Many people wonder what the best island of Cape Verde is, or what the best place to visit of Cape Verde might be. As a country that has only recently become a popular tourist destination, it makes sense that there are a lot of questions about this beautitful West African archipelago.
One of the most interesting things about Cape Verde as a tourist destination is the fact that the islands are all very different from eachother. Sure, there are traits that you'll find on one island and also on another. But, in general, all islands have specific characteristics, and local culture.
So, which Cape Verde island is best? It's a question that is asked a lot across the internet. With 9 (habited) islands to choose from, it can be a difficult task to make a decision as to which island or islands you wish to visit.
This article is not about choosing one island over the other, or my personal prefences. It's about getting the information out there regarding the different islands and what they have to offer. Although I understand the question, and what people are looking for in their answer, it can't be answered in one word or sentence.
Cape Verde as a tourist destination is much more complex than most people know about so far. Of course I mean this in the most positive way possible. I want to try and answer the question of the best island of Cape Verde in the only way I see fit to do so.
The best Cape Verde island for 'fun in the sun'
This one is pretty easy. The islands of Sal and Boa Vista are the most touristic island of the country, Together, these two islands receive about 75% (!) of all foreign visitors. Both Sal and Boa Vista have incredible beaches and lovely hotels/resorts, which draw people from many countries for a relaxing week or two in the sun.
Most activities done on these islands are focuses on watersports and excursions on the water. Activities such as snorkling, diving and surfing. Two of the most interesting activities probably are kitesurfing with a World Champion (Sal) and Whale Watching (Boa Vista).
If you're looking for fantastic beaches in Cape Verde but want to get away from any form of mass tourism, then the island of Maio is for you. One of the country's smaller islands, with a very small population. As part of the 'barlavento islands', another difference you'll find with Sal and Boa Vista is that in local culture.
The best Cape Verde island for culture
I think it's the most used sentence on my blog. “Mindelo is the cultural capital of Cape Verde”. The second biggest city of Cape Verde, located on the island of São Vicente, has earned this reputation thanks to the many events it hosts each year.
Two of the biggest events of São Vicente are the Mindelo Carnival, and the Baia das Gatas music festival. Both events have been attracting more tourists each year, and for very good reasons. These events are not only the biggest events of São Vicente, but actually the biggest cultural events of the country. The music festival of Baía das Gatas is also the oldest music festival around.
Mindelo also has a reputation because of its nightlife. The city was the home of Cape Verde's queen, Cesaria Evora. Long before Cape Verde became popular as a tourist destination, Cesaria was the one who connected people all over the world with the country, thanks to her Morna and Coladeira songs.
Visitors still travel to Mindelo today, hoping to find that perfect nightlife spot where they can enjoy Cesaria's music while having some tasty pontche. The good news for these people is that the city has a few places that fit this description.
The best Cape Verde island for hiking
Majestic Santo Antão is located just an hour away from Mindelo by ferry. This island is the greenest island of Cape Verde, and is completely different from Sal and Boa Vista. Although Santo Antão is a fantastic island for hikers, you can also see a big part of this island by using public transportation or a rental car.
Santo Antão has many hiking trails and routes across the entire island. Some are impossible to decribe with words. It's possible to go on a trekking trip around the island for days, while only passing through tiny villages, without ever seeing a car or other things that are part of our modern lives.
Santo Antão currently receives less than 5% (!) of visitors who travel to Cape Verde. If you're looking for another place that has the beauty of this island, and the hiking trails, head out to São Nicolau. The difference is that São Nicolau is not on the radar of visitors, giving you that unique feeling of being among the first to discover a hidden gem.
The best Cape Verde island for local gastronomy
There is no other island in Cape Verde that has the same local gastronomy of Fogo. The island is mostly known for its wine, which has won several international prizes. The famous grapes are only harvested once a year, but the quality of the grapes are fantastic. Reason for this is the fertile soil around the breathtaking Pico de Fogo vulcano.
A visit to the village of Chã das Caldeiras, the village located at the foot of the vulcano, is one of the most impressive things you can do in Cape Verde. Enjoy lunch here at a small local restaurant, while enjoying the view of the Pico de Fogo. Lunch or dinner is always acompanied by a delicious homemade wine called the 'Manecon'.
The gastronomy of the island is highly influenced by its agriculture. Next to grapes the island is famous for coffee and bananas, which mostly grow around the city of Mosteiros. But people also grow apples, peaches, mango's and beans on the island. If you consider yourself a foodie, Fogo is an absolute must when traveling to Cape Verde.
The best Cape Verde island to get away from it all
Only one of the habited islands of Cape Verde is two trips away from an international airport. The island of Brava is Cape Verde's smallest island, with its lowest population. Neighbor Fogo does not have an international airport, so you can only reach Brava after a domestic flight to Fogo first, from where you can catch the ferry to Furna. This trip only takes 30 minutes with the fast ferry.
Brava is like a dream. Given the size of the island, you can easily hike around it in just a couple of days. Island capital Nova Sintra, located on an altitude of 500M, has very interesting colonial architecture. Nearly all of the accommodations on the island are focused here, but you can also find a place to stay in Furna or Fajã de Agua.
There is fantastic hiking trail that leads from Nossa Senhora de Monte, close to Nova Sintra, all the way down to the beautiful little village of Fajã de Agua. Spend some time on this island and you'll return almost like a different person.
The best Cape Verde island for a bit of everything
Santiago is Cape Verde's largest island, and home to the capital of the country. The city of Praia is located in the south, and from here you can easily travel to other parts of the island. Santiago is often referred to as Cape Verde's most versatile island, and I must agree.
As the capital of the country Praia has a lot to offer culturally. It's by far the largest city in Cape Verde, where visitors get a very different experience compared to many other places in the country. A visit to, for example, city center Plateau and the Sucupira market are a few of the cultural highlights the city has to offer.
Cidade Velha, just 30 minutes by car from Praia, is known as Cape Verde's oldest settlement. This town has an incredible amount of history, as it played a big part in the Transatlantic slave trade. A must for people looking to better understand (a part of) Cape Verde's history.
Then there is Tarrafal, where you'll find one of the country's most beautiful beaches. The drive from Praia takes you accross the entire island, from the most southern part up to the northern tip of Santiago. This route is another great way to see the island's diversity. Probably thé island to visit if you have a short time to see Cape Verde and still want to experience the culture, history, beaches and mountains the country has to offer.
Hi, I'm Freddy, the creator of the MindeloCaboVerde.com blog. Thank you so much for reading! Feel free to message me in case of questions, reservations and bookings.