Island Guide to Boa Vista, Cape Verde
Boa Vista, Cape Verde
Life on the ‘no stress’ island carries on uninterrupted. The cheap TUI flights that have opened up the island to outsiders has barely made a dent in the day to day lives of the locals, continuing to fish and frolic off their pristine shores, sip home made liquor on plastic chairs propped up outside door-less doorways, and congregate together with their friends in the table-football hall each evening. Life is easy and calm, for the most part, here in Cape Verde.
There are many luxury resorts that have sprung up in Boa Vista over the years. It’s unsurprising. The sun is always shining, the sea is never cold, and the beaches are so pure white they become a faded lilac in the spots the waves spill over. That, coupled with cheap flight connections to Portugal and Belgium, have made Cape Verde a cheap option for luxury travellers. However, if you, like me, have no interest in resorts or in luxury travel, there lies a great opportunity on Boa Vista to become quickly involved in local life. People are friendly, once you strike up conversation you’ll be introduced to their friends, their families, their favourite local liquor salesman. With a small population and community mindset, small towns like Sal Rei are easy for intrigued foreigners to integrate into, for a spell.
Cape Verde is made up of x islands in total, Boa Vista being one of the largest and most visited. Despite the various jobs that tourism provides to the island, there are still only roughly 6,200 people living there, and many of the people that I befriended on the island came from the capital city of Praia, seeking work in the tourism industry. Conquered in the 1700s by the Portuguese, Cape Verde certainly took on some European characteristics, most distinctly in the 10 dialects of Portuguese Creole that are native to the islands. Despite this, the people remain determinedly African. Unlike the Canary Islands to the north, with their unquestionably Spanish culture, Cape Verdeans feel closer to their neighbours in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal or Gambia than to their Portuguese colonisers.
This uniquely blended culture reminded me of the time that I spent in Brazil, which, despite having a heavier Portuguese influence, still holds unmistakable traces of many of its inhabitants African roots. With Yoruba religious ceremonies and widely spoken African dialects being commonplace across Brazil, their blended African, Mestizo, Mulato and Portuguese culture is a close cousin of Cape Verde.
Admittedly, there isn’t a huge list of things to do or sites to see, you won’t fill your days hopping between historical sites or lost treasures. Instead, relax, talk to everyone, and watch life go by on this idyllic slice of stressless living.
What to do in Boa Vista?
Ok, so maybe you needn’t spend every minute sat back watching the world. There are a handful of things to see, and an awful lot of pristine shores to meander along.
A hollowed out ruin of a town, with sanded walls crumbling and strong winds ripping through windowless walls, Curral Velho was once the oldest settlement in Boa Vista. Plundered and pillaged by passing pirates, and subjected to semi-constant drought, locals left the town abandoned in search of greener pastures. Today, you can walk through the remains of decaying homes, now solely inhabited by local seabirds and nesting turtles seeking shelter.
Founded in the 17th century, the town struggled through a couple hundred years of suffering, before finally being abandoned after a series of pirate attacks in the 19th century. It was placed to protect the Santa Monica beach from foreign invasion on the far side of the island, which really just meant that it was isolated from the far more populous and far more easily inhabited x coast of Boa Vista. While the settlement may not have survived, a day trip to its remnants proves an interesting reminder of the surprisingly rich city on this tiny island.
The Cabo Santa Maria Shipwreck
One of the starkest and most famous images of Boa Vista can be found at the hollowed out remnants of the Cabo Santa Maria. The Spanish cargo ship has laid destitute off the coast of Praia de Atalanta since its demise in the 1960s. The ship was carrying gifts from the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to Brazil and Argentina, and after mobilising almost the entire population of Boa Vista to move the cargo to the nearby Sal Rei, it still took almost a year for them to retrieve all the presents aboard.
Despite local efforts, the ship itself was never salvaged or moved. It remains stuck just off the beautiful beach of Praia de Atalanta, easily accessible from the capital of Sal Rei. If you’re up for a bit of a walk, its around 7km away from the town and takes you along the dusty roads of the Boa Vistan back country, with unbeatable coastal views.
The Best Beaches in Boa Vista
You can’t beat the beaches of Boa Vista for quiet and seclusion. In 5 days, I only visited 1 beach where I was not one of the only people there, and that beach was filled with local children running and playing and making the most of their natural resources. Try Praia de Estoril, Praia de Chaves, Praia Santa Monica or Praia Atalanta.
Desierto de Viana
Once you arrive in Boa Vista, you’ll see many people driving around on 4-wheelers, one of the most popular means of transport across the small island. These can be taken out to the edges of el desierto, a small stretch of sahara desert right out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The Cape Verde government has made strict regulations to protect their mini desert, and the bright white sand dunes cascading in the strong breeze are not allowed to be driven or built upon. Walk barefoot through the sand walls and sink into the farthest removed stretch of the sahara.
The small fishing capital of Sal Rei is worth exploring in itself. I stayed at La Boaventura, a budget-friendly option with a beautiful, secluded patio, windows perfectly designed for perching and watching life unfold in the streets down below, and really friendly, helpful staff members. Take a trip down to Casa do Pescador, a seafood restaurant with a view over the fishing markets and one of the small fishing bays of the town, a perfect vista from which to watch comradely commerce and gain a sense of the local flavour.
You do have, for roughly 30 mins a day, big groups of tourists from the nearby resorts that come on group tours to ‘see how the locals live’. Vendors vie to take their money for ‘authentic’ arts and crafts works, and the groups huddle together for fear of life in the ‘dangerous’ village, away from their detached resort complexes.
I would strongly recommend not taking this approach, and instead stay in town. Or make an effort to make friends with someone living in town. The only way to appreciate life here, is to experience it amongst the people here.
As old men sit playing chess in the street, with their ‘no stress’ slogan slapped upon their colourfully painted walls, children run carefree past their feet. The pace of life here is slow, try your best to keep up.
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