Boa Vista is a good island to start on as many flights to Cape Verde land here.
The island is renowned for the incredible beaches it has to offer, with over 55 kilometres of sandy coastline. Either visit shipwreck beach, or take things a little further with a diving tour of nearby seabed shipwrecks.
Whales and dolphins can often be spotted here around Sal Rei, and there are lots of boat tours to take you out and catch a glimpse.
The whole island of Boa Vista is covered in sand and dunes, with old buildings swallowed and buried under a blanket of white and gold. If you hire a quad bike you can head out to Praia de Chaves, a sand-sunken ceramics factory which still has all its machines inside.
You can get an affordable domestic flight to start your island-hopping tour. Santiago is the largest of the islands, and is home to the capital city, Praia, as well as more than half of Cape Verde’s population.
This island really has it all, from a lively local music scene to quiet beaches and bays such as Tarrafal on the north of the island.
Tarrafal is also home to one of Santiago’s many local markets. Though, if shopping is your thing, you’d be crazy to miss Praia’s Mercado de Sucupira, a labyrinth of side streets where you can purchase beautiful handicrafts and fabrics, as well as traditional cuisine.
Take some time while you’re here to learn about Santiago’s dark past as the centre of the international slave trade. The Cidade da Ribeira Grande de Santiago – Cape Verde’s former capital city – is now a UNESCO world heritage site, and in this area you can absorb both beautiful architecture and little snippets of history.
Visit the old fortress, and you can admire the oldest colonial church in the world.
Here you’ll find some of the best nightlife in Cape Verde, with lively bars and restaurants continuing to crop up in response to the increase in tourism in the area.
Cape Verdean culture is big on live music, so expect to see plenty of this throughout the night. And if you time it right, you can enjoy one of Sal’s incredible street festivals too.
Much like Boa Vista, this is a real beach island, with vast white sandbanks and clear sea-water. Sal is one of the world’s top five windsurfing destinations, and if you feel like getting active, it’s the perfect place to try your hand at this and other watersports, such as kite surfing, diving and snorkelling.
While you’re here, check out the salt lake nestled inside an extinct volcano crater, and marvel at the vast mirage in the desert of Terra Boa.
Sao Vicente and Santo Antao
Sao Vicente is known as the main hub for music and arts in Cape Verde.
With a rich and unique culture, combining African and European influences, this island boasts a real buzz of bars, pubs and clubs to choose from. Venues are frequented by locals and feature traditional Cape Verdean music and food.
Hire a four-wheel drive and you can reach Baia das Gatas in the north, home to a stunning natural lagoon, great for cooling off from the endless sunshine. Unlike several of Sao Vicente’s beaches, this one is safe to swim from.
Elsewhere on the island, heavy surf means that the ocean is best left to surfers and windsurfers, who will often enjoy perfect conditions.
From Sao Vicente, it’s well worth scheduling a day trip to Santo Antao. The second-largest of the islands, this destination is perfect for hiking, or for a day-long road trip to take in the sights.
Spectacular mountain ranges and lush ravines adorn Santo Antao, and a drive from Porto Novo to Ribiera Grande will give spectacular views to anyone who can handle the mountain roads. It’s worth taking the time to explore Fontainhas, a village perched on the edge of the mountainside overlooking a deep valley.
Most of these islands have their own airport, ranging in size from tiny domestic terminal to international hub. There are also ferry connections between most of the islands, and you can reach Santo Antao in an hour by sea from Sao Vicente.
Public and shared transport are casual affairs, with unofficial minibuses and modified pickup trucks happy to pick up and drop off passengers just about anywhere along their routes.
Official municipal buses run on Sao Vicente and Santiago – but without set timetables, they depart at varying frequencies between 6am and 9pm.
Private taxis are also widely available, whether you’re going from your hotel to the beach or hitching a lift back from the mountains to the best live music of the night. A little planning means you won’t get stuck during your time on these culturally-rich islands.