The ultimate guide to solo travel in Cape Verde
About Cape Verde
Africa is a continent often overlooked as a possible tourist destination. West African countries, in particular, have hugely impacted the continent. From cuisines, music to clothing, and much more and The Gambia is no exception.
Cape Verde or Cabo Verde is also known as the land of “no stress” is a country made up of 9 small inhabited islands. Santiago Island is home to the capital city called Praia. Cape Verde is situated in the Atlantic Ocean with the nearest country being Senegal. The country is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, weather, natural wonders, and carnivals.
Absolutely! They don’t call these islands the land of no stress for no reason. Cape Verde is one of the safest west African countries to visit. Though no country is 100% safe. Petty crime is a big problem here though so just practice caution in public places such as beaches. If you’re in the capital Praia on Santiago island, it’s best practice for you to be mindful of your things, whether that’s your bag at a restaurant or drinks at a bar, never leave your things unattended.
The islands all have a safe and calm atmosphere as the population is sparse, this makes it a perfect holiday destination and a great place to relocate to.
With the rise of tourism to the country’s has a lot of cheaper accommodations are now available. Depending on the island and season you are going of course. The islands of Sal and Boa Vista get the most tourists and accommodations here can vary in prices. An average night in a hostel will cost around £10-£15 per person per night with 5-star hotels costing around £150 a night. The summer season can usually be more expensive and in February which is carnival season. There are lots of listed accommodations on sites like booking.com, hotel.com. Backpacking is also very doable here as there are many that you can stay in to meet others and transport is cheap.
Depending on the locations you want to visit also, you may be able to travel greener by staying at eco lodges, surrounded by nature. As the islands all have great beaches with some exhibiting beautiful scenery eg. Fogo island with it’s mountain. Many eco-lodges built within the mountainous hills can be found online too.
I worked and stayed in hostel praiadise which is in the capital, Praia on Santiago Island. I highly recommend staying here if you are in the capital! My work was quite flexible which meant I was able to really explore the island alone and with fellow travellers.
Cape Verde is a small country with different islands making up the country, and yet their history and culture are so mixed and diverse. They have different cultures influencing them from Portuguese, Angolan, and West African cultures all intertwined.
Cape Verde is the hub of diversity and everybody is their own unique blend of different cultures. To fully understand the country’s history and culture here are some places that can’t be missed on your visit to Cape Verde;
Praia the capital is unlike any other city on any of the other islands. It’s unlike any other capital city worldwide too. Oddly enough, when walking around this city you would feel like you are in a small town rather than the capital. The beaches are often close by which you can often see at a distance. In the city markets, there is a little more commotion with lively shops, busy markets, and vibrant restaurants with enchanting music. But there are still many squares, public benches, and resting areas making the city the perfect balance between hustle and peace. Some Recommendations on this island are;
Cidade Velha is located on Santiago island is the first city in the whole of Cape Verde. The town literally means ‘old city’ with a prominent pillar in the middle of its square. This pillar at first may not look like anything but in actuality, it holds a large significance. This pillar was used by the Portuguese as a whipping and punishment post for disobedient slaves, which all other slaves were gathered around to watch. When new slaves from mainland African countries were brought to the country, This is also where they would disembark from the boats, the first images these new slaves often saw were slaves hanging or shackled to the punishment post.
I definitely recommend going here with a guide or a native of the island to fully understand this town’s historical significance.
The town is a beautiful reminder of the country’s birth story and its dark past. With ruins, monuments, and museums, this town feels like walking back in time. It is eerily peaceful compared to its horrendous past but the UNESCO World Heritage sites really help visitors understand Cape Verdean history.
On Praia, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the number of amazing beaches here. Pretty much all the beaches are filled with soft yellow/white and clear blue waters. Quebra Canela is the capital’s most popular beach and the longest. Both tourists and locals enjoy this beach and I’m sure when you visit too you’ll understand why. Some other honorable mentions include; Prainha and Praia de Gamboa
Church of our lady grace
This cathedral was built between 1894 – 1902. Unlike other churches, the interior isn’t too decorated but there is beauty and peace in its simplicity.
The Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace, though not open to the palace, the surrounding grounds are. The well-maintained gardens make for a lovely stroll and a peaceful day out.
