcano. In Portuguese, ‘Fogo’ means Fire.
All the islands of Cape Verde are volcanic, but Fogo is the only remaining active one. The most recent eruption was in 2014, which destroyed a lot of Chã das Caldeiras, the village next to Pico de Fogo (volcano).
You can reach Fogo by plane (5 minutes) or ferry (4 – 6 hours) from the biggest island of Cape Verde: Santiago. Due to weather changes and conditions, the ferry isn’t always reliable. This ferry is the same ferry that connects Santiago and Brava.
Taste Fogo Coffee & Wine
It’s also because of the volcano Pico de Fogo that the soil of the island is very fertile. The coffee from Fogo (Fogo Coffee Spirit) is part of Starbucks Reserve coffee, being one of the most delicious coffees in the world. And Fogo is the only island of Cape Verde that produces its wine: Cha. The vineyard is in the village Chã das Caldeiras next to the volcano. The grapes got almost destroyed by the eruption in 2014. Luckily they saved most of the vineyard.
The French Count Montrond was the one who started the wine production in the 18th century on Fogo. Montrond was chased away in France, and on the way to Brazil got stranded on the Cape Verdean Island Fogo. He introduced his wine knowledge on Fogo and was also responsible for the excellent infrastructure on the island.
He lived in the secluded village of Chã das Caldeiras where he had many children. And because of the mixture of European and African roots, he produced a beautiful family with dark-skinned, blue-eyed and blond-haired members. They are considered to be the most beautiful people in the world.
Cape Verde Travel Planning Guide
🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Cape Verde?
100% YES! — With basic coverage averaging just $2 USD per day, enjoy peace of mind with a plan from Safety Wing, one of the biggest names in travel insurance.
💧Can you drink tap water in Cape Verde?
No — It is generally recommended to drink bottled water in Cape Verde. While tap water is generally safe for showering and brushing teeth, it may not be suitable for drinking. Bottled water is readily available and affordable throughout the country. Or you can buy a Water-To-Go Bottle, which filters your drinking water.
🚗 Is it safe to rent a car in Cape Verde?
Yes — Renting a car in Cape Verde is one of the best ways to see the islands. I always rent with Rentalcars, which checks international and local Cape Verdean companies, so you get the best rates.
🏩 What’s the best way to book places to stay in Cape Verde?
🛫 What’s the best site to buy Cape Verde flights?
⛵️ Where to book the best tours in Cape Verde?
For the best tours in Cape Verde, I highly recommend booking your trips at Get Your Guide.
🛂 Do I need a visa for Cape Verde?
Likely Not — U.S. and most European Passport holders don’t need a visa for Cape Verde. Most travelers will receive a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival.
😃 Which is the safest island of Cape Verde?
Santo Antão – Although all islands are safe to travel to, Santo Antão is the safest island of Cape Verde. It is known for “Morabeza,” a Creole word meaning very friendly Cape Verdean hospitality. In the capital Praia on the island of Santiago, you must be somewhat careful but not need paranoia.
🗣 Do they speak English in Cape Verde?
Yes – Most staff speak English, and some are multi-lingual. The official language of Cape Verde is Portuguese. The mother tongue of virtually all Cape Verdeans is Cape Verdean Creole. (Read more)
⭐️ What is the best time to visit Cape Verde?
The best time to visit Cape Verde is between November and June. The average day temperature is around 24°C (75°F), the sea temperature is 25°C, and there is almost no rain. Perfect for a white-sandy beach holiday. However, Cape Verde has many attractions and activities throughout the year:
- The best time to visit Cape Verde for Hiking: November & December
- The best time to visit Cape Verde for Snorkeling and Diving: July – December
- The best time to visit Cape Verde for Kitesurfing: December – March
- The best time to visit Cape Verde for Whale Watching: March-May
- The best time to visit Cape Verde for Turtle Spotting: Mid-July – October
- The best time to visit Cape Verde for Carnival: February/ March
What is the smallest island of Cape Verde? Santa Luzia is the smallest island of Cape Verde. It is 24 square miles big, and it’s uninhabited. Brava is the smallest island out of all the inhabited islands of Cape Verde.
How many Cape Verde Islands are there? Cape Verde Islands has ten islands in total; 9 inhabited and one uninhabited. Each island has a different climate, landscape, and cultural vibe, which is why Cape Verde is such an exciting destination to visit.
Read more in our article Where Is Cape Verde Located?
What is the most famous island of Cape Verde? The most popular island is Sal. Over the last 15 years, the tourism industry on the island has grown exponentially. Sal has white sandy beaches, blue turquoise waters, and it’s a great year-round holiday destination. Therefore, Cape Verde and especially Sal, has become a top-rated sunny winter destination.