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Long beach walks, fun in the sand dunes and world-class kitesurfing…there are plenty of things to do in Cape Verde to make your beach holiday more interesting.
About 500km off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean with nine inhabited islands. With yearlong sunshine and stunning beaches, the former Portuguese colony has all the prerequisites for a fantastic holiday destination, but it has yet to be spoiled by mass tourism.
I recently visited Cape Verde for the first time, spending tho weeks on Boa Vista Island together with my boyfriend. Since Cape Verde is not a common holiday destination, I have received many questions since returning about what to do in Cape Verde and what’s it like there. To make it easier for you to plan your own trip, I have created this comprehensive guide covering not only things to do in Cape Verde, but also general travel tips I wish I had known before I went, as well as info on where to stay in Cape Verde.
Best time to visit Cape Verde
The islands of Cape Verde are warm and sunny all year, ranging from an average of 24°C in January to 30°C in September.
We visited in February and experienced comfy temperatures of around 28°C (air) and 22°C (in the water). Winds were sometimes a little high, from 29 km/hour to 35 km/hour, but we still went into the sea and to the pool every day.
Cape Verde doesn’t really have four seasons, but rather just two: the windy season from mid-October to mid-July and the rainy season from mid-August to mid-October, which is also the hottest at the same time. However, the probability of rain is minimal even during the rainy season. Therefore, basically, all months of the year are suitable for a nice holiday on Cape Verde. The air temperature is between 20 and 30 °C throughout the year and the water temperature ranges from 22 to 26°C.
The high season in Cape Verde lasts from July to mid-August. This is when the hotels are usually booked up well in advance and last-minute journeys become more expensive. Therefore it is advisable to switch to the low season- from the end of March to June and mid-October to mid-December. This is, of course, the ideal case for a beach holiday. If you are going to Cape Verde to do sightseeing or kitesurfing, you might choose other times (see the table below).
November to March is the windiest season and the best time to go kitesurfing.
There is an administration fee of 31 EUR per person to enter the country. You can either pay it when registering online 5 days before departure (I missed this option), or you can pay upon arrival at the airport. It’s recommended to have the exact change. All you have to do is pay it at passport control; no extra lines or procedures!
Currently, there is no visa required to enter Cape Verde both for EU and US citizens. If you come from anywhere else, make sure to check online. In all cases, you must have a passport valid for at least for 6 more months.
Flying to Cape Verde
One of the reasons I decided to book a holiday in Cape Verde was the option of a direct flight from Munich, which takes 6 to 6.5 hours. Believe me, there are not many warm, beachy destinations you can reach from Europe in 6 hours flying time in February!
We flew with TUIfly. It was nothing special in terms of comfort (no food or drink included, seats rather small, additional charges for online check-in) but the flight times were pretty decent and didn’t require overnight travel, so we our trip was fine. On the way there we even had an extra seat next to us, so I could stretch my legs all the time.
These are your options when flying to Cape Verde:
- There are regular flights from Amsterdam, Lisbon (daily), Madrid, Milan, Munich, and Oporto operated by Cao Verde Airlines.
- TUIfly has cheap flights from various German cities, Switzerland (Basel) and UK (London, Manchester and Birmingham) to Sal and Boa Vista.
Flying via Lisbon.
- Air Portugal operates flights from Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow to Lisbon, connecting with onward flights to Santiago, Sao Vicente, Sal and Boa Vista.
- You can also fly from Edinburgh, Bristol or Luton airports with EasyJet, or with Ryanair from Stansted to Lisbon.
From the Americas
- There are regular flights from Boston (weekly) and Fortaleza, Brazil (weekly). Another service will soon launch from Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport.
Cape Verde has five international airports on Santiago, Sao Vicente, Sal and Boa Vista.
Getting around Cape Verde
Most hotels are situated on the islands of Boa Vista and Sal. If you booked a package holiday, you will mostly likely be picked up by a tour operator and brought to your hotel. Distances are really short, so the transfer usually takes less than 30 minutes. If you travel on your own, just take a taxi- they operate on fixed prices so it’s stress-free. A taxi from the airport in Boa Vista to most hotels is 10 EUR per person.
- By Air – Seven of the islands (Santiago, Sao Vicente, Sao Nicolau, Sal, Boavista, Maio and Fogo) are connected by two airlines: Binter and TACV. They operate like bus services, making island hopping easy.
- Ferries – Ferry services must be used to get to the islands of Brava (from Fogo) and Santo Antao (from Sao Vicente). There is a possibility to catch the ferry between Santiago and Fogo, and between the islands of Sao Vicente and Sao Nicolau, although we recommend flying.
- Car – Car hires are available on Santiago, Fogo, Boavista, Sao Vicente and Santo Antao. Other than the capital of Praia on Santiago, Cape Verdean roads are generally quiet, but not always well sign-posted.
