Online guide to visiting islands of Sal and Boa Vista: Cape Verde

The Caribbean of Africa


5110 Sal Rei, Cape Verde

GPS: 16.18143096896, -22.916566379702

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The islands of Sal and Boa Vista are part of the Barlavento group of islands along with the archipelagos of Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia and São Nicolau. This string of desert islands means “the Windward Islands” in Portuguese. It is located in the northern part of the Cape Verde archipelago, off the coast of Senegal and Mauritania. The islands of Sal and Boa Vista are in the Atlantic Ocean and are about 600 kilometres from the African continent.

Formerly Portuguese colonies, the Barlavento Islands have earned the nickname “the Caribbean of Africa” because of their extensive white sand beaches. Of volcanic origin, the islands of Sal and Boa Vista were uninhabited before the arrival of the first contingent of European explorers in 1456. They are dominated by flat terrain and a desert environment swept by ocean winds. Thanks to these natural assets and a favourable climate all year round, the fame of this exotic land quickly spread beyond its maritime borders. Since the end of the 20th century, the islands of Sal and Boa Vista have attracted international travellers in search of adventure, nature and authenticity. In recent years, they have tempted a new audience. Water sports enthusiasts of all kinds (diving, windsurfing, surfing, sport fishing…) come to take advantage of the exceptional natural conditions that the Cape Verdean destination enjoys to practise board and air sports.

Benefitting from an exceptional level of sunshine (350 days a year) and modern tourist infrastructures (including an airport on each island), the volcanic islands of Sal and Boa Vista are a gentle blend of Portuguese, African, Creole and Brazilian cultures with turquoise waters. Cape Verdean hospitality and the unparalleled friendliness of the locals add to the enchantment of the place. The island of Sal is the oldest island in the Cape Verde archipelago from a geological point of view, and was formed 50 million years ago. It owes its nickname to the saline marshes of Pedra de Lume with its ship wrecks, caves, reefs and turquoise sea teeming with fish. The island of Boa Vista, less frequented than its neighbour, offers a more peaceful environment to its visitors. Its golden beaches and sand dunes serve as a nesting site for several species of marine turtles.

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  • The Deserto de Viana, the caves of Varadinha and the sand dunes of Boa Vista Island; the pristine beaches of Praia Chave, Praia Santa Monica and Praia do Curralinho; the Cape of Good Hope
  • The beaches of Praia de Santa Maria and Praia de Ponta Preta on the island of Sal (they are among the best surfing and sailing spots); its salt fields (Pedra de Lume site), its natural pools dug into faults and its lunar landscape; Parda Bay (shark watching); the Buracona cave with its blue eye (Olho Azul)
  • Populations of sea turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, colourful tropical fish…
  • The many possibilities for water sports (surfing, jet skiing, water skiing, windsurfing, diving, windsurfing, deep sea fishing…) and boat trips
  • The countless white sand beaches (about ten kilometres of beaches on the island of Sal and fifty kilometres of beaches on the island of Boa Vista)
  • The lively town of Santa Maria (shops, restaurants, nightlife) the ruins of the Duque de Bragança fort, the small market of Espargos and the fishing village of Palmeira on the island of Sal; the covered market, the Jewish cemetery and the chapel of Our Lady of Fatima of Sal Rei, the villages of Provoçao Velha (the oldest) and Rabil, and the magnificent view from the Morro Negro lighthouse on the island of Boa Vista
  • Seafood and the variety of fish (grouper, tuna, barracuda, swordfish, shrimp, octopus, traditional Buzio dish…)
  • Swimming in the turquoise and translucent waters of the Atlantic Ocean
  • Concerts and music festivals; the mix of cultures in Cape Verde; the art of living of the inhabitants; the local crafts
  • Several Portuguese and Italian navigators participated in the discovery and exploration of Cape Verde in the mid 15th century. Before the first Europeans arrived, this isolated archipelago in the Atlantic was unoccupied by man. It later became the first slave market from Africa. It was the King of Portugal, Alfonso V, who initiated the first colonisation of the archipelago. This possession was formalised in an international treaty that prefigured the impunity of European countries to appropriate new lands that were unknown to them (it did not matter whether these lands were occupied by indigenous peoples or not). This was the Treaty of Alcáçovas, signed in 1479 between the Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) and King Alfonso V of Portugal with his son, Prince John of Portugal.
  • A few years after being the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat from Spain (1492), the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Boa Vista in 1498, on his third voyage in search of the New World.
  • The island of Sal has a particularly arid climate as it is located at the same latitude as the Sahara desert. It rains on average only a handful of days per year.
  • The Pedra de Lume Saline marshes on the island of Sal are located in the crater of an extinct volcano. Salt extraction was developed by the Portuguese from the beginning of the 19th century and then by the French who bought the concession at the beginning of the 20th century through the Compagnie des Salins du Midi. They built a 1.5 kilometre long wooden cable car to transport dozens of tonnes of salt per day to the archipelago port for export to Europe, Africa and South America. This salt deposit continues to be exploited on a small scale for cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. The salt flats of Pedra de Lume have a salt concentration up to 25 times higher than the sea.
  • Humpback whales breed in the warm and shallow waters of Cape Verde (especially around the island of Boa Vista). In winter, they travel thousands of kilometres from the North Atlantic (Iceland and Norway) to give birth to their young.
  • Together with the archipelagos of the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, Cape Verde is geographically part of Macaronesia, a group of volcanic islands that lie to the west of Africa and Europe in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Historically, Cape Verde has always been a land of emigration. Thus, as many people of Cape Verdean origin live in Cape Verde as in the United States.
  • Just over 800,000 visitors visited the Cape Verde archipelago in 2019. Almost half of them (45%) stayed on the island of Sal and less than a third (30%) opted for the island of Boa Vista (these two islands are by far the most popular).
  • Twice a week, a boat service connects the two islands (days and times may change depending on the season). The other possible alternative is to travel by plane.
  • The islands of Sal and Boa Vista have a shortage of fresh water, with only salt water in the groundwater. It is therefore recommended to drink bottled water and to restrict water consumption during your stay.

Where to eat

  • Cape Fruit
    (delicious breakfast)
  • Perola D'Chaves
    (meal on the beach)
  • Porton di nos Ilha
    (Not to be missed)

Where to go

  • Boavista Kitesurf School...
    (adventure sports)
  • Santa Marilha Horse Excursions
    (horseback riding trips)
  • Viveiro
    (green oasis)

Where to stay

  • Surfactivity Guest House
    (cosy guest house)
  • B&B Criola
    (enthusiastic hotel)
  • Hotel Morabeza
    (spacious and chic)