When I embarked on a journey to the small, remote Cabo Verde islands in the middle of the Atlantic, I did not know what to expect.
Would the islands, because of their deep importance with the Atlantic slave trade routes, resemble Senegal? Or instead, would they remind me of the Canary Islands or even the Azores?
What I experienced instead was totally unexpected – and far better.
Though I’m jealous of those who get to spend weeks on end in these enchanting islands, a week is just enough to get a good taste of Cabo Verde. And perhaps little enough to make you want to come back for more.
The Ultimate 7-Day Cabo Verde Itinerary
This jam-packed 7-day expedition across Cabo Verde is sure to maximize your exploration and enjoyment of these magnificent islands.
- Fly directly to Sal, Cabo Verde (SID) and explore this magnificent desert-island: 2 days
- Hop on a local turboprop plane and ferry to Santo Antão for 3 days of ultimate hiking
- Ferry back to São Vicente for an incredible night in Mindelo
- Turboprop it down to Praia, Santiago Island and enjoy the most underrated island of Cape Verde: 2 days
You’ll finish the trip in Praia – where you can either fly directly to Europe and Africa, or connect in Sal for your onwards flight.
What to do with 9 days in Cabo Verde?
An additional adventure I wish I had done in Cabo Verde is exploring the nation’s only active volcano, on Fogo Island.
Some people only spend one full day in Fogo, as it is a small island. However, I recommend taking a full 2-day dose of this gem so you have time to hike and rest.
What you need to know before traveling to and around Cabo Verde in 2021/2022
My experience traveling to Cabo Verde during Covid-19 travel restrictions was quite pleasant – and much easier than many other countries, such as Djibouti.
View the most updated travel restrictions here (do not rely on this guide for latest Covid-19 info – it changes often).
Cabo Verde Travel Requirements (as of Nov 2022)
At the time of writing, Cabo Verde requires all vaccinated passengers to have a booster shot. If you’re not vaccinated and boosted, you must have a negative PCR test within 72 hours or a negative antigen test within 48 hours of flight departure. A certificate of recovery from Covid-19 satisfies this requirement as well.
You also need a hotel reservation.
Keep in mind that this test/vaccine/certificate requirement not only applies when entering Cabo Verde from the outside, but also for some travel between the islands. (This varies based on the current epidemiological situation – make sure to check).
- Many flights are running to Sal and Praia from Europe and Africa, on airlines such as Air Senegal, TAP Air Portugal, Azores, Royal Air Maroc, and TUIFly.
- Social distancing and face masks indoors are, as with most countries in the world, the norm in Cabo Verde.
- Restaurants are mostly open as pre-covid, with only a few restaurants that shut down during the pandemic.
- There is not currently a curfew or limitations on seating, indoors or out.
A word of caution for those with CDC-issued paper vaccination cards in Cabo Verde
Being stopped on your flight out of the country and being denied boarding is not a pleasant feeling. I know.
Although I had no issues with my CDC-issued paper Covid-19 vaccination card entering the country, I was stopped during one of my inter-island trips and obligated to show a QR code.
Later on when trying to leave the country, it happened again. Luckily, I had the NY Excelsior Vaccine Pass with a QR code to save the day.
Most travelers visiting Cabo Verde are from Europe, so Cabo Verdeans are not used to the CDC version of Covid-19 vaccine records. It depends who you get but it’s likely that you will have issues if you do not have a QR code with your vaccine record.
Luckily, most states in the US these days are offering online records with QR codes.
How to book flights within Cabo Verde in 2021/2022
The pre-covid airline that was running convenient flights between the Cabo Verde islands, TICV, is out of business. Replacing that airline is BestFly – an Angolan airline that picked up TICV’s route structure, airplanes, and infrastructure.
In other words, you will basically have the same services as before.
I’ve had zero luck booking my flights on BestFly’s online website. The online payment always fails. However, the website is a great place to check schedules. And maybe you’ll have better luck booking than I did.
I’m told by locals that the BestFly website online works for bookings made a month or more ahead. I’m not even sure that’s true.
