Holidays to Boa Vista are your gateway to Cape Verde, a group of under-the-radar islands off the west coast of Africa.
Mention Cape Verde to the man on the street, and it’s likely you’ll get a blank look in response. These islands, about 400 miles off the coast of Senegal, have only recently emerged from obscurity. But, in certain circles, they’re creating a real stir. The 10 isles, one of which is Boa Vista, offer up some knock-out beaches, not to mention toasty temperatures all year round.
Picture perfect isle
Boa Vista, Cape Verde’s most easterly island, translates as ‘Beautiful View’. And when you first set eyes on the beaches, you’ll see where it gets its nickname. The island is wrapped up in 55 kilometres’ worth of coastline, where rocky coves merge into white-sand bays.
Where to stay
Most of the hotels in Boa Vista are nestled in the Curralinho district, behind Santa Monica Beach. This 18-kilometre ribbon of blonde sand was named after the famous California version, but it's nowhere near as busy. Stay here and you’ll have easy access to the nearby capital, Sal Rei. It’s a town of petite proportions, where rainbow-bright surf shops and cafés set the scene.
Things to See and Do in Boa Vista
The beaches that halo Boa Vista offer up white sands, turquoise waves and Blue Flag prestige as standard. And, because Cape Verde is still largely undiscovered, you won’t be sharing towel space with hundreds of other people. If you want to swim, be sure to pay attention to the beach flag system, as the undercurrents along the coast can be dangerous. If the flag is red, stay out of the water, if it’s yellow, take extra care, and if it’s green you’re safe for swimming.
The big beach
None of Boa Vista’s beaches could be called crowded, but Estoril Beach pulls in most of the visitors. It’s just south of the capital, Sal Rei, and is a bit more sheltered than others on the island, thanks to the isle of Ilheu de Sal Rei opposite. As such, it’s perfect for having a go at windsurfing, as long as the green flag is flying. There are a few lively beach bars dotted along the sand, as well as diving and submarine centres.
The secret beach
The soft white sands of Santa Monica Beach stretch out for around 18 kilometres, and if you walk out of sight of the big hotels, you probably won’t see another soul for hours. There aren’t any kiosks or beach bars, either, so remember to pack lots of water if you’re planning on wandering far.
For keepsakes and local produce, try the Mercado Municipal on the edge of Sal Rei’s main square. The bottom floor is home to an open-air market, which is crammed with stalls selling beaded jewellery, traditional clothes and fresh fruit and veg. Upstairs, meanwhile, you’ll find a handful of shops flogging rugs and portraits made from sand.
There aren’t many shops on the island of Boa Vista, although the capital, Sal Rei, is home to a few rustic stores selling African-style ceramics, mosaics and hand-carved wooden masks. For branded shampoo, sun cream and make-up, the Boas Compras supermarket won’t disappoint. It’s just around the corner from the Tourist Information Office in Sal Rei.
You won’t see names like Gucci or Cartier in Boa Vista, although some of the four and five-star hotels have onsite boutiques. The Riu Touareg, for example, boasts a couple of good clothes stores, which stock lightweight silk dresses, linen trousers and statement jewellery.
Things are decidedly sleepy on Boa Vista, but that’s all part of the island’s charm. The most noteworthy nightspots line up along the Sal Rei waterfront. Here, you’ll find a scattering of softly-lit restaurants and beach bars that look out over the waves.
The hotels in Boa Vista put on lively entertainment programmes. Expect to see covers of West End favourites, like Chicago, along with traditional folk performances. Some of the hotels have nightclubs, too – the Riu Touareg has a lively Pacha with a resident DJ that’s open until the early hours. If you want to get out and about, head into Sal Rei to catch a morna show. These eclectic performances mix Portuguese fado music and Brazilian beats. Lots take place in the bars near the port.
At island celebrations, locals gather around tables for big bowlfuls of this stuff. It’s a tasty, slow-boiled stew cooked with beans, chorizo and marinated chunks of meat or tuna. There are lots of variations of it, depending on what ingredients are in season.
Bife de atum
Fishing is ripe here, which means seafood is present on practically every Boa Vista menu. According to locals, this is the recipe of recipes. Chefs will take freshly-netted tuna, marinate it in spices and lace it with vinegar, before serving it on a bed of butter-smothered boiled potatoes.
Papaya jam is the jam of choice in Cape Verde, and locals spread it on everything from toast to crepes. Most commonly, though, it’s served alongside goats’ cheese for dessert. Think of it as an alternative to brie and cranberry.
This 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. Be warned, though – it’s 43% proof.
San Antao liquor
Sip this refreshing, minty liqueur after a big meal, and your food will go down in no time. It’s made by mixing coffee and figs with cinnamon, peppermint and lime. If you’re a little unsure of the taste, try adding a splash of orange juice to dilute it.
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