When the first explorers of Infante Dom Henrique [Henry the Navigator], son of the Portuguese king João I, arrived in 1456, the Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited and covered with vegetation. The Portuguese colonized the islands, establishing the first European settlements in the tropics. Ideally located for the Atlantic slave trade the islands thrived throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Overexploitation and fierce deforestation of the islands caused severe droughts, which in turn caused famine resulting in thousands of people dying of hunger. This coupled with the end of transatlantic slavery in the 19th century led to economic decline. Subsequently, many Cape Verdeans immigrated to the United States, attracted by the American dream.
The Cape Verde archipelago is still largely undiscovered. The island of Boa Vista is home to vast stretches of golden sandy beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters. You can probably enjoy the Praia de Santa Mónica [Santa Monica Beach] without seeing another person for hours. The Cape Verdean fauna is relatively poor except for marine life. In spring, groups of North Atlantic humpback whales migrate to the coastal waters of Boa Vista to give birth while during the summer months thousands of loggerhead sea turtles arrive on the shores of the island for nesting. Away from the coast, the interior of the island presents a desert-like landscape dotted with barren rock formations, patches of date palms, and abandoned ruined buildings. The island has few small quaint towns, such as Sal Rei (the capital of the island), Rabil and Fundo de Figueiras.
Deserto de Viana
Boa Vista is known for its tranquil beaches, marine life, and something more unusual, the Deserto de Viana [Viana Desert]: a small patch of desert formed by the accumulation of wandering sand grains from the Sahara.
Great volumes of sand are continuously carried from the African continent towards the sea by trade winds. Much of this sand is deposited on Boa Vista because of its proximity to the mainland and the particular shape of the terrain. The resulting desert patch makes for on unlikely landscape on the island – rolling dunes of white sands interspersed with black volcanic rocks and very sparse vegetation.
This small extension of the Sahara is protected by the Government of Cape Verde, which forbids the use of motorized vehicles and promotes the construction of stonewalls to limit the movement of the sand dunes toward the coast.
Wreckage of M/S Cabo Santa Maria
On the northern part of the island of Boa Vista you will find the wreckage of a Spanish cargo ship that ran ashore in the fall of 1968. The M/S Cabo Santa Maria was on its way to Brazil and Argentina loaded with a variety of cargo and a number of gifts from the government of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to give to his supporters. The most important gifts were four church bells intended for a new cathedral in Brazil, Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida [Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Apparition].
Unfortunately, in the early morning hours of September 1, the ship ran aground on the coast of Boa Esperança. A tugboat was sent from the island of São Vicente to try to dislodge the ship, but to no avail. Fortunately, the crew was able to escape the scene unhurt. That left just one thing to deal with, and it was no small feat. A good part of the population of Boa Vista, including children as well as public employees and machine operators from the other islands, were mobilized in order to remove the cargo of the ship. They used mules and donkeys to carry the cargo to the nearby capital of Boa Vista, Sal Rei. The unloading of the ship was carried out for nearly a year. The church bells were never found; they disappeared in the deep water.
Today, the ship is slowly crumbling. After almost 50 years of battering by the wind and constant waves, much of the deck and hold have disappeared and only a rusty shell remains for the time being… but visibly not for long. Over the decades, the wreckage has become a symbol of the island and a source of inspiration for artists.
Know Before You Go
Most of the sites on the island can only be reached with a 4WD vehicle via a scenic rout of untouched nature.