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Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel. I’ve been travelling the world for 33 years and, 209 countries and territories, and – seven continents later, I’m still on the road.
Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!
Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.
In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.
My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.
Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.
I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.
Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.
If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.
This is a Cape Verde Travel Guide from taste2travel.com
Date Visited: March 2022
Rising up from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, 620 km (385 miles) off the coast of West Africa, the remote and isolated archipelago of Cape Verde remained uninhabited until discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century.
The stunning Santa Monica beach is one of the finest on Boa Vista.
Once a centre for the African slave trade and an important stopover port for a who’s who of famous navigators, Cape Verde today is redefining itself.
A popular tourism destination offering world-class beaches and resorts, flights carrying European holiday makers arrive every day on the tourism hubs of Sal and Boa Vista. It’s these flights which offer the best value means of accessing what is normally a remote and expensive destination.
The children of Cape Verde love posing for the camera.
Comprised of 10 diverse, volcanic islands, Cape Verde is a fascinating travel destination.
From Creole culture, history, stunning and remote beaches, desert islands, kite surfing, hiking, fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling and so much more – Cape Verde offers something for everyone.
A panoramic view of the ‘Salinas de Pedra de Lume’, a salt mine located inside a volcanic crater.
While on Cape Verde, I had the opportunity to explore the islands of Santiago, Sal and Boa Vista. These are included in this article. I look forward to returning again one day to spend more time exploring the other islands.
Ethnically, Cape Verdeans are a mix of African and Portuguese.
It should be noted that expensive domestic flights are the only means of travel between most islands, although a less-than-reliable ferry service does operate on occasion.
A hand-painted ‘Strela’ beer advertisement, covers the side of a building in Sal Rei, Boa Vista.
Flights are very limited and sell out weeks in advance. If you plan to do any island hopping, you need to book flights well in advance. Please refer to the ‘Getting Around‘ section for more on domestic flights.
A kite surfer enjoying the breezy conditions at the aptly named Kite beach, a major tourist draw on Sal Island.
As for travel costs – Cape Verde is not your typical African destination. It is one of the most developed countries in Africa and, as such, much pricier, with a budget of €100/day (USD$110) being reasonable. This is not a place for those on a shoestring budget!
Located 620 km (385 miles) off the west coast of Africa, Cape Verde is named for the westernmost cape of Africa, Cape Verde (French: Cap Vert; Portuguese: Cabo Verde), which is located in nearby Senegal and is the nearest point on the African continent to the island nation.
A map of Cape Verde, indicating the Barlavento and Sotavento island groups. Source: Nations Online Project.
Consisting of 10 islands – nine inhabited, one uninhabited, this archipelago nation is divided into the Barlavento (Windward) group to the north and the Sotavento (Leeward) group to the south.
The Barlavento Islands include Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia (which is uninhabited), São Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista, together with the islets of Raso and Branco.
The Sotavento Islands include Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava and the three islets called the Rombos—Grande, Luís Carneiro, and Cima.
A panoramic view over Cidade Velha from Forte Real de São Filipe, which was built following a raid by Sir Francis Drake.
The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the 15th century, when Portuguese explorers discovered and colonised the islands in 1456, thus establishing the first European settlement in the tropics.
In 1462, Portuguese settlers arrived on the island of Santiago and founded a settlement they called Ribeira Grande, which is today called Cidade Velha (Old City).
Fishing boats at Cidade Velha, Santiago Island.
The ruins of Cidade Velha, which lies on the south coast, 15 km west of the capital, Praia, are the site of the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Cape Verde.
Due to its location, Cidade Velha was an important stop-over port for a who’s-who of famous navigators. In its heyday, this vital port hosted Christopher Columbus, who spent time here on his 3rd voyage to the Americas. Ferdinand Magellan stopped over at the beginning of what would become his world-record setting circumnavigation of the world.
The port, which was used as a transit warehouse for the storage of riches from the new world, also attracted famous pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake who sacked Cidade Velha and other towns on Santiago between the 11th and 28th of November 1585.
He then continued on to raid and sack various Spanish ports in the Americas. You can read more about the exploits of Sir Francis Drake in my guides to the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands.
The large fort, Forte Real de São Filipe, which overlooks Cidade Velha, was built shortly after the raid by Sir Francis Drake.
Erected in 1512 in the main square of Cidade Velha, the marble Pelourinho was used to punish rebellious slaves by public flogging.
