When planning a trip to Cape Verde, you probably wonder what the most popular island is. In this article, I’ll tell you all about the most popular island and the other islands in Cape Verde.
The most popular island in Cape Verde is the island, Sal. Sal receives most tourists in the archipelago. Mainly because most hotels and resorts are located on this island. The 2nd most popular island is Boa Vista, followed by Santiago and São Vicente. The islands Sal and Boa Vista are both known as a popular destination for beach holidays.
The Cape Verdean archipelago consists out of 10 different islands, 9 islands are inhabited. Santa Luzia is the only uninhabited island. We visited 6 different islands during a roundtrip through Cape Verde. During this roundtrip, we learned that each island is different and has its unique highlights.
So, in this article, I’ll tell you much more about Sal, the most popular island of Cape Verde. But also share the highlights of the other islands. Ready to learn more? Let’s find out!
Sal – Cape Verdes Most Popular Island
When you look at the landscape of Sal, you probably wonder why this island is the most popular island from the archipelago.
Sal is a flat and dry island. There’s not much nature, and the landscape exists mainly out of dunes, cliffs, and beaches. However, the weather is consistently good, the beaches are soft and sandy. And the sea consists out of calm crystal clear waters. It is the perfect mix for a unique summer destination.
From all the Cape Verdean islands, you’ll find the most hotels and resorts on the island Sal. Many hotels are located close or in the town of Santa Maria, which is the main town on the island. You also find most shops in this area, and it is the place where you find the best beaches in Sal.
The island is connected by an international airport and receives daily flights arriving from major cities in Europe. Domestic flights coming from the other islands also arriving several times a day.
Since a few months, there’s also a ferry that runs several times a week between Sal’s neighboring island Boa Vista and São Nicolau. However, traveling by ferry is not the most reliable form of transportation in Cape Verde. The ferries are often canceled due to rough sea conditions.
In our article ‘How Can You Travel Between The Cape Verde Islands,’ I’ll explain more about the different ways of transport within the archipelago.
Highlights of Sal
Sal is mainly known as a summer beach destination with year-round perfect weather conditions. But there are also many great things to do on the island.
The island gets its name to its salt mine. This mine is not in use anymore, but you can still visit the old salt lakes where they extracted salt during the 18th century. For a long time, the export of salt was the most important source of income of Cape Verde. Today that’s tourism.
Close to those salt mines, you’ll find shark bay. A kind of deserted beach, which you can only reach while following a dirt road. Once you reach the beach, you’ll notice a few locals waiting for visitors. These are the guides which can take you on a swimming tour with lemon sharks! It is a unique thing to do while visiting Sal.
Cape Verde is for kitesurfers and windsurfers, an ideal location. The continually blowing tradewinds coming from the African mainland creates perfect conditions for this unique sport. Especially the islands Sal and Boa Vista are perfect for surfers because these islands also have the best beaches and sea conditions.
When you’re in Sal, you’ll find Kitebeach, close to Santa Maria. Kitebeach is, you probably can guess this, the best place to go for kitesurfers.
Sal is not the place where you go to meet the authentic Cape Verdean culture. Sure, there’s still some of the culture left, but Sal is the most popular tourist destination. And like with many popular destinations, the culture changes over time and loses its authenticity. Don’t get me wrong, Sal is still a unique island to visit. But when you get to chance to also visit the other Cape Verdean islands, I would highly recommend doing so!
When you’re planning a visit to Sal, I recommend reading our article ‘Best Things To Do In Sal,‘ which is a complete activity guide of the island.
Boa Vista – Sal 2nd Most Popular Island
Close to Sal, you’ll find the island Boa Vista. The distance between the two islands is only around 50 kilometers. When you’re standing on the beach in Santa Maria (Sal), you can see Boa Vista on the other side of the sea.
While both islands are similar in popularity and landscapes, you also can find many differences. Sal is much more developed than the island Boa Vista. The town Santa Maria in Sal feels like a modern coastal town. While Boa Vista only has a small village Sal Rei is their main town. But this underdevelopment also has its charms. It gives Boa Vista its unique vibe.
Boa Vista also has better beaches than Sal and is even a better place for kite and windsurfers.
We visited both islands during our roundtrip, and actually, I liked both islands evenly. Boa Vista was maybe a bit more special because, but I think that’s because of personal memory. It was the first time I saw humpback whales in the wild. What a unique experience that was!
For me, it is also the most significant difference with Sal. When you’re in Boa Vista during the right season, you can either go whale watching (between March and May) or turtle spotting (between July and September).
Read more about the unique things to do in our article “What Can You Do In Boa Vista?“
Other Popular Cape Verde Islands
Santiago and São Vicente are two other popular islands in Cape Verde. I think a visit to both islands is worth your time, but it also depends on what kind of holiday you’re looking for and during which season you’re traveling. Find out more in our article ‘Is Cape Verde A Good Holiday Destination?‘
For example, São Vicente is an interesting island to visit, but there’s not much going on. Unless you visit the island during the carnival in February. São Vicente is known as the cultural heart of Cape Verde, so you can always find some live music on the streets or in the bars. But the best way to experience that ‘cultural heart,’ is during the tropical carnival celebrations in February.
Tropical Carnival in São Vicente is actually known as one of the best places in the world for celebrating tropical carnival!
São Vicente played an important role in the history of the archipelago, because of the natural harbor at the shore of Mindelo. For a long time, it was an important stop for seafarers to refill their ships on their long journeys to Asia.
When you visit São Vicente, don’t forget to hop on the ferry to Santo Antão. This island is only reachable by taking the ferry from São Vicente, and its the most beautiful island of Cape Verde.
Santo Antão has its own microclimate and is, therefore, much greener than every other island. It is excellent for hiking, exploring nature, and learning about the Cape Verdean lifestyle. Earlier I said that sometimes popular places lose their authenticity. Santo Antão is not the most famous island in Cape Verde. Because its a bit of a hassle to visit, it is still very authentic. However, when you’re in Saão Vicente, catching the ferry to Santo Antaão is straightforward, so a must-do when traveling around these islands!
The largest and most important political island is Santiago. It is the island where the government resides and where you find Cape Verde’s capital Praia. Praia is nothing compared to the quiet towns on the other islands, but also nothing compared to a small city in Europe. It is a unique town or city, with its own unique vibe. It feels a bit Portuguese, but that’s mainly because Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony until 1975.
Santiago was actually the first island that got discovered by those Portuguese explorers during the 15th century. Because of its location, the island quickly became a trade hub on the transatlantic slave trade route. Luckily that’s in the past, but you still can visit Cidade Velha, which is the old capital of the islands, and learn more about this terrible history.
Today Santiago is a modern island, which is ideal for both a beach holiday, hiking, surfing, and learning about Cape Verde’s authentic culture.
If you want to know more about these and the other Cape Verdean island I recommend reading the following articles;
- 21 Reasons Why Cape Verde Is Worth Visiting
- Which Is The Best Cape Verde Island To Visit?
- What is Cape Verde Famous For?
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