Home > Boa Vista Island Guide


Boa Vista is often called the Isle of Sand Dunes, and it’s easy to see why. For the island, the third largest of the archipelago that forms Cape Verde, is one long sandy beach which steadily rises in the middle, only to slope gently back down to the turquoise blue sea on the other side. It boasts more than 35 miles of stunning white sandy beaches – most of which are almost deserted and refreshingly unspoiled.

Measuring 240 square miles, the island is large by Cape Verde standards but its population of just over 6,000 is the smallest of the inhabited isles. Most of the locals live in the capital Sal Rei, or in nearby Rabil, where an international airport was opened in 2007.

Unsurprisingly, the new airport has been extremely instrumental in opening up the island to tourism, and in 2010 Boa Vista attracted more than 50 per cent of all Cape Verde visitors. A staggering 90 per cent of all the island’s hotel beds were occupied in the last quarter of 2010 compared to just 48 per cent of those on neighbouring Sal, according to the latest figures by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

A tropical climate

The island, which means ‘good sight’ in Portuguese, is the most eastern island of Cape Verde and the nearest to Africa, which lies approximately 280 miles away. Sailors are understood to have shouted ‘good sight’ in delight when the island first came into view by Portuguese explorers in 1480. They had been caught in a terrible storm and were thrilled to see land.

Boa Vista, like Sal has a near perfect climate and has very little rain. It is starting to get a name for itself as a destination for windsurfing, due to the north-easterly trade winds which blow consistently from October to June.

A turbulent history

Boa Vista was discovered by the Portuguese in 1480, soon after the same sailors had come across the neighbouring islands of Maio, Santiago and Fogo. Initially named São Cristovao, it was uninhabited except for a few sheep and cows that were first brought to the island in 1497 by Captain Rodrigo Afonso.

The first human inhabitants are believed to have been a group of English sailors who settled on the south western tip of the island in 1620 after discovering salt in the arid land. The tiny town of Povoação Velha was subsequently founded and other industries such as cloth weaving and ceramics soon appeared in the small community. The island thrived – so much so that in 1677 it even had its own priest.

In an era where prosperity was seldom seen, news of Boa Vista’s riches began to spread and in 1815 and 1817, the island suffered two major pirate attacks. To protect the island from further attacks the islanders built a spectacular fort – the Duque de Branganca Fort - on an islet near Sal Rei, which had become the most important town on the island.

Under the protection of the impressive fort, which is still a remarkable sight even today, Boa Vista began to prosper once more. It became an important cultural centre and the birth place for the most famous style of Cape Verdean music – the ‘Morna’ – a mixture of the mournful melodies of Portuguese ‘fado’ with insistent African and Brazilian beats.

Its prosperity was yet again short lived, however, and by the mid 19th century many of the island’s population had emigrated following a series of droughts. They also went to seek work on islands such as São Vicente which had become an economic hub due to its busy port.

Fast forward a century and in 1975 the inhabitants of Boa Vista, along with the population of the other inhabited islands, became citizens of the Republic of Cape Verde. It now boasts one of Africa’s most stable democratic governments. The government is also ambitious in its plans for Cape Verde, and Boa Vista in particular. In 2007 an international airport was opened on the island as part of the government’s strategic programme to enhance the local infrastructure and improve accessibility for the tourist industry. And as the latest INE figures show, the strategic programme has been very effective.

A land of sand dunes and a sea of turtles

Boa Vista is an island of sand dunes, long white beaches, and crystal clear emerald sea. The beaches are some of the most stunning and unspoiled in the world, with many only reachable in four-wheel-drive vehicles or quad bikes. The island’s interior landscape is almost lunar like, deeply mysterious and at times, unforgiving.

Off shore, the location of Boa Vista means that the island attracts a large variety of wildlife, from mating whales to exotic seabirds. Boa Vista is home to the third largest breeding site in the world for Loggerhead Turtles, making it a crucial location for turtle conservation.

