Visit Boa Vista – Cape Verde. Sea turtles, dust and no stress

Cape Verde is growing in popularity as a holiday destination and it’s easy to see why … It’s an alternative to the typical Mediterranean holiday that us Brits frequently visit, with an almost Caribbean feel and all year round warm weather it’s no wonder more people are choosing Boa Vista as their next holiday destination

Boa Vista, Cape verde, Sal Rei
Sal Rei – Boa Vista, Cape Verde

So what’s it like?

A family holiday was booked with Thomson to Boa Vista and we stayed at the Riu Karamboa hotel, one of very few hotels on the island. The hotel is just a 10 minute transfer from the airport, which is pretty handy in my eyes. (You can see the hotel from the airport so why some people paid for private transfers. I don’t know.)

The hotel looks like a giant sandcastle and is a vast hotel catering for around 1700 guests. Luckily, because the hotel is so big, you never felt that it was too busy. The hotel is all-inclusive and as such, you never have to worry about food or drink during your stay. The hotel has 2 main buffet restaurants and 3 themed restaurants that have to be booked at reception a few days ahead.

Riu Karamboa, Boa Vista, Cape verde
Riu Karamboa – Boa Vista: Cape verde

All the food during our visit was great. Of course there were a lot of European choices and burgers & pizzas on offer, but there was also a good variety of seafood and meat based dishes with an African flavour. *Just to note, the wine is on tap in the dining rooms and isn’t great, but the beer and branded soft drinks were fine.

Facilities on site are pretty good too, with the obvious pool (with swim up bar) several shops & health spa. The evening entertainment is a mixed bag starting with the kids disco/dancing early in the evening followed by themed cabaret night afterwards.  The main bar/entertainment area is huge, but you can always find a spot to sit: either in the stage area, outdoor patio or find a quieter area near the main reception desk. Most nights there are local cocktails on offer which are always worth a go!

Boas Vista, Cape Verde
Workers outside Sal Rei fishmarket – Boa Vista: Cape Verde

Things to do

We don’t go on holiday to just sit in the sun by the pool. I’m of the view that if you visit a different country, then it’s rather nice to explore and absorb the culture so if all you want is sun, sea and sand then visit Spain and forgo the 6 hour flight!

The main attraction of Boa Vista is the beaches. There are miles and miles of untouched beaches on the island, of which many are remote, but the effort to visit them is worth it. We chose a Jeep Safari excursion for our first day on the Island which pretty much gives you an overview of Boa Vista. The Island is very bleak and rocky and resembles the surface of Mars so don’t expect the roads to be like home. Generally there are very few paved/cobbled roads so drivers tend to make it up as they go along. The Boa Vistans drive on the right, unless it’s a bad road, then they drive whichever side of the road is convenient. However, it works when you see the state of the roads!

Boa Vista, Cape Verde - Landscape
Boa Vista, Cape Verde – Landscape

All vehicles on the Island are 4x4s and you’ll soon see why when you visit other parts of the Island. A normal UK car wouldn’t last a week on the roads in Boa Vista.

The Island has many small villages and as you would expect, it’s still pretty much a 3rd world country, but with tourism to the Island only recent, the Island is still coming to terms with visitors so expect to be approached by locals selling locally made carvings and paintings whenever you stop for a drink. The phrase you will get used to is ‘No Stress’ when you meet the locals, but overall it’s all fine when tagging along to a little shack selling sand paintings or pottery turtles.

Sal Rei: Boa Vista
Sal Rei: Boa Vista

Talking of turtles, the Island is very proud of its Loggerhead Sea Turtles and its conservation programme as Cape Verde is one of the largest sea turtle nesting grounds in the world. We took a late night tour with a sea turtle conservation group to a remote beach to see the turtles nesting. This was certainly one of the most memorable visits on the island and I would highly recommend it. The drive from the hotel is around an hour in the back of a 4×4 pick-up truck (which is an event in itself) to the nesting grounds.  Our night was totally clear and you can see every star and the milky way in the sky clearer than I’d ever seen before. The conservation group gives a talk about how they are monitoring the sea turtles and then you are lead down on to the beach. This is all done with no lights or torches whatsoever! It’s an amazing event walking along next to the sea in complete darkness to find a sea turtle laying its eggs. I’d expected to see the turtles from a distance, but not to actually crouch down in the sand next to it and actually hold one of the freshly laid eggs in my hand (imagine a slimy ping-pong ball) whilst the group, measured and micro-chipped the turtle.

As a once in a lifetime event, if you ever get the chance to visit the turtle beaches, then it’s a must. We saw around half a dozen female sea turtles come on to the beach to lay eggs, which was wonderful. Whilst walking back along the beach (In single file in complete darkness) the lead guide quickly switched on a small head torch and we saw the beach filled with thousands of white crabs which quickly scuttled out of our way. Another amazing site.

Boa Vista, Desert, Cape verde
Deserto Viana – Cape Verde: Boa Vista

Instead of taking the excursion into the main port of Sal Rei we decided that we would take the water taxi off the beach from the hotel. (cheaper than the hotel excursion) The waves breaking on the beach are rather large so launching a craft from the beach is fun! Once aboard it’s a pleasant 15 minute journey to Sal Rei. You may want to watch out when the boat pilot says hang on when beaching the boat as it’s quite a bump when you land.  The port is the largest town on the island with the local fish market and harbour. The Portuguese influence is still evident with some of the buildings here and there are several bars and souvenir shops dotted around. The locals once again offering ‘no stress’ when trying to sell their little wooden carvings and traditional paintings.

Stray dogs in Boa Vista
Dogs are everywhere in Boa Vista

Everywhere on the island you will encounter stray dogs which are all just as laid-back as the people. The dogs tend to lie down wherever they want so you’ll often nearly trip over them as you walk around the towns. Whilst out on the island or in the deserts, you’ll come across wild goats and donkeys which happily walk along beside the roads.

quad biking, cape verde, boa vista
Quad Biking on Boa Vista: Cape Verde

Many people decide to take guided trips on quad bikes or dune buggies around the island and we did both on separate days. Be prepared to get very dirty and dusty when you go on these trips, but they are loads of fun. There are parts of the island that have extensive sand dunes which look much like the Sahara and are brilliant when being led over them on quad bikes and dune buggies.  We visited the 18km beach of Santa Monica with its vast crashing waves and the beach of Santa Maria with a wrecked ship that is still there from 1968. The sea is quite rough near most of the beaches and swimming is only advised on calm days. One afternoon we also took the Catamaran from Sal Rei out for a few hours around the island. This allowed us go swimming direct from the boat out on to a reef, with little sharks! We spent a pleasant return journey the port being entertained by the crew with Cape Verdean music and dancing.

Santa Maria Beach, Boa Vista
Santa Maria Beach, Boa Vista

In a nutshell

Most of the island can be visited with a few days and it’s well worth seeing the barren landscapes, sand dunes and untouched beaches rather than just lie by the pool. We had quite a bit of overcast weather whilst we were there, but this was a good thing because when the sun comes out.. It’s really hot, even though there is generally always a breeze off the sea.

The island looks as though there will be major overseas investment in the next decade and I’m worried that much of the landscape and character of the island will be lost as more hotel companies invest here.  The turtle conservation groups are worried what the future may bring and I can see why. My advice would be to come to ‘no stress’ Boa Vista before mass tourism destroys the beautiful wilderness that still exists here.

Me quad biking in Cape Verde
Me quad biking in Cape Verde

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