“ With its out-of-this-world beaches and blend of African, Brazilian and Portuguese cultures, Cape Verde is quickly making its mark on the map.”
The local motto – 'Cape Verde, no stress' – certainly rings true on this group of islands off the coast of West Africa. There are ten tranquil isles in total, all scattered across the Atlantic like loose change.
One of the most popular is Sal, which is known for its striking lunar-like landscape. It’s also dotted with rainbow-coloured towns, like Santa Maria, whose cobbled streets hug the island’s southern shores. Over on Boa Vista – which translates as ‘beautiful view’ – it’s all about the beaches. Praia Chave deserves a special mention, thanks to its snow-white sands and shape-shifting dunes.
Whichever island you opt for, expect a melting pot of cultures. Cape Verde was originally discovered by the Portuguese, so there’s a mixture of African, Brazilian and Portuguese influences. You’ll see it in the islands’ music, fashion and – perhaps most clearly – the food.
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Cape Verde's beaches instantly grab your attention. Miles of utterly breathtaking porcelain-white sands stretch as far as the eye can see, seductively sliding into glass-like seas. On the sun-drenched island of Sal, Santa Maria's unspoilt seashore curves around the coastline for over 7km, so whether you want to stay close to the action near the watersports centres and beach bars or crave the solitude of the sand dunes, you can always find your own piece of paradise. Stroll along the sands and you can spot the island of Boa Vista on the horizon. And the beaches here are just as jaw-dropping. Dazzlingly white and stretching as far as the eye can see, with relatively little tourism, they’re almost all yours. You can certainly kick your feet through the emerald-green surf for miles without seeing another soul. Whichever isle you decide to sun yourself on, they’re both most definitely a desert island dream.
- The food in Cape Verde will have your tastebuds tingling in no time, with an exotic mixture of African, Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine. A continental feast you could say. And if you're a fan of seafood, you're in for a real treat. Not only is it mouth wateringly delicious - it's extremely reasonably too. Tuck into charcoal grilled lobster, juicy giant prawns, tasty octopus, and of course, the fresh fish catches of the day. If you're up for giving some local specialities a go, try ‘bife de atum’, tuna marinated in spices and vinegar or ‘bacalhau’, dried cod. Other Cape Verdian specials include the national dish ‘catchupa’, a stew-like dish made from corn, beans and chorizo, particularly good with a bottle of locally produced ‘Manecome’ wine. Santa Maria on Sal has an excellent selection of places to eat, from restaurants serving traditional dishes and tapas bars to pizzerias and Italian eateries. While on Boa Vista, you’ll find a sprinkling of traditional-style eateries serving up lip smacking Cape Verde specialties.
- Chez Pastis, Santa Maria A wonderfully cosy Italian restaurant with superb seafood and meat dishes, great wine and a top-class service. We recommend booking in advance.
- Aquarium Santa Maria Band on the beach just past the cultural centre, this restaurant serves up local Cape Verdian cuisine, seafood and meat dishes.
- Restaurant Farolim at Hotel Odjo D’Agua, Santa Maria Lovely location. Lip smacking seafood. Gorgeous sea views. What more could you want?
- Ristorante Pizzeria Bar Ca Luisa, Boa Vista Italian cuisine in a stylish setting – all served up on the terrace.
- Blue Marlin, Boa Vista As its name suggests, it’s just-landed fish on the menu here.
- Although much of Cape Verde's nightlife is low-key and often hotel based, the locals' lively spirit comes out to play after dark. Their philosophy is 'the more the merrier' so whether you join them shimmying to live music at a bustling bar or sip ponche, firewater laced with honey, at a lively cafe, their energy and love of life is contagious. In fact, the more locals you talk to, the more invitations come flooding your way. Whatever you do, don't leave without experiencing what has often been dubbed the most beautiful music on earth. The unique Cape Verdian 'morna' music unravels seductive, upbeat Latin rhythms that will have your toes tapping and heels clicking in no time. Santa Maria in Sal has a serene beach bar or two where you can sit listening to the waves crash in, as well as a good handful of vibrant pubs filled with animated tourists and locals alike. And if you want to be where it's at, head for local night hotspot 'The Pirata'. Boa Vista nightlife on the other hand is all about socialising in the main squares, where the locals meet and chat before dancing the night away at a party. Sal Rei is a particularly lively corner of the island with a dance-till-dawn disco for the real livewires among you.
- La Tortue at Hotel Morabeza, Santa Maria Drink under the stars on the roof terrace bar at this laid-back meeting spot. Happy hour is from 6.30 to 7.30pm.
- Tam Tam, Santa Maria An Irish owned bar with bags of character, this is a great place to catch up on the footy action and they serve a mean breakfast, too.
- Pirata, Santa Maria A lively hotspot with locals and tourists alike, this fun nightclub doesn’t get going before midnight so make sure you arrive fashionably late!
- Mazurka, Sal Rei, Boa Vista A favourite disco spot with the locals where you can strut your stuff.
- Bar Naida, Boa Vista A traditional-style bar where you can snack on Cape Verdian home cooking when you’re feeling peckish.
If popping your head around colourful doorways to see what you find sounds like your kind of retail therapy, then you'll love shopping here. The charm lies in the cobbled streets, which are buzzing with atmosphere, whether it's children playing an impromptu game of football or upbeat music drifting from a paveside cafe. Santa Maria on Sal has two banks and supermarket, plus a delightful mixed bag of shops, from surf places selling beach gear to rustic makeshift shops painted in every colour of the rainbow where you can buy intricately carved wooden masks and brightly coloured canvas' by local artists. Have a browse, and maybe a barter, at the indoor market which is bursting with jewellery, clothing and fresh produce stalls, and don't miss the Centro de Artesanato, an arts and crafts store with shelves full of elegant ceramic pieces and leather goods. On Boa Vista, there’s not as much to splash your cash on, but you’ll find some delightful handicrafts that are just too tempting to leave behind. Take your pick from African-style ceramics, mosaics, clay figures and straw hats.