Located a short distance from Africa, Cidade Velha played a significant role in the Atlantic slave trade with many slave ships stopping in the port to gather supplies before sailing across the Atlantic to the New World.
A reminder of the slave trade can be seen in the main square of Cidade Velha where the marble Pelourinho (Portuguese for ‘pillory’), which dates from 1512, was used as a symbol of municipal power, and of slavery, with rebellious slaves being chained up and publicly flogged.
Following the demise of the slave trade, Cape Verde suffered an economic decline. Its fortunes were somewhat revived with it playing a role as a ship re-supply store. Cape Verde was the first stop of Charles Darwin’s epic voyage with the HMS Beagle in 1832.
A sculpture of former Portuguese Governor General Alexandre Alberto da Rocha de Serpa Pinto, Albuquerque Square, Praia, Santiago.
With few resources, and little investment from Portugal, Cape Verdeans became discontent and demands for independence grew.
In 1956, Amilcar Cabral formed an independence movement which had the aim of securing independence for both Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau (another Portuguese colony in West Africa). On January 20, 1973, Cabral was assassinated.
Cape Verde eventually achieved full independence on July 5, 1975.
Children on the island of Boa Vista with their classic mestiço features.
Previously uninhabited, Cape Verde never sustained a native population but has been populated by European and African migrants.
Girls playing among the ruins of Cidade Velha, on the island of Santiago.
The modern population of Cape Verde descends from the mixture of European settlers and African slaves who were brought to the islands to work on Portuguese plantations.
A young girl on the island of Boa Vista.
The overwhelming majority of the population is of mixed European and African descent and is often referred to as mestiço or creole.
Young girls on the island of Santiago. The children of Cape Verde love being photographed.
The last official Census in 2013 recorded a total population of 512,096 inhabitants with almost half (236,000) living on the main island of Santiago.
Visitors can expect to be greeted by warm smiles in Cape Verde.
The capital, Praia, is home to a quarter of the country’s population, while the population of the islands of Sal and Boa Vista is 40,000 and 6,300 respectively.
Young girl in Cidade Velha, Santiago Island.
West African Migration
A souvenir shop in Sal Rei, one of many such shops runs by West African migrants.
Due to its relative prosperity, compared to its African neighbours, many West Africans have found their way to Cape Verde in search of work, and other opportunities, which are not readily available in their own countries.
Many of these migrants run handicraft shops, especially on the tourist islands of Boa Vista and Sal, which sell arts and crafts from West Africa.
A very elongated version of the Cape Verde flag, flying outside the presidential palace in Praia.
The National Flag of the Republic of Cape Verde consists of five unequal horizontal bands of blue, white, and red, with a circle of ten yellow five-pointed stars.
Souvenir flags of Cape Verde, which make an ideal gift for visiting vexillologists.
The ten yellow stars represent the main islands of Cape Verde while the blue bands represent the ocean and the sky.
The band of white and red represents the road toward the construction of the nation, with white representing ‘peace’ and red representing ‘effort’.
One of the more impressive flags, which is super-elongated, can be seen flying outside the presidential palace in Praia.
Cape Verde banknotes feature cultural icons, including Cesária Évora who appears on the CVE2,000 note.
The official currency of Cape Verde is the escudo, which has the international currency code of CVE. The currency sign is the cifrão, which is similar to the dollar sign but always written with two vertical lines: .
The escudo is pegged to the euro at a rate of €1 = CVE110. The euro circulates freely on Cape Verde where, for convenience sake, it is accepted at a slightly discounted rate of €1 = CVE100.
On the main tourist islands of Sal and Boa Vista, local businesses, taxis etc, accept payment in both euro and escudos and will often provide change in either one currency or a mixture of the two.
The Cape Verdean escudo is the official currency of Cape Verde.
The current series of banknotes were issued by the Banco de Cabo Verde (BCV) on the 22 December 2014. The notes honour Cape Verdean figures in the fields of literature, music, and politics.
Banknotes consist of denominations of CVE200, CVE500, CVE1000, CVE2000 and CVE5000 with the CVE5,000 note rarely seen and not even held by most banks.
The polymer version of the CVE200 banknote features Henrique Teixeira de Sousa, a prominent doctor and literary figure.
The CVE200 note, which features a portrait of Henrique Teixeira de Sousa, a prominent doctor, novelist, poet, and essayist was re-released in polymer, the first polymer banknote released in Cape Verde.
In a decision, which runs counter to world-wide currency trends, the BCV recently decided to re-issue the CVE200 note on paper after the bank received a large number of complaints from locals who didn’t like handling the polymer note.