What to do in Cape Verde
Although Cape Verde is not the usual sightseeing destination per se (you won’t find any ancient monuments, natural wonders, etc.), there are still options to make your holiday more interesting and see a bit of the island.
For Boa Vista, typical tours take you to various corners of the islands, either for half a day or a full day. Renting your own a car and visiting the island at your own pace is another option. However, you have to beware that the road signs are not always very good – you are still in Africa – so a little patience will be needed. Renting car from a resort costs about 100 EUR for 2 days.
These are some of the best things to do in Cape Verde:
Chilling or strolling on the beach
Most people would agree that relaxing on the beach is the best thing to do in Cape Verde. The water is refreshing and crystal clear. You won’t be able to swim very far (be careful about the strong currents!), but playing in the waves can never get boring.
We often walked along the beach just to enjoy the scenery and to play some sports (our beach was 8 km long so I count walking across it as a sport activity : )
Most beautiful beaches in Boa Vista:
- Santa Monica beach. Considered to be the most beautiful beach of the archipelago. It‘s in the southwest of the island of Boa Vista and is 9km long
- Praia de Chaves. With a desert-like feel and sand dunes as far as the eye can see, Praia de Chaves is a must-see. Our hotel was located on a cliff above this beach.
Most beautiful beaches in Sal:
- Santa Maria, Sal. With colorful fishing boats dotted along the shore, a fishing pier, beach bars and beautifully blue shallow water lapping against the sand, Santa Maria Beach feels just like paradise.
- Ponta Preta Beach. Characterized by a natural landscape, this beach is more rugged than other beaches in Cape Verde. Don’t miss the sand dunes along the coast.
By the way, I have listed 7 Reasons Why Visit Cape Verde and beaches are definitely #1 🙂
Of all the water sports that Cape Verde offers, kitesurfing is by far the most popular one. If you always wanted to give it a try, Cape Verde offers the perfect kitesurfing conditions. Every hotel has its own sports center where you can book a beginner class. Usually you start learning on the sand before hitting the waves.
The Kitesurfing season is between November and March, when the winds on Sal and Boa Vista are the strongest.
Go on a diving or snorkeling trip
Cape Verde has opportunities for those who want to experience underwater life. It seems that Sal is the best place to do so; we joined a snorkeling trip in Boa Vista and found it not worth the money. There was some coral, but not much, and we did not see any fish at all. We had previously done some great Scuba Diving in Sharm El Sheikh, which was excellent and incomparable to our scuba experience on our Boa Vista trip.
At least we got to see various parts of the island, which was indeed an experience in itself.
Experience the desert
Experiencing the desert is definitely among the coolest things to do in Cape Verde. On Boa Vista, you even have several choices; one of the most popular trips is to Viana Desert, known for its striking landscapes. You can do it on on quad tour or by jeep.
We were quite lucky, as we had impressive sand dunes situated right by our hotel, all along the beach (Praia de Chaves). There wasn’t anyone there apart from the occasional visitors, and there was no entrance fee. You can just wander in and admire the dunes. We watched a breathtaking sunset there on our last evening in Cape Verde, and it was an amazing experience.
Whale and turtle spotting
We visited Cape Verde outside of the main turtle viewing season (from July to September), unfortunately but we heard that Ervatão Beach on Boa Vista is the third most important loggerhead turtle nesting site in the world. Normally, the turtles lay their eggs in the sand after dusk and guided tours take place at night.
As for whale watching, the best season for spotting humpback whales is between February and May and (hopefully) you’ll spot these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Spotting the wildlife is definitely one of the best things to do in Cape Verde.
Dine the local seafood
Cape Verde has fantastic fresh seafood. Tuna is common, as is Wahoo – a white-fleshed fish with a similar texture. You should also take the chance to try inexpensive and tasty lobster, served in all local seafood restaurants.
In addition, here some local meals to try:
- Lagostada– a lobster dish
- Cachupa– the national dish, made with maize and potatoes. Fish or chicken is commonly added for flavor.
- Tosta mista– a common toasted ham and cheese sandwich.
As for the beer, they have their own local Cape Verdean beer called Strella and it’s available on all the main islands.
Things to know before visiting Cape Verde
Cape Verde is an uncomplicated place to travel to and spend a holiday in. However, there are some useful things to know before you go.
The waves are quite big.
You have to be prepared to see the red flag on the beach every day. But even when the flag is up, you’re allowed to go to the beach and even play in the shallow water. What’s more, hotels employ lifeguards to watch over their beaches. On our hotel beach, you could see three lifeguards at any given time.
We were told that it’s not the waves but the strong current that can be dangerous. It’s important to be careful, and be aware that you may not be able to go into deep water or swim. You’ll still enjoy playing in the waves, through.
You can burn really fast. And you will!
With the constant wind, it’s hard to realize how powerful the sun still is. Make sure to have enough sunscreen with you. I used SPF 20 and 30, especially on my face and previously burned areas.
