“Saharan-like sands. Deep blue surf. And a real take-it-easy vibe. More than any other Cape Verde island, Boa Vista is pure, undiluted bliss.”
If you thought the Caribbean was a one-off, think again. There’s another collection of islands hot on its heels - Cape Verde. This cluster of nine sits pretty in the Atlantic, mid-way between Africa and South America. Cape Verde has everything the Caribbean has by way of beaches and has even got colonial roots too, mixing up Portuguese, Brazilian and African touches. But there’s one important difference – these up-and-coming isles are almost untouched by tourism. So what you get here’s the Caribbean of yesteryear. Now, of all the Cape Verde Islands, Boa Vista’s got the best beaches. Its shoreline runs the gamut from small, rocky bays to big, empty sweeps of sand laced with raffia-roofed beach bars. The desert-island feel extends into Boa Vista’s interior, too. Here, wind-sculpted dunes give way to ice-cream coloured villages and volcanic hillsides. And then there’s the sea to think about. Boa Vista’s waters offer the perfect conditions for daredevil kite and windsurfers while under the surface, snorkellers and divers can gaze wide-eyed at a carnival of marine life. Back on dry land, life tends to revolve around Sal Rei. Laced with cobbled roads, makeshift shops and pastel-coloured cottages, this cutesy town’s got an earthy, easy-going charm that’s hard to resist. So if you’re looking for the ‘new’ Caribbean, check out Cape Verde. It’s the paradise destination du jour.
Find the cheapest late deals to Boa Vista leaving in the next six weeks.
Boa Vista’s beaches are the sort you don’t think still exist in the 21st century. Think vast swoops of sands untouched by anything or anyone. And seas ruffled by white-crested rollers. All laid out beneath vast canopies of blue sky. Let’s start with Sal Rei. The shores around the town are gilded by immaculate beaches and seas so clear you can see the sunbeams stippling the seabed. Along the town beach, Diante, fishing boats speckle the sands and local children dive off wooden jetties into the pristine waters. Further along, at Estoril and Cabral, houses and apartments rise up along soft dunes mingling with a few watersports huts and simple beach bars. Then there’s Salines beach – a cashmere-soft curve lapped by translucent waters great for snorkelling. And talking of watersports, Boa Vista’s got plenty on offer. Take off on a diving or snorkelling trip to gaze at trumpet fish and multicoloured parrotfish. Or skim across empty bays on a windsurfer. And back on land, even more eye-popping beaches await. Hire a jeep and trundle across the desert to Santa Monica. Hailed as Cape Verde’s finest beach, its gold dust sands seem to go on forever. And more often than not, you’ll have them all to yourself. Or head east to neighbouring Curral Velho. Another wondrous stretch of sand, it’s exquisite to the extreme. And they’re not the only ones. You’ll find similar, sun-baked chunks of paradise all around the island – just waiting for your presence, picnic and parasol.
Like everywhere in Cape Verde, Boa Vista’s food is a fusion of Portuguese, African and Brazilian flavours. Most dishes revolve around fish - tuna, swordfish and grouper are all big favourites. The shellfish is great, too. As well as lobster and crab, crayfish is a regular feature on most menus. Another must-try is ‘caldo de peixe’, a hearty fish soup, which is made by adding fresh fish to a sizzling broth of tomato, garlic and potato. Eating like a true Cape Verdean also means sampling ‘cachupa’. This satisfying combo of maize, beans, potatoes and meat is a complete meal in itself.
Shopping-wise, Boa Vista is about as far from Oxford Street as you can get. The towns on the island, Sal Rei included, only have a few modest and largely makeshift shops. We’re talking little nooks hawking African woodcarvings, tie-dye dresses and batik tapestries. Music stores stacked with sun-bleached boxes of ‘morna’ CDs by Cape Verde’s favourite songstress, Cesaria Evora. And minimarkets stacked with the basics like tinned foods and sun-cream. If you’re intent on souvenir hunting however, your best bet are the streets west of Sal Rei’s tourist information centre. This is where you’ll find a few handicrafts shop. Otherwise, just go where the town’s cobbled roads take you. Here and there, you’ll stumble on a pastel-coloured cottage with its door ajar and the sounds of ‘morna’ seeping into the air. Poke your head inside and the chances are you’ll be greeted by someone’s front room piled with trinkets for sale. Cue colourful clay dolls, woven baskets, bongo drums and beaded jewellery. Or check out the Municipal Market on Sal Rei’s square. Here, a clutch of stalls buckle under the weight of crates filled with fruit and vegetables. But for trademark Boa Vistan mementoes, catch an ‘aluguer’ to Rabil. As well as a few small shops, it’s got a working pottery where you can watch the islanders hand-make decorative floor tiles and clay crockery and then buy them as gifts. Other popular purchases include ornaments and toys made from coconut shells. Or snap up a game of ‘uril’. Played with seeds as counters, it comes in pocket size sets and is similar to backgammon - except you’re meant to eat your competitor’s counters as you play. But top of the tourist shopping list has to be ‘grogue’. This heady sugar cane brandy is 43% proof but once you’re home, one sip will transport you right back to Boa Vista in an instant. And that’s more than enough reason to return with a bottle or two.
7km to Sal Rei
Approx 10 - 40 minutes