Last updated on February 15, 2023 by Wandering our World
Let’s face it, we all get to a point in our lives where nothing sounds better than a tropical getaway to escape the stresses of everyday life. So look no further than a holiday away to Cape Verde (see what we did there).
Cape Verde is a gorgeous paradise off the West Coast of Africa, with temperate climates and stunning beaches scattered across ten islands. But if you’re really looking for a full-blown tourist experience, the only two you need to look at are Sal and Boa Visa.
Boa Visa is known for its gorgeous, lengthy beaches and relaxed atmosphere. It’s a quieter getaway than Sal, with the island having a significantly smaller population density, leaving most of Boa Vista an untouched paradise.
The island is also home to the longest beach in Cape Verde, expansive wilderness and many sightseeing opportunities.
Sal is a smaller island but is busier and bustling with activity throughout the year. It’s a versatile environment with different types of beaches, cultural experiences and plenty of tourist traps you’ll be happy to fall into.
This densely populated island offers a chance to escape to charming beaches and explore many natural wonders hidden along the coastline. The natural beauty is enough to have tourists flocking here, but it’s the culture and experiences they stay for.
At the end of the day, the choice becomes yours to decide which is better for your vacation. But to help you out we show you the key differences between Boa Vista and Sal below, as well as the activities and sights to see on each.
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Is Better For Culture & Food?
- Which Has the Best Nature?
- How Do The Activities Compare?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- When’s The Best Time To Visit?
- Which Is Better?
Where to Find the Better Beaches?
Boa Vista: The Beaches
Boa Vista is a popular choice for people who enjoy long, tropical beaches and crystal-clear waters – beaches that are arguably more beautiful and quieter than the ones in Sal.
It’s become one of Cape Verde’s most loved tourist destinations and people flock to the beautiful coastline here throughout the year to experience the turquoise waters, romantic coastline and gorgeous scenery.
The beaches stretch for an uninterrupted 55 kilometres around the island, and they are the obvious reason why Boa Vista has earned its nickname of the “Great View”.
The main beach on Boa Vista is Praia de Santa Monica, which stretches for over 10 kilometres and is one of the longest beaches in Cape Verde. The sand is soft and fine, and the water is crystal clear, making it a great spot for swimming, snorkelling, and other water sports.
There are also several smaller, more secluded beaches on the island, such as Praia de Chaves and Praia da Varandinha, which offer a more peaceful and intimate escape from the crowded main beaches.
Boa Vista’s beaches tend to be surrounded by stunning sand dunes and palm trees too, allowing you to really embrace that tropical paradise atmosphere.
If you’re looking to enjoy long romantic walks and a relaxing atmosphere away from the commotion of tourists, then Boa Vista is your best bet.
Sal: The Beaches
Sal is popular among beachgoers who enjoy variety, with many different types of beaches located on its coastline.
It has a more rugged and dramatic coastline than Boa Vista, with rocky cliffs and coves interspersed with sandy beaches. The variety on the coastline is breathtaking, with visitors being able to find solace in calm waters – often calmer than the water on Boa Vista – sandy coves and rock pools scattered across the small island.
The main beach on Sal is Santa Maria, a long, sandy beach with shallow waters that is perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Unfortunately, this beach can get very crowded during peak seasons and can feel extremely chaotic.
But you’re in luck; Sal also has a variety of smaller beaches, such as Praia de Murdeira and Praia de Espargos. These beaches are surrounded by lush vegetation and are a great spot for nature lovers. They are less known by the tourist hordes, and can offer an idyllic and peaceful location to soak up some sun and enjoy a relaxing moment.
For most visiting Cape Verde, the idyllic shallow waters and many beach-going activities weigh heavily on their decision between these islands – and Sal is better known for both and does tend to have more beach activities and water sport opportunities than Boa Vista.
Which Is Better For Culture & Food?
Cape Verde is a region of rich culture that thrives on its dance, music and storytelling. Historically, the islands were uninhabited until Portuguese and Italian settlers breached its shores.
Slavs from West Africa were then brought across, but as the cultures mixed over the years, a new and uniquely Cape Verdean culture was born.
Both Boa Vista and Sal display this culture through their local populations. More on that below:
Boa Vista: Culture & Food
Boa Vista is a stunning natural paradise with a surprisingly low population density compared to its smaller neighbour island, Sal.
However, this works to its advantage. The island has remained relatively unscathed by Western infrastructure. As a result, it still holds deeply onto traditional and historical roots without turning it into a show for tourists alone.
There are plenty of historical museums, cultural festivals, experiences and more to be found around Boa Vista.
The Cape Verdean Creole culture is deeply rooted in dance, music and storytelling, and it’s not unusual for wandering tourists to come across striking showcases of this on the island. Especially when they sign up for local village tours.
The stores here are packed with West African influences too, from clothes all the way down to souvenirs, where handcrafted goodies are often sold for tourists to take a little reminder home with them.
The most commonly spoken language around the island is Portuguese (the official Cape Verde language). But still, you can also hear a more ethnic Cape Verdean Creole language known as Kabuverdianu, which has its own Boa Vista variant.
