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Maio Island Guide

Maio Island Guide
Undiscovered by most apart from the discerning few, Maio is the hidden gem of the Cape Verde islands. The most easterly of the Sotavento isles, Maio is a tranquil haven with kilometre upon kilometre of white sandy beaches. Populated by just 6,000 of the friendliest people imaginable, it really is pretty close to heaven on earth.

Labelled by some as the forgotten island, Maio’s future could be about to change. Situated just 25 kms – and a short ferry ride - from Santiago, it is beginning to benefit from the capital’s international airport. The island of Maio also has its own airport for domestic flights.

Most of the island’s population live in the capital, Vila do Maio, an attractive town next to one of the longest and most stunning beaches on the archipelago.

The history of Maio

The island in the far easterly corner of Cape Verde was discovered by the Portuguese explorers Diego Gomes and Antonio de Noli on May 1st 1460. It was named after the month in which it was discovered.

The flat island was arid and dry, and therefore undesirable as a base for the Portuguese navigators who amassed instead on the more fertile island of Santiago. The only humans who came to Maio during the 15th and 16th centuries were shepherds looking for land on which to breed goats.

The discovery of salt pans on Maio in the 17th century changed the island’s fortunes and the port in the south of the island from which it was exported was the biggest winner. A large number of English ships stopped here to get supplies, causing locals to rename the town Porto Ingles. The port is now the capital of the island, and is known as Vila do Maio. Business boomed in the 18th century, thanks largely to the exportation of salt to Brazil. But when the demand for salt diminished in the 20th century, the island was once again abandoned to the few shepherds and goats that loyally remained.

Now, the island is seeing some kind of renaissance. It boasts its own domestic airport, inaugurated in the late 1990s, and is seeing a revitalisation of the salt marshes which were key to its economic success centuries ago.

The Porto Ingles Wetlands is a unique co-operative project which is providing work for 70 local women in salt extraction. The entire salt production process is being managed and operated by the women, who are also participating in a technical exchange programme to increase salt production with women from similar projects in Guinea Bissau, West Africa.

Maio Island Guide
A beach lovers dream

This small sandy island may only measure 25 km wide and 31 km long, but it is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and remote beaches. The entire coastline is lined with long, white sand beaches whilst moving inland you will discover the country’s largest woodland forest. The island’s highest peak is Monte Penos, which lies at 436 metres.

The highlights of the island include:

Vila do Maio - the island’s capital town, situated on the south-west corner. Here you will find beautiful British influenced architecture and an impressive Baroque church called Nostra Senora de Luz which is situated on a hill at the top of the ascending town. There is also a fortress that was built in the 18th century to defend the town from pirates. To the east of the town is one of the most stunning beaches on the island, which stretches as far as the eye can see.

Calheta - Maio’s second most populated town but in reality is nothing more than a quaint fishing village. It’s an ideal spot for swimming.

Morro - a fantastic beach where one is able to see some of the island’s turtle population which comes here to breed in the summer months. The village has been built along the roadside, and visitors are able to gently wander through its narrow streets, looking at the local handicrafts on sale.

Other beaches not to miss are Ribeira de Jo, Baia de Porto Cais and Praia Real.

Maio Island Guide
How to get to Maio

There are now four flights a week to Maio from the country’s capital, Praia, on Santiago. The journey takes just ten minutes. There is also a flight once a week from Sal to Maio, returning to Sal on the same day.

In addition, there is a boat service which operates between Praia and Maio. The journey takes up to three hours.

Development and the future

Maio is fast becoming one of the most exciting islands of the archipelago in terms of its potential for tourism and development. It is already becoming more and more popular with adventurous tourists wanting a holiday with a difference and the government is keen to seize on this, launching a number of initiatives to attract more investment to the idyllic isle. The Boa Vista & Maio Integrated Tourist Development Corporation (SDTIBM) has been set up to do this.

Currently, you can buy a studio apartment on Maio with an ocean view for as little as 30,000 euros. There are also a number of luxury developments under construction on the island, including Punta do Morro Resort - 60,000 square metres of exclusive properties built on the sea front near the village of Morro.

A new catamaran ferry service being launched this year is also hoped to boost numbers to islands like Maio. The fast service will link the islands of the north with the islands of the south, improving accessibility for all.


Maio has huge potential in terms of tourism, but at present, there is very little in terms of organised activities.


The island is home to a number of wonderful and rare birds, including bar-tailed larks, coursers, and ospreys. Sea swallows and waders can also be seen in abundance in the saline pools near Vila do Maio.

Maio Island Guide

The waters off Maio are the perfect breeding ground for a varied and plentiful array of fish and fishing here is a popular sport. Surf casting is found along the many beaches on the south-west coast, while rock fishing is found off the low cliffs that characterise the north. At night, shark fishing is popular.


The clear waters surrounding the island of Maio are the perfect place in which to learn to dive, and in 2009, its potential as a dive location was realised when a dive centre was opened on the beach nearest to Vila do Maio.


The island is mainly flat, but is by no means desert-like. The salty marshes, wooded forests and long white beaches are a very diverse terrain on which to walk.
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