The ethnographic museum and shipwreck museum are great places to visit to see preserved and recovered artifacts that showcase a specific time period in the country. It’s useful to note that these museums are in Portuguese so having a person who speaks Portuguese to come with you may be useful or you can ask the staff within the museums.
Serra da Malagueta
This is mountain range is located in the northern part of Santiago island. It’s protected by the national park and great for hikers and nature lovers.
Pico da Antonia
Pico da Antonia is Santiago island’s biggest mountain range with its highest peak reaching 1,392metres high. It’s part of the Serra national park and will show you a different side to the island, one way above the clouds.
Tarrafal is the second biggest city on the Santiago island on the topmost part as opposed to Praia which is at the south of the island. This place is home to what many (locals included) would say the best beaches of the country reside. Tarrafal beach is definitely the best beach in this city as its stretches for miles with soft fine sand and unique mountainous landscapes in the distance.
Though one of the smaller beaches, Sal has become a big tourist hotspot, and looking at the island it’s understandable why. The island is renowned for having some of the country’s best beaches such as Santa Maria beach. If you’re on the island some must-see places are;
This place is also called Olho Azul by the locals. Located in its rocky coastline this cave is surrounded by the desert with crystal blue waters flowing through it.
Palmeira is a great and peaceful town in Sal full of colourful houses in cobblestone streets. Located by the sea, you can eat some great authentic meals by the edge of the ocean.
Viveiro Botanical Garden
Also known as Pachamama Eco Park. This place is not only home to a beautiful garden with a lovely bar but it’s attached to a wonderful botanical animal park, where Flora & Fauna live together in harmony. This botanical garden is home to a wide selection of birds and animals; parrots, 4 horned goats, donkeys, horses, guinea pigs, chameleons, rabbits, monkeys, and plant life.
Salinas de Pedra Lume
Salinas de Pedra Lume has recently become a major tourist attraction as the island gets its name from this lake. Sal meaning salt in English is home to Salinad de Pedra Lume which is a crater surrounded by a lake 27x saltier than the ocean and the dead sea.
Located on the southernmost part of the island, this casino is a nice place to go to try your luck.
Funana Cultural House
Also known as Funana Casa da Cultura is located quite close to Santa Maria beach. Funana is a restaurant in a collection of artifacts of cultural heritage.
Boa Vista alongside Sal has become a big tourist hotspot and looking at the island it’s understandable why. The island is renowned for having some of the countries best beaches such as Varandinha, Santa Monica beach, Estoril beach and Spiaggi Di Curralinho.
Some other sites include;
Museu dos Naufragos
This museum is very unique as it shows the history and culture of the Cape Verde Islands, in a very artistic way. Many who explore this museum have only positive things to say as its outlandish quirkiness is not one you can ignore.
Deserto de Viana
This mini dessert is not something you see very often as it is a beautiful untouched area where you can enjoy activities such as quad biking on the sand dunes.
The street of the town Sal Rei, the capital of Boa Vista is a beautiful cultural town. In the daytime, these peaceful streets are filled with colourful cultural houses, churches, and museums and by sundown, the town comes to life, and the waterfront restaurants, cafes and clubs are buzzing. If you’re looking for a laid-back evening, unwind at the beach bars while listening to live music by African drummers. With international DJs taking over the stage, the tempo picks up and you’re all set to dance the night away.
Santo Antão is one of the greenest islands of Cape Verde and considered by many the most scenic. Some popular things tourists like to do include;
This island in Cape Verde is every hiker’s dream, some recommended spots include; Monte Fontainhas, Pico da Cruz, Ribeira das Patas, Ribeira da Janela, Paul Tal, Cova to Cidade das Pombas, the other for Ponta do Sol to Chã de Igreja The volcanic nature of the island has led to incredible landforms, including very steep mountains, high cliffs, and deep valleys and gorges.
It’s easy to hike independently without a guide. Most of the popular hikes pass by at least one or two towns or hamlets where you can stop for a coffee or lunch. All around this activity is the perfect day out.