A typical queue, outside a bank in downtown Praia.
Banks in Cape Verde are easily identified due to their unfortunate queues which see locals standing around for long periods of time, in the blistering sun, waiting their turn to enter the bank.
Banks in Cape Verde should be avoided at all costs, unless you wish to spend your holiday in a queue.
An average daily budget for Cape Verde is around €100 (CVE11,000)! This would allow you to stay in a decent mid-range hotel, rent a car, dine in decent restaurants and enjoy a drink or two with dinner.
The best way to reduce costs is to dine in local restaurants where a tasty meal costs no more than €5.
A menu at a local restaurant on the island of Boa Vista.
If you plan on doing any island-hopping, inter-island flights will add a considerable amount to your travel costs. Not only are flights expensive, they are very infrequent and often sold-out weeks in advance.
See the “Getting Around” section below for more details (and warnings) on domestic flights.
Domestic flights on Cape Verde are operated by TICV who have just two ATR-72’s in service. Flights are infrequent and expensive!
Suggested daily budgets:
Backpacker: CVE4500 per day (hardly feasible for Cape Verde!)
Flashpacker: CVE4500-CVE11,000 per day.
Top-end: CVE11,000+ per day.
Coca Cola (0.33 litre bottle): CVE150 (€1.50)
Water (0.5 litre bottle): CVE100 (€1.00)
Cappuccino: CVE150 (€1.50)
Local Beer (small glass of the excellent ‘Strela‘ draft): CVE100 (€1.00)
Imported Beer (small bottle of Heineken): CVE250 (€2.50)
Taxi from airport to town centre: a flat fare of CVE1,000 (€10)
Car Rental (per day): CVE5,500 – CVE6,600 (€50 – 60)
Located 640 km (400 miles) off the West African coast, Santiago Island is the largest and most populous island of Cape Verde.
First discovered in 1460 by the Italian navigator, António de Noli, the island is home to the first colonial settlement established anywhere in the tropics, Cidade Velha, which is also the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country.
It is also the location of the capital city, Praia, and home to almost 50% of the entire population.
A volcanic island, Santiago is Cape Verde’s most agriculturally productive island, with much of the produce making its way to Sucupira market in downtown Praia.
The island is very mountainous, with jagged razorback peaks dominating the view. The drive from the southern city of Praia to the northern city of Tarrafal winds its way over the Serra Malagueta, a steep mountain range which peaks at 1064 m (3,490 ft).
If you have any interest in the history and culture of Cape Verde, spending time on Santiago is essential!
In 1770, following numerous pirate attacks on nearby Cidade Velha, and due to its strategic position on a high plateau, Praia was chosen as the new capital of Cape Verde.
The city is located on the southern coast of Santiago Island. The old town centre, which is built on the plateau, overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The main street is the pedestrianised Avenida 5 de Julho (5th of July Avenue).
The international airport, Nelson Mandela International Airport (IATA: RAI), is located 3 km from Praia.
Avenida 5 de Julho
Avenida 5 de Julho is the main pedestrian street in downtown Praia.
Avenida 5 de Julhois a pedestrian street which lies at the heart of the historic ‘plateau’ district of Praia. It is here that you’ll find most hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, banks and sights of interest.
The whole avenue is lined with impressively sculptured hedges.
“Produce Central” – Sucupira market in downtown Praia.
There are few sights in downtown Praia but one which shouldn’t be missed is the central Sucupira market, which is the largest produce market in Cape Verde. The market is located on the pedestrian street – Avenida 5 de Julho.
While staying on the desert islands of Sal and Boa Vista, I was amazed at the range of fresh produce available – especially considering those islands sustain zero agriculture.
It was during my visit to Sucupira market, and Santiago, that I realised from where the produce originated.
Located in the historic heart of Praia, the Palácio da Presidência da República serves as the residence of the President of Cape Verde.
The current President of Cape Verde is José Maria Pereira Neves, who previously served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2016. He is a member of the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV).
The President resides in the Palácio da Presidência da República (Palace of the Presidency of the Republic), a beautiful neoclassical style palace which was constructed in 1894. It is situated on Rua Serpa Pinto, at the southern end of Plateau, the historic district of Praia.
A statue of Diogo Gomes, the Portuguese navigator who is credited with discovering the island of Santiago.
The large statue located next to the Presidential Palace is of Diogo Gomes, a Portuguese navigator who is credited with discovering some of the islands of Cape Verde, along with the Italian navigator António de Noli.
