Sal and Boa Vista are known as all-inclusive resort destinations, with many organized Cape Verde holidays going just to these islands.
However, this hides the fact that Cape Verde is amazing for independent travelers as well. On the islands that I visited, all the tourism was delightfully small-scale and authentic.
Where is Cape Verde?
Glad you asked! Cape Verde is a collection of nine islands off the coast of West Africa. It’s about 2 hours further flying south from Europe than the Canary Islands belonging to Spain.
It’s about 6 hours flying from London, Paris, or Amsterdam. From Lisbon, where I live, it’s roughly 4 hours.
There are also direct flights from east coast USA. From Boston, it’s about 7½ hours.
What’s to know about the country?
Cape Verde (known as Cabo Verde in the native language) was uninhabited before the 15th century. So when we say the Portuguese ‘discovered’ the islands, they actually did — before promptly colonizing it, of course. Cape Verdians are mostly descendants of European settlers and African slaves who were brought to the islands.
The islands became independent from Portugal in 1975 and have been a stable democracy since the 1990s.
About half a million people live in Cape Verde, though more than that live around the world as part of Cape Verde’s diaspora. It’s very much a culture of emigrants, reminding me a bit of countries like The Philippines. When you speak with Cape Verdians you’ll quickly notice that many have worked abroad, or have family there.
You can also notice countries like Portugal, Netherlands, and Luxembourg have ties with Cape Verde, helping with development projects.
What’s the best time to visit?
Cape Verde is a tropical destination. It has a rainy season from July to October. That typically doesn’t mean it rains all the time, but you could be quite unlucky if you visit during the rainy season.
The main season to visit Cape Verde is broadly seen as November to April. It’s dry and sunny during this time. This makes it a perfect winter escape from Europe!
I visited in February and had temperatures mostly in the 25 to 30 Celsius range. Many of the settlements are on the coast though where the sea breeze keeps temperatures lower. When I was researching the weather, the temperatures listed were often about 5 degrees lower from what I experienced. That’s really just the difference from the windy coastline versus hiking and sightseeing further inland. It does get very sweaty sometimes! Bring plenty of sunblock.
When I return to Cape Verde, I will probably visit shortly after the rainy season, to see the landscapes at their greenest.
What is Cabo Verde known for?
Cabe Verde is known for its volcanic landscapes, warm tropical climate, Portuguese colonial heritage, unique musical forms (including morna and sodade) and delicious hearty cuisine. It’s Africa’s most westerly point and thanks to being in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s a great location for whale, dolphin, and sea turtle spotting.
For many more impressions, you can check out some of my other articles.
Is Cape Verde only all-inclusive resorts?
You might get that impression from searching online, but it’s not accurate. If you like traveling with a Lonely Planet in hand instead of staying in a walled-off resort, then trust me, this is absolutely your place to go.
I went to the islands of Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, and Santiago. Most tourism there is very small-scale and local. (Just the way I like it.)
The islands of Sal and Boa Vista are known for their all-inclusive beach resorts. I haven’t yet been, but other independent travelers I met who went there really liked those islands. A lot of search results about Cape Verde holidays online come from package tour organizations like TUI, but it’s a perfect destination to explore by yourself.
If you’re someone who loves all-inclusive resorts, maybe consider traveling in a more local way! This blog explains how other ways of traveling are more sustainable, better for the environment, and give you more contact with the culture.
Can you travel solo on Cape Verde?
Yes! I traveled solo on Cape Verde and had a fantastic time.
On certain days I was solitary and would do activities like hiking by myself. I quite enjoy solo hiking, though I did two hikes together with other backpackers as well. Many of the trails on Santo Antao are perfect for solo hiking. The routes are obvious and there are often villages along the way where you can grab lunch or ask for directions if needed. (But really, the MAPS.me app is all you need, and most paths basically don’t have any forks in them, so you can just keep walking.)
I also drove around in a rented car around Santo Antao and sometimes picked up passengers along the way. This was a fun way of interacting with Cape Verdians and learning about their lives. I should mention that most islanders speak only Portuguese or French, so your mileage may vary, but if you can converse with them you’ll quickly find they are super friendly.
Hostels can help you meet other travelers. On Cabo Verde, there are only a handful, so there isn’t really a backpacker scene, but the few hostels that exist will do the trick. I really liked Simabo’s Backpackers in Mindelo, a charity hostel which helps fund an animal rescue center. Black Mamba on Santo Antao is a guesthouse but it has a hostel-like atmosphere. Some of the hiker-focused guesthouses are also very solo-friendly, especially ones where food is served communally.
That said, Cape Verde is not such a well-known solo backpacking destination, so if you expect to socialize with other travelers all the time, it might not actually be that way. But if you’re okay with doing things alone sometimes and you engage with the local culture, then all the ingredients are there for an amazing solo trip.
Is Cape Verde safe?
Yes, it’s safe! The islands are very peaceful and low-stress. Crime rates are low.
You might hear some cautions or two about the big cities at night, but generally, you can do as you would at home or when traveling in Europe.
Is Cape Verde expensive to travel?
I traveled mostly on the islands of Santo Antao and São Vicente. I didn’t stay in any resorts, traveling around budget-style. I thought Cape Verde was mostly a ‘medium budget’ kind of destination.