Sao Vincente is home to some great things such as Cesaria Evora (a world-renowned artist) and the country’s biggest and best carnival but not only is this carnival the highlight of the island. Some other hotspots of the island include;
The people’s palace
Also known as The Palácio do Povo, formerly the Palácio do Governo, is a public building in the city center of Mindelo in Cape Verde. It is situated at the eastern end of Rua Libertadores de África. It was built in 1874 when there were plans to move the capital of Cape Verde to Mindelo. Originally with only one floor, it was expanded with a second floor between 1928 and 1934. Since independence, it is called Palácio do Povo. It currently houses a Carnival museum.
This is a scaled-down version of Lisbon’s Torre de Belem. It is also home to a sea museum is located in the north of the island which features exhibits on the history, seafaring culture, and natural bounty of the Cape Verde archipelago.
Monte Verde is the highest peak on the eastern part of the island. Standing at 744 m, this mountain is great for hikers.
Baia Das Gatas
Baia Das Gatas is on the coastline of Sao Vicente is so gorgeous to explore and a place that’s totally stunning to see.
This is said by many to be the best beach on Sao Vincente island, located in the north in the town of Mindelo. The beach is filled with soft fine, yellow, sand, and clear blue waters. The beach is close to the center of the town and has attractive modern bars and restaurants, it’s a perfect day out for all.
Monte Verde is São Vicente’s highest peak, standing at 750m. You can choose to hike or take a car up to the top, but once you get to the summit, you’re met with some truly superb panoramas to Mindelo and across the Atlantic. As much of the rest of the island is flat, you can look out across the plains and admire your surroundings.
Cape Verde is like the Brazil of Africa. I didn’t think that I would connect or that Cape Verdeans would connect to me but surprisingly I found a lot in common with Cape Verdean culture.
There is also a high population of Nigerians in Cape Verde which you can usually see working in the markets. the cape Verdean art scene is very Afrocentric. Cape Verdeans are proud to call themselves African and it is common to see pieces showcasing this. To fully experience this unique African country some unique things to do are listed below.
10. Test out the nightlife
Cape Verdeans know how to party!! I was in the country for a total of 2 months and partied non-stop. If you’re a partier like me make sure you check out the governments website so you can know what’s on when you visit. Also try some GROUGE. This is the local alcoholic drink made from sugar cane. (similar to cachaca from Brazil) but be warned, it isn’t for the faint hearted
This country is the perfect place to test out your moves on the dancefloor as there is always a party happening. Why not try out a traditional African dance move called Kizomba?
If dancing is not your thing, there are still plenty of bars with lovely settings where you can relax and enjoy yourself. Some of my favourites were on the Quebra Canela strip (Santiago Island)
With a variety of international, national music played at events, you’re bound to love the country’s nightlife.
9. Ride a horse
Have you ever had been on a horseback city tour? Well in Cape Verde you can experience this unique way of seeing the city. These tours are offered on both Sal and Boa Vista islands.
8. Go Quad biking
Cape Verde is a very dry country, now this may sound like a negative thing but it’s also the perfect climate to go quad biking in. In both Sal and Boa Vista there are tours where you can quad bike around the area. These fun tours allow you to let loose and explore your adventurous side.
7. Go Kitesurfing
For all the adventure lovers out there, this activity is perfect for you. As the country is made up of islands, water sports are popular. Available on both Boa Vista and Sal, do check the government’s website or your local tour agency to know when the best dates are to book onto this.
6. Visit some of the world Famous beaches
It’s no surprise that a country made up of islands has some amazing beaches. But what is surprising is that some of these beaches are rated the top 10 beaches in Africa!
Santa Maria beach on Santa Maria Island is said to be the best beach in the country. Why don’t you visit it yourself and tell us what you think? Click here if you’d like to know where else the best beaches in Africa are.
- Climb Pico de Fogo
Now this one’s for all the adventure lovers reading this. Fun Fact: Pico de Fogo is both an active volcano and mountain! Located on Fogo Island, this is the country’s highest point. There are tours available for those who’d like to climb to the top.
4. Become one with the sea
With so many activities to get involved in, this island offers it all. From snorkelling, windsurfing to swimming with turtles and whale watching on both Sal and Boa Vista islands. If it’s always been your dream to swim and spot sealife then these islands are for you!
Head to Carnival!
Now I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again. Cape Verdeans know how to party! Carnival being no exception, for a small collection of Islands, I was taken aback by how huge their carnivals were. With parties and parades lasting all day and all night, you won’t be disappointed if you decide to come. The carnivals are usually held in February or March, so it’s always good to check the government’s website (here) and book accommodation and flights in advance! It’s said that the best carnivals are on Mindelo Island but I’m sure all other Islands don’t disappoint either.