The best way to avoid burning is to make putting sunscreen on a routine. Rubbing cream on my whole body was the first thing I did when I arrived to the beach or to the pool. And even if you use waterproof cream, it’s good to reapply throughout the day. It also helps to stay out of the direct sun between 11 am and 1 pm. During my first few days there, I even choose to spend this time in the room to stay out of the most powerful rays.
Check your room for mosquitoes
Sometimes mosquitoes can be a problem in Cape Verde. Usually they like to hide in the wardrobe and come out at night for a bite. Check your room upon arrival for mosquitoes. If you experience a problem, definitely report this to the reception. Usually they can put something in your room to get rid of all the mosquitoes. The chemicals they use can be rather harsh, so you should not enter your room for an hour or two after that, but it really works.
We didn’t experience any problems with mosquitoes outside, but there were two or three every night in our room, which were easy enough to kill. We think our room was treated prior to our arrival.
The language of Cape Verde
The official language of Cape Verde is Portuguese and is used in all official publications and announcements, as well as in business, media, and schools. We were able to get by fine using English while traveling around Cape Verde.
The language that is actually used among locals is Cape Verdean Creole (Kriolu kabuverdianu), a Portuguese-based creole language with 95% of the words from Portuguese and the rest mainly from West African languages. There are altogether 9 dialects spoken in various parts of the country.
Don’t expect big parties.
Cape Verde is for relaxing holidays…be prepared for quiet evenings with a good dinner followed by a short walk, rather than a wild night clubs. Most hotels offer some kind of animation program, but it’s not all that spectacular. In our resort, they had live music once or twice, which was pleasant.
You will mainly see couples of all ages and some families in Cape Verde. Young groups of friends are not that common. I see it mainly as an advantage: despite being all-inclusive, I didn’t spot anyone too drunk or making noise at the pool or around the resort at night.
What to pack for Cape Verde
We had a 15-kilogram limit for check-in luggage, but it was enough to pack all our beach necessities and some books to read as well. In order to make your packing easier, I have listed the most important items below.
Swimsuit + beach bag
You will spend the majority of the time at the sea or at the pool. It’s a good idea to bring at least two swimsuits or bikinis (I had three), so that you can change into a dry one after swimming. Most hotels lend beach towels to their guests free of charge.
Sun creams + burn gel
The sun in Cape Verde is really strong, so be prepared. I recommend SPF 20 for normal use and SPF30 for the face and for better protection from burns. Cooling Aloe Vera gel is also recommended in case you do get burned.
Flip flops or sandals
Depending on the season, the beach sand can be really hot. Bring some footwear that you can use on the beach, too.
Beach towel clips
I have never needed these before, but with a windy climate, I quickly realized that beach towel clips are super handy to have when you plan a holiday to Cape Verde. When you leave your sun tanning spot for a while, you won’t have to worry that your towel or other clothing will fly away. In our hotel, you could even buy them in the small souvenir shop.
Warm pullover for the evening
We visited in February; in the evening it was 22 degrees, which is still warm, but with a bit of wind this can feel a little cool. If you want to enjoy some evening walks or sit at the bar facing the ocean, a summer dress alone might not be enough.
One or two smart casual outfits
It may be possible that hotel restaurants require a slightly more formal outfit. In our hotel, they had a dress code for men: long trousers had to be worn for dinnertime. As for the ladies, there were no limitations. Lucky us!
Best place to stay in Cape Verde
During our holiday, we stayed in Iberostar Club Boa Vista, an all-inclusive hotel surrounded by beautiful gardens and located on the seafront at Praia da Chaves. We loved it and we would highly recommend it: you can find our detailed review here. To give you more choices, I have listed some other excellent hotels on both of the main islands below.
Best Hotels in Boa Vista
- Iberostar Club Boa Visa. A well-known and award-winning hotel with less than 300 rooms. We found it based on reviews and loved it. We stayed in the sea-view room and enjoyed waking up to the gentle sound of the waves every day.
- Hotel Riu Palace Boavista. A new and shiny hotel that sprung up last year on the northern side of Praia de Chaves beach. The hotel is quite big, in the category of < 700 rooms. It has excellent reviews; however, the prices are rather high.
- Hotel Riu Karamboa. Another great but larger hotel, also in the < 700 rooms category. It has been awarded GOLD certification for by the Travelife Sustainability System.
Best hotels in Sal
- Hotel Riu Palace Cabo Verde. Large hotel complex surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Guests speak of its food.
- Melia Llana Beach Resort & Spa. Adults-only hotel. You will be able to see underwater life here since the hotel has its own coral reef. Thanks to the wave breakers, you will be able to swim more here than anywhere else. A bit pricey, though.
- Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort. A beachfront resort with two swimming pools. Babysitting service and casino inside the hotel.
I hope that this guide to things to do in Cape Verde will help you to plan your holiday. We really enjoyed Cape Verde and I will definitely be coming back to see more!
Thanks for reading!
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