Fishing boats line the harbour of Cidade Velha.
I have already mentioned Cidade Velha (Portuguese for “old city”) in the ‘History‘ section, so I’ll keep this section brief.
For anyone interested in the history of Cape Verde, Cidade Velha is a compulsory stop.
A young girl in Cidade Velha.
Conveniently located 10 km west of Praia, Cidade Velha has the distinction of being the first colony established in the tropics.
Laundry day in Cidade Velha.
It served as an important stopover port for many of the famous navigators, such as Christopher Columbus, who were busy discovering and mapping the ‘New World’.
Forte Real de São Filipe
Overlooking Cidade Velha, Forte Real de São Filipe was built to defend the settlement against pirate raids.
Located on a hill, 120 metres above Cidade Velha, Forte Real de São Filipe was constructed between 1587–93, following a raid by the English privateer, Sir Francis Drake.
A view of the gorge created by the Ribeira Grande de Santiago River, from Fortaleza Real de São Filipe.
Access to the fort is either by foot from town, climbing up 120 metres, or from the top of the ridge by car.
The Sé Cathedral, one of the many ruined complexes which comprises the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on Cape Verde.
Overlooking Cidade Velha, the ruined Sé Cathedral had a short-lived existence. It was constructed by the Portuguese between 1556 and 1705. However, in 1712, it was pillaged by pirates and abandoned soon after!
A highlight of Cidade Velha, the ruined Sé Cathedral, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The church was built in the Mudéjar-style, the first of its kind on African soil.
Mudéjar style, refers to a type of ornamentation and decoration used in the Iberian Christian kingdoms, primarily between the 13th and 16th centuries. It was based on decorative motifs derived from those that had been brought to or developed in Islamic Iberia or Al-Andalus.
A tombstone dated from 1775 inside the former Sé Catedral, Cidade Velha.
Now surrounded by residential buildings, the Sé cathedral was 60 metres long and featured fine stone sculptures and various floor tombs which remain in place.
Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church
The oldest church in the colonial world, the Nossa Senhora do Rosario church, Cidade Velha.
Built in 1495, the beautifully serene Nossa Senhora do Rosario church has the distinction of being the oldest colonial church in the world.
The interior of Nossa Senhora do Rosario church, Cidade Velha.
By comparison, the oldest church in the Americas, the Catedral Primada de América in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was constructed between 1512 and 1540. For photos of this cathedral, please see my Dominican Republic Travel Guide.
The interior of Nossa Senhora do Rosario church features Portuguese tiles, known as Azulejos.
The church, whose walls are lined with Portuguese tiles, known as Azulejos, was built in the Manueline Gothic style.
It’s interesting to note that many Africans were prominent members of Cidade Velha society, with pastors of the church often being African rather than European.
Colourful houses in Cidade Velha.
Boats on the beach in the fishing village of Porto Mosquito.
If you continue 11 km further west from Cidade Velha, you’ll reach the end of the cobble-stone road which runs along the south-west coast at the quaint fishing village of Porto Mosquito.
A mural in Porto Mosquito celebrates a visit by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
In the heart of the village, a mural of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, complete with a beaming smile, celebrates a visit made to Porto Mosquito by the famous French oceanographer, aboard the infamous Calypso, in November of 1948.
Beautiful images of aquatic life can be seen painted on the facades of houses in Porto Mosquito.
The colourful aquatic-themed murals continue throughout the village with no less than 17 houses covered in artwork.
Local fisherman ‘corking’ his wooden fishing boat.
Porto Mosquito is a working fishing village and during my visit I was able to watch the local fishermen ‘corking‘ (i.e. water-sealing) their wooden boats using nothing more than a length of string, a rock (as a hammer) and a knife. Once the string was in place, a sealant was applied.
Fishing boats on the beach at Port Mosquito.
If you have any interest in boats, the black volcanic-sand beach at Porto Mosquito is covered in the most beautifully painted wooden boats.
Pigs, on the beach in Porto Mosquito, feeding on crabs.
Also of interest were a few local pigs who were sniffing around in the sand on the beach. I saw that they were using their keen sense of smell to locate crabs, which they seemed to enjoy eating.
All visitors stop to photograph the colourful TARRAFAL sign.
The highway from the capital, Praia to the northern city of Tarrafal traverses the length of Santiago island – a distance of just 67 km but a journey time of 1.5 hours.
Why so long? The single-lane highway winds its way up and down several steep mountain passes with lots of slow hair-pin turns.
