Mass tourism has reached the once remote and inaccessible Cape Verdean island of Boa Vista but, for the time being at least, it remains refreshingly unspoilt and largely undeveloped
Cast adrift in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa, Boa Vista is one of ten islands and eight islets that make up the Republic of Cape Verde. A former Portuguese colony, Cape Verde is a fascinating blend of Portuguese and African culture, and has been billed as the ‘African Caribbean’.
The archipelago is of volcanic origin, but Boa Vista is mainly flat and sandy, and has a drier climate than many of the other islands, with virtually no rain fall and year-round sunshine, making it an ideal winter sun destination. It’s very sparsely populated and most of its 6,500 residents live in Sal Rei, the island’s main town, which is located in the northwest.
Vast, deserted beaches
Boa Vista’s finest attractions are its vast, deserted beaches and stunning sand dunes. If you like your beaches lined with bars and cafes, and with a choice of sun loungers, then this isn't the place for you. However, if you fancy experiencing a Robinson Crusoe moment by finding your very own wild, unspoilt beach far from the madding crowd, you'll find the peace and tranquillity you're looking for on Boa Vista. Just remember to take food, water, sun cream, towels and anything else that you could possibly need with you because there'll be no shops or other facilities when you get there.
Exploring by quad bike
With only one main road leading from the airport at Rabil (which only opened a couple of years ago) to Sal Rei, the best way to explore the island's rugged terrain is by quad bike or 4x4. You can hire these yourself, but we chose to take part in organised quad biking trips booked through Scuba Caribe (www.scubacaribe.com), which also runs fishing and diving excursions. It operates from a centre on the beach at Praia de Salines, close to where our hotel was located. We were glad we took this option as we’d have had no idea how to reach some of island’s hidden gems without the help of our extremely knowledgeable guide, Bruno. We also witnessed unsupervised tourists ignoring signs put in place to deter people from riding on protected beaches where endangered turtles come to lay their eggs at night, instead of sticking to the approved quad bike routes.
Shipwrecks and stunning scenery
We broke ourselves in gently with a two-hour trip up to the north of the island and enjoyed the opportunity to see some of its arid, desert-like interior, where the only signs of life we saw were herds of donkeys and goats grazing on what little vegetation they could find. The highlight was our arrival at Cabo Santa Maria, a picturesque swathe of beach lapped by the clear turquoise waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting there on the otherwise deserted sands looking like something from a Pirates of the Caribbean film set is the vast, rusting hulk of a Spanish freighter, which ran aground in 1968. The impressive shipwreck lends this stunning beach an eerie, other-worldly quality and is a must-see.
Our first quad biking trip was such good fun, we booked a longer, four-hour trip to explore the south of the island. This time we headed down the coast, past the remains of an abandoned brick factory that’s being gradually reclaimed by the sand dunes, towards Praia de Chave, which, in my opinion, is Boa Vista’s most stunning beach with its vast, undulating dunes of soft white sand. We then followed the coastline through a surprisingly green prairie-like area full of brightly coloured butterflies and birdlife before following a dirt track inland into the foothills of one of the island’s more mountainous areas.
We stopped off for refreshments at the remote village of Povoação Velha, which is the island’s oldest settlement (it dates back the 1620s) before heading on to Praia Santa Monica, a seemingly endless, pristine beach. A refreshing swim was the perfect way to wash the dust from our faces, but anyone considering a visit should be aware that there are no facilities on the beach at all so you’ll need to take water and other provisions with you if you want to spend some time there. The ocean currents around Boa Vista can be very strong so it’s advisable not to swim out too far, particularly on some of the more remote beaches.
Our exhilarating journey back from Praia Santa Monica was via the coast; it was great fun whizzing along mile after mile of white sand with only a lone Sea Eagle and a graceful pair of Shearwaters for company. The views along this part of the coast are simply stunning – it’s little wonder that Boa Vista is Portuguese for ‘good view!
Places to stay and eat
As the Cape Verde islands only seem to have appeared on the radar of major tour operators in the last two or three years, when we first began researching our trip we found that the choice of accommodation was fairly limited. We flew with Thomson and stayed at the ClubHotel Riu Karamboa which is the largest hotel on the island by far. We paid around £800 each for our week-long holiday. Having chatted to locals and carried out some research during our stay, we’ve become aware of a number of smaller-scale guest houses and apartments. Casa Velha at Sal Rei appears to be the pick of the bunch for those looking for something a little more exclusive.
Accommodation at ClubHotel Riu Karamboa is offered on an all inclusive basis and we took this option based on advice from our travel agent in the UK, who told us that there were few restaurants and cafés in Boa Vista. Although it’s true that there were no facilities in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, we discovered that there are places to eat in Sal Rei, which is only a short taxi ride away. Although the quality and variety of food and drink at the hotel was generally good, we would have preferred a bed and breakfast or half board option. If you are based in Sal Rei or are prepared to head there for your meals in the evening, you’ll find a handful of friendly bars and restaurants, most of which are located around the main square. Maresais (00238 2511430 or 00238 2511341), located close to the beach in Sal Rei, is very good and specialises in fresh seafood, including lobster. We also received a tip off from a local about a great little restaurant called Sodade di nha Terra (00238 2511048), which is a stone’s throw from the airport at Rabil and serves the most exquisite goats’ cheese.
The range of facilities and standard of accommodation on offer at ClubHotel Riu Karamboa was good, albeit largely what you would expect from an all inclusive holiday resort, although I would suggest that it feels more like a four-star hotel than the five star it claims to be. The only possible criticism that I could level at the hotel is that it’s perhaps a little too large for its surroundings; it looks like an immense sandcastle on the beach as you come in to land at the airport. Having said that, its design and landscaping are very attractive, and the staff are pleasant and attentive. I was amazed to learn that Riu is currently building an even larger hotel in the south of the island, which is due to open some time next summer. This is development on an immense scale on such a small island and, whilst I recognise that it’s a sign of what’s to come for Boa Vista and the other islands that make up Cape Verde, I only hope that development will be carefully managed and controlled to ensure that the island’s desolate charm and character is not lost.
Boa Vista’s appeal is in its wild and untamed beauty, which makes it a great holiday destination for those who want to get off the beaten track to explore natural landscapes that have remained untouched for centuries.
Boa Vista facts
- The currency is the Cape Verdean Escudo, although Euros are accepted in most hotels, bars and shops.
- Portuguese is the official language, although Cape Verdean Creole is widely used.