Since we were much more last-minute with our bookings, we were forced to visit a travel agency in Cabo Verde to book our flights for a surcharge of about $11USD per booking. There are many tour agencies; Girassol (2 locations in Santiago), Polar (Praia, Santiago), Barracuda Tours (Sal), Morabitur and more.
If you can’t book online, contact one of these as early as possible; flights tend to fill up 3-10 days ahead, and there’s no way to book them once they’re full.
First Stop: Sal, Cabo Verde (2 Days)
Sal is a typical beach destination for sunshine-seeking European holidayers looking to get some sun. But it can be fun too.
What to do in Sal, Cabo Verde
Our favorite activity in Sal was the diving at the Santa Maria Dive Center, which was much better than we ever expected.
- Dive crystal-clear warm waters beaming with sea life
- Rent an ATV Quad and hop along sand dunes
- Go for a swim and enjoy the beach or resort life
- Take a kite surf lesson
- Enjoy Cabo Verde’s finest cuisine
Dive Cabo Verde’s splendid waters
Divers from abroad might be surprised to hear that the diving in Cabo Verde is actually quite good. From large shipwrecks to underwater mountains and enormous drop offs, there’s something to see for everyone.
The infrastructure is actually pretty good too, with lines attached down to popular shipwrecks and well documented dive sites. Depths vary from 30 feet for some wrecks to 130+ feet on some of the walls.
Underwater wildlife includes giant turtles, manta and eagle rays, sharks of various sorts, and occasionally even whales!
Rent an ATV and explore salt and sand dunes
There’s no shortage of ATV / 4×4 rentals in Santa Maria, and the entire island is quite accessible.
You can reach the Dune of Sal from Santa Maria in about 10 minutes for a world of fun hopping around the dunes.
Take a kite surf lesson
The combination of constant, strong trade winds and miles of pristine shoreline makes for a wonderful place to kite surf. There are dozens of outfits that have kite surf schools, including Mito & Djo Kite Surf School.
Relax at the beach
Looking to unwind and relax? I can’t blame you. After all, it’s likely you had a long journey to get here.
Sal offers miles and miles of unspoiled white sand beaches and clear, turquoise water.
Ponta Sino, the main beach just off of Santa Maria, is a wonderful place to relax. Afterwards, head to nearby Cape Fruit and grab a fresh fruit smoothie to rehydrate after a day of sun.
Best places to eat in Santa Maria
As a mega hub for European tourists, Sal has quite a few restaurants… and many of them are quite good!
Although we loved Cape Fruit for a quick snack and healthy food, we loved Soul Kitchen for its truly exceptional cuisine and prime beachfront location.
Another great spot is Restaurante Farolim, located on a jetty over the water. It’s probably the best-placed restaurant on the island.
Best places to stay in Santa Maria
There are plenty of places to stay in Santa Maria, Sal, for all kinds of budgets.
For those visiting Sal on a lower to average budget, we strongly recommend Casa Pau and Casa Blue. Both offer shared or private rooms, options of fantastic complimentary breakfast, and great service.
Those on a higher budget won’t struggle to find world-class resorts, such as the Hotel Riu Palace Santa Maria – with the absolute prime location of the island.
Next stop: the brilliant island of Santo Antão, Cabo Verde (3 Days)
Wondering why this itinerary calls for 3 days in Santo Antão, unlike the other islands?
Santo Antão is Cabo Verde’s best island
If you’re planning on staying longer on any particular island, Santo Antão is the one you should choose.
In every single island we visited, I mean every island, the locals told us about their favorite island: Santo Antão.
And the second we arrived in Porto Novo, we understood why.
Santo Antão: also the most beautiful island of Cabo Verde?
Without a doubt, Santo Antão takes the cake for most beautiful island not just in Cabo Verde, but much of the world.
Extravagant valleys and jaw-droppingly massive volcanic mountains and cliffs make the island jut out of the Atlantic with incredible beauty.
The islands are raw nature at its finest, and there’s no other way to put it.
You can experience the beauty of Santo Antão on a plethora of amazing hikes located on all corners of the island.
How to get from Sal to Santo Antão, Cabo Verde on the same day
Wondering how to get to Santo Antão?
It’s very easy from Sal or Santiago. All it takes is a flight to Sao Vicente and then a ferry ride to Santo Antão.