Before arriving in Tarrafal (population: 6,656), the highway tops out over the lofty Serra Malagueta pass (1064 metres).
Life in the mountains is much different from life on the coast, with much cooler temperatures, heavy fog and the locals rugged up against the cold. Not at all tropical!
Fishing boats on the beach at Tarrafal.
Tarrafal is located on Tarrafal Bay, with the 643-metre high (2,109 ft) Monte Graciosa forming the perfect backdrop. The town is popular with locals, especially on weekends when the whole place is overrun by day-trippers from Praia (where else to go when you live on an island?).
Fishing boats on the beach at Tarrafal.
Tarrafal is an important fishing village and, as with other fishing villages on Santiago, the town beach is lined with colourful, wooden fishing boats.
Located at the top of Santiago Island, Tarrafal is an important fishing village with a growing tourism industry.
The mural painters from Porto Mosquito also seemed to have applied their colourful, magic touch to some of the buildings in Tarrafal.
Boa Vista Island
A young boy in Sal Rei, Boa Vista.
The arid, desert-island of Boa Vista (“Good View” in Portuguese) is the third largest island in Cape Verde, after Santo Antão and Santiago, with an area of 631 square kilometres (243 square miles).
Being the most easterly, it is also the closest island to West Africa, lying just 450 km west of Senegal.
This remote and uninhabited island was discovered by António de Noli (Italian) and Diogo Gomes (Portuguese) in 1460. If you’re visiting Praia, a towering statue of Diogo Gomes can be seen outside the Presidential Palace (see the “Praia” section above).
In 1620, the first settlement was established on the island whose purpose was to exploit local salt deposits. The capital was established on a natural harbour and named Sal Rei (translates as “Salt King”).
A view of Praia do Estoril, the main beach in Sal Rei, Boa Vista.
As the main town on Boa Vista (population: 5,778), laid-back and relaxed, Sal Rei is the centre of activity and the only real accommodation option for those not booked into a beach resort.
All services on the island (hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, banks, petrol stations, laundries) are located in Sal Rei, whose compact town centre is easily covered on foot.
Note: If you’re driving a car on the island, the only petrol stations are located in Sal Rei. Best to fill up before heading out into the remote countryside (where mobile phone signal is non-existent)!
Many of the locals who inhabit Sal Rei leave town each day on minibuses to work in the three large Riu resorts which are located south of town.
Fishing boats in Sal Rei harbour.
Sal Rei is built on a natural harbour which is a major fishing port. To the south-east, the beautiful, and normally quiet town beach – Praia do Estoril – is lined with hotels and rooftop bars/ restaurants which are the perfect place for watching the sunset over the bay.
My hotel and bar recommendations are included in the ‘Accommodation‘ and ‘Eating Out‘ sections below.
Colourful houses line the streets of Sal Rei, Boa Vista.
Sal Rei has few sights of interest but is full of charm and is a great place to meander.
The dusty, sandy streets are normally a buzz of activity with men playing board games and children playing football or rolling tyres (so very African)!
Young boys rolling tyres in Sal Rei – a typically African scene!
The port is alive each morning with fishermen selling their catch. The fishermen, fishing boats and local children make for wonderful photography opportunities.
Warm smiles greeted me everywhere in Sal Rei.
In the port area, several cafes and restaurants are a magnet for tourists who can relax and watch the activity while eating a meal or drinking a glass of Strela beer.
The very good Caffè del Porto is a popular choice and is covered in the ‘Eating Out‘ section below.
Along with occasional performances, the centre sells locally made crafts and has a restaurant/ cafe which serves very good lunches with a focus on simple Cape Verdean fare at reasonable prices (see the ‘Eating Out‘ section below for more information).
Santa Mónica Beach / Boca Beach
A rough gravel road leads to the sweeping expanse of Santa Monica beach which exists in splendid isolation – but not for much longer!
Located on the isolated south-west coast of Boa Vista, at the end of a long gravel road (follow the sign for ‘Boca Beach‘ from the roundabout on the paved highway), the stunningly beautiful Santa Monica beach appears as a mirage on the horizon.
A photo, a dream or a Mark Rothko painting? The very real Santa Monica beach on Boa Vista!
As you approach from the dusty interior, it’s hard to believe something so beautiful exists. It is dreamlike and I was forced to look again to confirm that what I was seeing was indeed real.
Santa Monica is one of the true wonders of Boa Vista. Boasting more than 11 km of pristine sand, Santa Monica is the longest beach on the island.