And the cuisine? Breathtaking mixtures of African and Portuguese food create an entirely unique blend of flavours you must try! And with many local restaurants around, there’s many opportunities to enjoy.
Overall, the further into Boa Vista you explore, the more rich and diverse cultural experiences you come across. They may leave you feeling a tad culture-shocked, but not in a bad way.
Sal: Culture & Food
Sal is smaller than Boa Vista but has a far denser population and more urban atmosphere.
There’s no denying that Sal is a potentially more appealing tourist destination to some due to the many things to do there, and easy access to tourist excursions and famous hotel chains. But this has unfortunately resulted in a more washed-down cultural experience too.
While visitors are often still enthralled by beautifully staged showcases of the Cape Verdean culture here, they’re far less likely to receive a full-blown culture-shock experience when visiting Sal.
That’s partially due to the Westernisation of parts of the island by many hotel chains, which focus more on creating a “home away from home.” As a result, Sal loses the essence of cultural immersion in a big way.
But because Sal has such a busy tourism industry, there are ample souvenir shops around the island that showcase handcrafted West African goodies, so many paces to pick up gifts before heading home.
Another positive comes from the sheer friendliness of the locals. They also have a very festive culture on the island, immersing themselves in music, dance and story-telling, and throughout the year you can find many festivals on Sal, including a variant of Carnival!
So if you’re lucky enough to be around for one such occasion, you’ll likely get an invite by the locals who love to get visitors involved.
And of course, if you’re staying near a city or town, be sure to meander down there for a true taste of Cape Verdean cuisine. We promise it beats hotel food, hands down.
While Sal might give a sterling performance in cultural experiences, it’s worth remembering that culture is about true immersion into a foreign place, and Boa Vista has the upper hand in that regard.
Which Has The Best Nature?
Both Boa Vista and Sal carry immense natural charm. Whether meeting the native species or visiting their incredible natural wonders, both islands hold something that’s bound to win the hearts of nature-loving tourists everywhere.
Still, we think any true nature-loving tourist may prefer Boa Vista. Why? Well as we show you below Sal may have more natural wonders, but Boa Vista has more expansive wilderness, a more peaceful atmosphere and less urban bustle.
Boa Vista: The Nature
Boa Vista is a largely untapped island with a small population and scattered towns. That leaves the majority of the island to flourish with wilderness.
It is home to the Viana Desert, which is considered by many as an extension of the African Sahara. There are many nature preserves around the island too, beckoning tourists to come and visit the beautiful natural scenery.
Unfortunately, if you’re hoping for wild animal encounters on land, Cape Verde has relatively slim pickings. But the biodiversity does thrive in terms of marine life, birds and plants.
Boa Vista is known for its whale-watching though, with peak season being between March and April which is when the migratory humpbacks pass through. These months often see many tourists lining up for whale-watching tours to catch sight of these magnificent beasts in their natural habitat.
Snorkelling and scuba diving give tourists the opportunity to explore Boa Vista’s coast as well. Hundreds of marine life species can be found in prime locations where guided snorkelling and scuba experiences are available, allowing a close encounter with everything from turtles to sharks.
And, when the night approaches, be sure to head out and enjoy an evening of stargazing. The view skywards is immaculate thanks to the remote, peaceful and relatively unpopulated setting Boa Vista offers.
Sal: The Nature
Sal may be small and well-populated, but they have still fiercely held on to their natural charm and beauty along the way.
Much like Boa Vista, there’s a thriving biodiversity of birds, plants and native and migratory marine species in Sal. And tourist attractions like whale watching, turtle encounters and swimming with sharks are readily available (in season) and offer personal encounters with these incredible species.
Sal is home to a myriad of natural wonders too, including its own desert, Terra Boa, where you can experience a mirage like no other, where an ocean appears to be created from thin air.
The island also houses the Salinas de Pedra de Lume Salt Lakes, where tourists can enjoy a natural spa treatment. This natural crater is actually where the island earned its name and before becoming a tourist attraction it was the main source of the island’s income.
And when you need to cool down on a hot day and don’t want to head to the beach, go for a drive to Barucona, the Blue Eye, to dip in the magically blue waters there.
How Do The Activities Compare?
Boa Vista: The Activities
Boa Vista, as we’ve mentioned, is the quieter tourist destination, but this by no means inhibits it from having a list of fun tourist activities.
From village tours to water sports, here are some of the best activities that Boa Vista offers. By showing you what’s available we hope you’ll find out which island has activities best aligned to your interests.
Boa Vista is a large island with gorgeous blue waters, so unsurprisingly they also have the ideal weather conditions for sailing tours.
These are a popular attraction amongst tourists, allowing you to view the island from a new angle while also looking out for exciting marine life.
While you can enjoy a whale-watching experience from Boa Vista’s beaches, various touring companies offer exclusive whale-watching tours on the ocean where you can get as close to the action as possible.
Go for a guided tour around Boa Vista using quad bikes and buggies for an adrenaline-pumping scope of the scenery.
Visit Praia de Atalanta
The crystal waters of Boa Vista are home to many shipwrecks that are an attractive sight for scuba divers and snorkellers, and one such wreckage is located just off the shore.