Getting from Sal to Santo Antão, all the way on the other end of the Cabo Verde islands, may seem like a stretch – especially considering that Santo Antão does not have an active airport.
But it’s feasible, even easy.
You’ll need to book a flight on BestFly from SID-VXE (Sal to São Vicente). The flight should arrive in Sao Vicente before 1PM so you can make the 2PM ferry to Santo Antao.
As of November 2021, there is a 950AM or 1150AM flight (depending on the day) on BestFly from Sal to São Vicente. There are also two flights per day from Praia.
Getting from Sao Vicente Airport to the Ferry
The next step is getting to the ferry in São Vicente so you can head to Santo Antão.
Upon arrival, exit to the left and head to a taxi stand. Ask for the ferry. A one-way fare from São Vicente to the Mindelo Ferry Port costs 1000CVE ($10USD) and takes 15-20 minutes.
The ferry schedule, as of November 2021, is as follows:
The last departure to Santo Antão departs at 1400, which can be made with ease if you take any flight departing from Sal before noon.
Make sure to book your ferry ticket ahead at CV Interhilas to skip the line and have an easier time.
The ferry from São Vicente to Santo Antão costs about 800CVE per person and takes just under an hour.
Renting a car from the ferry port in Santo Antão
You can rent a car directly from the ferry port in Porto Novo, Santo Antão.
We rented a lovely 4×4 Suzuki Jimmy for less than $50USD per day with Vale&Montanha. A representative from the rental agency had the car ready and waiting for us at the port.
He had us sign a few papers, leave a $200USD deposit (cash only) and then we were on our way. We had no hassles or issues with our rental.
The best hotel in all of Cabo Verde. Surprise: it’s not expensive!
We spent hours going through all of the hotels on Santo Antão before we found this one. And even then, it took a couple phone calls and some patience before we confirmed our reservation for one night.
And what a night it was.
Quinta Cochete, located basically in the middle of the island, is such a gem of a hotel. It’s not expensive, at less than $100USD a night, but it should be.
The food here is at standards not found outside top chef restaurants in Europe, the views include 360 degrees of complete stupefaction, and if that’s not enough there’s a complete garden and animal farm to keep you company.
The owner is supremely friendly and the ambiance here is of utmost relaxation. You’ll be in a prime location to start some of the best hikes on the island and after eating to your hearts content and sleeping like sleeping beauty, you’ll be ready for them.
What to do in Santo Antão
The whole time we were in Santo Antão, we had one thought: “man, this place really gives Hawaii a run for its money”.
There’s just so much nature to enjoy here. Make sure to:
- Head up to Ponta do Sol for epic sunset and sunrise views.
- Hike along the north shore from Ponta do Sol through Fontainhas onto Corva and take a taxi back
- Visit Paul’s Cove and explore the area
- Get lost driving around the island in a 4×4 and enjoy the most epic views of your life
Third stop: Mindelo, São Vicente
Mindelo is a surprisingly large and densely populated city in São Vicente.
Here you’ll find sailboats moored on the gorgeous bay surrounded by jagged volcanic mountains with brightly colored houses and building adorning the hills of the city.
There are a number of great restaurants and hotels here, and Mindelo makes for a quite pleasant – but not totally necessary stop.
How to get from Santo Antão to São Vicente
You have the choice between a 9AM or 4PM ferry, either of which takes about an hour. We chose to take the 4PM ferry and spend a night exploring Mindelo, but you could take a 9AM ferry followed by a flight to your next destination.
Again, booked on CV Interhilas.
The Ultimate Night in Mindelo and What You Need to Know
After hopping off the ferry, take a taxi for 200CVE ($2USD) and head to the nicest viewpoint in Mindelo; the Casamarel.
Avoid non-official taxis if you can. It’s pretty obvious when you see the car.
The Casamarel is a well-priced yet luxurious and not yet discovered restaurant/hotel with a lovely pool and even better views.
Stay and eat here for a wonderful evening of good food, great accommodations, and a view on the city and bay for sunset. Maybe with your bae. Up to you.
Walking around Mindelo is generally safe, but we were told to take taxis at night. We did not and had no issues; it’s up to you to decide. The locals probably know best.