Despite receiving many tourists, its huge expanse of sand and never-ending dimensions allows visitors to experience the feeling of isolation in a pristine natural setting.
Santa Monica Beach, Boa Vista Island.
Unfortunately, the developers have already arrived with the first sprawling resort emerging from the surrounding hills.
Boca Beach is tucked away at the southern end of Santa Monica beach.
At the southern end of Santa Monica beach, tiny Boca Beach is home to the only food and beverage option anywhere in this part of Boa Vista.
The tiny shack on the beach is a popular stop for visiting 4WD and quad-bike tours which arrive with guests from the nearby Riu resorts.
Praia De Carquejinha
Praia de Carquejinha, an incredibly beautiful, and almost totally deserted, 8 km long beach on the south coast of Boa Vista.
Located at the bottom of the island, the equally incredible Praia de Carquejinha stretches for 8 km along the south coast.
Truly remote, the only sign of life on this part of the island is the mega-sized Hotel Riu Touareg whose guests have the beach to themselves.
A view of the Viana desert which lies in the rugged interior of Boa Vista.
Located east of the airport, and the town of Rabil, the Viana desert looks like a set from Lawrence of Arabia. Towering sand dunes, which rise up out of the desert, are framed by a rocky mountain backdrop.
The friendly owner of the nearby Viana Club (see the ‘Eating out‘ section) provides wonderful meals and will help out those silly tourists who manage to get their 4WD bogged in soft sand!
Cape Verde ‘Route 66’
This cobble-stone highway, through the interior of Boa Vista, is considered the “Route 66” of Cape Verde.
Running like a black ribbon for 20 km across the dry interior of Boa Vista, the Cape Verde version of “Route 66” is a fascinating drive.
A cobble-stoned highway, made from local basalt stone, which connects the western town of Rabil with the eastern town of Joao Galego, it’s hard to believe that each stone was laid by hand.
Monte Santo Antonio
The 2nd highest peak on Boa Vista, Monte Santo Antonio rises to an elevation of 379 m (1,243 ft).
As you travel along the only highway along the west coast, it’s hard to miss the impressive Monte Santo Antonio, an ancient volcanic structure which is the 2nd highest peak on Boa Vista, rising up to an elevation of 379 m (1,243 ft). The rocky peak is composed of basalt stone.
Capela de Nossa Senhora de Fátima
Capela de Nossa Senhora de Fátima overlooks the rugged north-west coast of Boa Vista Island.
Located north of Sal Rei, the isolated Capela de Nossa Senhora de Fátima (Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima) is located on a hill, overlooking the rugged north-west coast.
Reached via a rough gravel road, access is for those with a 4WD or quad bike. While the chapel is normally closed, the views over the coast are worth the trip. For those on foot, there is a walking trail along the coast from Sal Rei.
Outdoor art market in Santa Maria, Sal.
The Portuguese first discovered Sal in 1460 but the island wasn’t settled until the salt industry was developed at the end of the 18th century at Pedra de Lume.
Sal (Portuguese for “salt”) is one of the three sandy eastern islands of the Cape Verde archipelago, the other two being nearby Boa Vista, and Maio.
Sal is the main tourist destination in Cape Verde with its airport, Amílcar Cabral International Airport (IATA: SID), serving as the chief international gateway to Cape Verde.
Daily charter flights from Europe make Sal an affordable entry point to this otherwise remote, and expensive to reach destination.
Sal boasts over 350 days of sunshine a year and offers plenty of white sandy beaches in the flat south, while rugged volcanic landscapes dominate the northern end of the island, which is largely unpopulated.
The island is also subject to constant, strong, winds, which create ideal conditions for kite surfing, which is very popular.
Located at the heart of Sal, 2 km north of the airport, Espargos (population: 17,000) is the capital and main commercial centre of the island. It is here where most locals live, travelling south each day to Santa Maria to work in the tourism industry.
The one highway on Sal, national road EN1-SL01, a dual carriageway, connects Espargos with Santa Maria (19 km) in the south of the island. Surrounded on all sides by stunning white sand beaches, Santa Maria is the main tourist hub and home to all of the beach resorts and tourist facilities.
The best way to explore the island is to rent a car which will cost around €50 per day. One day is enough to cover all the sights on Sal – see the ‘Rental Car‘ section below for more details.
Fishermen in Santa Maria, with the town beach and Hotel Morabeza in the background.