2. Visit Tarrafal
The second-largest city located on the top of Santiago Island, Taraffal is home to the best beaches on the Island, with beautiful churches and historical landmarks to see too. I really enjoyed renting a car and driving to Taraffal for a day trip with fellow travellers.
1. Experience Cidade Velha
Cidade Velha meaning ‘old city’ is located on the Santiago island and is the first city in the whole of Cape Verde. This town is a beautiful reminder of the country’s past and origins. With a museum, historical monuments and archaeological ruins such as the 16th Century Sao Filipe Royal Fortification, it is definitely a must-see UNESCO site.
So how will you get to these spots? Taxis are often your best bet around the islands as they are cheap and have meters in them so no need to haggle! However, if you are in the capital – Praia on Santiago island you can save even more money by hopping on busses costing less than 100 escudos (1$) per ride. (As of 2019)
Cape Verde has a relatively good year climate all year-round but the best time to go is between November – June during the dry season. The country hosts some beautiful weather during the time of the year. I recommend going during the Months of February and March too as there are many carnivals and festivals organised by the government around these months.
- Learn Portuguese
Though the majority of Cape Verdeans speak the Crioulo dialect, learning Portuguese will really help you navigate around the country as not everyone speaks English or French.
- Keep your wits about you.
Petty crime like pickpocketing happens quite frequently so make sure you always know where all your things are.
Meeting locals won’t be hard here as everyone is very warm and friendly. I found that just by walking around the neighbourhood and going to local hotspots such as the beach so many people greeted me and approached to talk to people. I was able to meet people in parks, restaurants and just in public, Now I know that this may not be something that others are willing to do so some other great ways to meet people are;
- Stay in a hostel. I’ve found that staying in hostels really helped me to meet new people and go on adventures together and Banjul was no different. With so many cheap hostels around, it’s more than worth a try.
- Take a tour. There are so many experiences and tours in Banjul which will not only help you see the sights of the city but are also a great way for you to meet fellow travellers.
- Joining some clubs. Now I didn’t personally use this method, but I did hear from other travellers that this is a good way to meet people. Using sites like Facebook and joining groups is a great way to get the ball rolling.
There are 10 airports in Cape Verde however not every island has an airport, and many locals take the government ferry in between islands. I have done this, and it is an interesting experience. Flights in between each island are all operated by the government domestic airline which is tiny and can be more expensive. It is however more reliable than the government ferry. (The Government Flight – https://www.ticv.cv)
The main international airports are; Praia Airport, Sal Airport, Sao Vincente Airport, Boa Vista Artistides Pereira Airport, Sao Filipe Airport and Sap Nicolau Airport.
Forever! Cape Verde is a country like no other and has so much to see and do so its not uncommon for tourists who come here to want to stay forever. I personally lived in the country for 3 months and still don’t feel like I have fully seen all that Cape Verde has to offer!
Depending on your itinerary, I’d say 2-3 weeks is a good amount for excursions only. 4-5 days per island and an extra 3-5 days to enjoy some beach days.
Can I drink the water? No
Is tipping expected? No. In certain upper-scale restaurants, it is expected. Though it is not a requirement.
Fixed price or barter? Fixed
Any ATMs? Yes! You will find plenty across the big cities alongside popular tourist attractions. Some hotels even have ATM machines within them.
Which side of the road do they drive?
Good for vegetarians? A little. As Cape Verde is made up of islands, their local cuisines usually have fish in them.
Any seven wonders of the world? No
Plan a trip to Cape Verde
If you are ready to solo travel Cape Verde here are some useful links to help you plan your travel.
Budget – (£20 – £50 minus accomadation)
Capital – Santiago Island, Praia
Population – 550,000
Language spoken – Portuguese
Local Currency – Escudos
Do I need a visa? – No for ECOWAS and British Passport holders but you are required to pay a tax/ entry fee either way. (around 3,400 escudos or £30) You can prepay this tax on the government’s website here
Flying time to Cape Verde – 6 hours
Did you know? There are more Cape Verdeans living abroad than in Cape Verde itself!
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