Serving up 55 kilometres’ of coastline and year-round sun, holidays to Boa Vista are the real desert island deal.
Ask a room full of people to pinpoint Cape Verde on a map, and you might be surprised at how many are left scratching their heads. It’s not an uncommon reaction – these 10 tiny islands floating in the Atlantic have managed to stay blissfully below the radar. For the record, they’re just off the west coast of Africa, which means sunshine’s a given pretty much year-round.
Beach life on Boa Vista
The most easterly island is Boa Vista – which means ‘Beautiful View’ – and it’s a strong contender for the best of the bunch. The reason? A 55-kilometre coastline that racks up everything from small, rocky bays to huge sandy stretches. Out on the water, kite and windsurfing are popular, as long as the green flag is flying. And below the glassy surface, you can come face to face with a rainbow of marine life.
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach is the name on everybody’s lips. It’s in Curralinho, to the south of the island, which means the water here is really sheltered. And the name? The locals reckon Santa Monica’s 18-kilometre stretch looks a lot like the Californian version. While you’re here, pay a visit to the island’s capital, Sal Rei. Pastel-painted houses, cobbled streets and rickety old shops are the staple ingredients here.
Things to See and Do in Boa Vista
Boa Vista has a reputation for its endless supply of dazzling white-sand beaches, all tickled by turquoise waters. And, because this island’s still a newbie on the tourism front, you won’t be sharing your spot with hordes of other holidaymakers.
The big beach
Boa Vista’s pull is that its beaches are all pretty uncrowded. But the most popular stretch of sand is Estoril Beach, just south of the island’s capital, Sal Rei. It’s huge, stretching along the coast for a good few kilometres, and the sands are super-soft. And because it’s slightly more sheltered than the island’s other beaches, it’s often a great place to have a go at watersports like surfing and windsurfing. You’ve also got a decent helping of beach bars, so lunch is sorted.
The secret beach
If you’re looking for a patch of sand all to yourself, Santa Monica Beach is just the ticket. The soft, white sands unravel for a whopping 18 kilometres, so there’s bags of room to spread out. It’s on the island’s south coast, too, which means it’s nice and sheltered. It’s a good idea to take a packed lunch with you – it’s a pretty deserted spot, and you won’t find much in the way of restaurants and cafés.
If bargains are your bag, head to the Mercado Municipal on the edge of Sal Rei's main square. The bottom floor is an open-plan market, where stalls are piled high with boxes of fresh fruit, veg and nuts. The top floor is divided into shops, and a poke around will reveal a world of rugs, jewellery, scarves, and colourful pictures made from sand.
Take a wander around the avenues leading off Sal Rei's main square and you’ll find plenty of shops selling wooden ornaments and canvasses by local artists. The same goes for the streets west of the Tourist Information Office, where you can pick up things like mosaics and cooking pots. If you’re after essentials like branded shampoo and suncream, try Boas Compras – it’s the closest thing to a supermarket around here.
Cape Verde is a go-slow, traditional place, so you won't find designer gear in the any of Boa Vista's shops. That said, surfing is a big thing here, so you might just find some familiar brand names in the surf shops dotted around town.
Evenings are pretty low-key on Boa Vista – lazy dinners and barefoot walks along the sand are par for the course, and thanks to great restaurants and sunset terraces, lots of people don’t even leave their hotel. If you do fancy heading out, go-slow beach bars – where the only soundtrack is the waves – are easy pickings. Just head for Sal Rei's stretch of sand and take your pick.
Staying put in your hotel is nothing unusual here – they'll often have discos and stage top-end shows with live music and local dancers. It’s worth heading out at least once, though, to catch an authentic morna show – it's an exciting mix of Portuguese fado music and Brazilian beats. To find the best bars, head to Sal Rei. There's a clutch in the main square and another lot down by the port.
Caldo de Peixe
This traditional soup is packed with the fresh catches of the day – octopus, cod and the like. It’s made by adding the fish to a sizzling broth of tomatoes, onions, peppers and potatoes. It's so hearty, you can order it as a main.
This is Cape Verde's national dish and it’s a strong favourite with the locals. Recipes vary from place to place and often depend on what’s in season, but the most common combination is maize, beans, potatoes and marinated pork or tuna.
Bife de Atum
Translated, bife de atum simply means ‘tuna steak’, but it’s served anything but plain. In a nutshell, the fish is marinated in garlic, herbs and spices, sautéed in olive oil and served with cubes of fried polenta.
There aren’t many restaurants in Cape Verde without this dried salted cod on the menu. The locals say there’s a bacalhau recipe for every day of the year. You’re likely to see it casseroled with tomatoes and onions, but be warned – it’s a bit of an acquired taste.
This heady sugar cane brandy is close to the hearts of many islanders – an invitation to try a glass isn’t to be turned down. The locals have grown it in the green valleys of Santa Antao island for centuries. It gets its name from 'grog' – a drink that was a one-time favourite of the British Royal Navy. We'll warn you now, it’s 43% proof.
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