Santa Maria was founded in 1830 as a centre for the production and export of salt. Up to 30,000 tons of salt were shipped from Santa Maria each year. The former ‘Salinas‘ (salt ponds) are located behind the town.
Laying in isolated obscurity for most of its history, the fortunes of Santa Maria changed in 1967 when a Belgium couple, Gaspard Vynckier, a Belgian industrialist and his wife Marguerite Massart (the first female engineer of Belgium), established Cape Verde’s first resort – the HotelMorabeza.
Located on the beach in the heart of Santa Maria, today, the Hotel Morabeza is just one of a string of resorts which line the beach to the west of town.
The streets of Santa Maria are lined with pastel-coloured buildings, al fresco restaurants, cafes and live-music bars. The busiest restaurants in the evening are located directly on the sandy beach (see the ‘Eating Out‘ section below for more information).
Santa Maria beach on Sal Island.
The one sight in Santa Maria is that which originally put Sal on the tourist map – the dazzling, white-sand beach.
Freshly caught fish are sold each morning on Santa Maria pier.
The expanse of white sand is only interrupted by the town pier which is always a hive of activity with local fishermen selling their daily catch and opportunistic souvenir sellers peddling their wares to the usual throng of tourists.
Fish vendors on Santa Maria pier, Sal Island.
Lining Santa Maria beach are restaurants, bars, surf schools, hotels, villas and everything else required by a busy tourist on holiday!
Distances from Santa Maria, Sal
The main street of Santa Maria is a relaxed pedestrian street – Rua 1 de Junho (1st of June street) – which is lined with bustling cafes, bars, restaurants and lots of souvenir shops which are operated by West African migrants.
Kite surfing is a major tourist drawcard on the ever-windy islands of Sal and Boa Vista.
Each day, as the heat increases on the dry and arid Sal Island, the coastal winds increase, providing ideal conditions for kite surfers. These daily winds occur for about 8 months of the year, drawing hordes of, mainly European, kite surfers.
Kite Surfing is very popular on the ever-breezy Kite beach.
The premier venue for kite surfing is the aptly named Kite Beach which is located on the exposed east coast of Sal, a few kilometres north of Santa Maria.
Kite surfing in perfect conditions at Kite beach, Sal.
One of the finer beaches on Sal, Praia Ponta Preta is lined with all-inclusive resorts.
On the opposite side of the island to Kite Beach, the much calmer, leeward coast of Sal is home to Praia Ponta Preta which is lined with numerous all-inclusive resorts.
The flag of Cape Verde flying on the rocky coast at Murdeira, Sal Island.
Located on the west coast, 10 km north of Santa Maria, the fishing village of Murdeira grew up around the Murdeira Village Resort. The rocky coastline of Murdeira is popular with snorkelers.
Salinas de Pedra de Lume
Salinas de Pedra de Lume.
I would rate the stunning Salinas de Pedra de Lume as one of the highlights of my trip to Cape Verde.
Located inside the crater of an extinct volcano, at an elevation of 39 metres above sea level, an underground reservoir fills a small lake with briny water.
A view of the Salinas de Pedra de Lume, a salt mine located inside a volcanic crater.
Until the discovery of this crater lake in 1796 by Manuel António Martins, Sal was uninhabited, due to its arid environment, lack of natural resources and lack of fresh water.
The colourful, briny waters of the Salinas de Pedra de Lume.
With the discovery of a salt lake, the fortunes of the island were transformed overnight. The first settlement was built around the nearby port of Pedra de Lume, African slaves were imported to work on salt production and the name of the island, originally called Llana (“Flat”) was changed to Sal (“Salt”).
Access to the Salinas de Pedra de Lume is through a tunnel which was built in 1804.
In order to aid the extraction of salt from the crater, a tunnel was carved out of the side wall of the crater. This tunnel today serves as the entry point for the Salinas.
The wooden supports of an abandoned cable-car which was used to transport salt from the crater to the nearby port.
Salt production at Pedra de Lume flourished throughout most of the 19th century, but went into decline after 1887, when Brazil, the main export destination, imposed a ban on imported salt.
Salt produced at the Salinas de Pedra de Lume is used by the beauty and culinary industries.
Away from the beach, the Salinas de Pedra de Lume are the most popular tourist attraction on Sal. Arriving in buses, most visitors experience the sensation of floating in the salty waters of the lake and covering themselves in black volcanic mud.
Salinas de Pedra de Lume.
Almost no one ventures beyond the swimming area which is located at the entrance to the salt ponds. If you venture beyond the swimming area, you’ll have the entire crater to yourself.