The Praia de Atalanta was run aground in 1968, and now the skeleton of the hulking cargo ship has become a site-seeing attraction.
Watersports – Wind and Kite Surfing
As we’ve mentioned, Boa Vista can have some idyllic conditions for sailing. Still, it also has perfect conditions for certain watersports. From October to April, the Northern Trade Winds kick up and make Boa Vista an awesome location for kite and wind surfing.
Sal: The Activities
Sal is a diverse island with plenty to do – arguably more so than Boa Vista as it’s the more tourist orientated island.
The beaches are fantastic for laid-back, lazy days in the sun, but the bustle of the busy towns can also have some appealing activities for tourists to do. So let’s explore the main activities on Sal:
Guided Village Tours
Local guides can take you to the villages to give you a fun cultural immersion experience you won’t soon forget.
Swimming with Sharks
Sal is home to a particularly mellow group of Lemon Sharks in Santa Maria. Even wading into the shallows will have baby sharks swimming around your feet.
Shark Bay is infamous for these encounters. But as scary as it may sound, they’re relatively harmless.
Hike the Monte Garde
Sal has plenty of beautiful hiking spots, but none as gorgeous as Monte Garde. The 400-meter-high mountain offers panoramic views of the island and its neighbours, all within a few-hour hike.
Join in a Dance Lesson
Cape Verdean culture is all about music and dancing, and tourists can join a fun dancing lesson to learn how to move and shake to the local music!
Watersports – Sailing; Snorkeling; Surfing
Sal is known for having versatile beaches, with great conditions perfect for various watersports, from sailing to surfing and everything in between.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Boa Vista: Accommodation
Luxury: Spinguera Ecolodge is nestled on the North Coast of Boa Vista, offering 12 exclusive, fully furnished rooms with gorgeous sea views.
4x4s are available for rent to explore, and when your day ends, you can sit in their restaurant to sample locally-caught fish and wash it down with a drink from the bar. See photos and rates here!
Budget: Terra Kriola offers luxury on a budget. This gorgeous hotel has spacious rooms with balconies and wonderful mountain views.
While you might sacrifice an all-inclusive experience by staying here, you’re minutes away from Praia de Cruz in the most luxurious hotel that a budget stay can buy. See photos and rates here!
Shoestring: If you’re planning on saving on accommodation, look no further than B&B Salinas. With private rooms, a shared lounge and a restaurant specialising in local and international cuisines, you can still feel like you’re in paradise without thinning out your wallet. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Hotel Morabeza is a luxury hotel nestled in the bustling city of Santa Maria. Lay back, relax at one of the three pools on offer, and dine out each night at the exquisite restaurants (yes, multiple!) on-site.
The rooms even have their own balconies overlooking the pristine waters of the ocean. See photos and rates here!
Budget: Hotels are fun, but self-catering apartments are better! The Branco Suites offer all the luxury of hotels without breaking the bank. Each room is fully equipped, with its own kitchenette, mini fridge and a restaurant right downstairs if you’re too lazy to cook.
And the best part is it’s only a walk away from all the action! Beaches, stores and a bustling city hub are all within reach. See photos and rates here!
Shoestring: If you’ve spent all year saving for your trip, the last thing you want to do is blow your budget on a bed. Well, you’re in luck. Surf House Hostel is perfect for making new friends and saving money for great experiences.
Surf House has it all: accommodating staff, comfort, and is just a short walk from one of Santa Maria’s main beaches! See photos and rates here!
The Best Time To Visit
Depending on the nature of your visit, certain times of the year might be more appealing to you.
Although the tropical climate offers perfect year-round temperatures for a beach vacation, other factors may determine when’s the best to go.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Boa Vista?
The rainy season lasts between April and September, with June being one of the rainiest months of the year. While there’s still plenty to do despite the weather, you should come at a different time if you plan on sticking out 10 days on the beach.
If you’re coming to Boa Vista for watersports, especially sailing, kite surfing and wind surfing, then you should plan around the months of October through April.
The whales are migratory and are often only found around Boa Vista from late February through to early April.
The busiest months of the year for Boa Vista are January, February, August and November. As a result, tourism numbers skyrocket then as guests flock to the island to enjoy a much-needed vacation.
When’s The Best Time To Visit Sal?
Sal is relatively busy throughout the year, and the climate is perfect for year-round holidays. Still, there are some seasons to look out for.
Sal’s wettest seasons lie between August and early October when it’s not uncommon for the island to be hit with monsoons.
The windiest time to visit Sal for watersports like kite and wind surfing would be between February and April each year.
Summer is the prime season to find an island full of festivities; between August and September the locals come to life, celebrating a myriad of festivals.
Sal’s peak season is August and December, with the highest number of tourists visiting the islands then. It quietens at the beginning of the year but still has stellar weather and plenty to offer in the off-season.
Sal vs Boa Vista: Which Is Better?
At the end of the day, we’ve hopefully given you enough information to make your verdict. But if you’re looking for a final push, then here it is.
Boa Vista is the better option if you want a more introverted escape to people-less shores. But, if you want more action and just want to wade in shallow waters in a place well catered to tourists, then Sal may be the better choice for you..