Sadly poachers were found to be killing female turtles for meat as they came ashore to nest, so in 2008 the international Turtle Foundation began a beach protection programme which has now been extended to cover five beaches on Boa Vista. As a result the number of turtles killed has been greatly reduced: more than 500 turtles were killed in 2007, whereas just 42 were slaughtered in 2009.

The coral reefs surrounding the island are also of major environmental importance, with the João Valente seamount — an underwater mountain range between the islands of Boa Vista and Maio — having an unusually high concentration of fish and other species.

Amongst Boa Vista’s highlights are:

Sal Rei - the capital of Boa Vista, and a beautiful town with many examples of stunning colonial architecture. In front of the town is the islet on Sal Rei where the ruins of the Duque de Branganca Fort can still be seen. To the north of the town the wreck of the MV Santa Maria, a Spanish cargo ship which ran aground in 1968, can be seen off the coast.

The Brick Factory on Chave Beach, south of Sal Rei, is a dramatic tall brick chimney which rises from the sand dunes which have covered the rest of the building.

Santa Monica Beach is without doubt one of the most stunning beaches in the world. Measuring over 11 miles long, it got its name from its resemblance to the beach of the same name in the United States of America.

Rabil is a short walk along Chave Beach from the capital Sal Rei. It used to be the centre of the ceramics industry on Boa Vista and boasts a former ceramics factory which now runs tours. There is also the church of Santo Roque which is the oldest on the island.

Development and the future

Backing this optimism is the Cape Verde Government’s growth figures. The Cape Verdean economy should grow between 4 and 5% next year, according to the head of the bank Banco de Cabo Verde. Boa Vista has been ear-marked for major tourist development. Following the opening of the international airport in 2007, the infrastructure of the island has been vastly improved with new roads, power supplies and desalination plants. The government hopes that by 2018 the island will boast 30,000 hotel beds and attract 900,000 visitors a year.

Activities on Boa Vista

Boa Vista’s strong winds have made the island an up and coming centre for water sports, whilst development projects are sure to put Boa Vista firmly on the map as a haven for yachts looking for new waters to explore.

Windsurfing, Kitesurfing and Surfing

The main windsurfing club is run by Francois Guy, a former top French windsurfer from the 1970s who set up the Boa Vista Wind Club on Tortuga Beach, just south of Sal Rei, in 1989, after discovering Cape Verde in 1985. The conditions are perfect for experienced windsurfers and kitesurfing. Another popular spot is off Estorial Beach, also south of Sal Rei. Surfers tend to head to Cabral Beach, directly in front of Sal Rei, where the swells are larger.


Boa Vista is a diver’s paradise, its position in the mid Atlantic surrounded by a shallow shelf leads to a huge variety of sea life. There are also a great number of hidden reefs, which, coupled with strong currents and the island terrain’s high iron content which play havoc with ships compasses, has led to a large number of shipwrecks. The coral reefs and shipwrecks provide fantastic opportunities for divers of all abilities.

There are a number of diving clubs offering wreck diving and night dives with fully trained Padi & Naui divers. Snorkelling is also very popular.


Boa Vista is becoming a very popular destination for keen anglers. The sea around the islands is filled with big Blue Marlin, Wahoo as well as big tuna, barracuda, yellow-tailed snapper, sharks and humpback and grey whales. Both line fishing and deep-sea fishing expeditions can be organised through a number of operators.


Riding a horse over the dunes is a wonderful way to experience the charms of Boa Vista. Treks can organised through a number of tour operators based in Sal Rei. Rides go along the beach as well as into the hinterland.


There are also a number of operators who organise walking tours to the major places of interest on the island. A good reference for walkers is the Goldstadt Wanderkarte 1:50000 map of Boa Vista, which shows hiking tracks, footpaths and other features of interest. It shows eight routes, ranging from 45 minutes to five hours. Walkers must make sure they take ample water supplies and a hat for the midday sun.

The Ultra Marathon

The Boa Vista Ultra Marathon is an annual race which covers 93 miles of the island, run over three days in December. Organised by the Boa Vista Ultra Marathon Club, it is attended by runners from all over the world. The extreme race is run along beaches, over dunes and through the desert, and must be finished within 50 hours.
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