I spent about an hour walking around the salt pans, where many incredible photos await!
Pedra de Lume
Located in Pedra de Lume, the Capela de Nossa Senhora was built in 1853 for use by the African salt workers.
Located about 5 km east of Espargos, the abandoned port of Pedra de Lume was established around 1800 as the first settlement on Sal. Pedra de Lume was founded by Manuel António Martins, who started the exploitation of the nearby Salinas (salt ponds) in 1796.
Today, most tourists (who arrive on bus tours), speed through the sleepy port, on their way to the nearby Salinas, which is unfortunate!
The charming port is home to a couple of sights and an excellent lunch restaurant – Restaurante Área Docas (see the ‘Eating Out‘ section for more details).
A highlight of Pedra De Lume is the small Capela de Nossa Senhora (Lady Compassion Chapel) which sits in isolation, alongside the access road to the Salinas.
Built in 1853, supposedly by African slaves working at the salt mine, the chapel is normally closed and best photographed after lunch when the sun is in front of the chapel, and the surrounding blue sky at its most brilliant.
The slowly decaying, rusted hulks of former salt barges, in a boat graveyard at Pedra de Lume.
Across the road from the chapel, a small boat graveyard is the final resting place for three former salt barges which, ironically, are now slowly decaying due to the salt air!
Exploring Terra Boa and the volcanic ash plain, which lies in the remote north of Sal Island. At 406 m elevation, Monte Grande is the highest point on Sal.
From Espargos, an unmarked dirt track snakes its way north to the Farol da Fiur (lighthouse) which is located on the remote and rugged north coast.
The landscape in the northern half of Sal is arid and volcanic and home to nobody. Monte Grande, the island’s highest point at 406 m (1,332 ft) dominates the view.
Half way to the lighthouse, you will reach Terra Boa, a flat volcanic ash plain which is famous for its shimmering mirages – impossible to photograph of course!
Ponta Norte (Farol da Fiúra) Lighthouse
The very remote, Ponta Norte (Farol da Fiúra) lighthouse is located at the northern tip of Sal Island.
The northern tip of Sal is home to the unremarkable Ponta Norte (Farol da Fiúra) lighthouse. A modern, fibreglass, tower painted with black and white bands, the lighthouse stands alongside the stone ruins of the original lighthouse.
An ancient lava delta adjacent to the Ponta Norte (Farol da Fiúra) lighthouse on the north coast of Sal Island.
Ponta Norte (North Point) was formed millions of years ago, following a volcanic eruption from Monte Grande, which resulted in a lava flow entering the sea, creating a lava delta which is today known as Ponta Norte. The lighthouse is built on this lava delta.
Note: Prior to reaching the lighthouse, the smooth volcanic-ash track turns into a nasty, rough volcanic-rock road, with plenty of sharp, tyre-damaging, rocks. Care needs to be taken if you are driving a rental car. This part of the road is only suitable for 4WD.
The vast Hotel Riu Touareg is located on Praia de Carquejinha, on the remote south coast of Boa Vista Island.
With 95% of visitors to Cape Verde arriving on pre-paid holiday packages from Europe, almost all arrivals are shepherded directly from the airport (on a Tui bus) to their isolated, all-inclusive, beach resort.
Most holiday-makers arrive on Tui flights from Europe, which is the cheapest way to access Cape Verde. See the ‘Getting There‘ section below for more details.
The main hotel operator on Cape Verde is the Riu hotel group which offers six sprawling resorts, with 3 located on the stunning beaches of Boa Vista and three located on the island of Sal.
When I arrived on Boa Vista from Brussels with Tui, I was the only passenger not booked on a holiday package. While all other passengers boarded a Tui coach, to be taken to their remote Riu beach resort, I took a taxi into the main town – Sal Rei.
Unfortunately, while there was a small line of taxi drivers waiting at the airport, only one driver managed to get a fare that day, despite the fact that 100 arrivals had just exited the airport!
A huge problem with the package tourism industry is that for countries such as Cape Verde, who host vast numbers of holiday makers, most of the money generated never enters the local economy. With 95% of visitors arriving on (European-owned) charter flights and staying in (European-owned) resorts, almost all the revenue generated remains in Europe.
One of the main benefits from the package tourism industry is local employment. The largest employer on the islands of Boa Vista and Sal is the resorts. Each evening in Sal Rei, you can see fleets of mini-buses returning local resort staff back into town, all wearing their Riu uniforms.