It’s not super cheap like certain corners of Asia or Latin America, but it can be a lot cheaper than much of Europe, the US, and so on. Here are some rough indications:
|Meal in a regular restaurant||~ 500 escudos (typically rather big portions)|
|Meal in a tourist-focused restaurant||800 – 900 escudos|
|Basic room in guesthouse or pensão||~ 2000 escudos|
|Dorm-style accommodation||Rare and not that much cheaper, typically 1500 to 2000 escudos|
|Fancier guesthouse (e.g. beautiful decoration, Airbnb-style)||Up to 5000 escudos|
(100 escudos is about $1 USD or €0.90.)
Transportation between towns and cities is cheap if you take shared minivans that are called alugueres. I often hopped to the next village for just 100 escudos or so.
On Santo Antao you’ll probably want to get to the crater at the center of the island where many of the trails start. The standard price for this ride is about 2000 escudos (about $20) one way. You can reduce this cost by finding other travellers to share the ride with.
In total, I believe I spent about $45 USD per day on my trip, which was without being particularly budget-conscious.
Your travel costs can rise massively if you want to see every possible island. One traveler told me he’d spent over 1000 Euro on flights alone so he could fly to another island every 2 days or so. I spent about 500 Euro on my flights by focusing my trip on two islands and taking a ferry between them.
Any scams or rip-offs to know about?
In my impression most people are honest. This isn’t Morocco or anything like that. Quite the opposite.
Ride fares to airports or tourist sights are mostly standardized. Probably no one will try to rip you off, but I did notice people often nudged me towards the more expensive tourist option (e.g. taking a private taxi instead of a shared minivan). There are often cheaper ways to do things if you know how.
In Mindelo, a guy approached me on the street asking for money to buy notebooks for his education. I wasn’t sure if he actually purchased them or would just convert it back to money at the office supply store. The dude was really cool and genuine though and I believed he was truly saving for his education.
Another guy brought me to a cool restaurant with live music and then asked for a tip, which seemed fair enough. Any ‘hassle’ I received was pretty good-natured and low-stress, and other travelers I met seemed to have the same experience.
What languages are spoken on Cabo Verde?
People mostly speak Portuguese or a Creole that’s pretty similar to it.
Many people speak some English, especially those with tourism jobs.
Since I speak a bit of Portuguese, I thought I’d have an especially easy time. But during my first days on the island of Santo Antao, to my surprise most people replied to me in French. It seems this is due to a fair number of French expats calling it their home, as well many people from French-speaking Africa. I later learned 14% of Cabo Verdians are francophone.
Cape Verde is a nation of emigrants; of the million Cape Verdians, half live abroad. I met a few locals who spoke perfect Dutch because they or their family worked in the maritime industry in Rotterdam.
If you don’t know Portuguese, you can still get by. Using gestures and improvisation, you can make yourself understood. If you know a bit of Spanish, you may find a few words quite similar in Portuguese.
What about flights to Cape Verde?
I went to Cape Verde before the pandemic of 2020, so it’s possible that airline connections to Cape Verde will be disrupted or different in the future.
Direct regularly scheduled flights can be found to Lisbon, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Rome, Boston, Washington DC, among others.
Seasonal holiday flights with companies such as TUI and Transavia also fly from numerous locations, including the UK. These flights mainly go to the resort hotel islands of Sal and Boa Vista. From there, you can take a domestic flight to other islands.
How can you island-hop in Cape Verde?
Adjacent islands are sometimes easiest to travel between by ferry.
All islands have an airport except for Santo Antao, so it’s actually necessary to take a ferry to this island.
Domestic flights will let you travel fastest between islands. There are two carriers with internal flights: TACV (Cabo Verdian Airlines) and Binter airlines. Schedules are varied; some routes have multiple flights per day, other flights aren’t daily.
Do you need a visa for Cape Verde?
Citizens of many countries can enter Cape Verde visa-free. This includes visitors from almost all European countries (basically except the Balkans), as well as the USA, Canada, and Brazil. You can see further details on Wikipedia. You can stay up to 30 days visa-free.
When you can travel visa-free, you still need to pay an Airport Security Tax. A website where you can pre-register and pay the tax exists here, but in my experience the system was broken. No matter; you can just pay this tax upon arrival in Cape Verde. There is a counter before you get through passport control.
The tax is 3400 escudos (about 30 Euro). It can be paid in cash or using a bank- or credit card. If you don’t yet have any escudos, you can also pay in Euro.
What’s everyone talking about on Cape Verde?
The lands of Cape Verde are extremely dry which often leads to water shortages for farmers. During the last 5 years there has also been too little rain, making water supply a hot-button topic. Climate change is making the existing draught worse.
There is normal tap water, running showers, swimming pools etc. on the islands. But you can help deal with the drought by not being wasteful.
What’s the local currency?
The local currency is the escudo. You can’t get it outside of Cape Verde — and you’re also officially not allowed to take escudo notes out of the country.
There are ATMs on the islands where you can take the local currency out using your bank- or credit card. If you’re going to a place that’s not a major city or reasonably sized town, it’s possible there won’t be a bank ATM. Have some cash with you as businesses may not have a card reader.
What plug type is used in Cape Verde?
Cape Verde uses Type C and Type F plugs. This is the same plug type as used throughout Europe (except for the UK).
You’ll need a plug adaptor if you’re from the UK, North America, or further afield.
These are just some common questions about Cape Verde! Do you have a question I didn’t cover here? Then feel free to ask your question in a comment. So far, I have traveled to Santo Antao, Santiago, and Sao Vicente.
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