What to do around Mindelo
- Perfect your negotiation skills at the Central Market
- Take a swim on the white-sand Praia de Laginha
- Rent a scooter and explore the island
Make sure not to miss the Central Market of Mindelo. It’s one of the more authentic ones I’ve seen.
There’s an incredible white-sand beach right in the heart of downtown called Praia de Laginha. It makes for a fun afternoon of jumping in and out of rough waves.
For those looking to explore more of São Vicente, there’s a scooter rental called Zoom Zoom Mindelo. You’ll find decent prices and great scooters. The island of São Vicente is very accessible and has generally exceptional roads.
Final/fourth stop: Santiago Island (2 Days)
Next up is Santiago island, a totally underrated gem. Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde, is located here and people unfortunately tend to conflate it with the entire island of Santiago.
Praia isn’t the nicest city, but the rest of the island of Santiago provides absolutely magnificent mountain views combined with lovely coves and wonderful beaches.
How to get to Praia, Santiago
To get to Santiago, you’ll have to fly into Praia. Here’s how to get there from São Vicente.
From Mindelo, take a taxi to São Vicente airport (VXE). The ride lasts about 10 minutes and costs 1000CVE ($10).
BestFly generally runs two flights a day from São Vicente to Praia, Santiago.
Security is generally not an issue in São Vicente airport as there are hardly international flights.
Again, make sure to have your Covid-19 documents ready – with QR code.
Renting a car in Santiago: the struggle is real
There are several local agencies as well as a Hertz, though we were unable to get in contact with any of them.
Instead, our hotel arranged for us to rent from someone local for 5000CVE/day – about $50USD.
It is otherwise not terribly hard to get around the island by taxi or ‘alaguer’ – shared shuttles.
The only issue: taxis are expensive and alaguers wait to fill up before leaving, leaving you waiting. However, alaguers tend to be very cheap with fares as low as 300CVE to get all the way across the island.
Must-sees on Santiago island
Santiago has so much to offer, and honestly ended up being one of our favorite islands.
We had plenty of great food, wonderful accommodation at Dunas de Areia Preta, and were welcomed by so many lovely locals. And the sights are absolutely stunning.
Make sure not to miss:
- Piscina Natural de Cuba, a “natural swimming pool”/amazing oasis
- Silverbeach, a volcanic beach in Tarrafal
- Parque Nacional de Serra Malagueta, the most amazing mountain chain on the island
Bonus stop: Fogo Island
Literally translating to “Island of Fire”, Fogo is Cabo Verde’s only active volcanic island.
As the active volcanic island, Fogo provides for some incredible hikes up to the crater.
How to get to Fogo Island
- Fly on BestFly or take a ferry on CV Interilhas
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, CV Interhilas runs a fast ferry from Praia, Santiago to Fogo island. It take approximately 3.5 hours and costs 3300CVE (about $34 USD) per person.
There are also flights to/from Fogo on BestFly, the local inter island airline. Watch out – these tend to fill up far in advance.
How to get around Fogo
Although we would rent a car, especially in a time crunch, it is possible to get all around Fogo by taxi or Alaguer.
What to do in Fogo
- Hiking Fogo National Park to the crater
- Enjoying a road trip around the island
- Hanging out with local fisherman and enjoying fresh seafood
The main attractions of course, is to hike the volcano of Fogo!
Many tour companies offer guided tours of the volcano, including equipment rental.
The ring road going around the island also provides epic views on the volcano and surrounding islands, especially around sunset and sunrise.
In summary, the ultimate 7-day itinerary in Cabo Verde includes:
- Flying to Sal from Europe or Africa
- Enjoying 2 days of ATVs, beaching, diving, relaxing, sunning, and kitesurfing
- Navigating from Sal to Santo Antão on the same day
- Exploring Cabo Verde’s most beautiful island, Santo Antão, for 2 days by hiking and road tripping
- Taking the local airline down to Praia, Santiago Island
- Dipping in a natural pool, walking on volcanic sand beaches, taking in the spectacular views of Santiago for 2 days
- Flying home, via Europe, Sal, or Africa
Theres an enormous amount to do and see in Cabo Verde, and hopefully this allows you to see the most on your 7-day trip.
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