Top Things To Do on Maio, Cape Verde
A guide to the beach island Maio, Cabo Verde with handpicked hotels, restaurants and activities
I found paradise! I will provide you the directions but under the condition that you don’t tell anybody! Because Maio is such a gem that it seems unreal to have all those beaches for yourself! All alone!
After Sal and Boa Vista, Maio is Cape Verde’s third “beach” island. However, it radically differs from its two “beachy” sister islands, as it achieved to keep its original charm, and keeps fighting to preserve its virgin beaches from the aggressive, multinational investors.
Follow me to a pure paradise that remembers the untouched Caribbean: gorgeous Maio, Cape Verde.
Maio has been under threat to end up the same way as Sal and Boa Vista: massive hotel resorts, unsustainable management of resources, inhuman working conditions for the local community and massification of its golden, sandy beaches.
So far, the main obstacle for tourists to invade Maio has been the difficult access to the island. Indeed, there are only a few national flights and ferries per week. On top, the politicians of Maio are making a great job when it comes to choosing carefully who can invest on the island and who can’t. They are making great efforts to avoid the same errors and damages that happened on Sal and Boa Vista.
Let’s talk frankly: Maio is, together with Santo Antão, my favorite island of all Cape Verde Islands. Its vast and empty beaches form the perfect contrast with the vertiginous mountains of Santo Antão and for me, both islands unite the best that Cape Verde has to offer.
I can guarantee that you’ll not only fall in love with Maio’s landscape but particularly with its warmhearted people and the ultimate relaxing atmosphere. I felt very privileged to experience the pure beauty of Maio, but I left with the bittersweet sensation that it will be only a matter of time when tourists will invade this small paradise.
General Info about Maio, Cape Verde
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Rent a car at the best rates at RentalCars.com.
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✎ Never leave without travel insurance. I get mine at HeyMondo.com and couldn’t be happier about the easy setup.
⚘ Get a travel guide in order to prepare your trip. I recommend the Lonely Planet Guide – West Africa (get a 10% discount with the code “PAULINA10”).
Extra Travel Tip: Maio can be easily combined with a visit to Fogo. Wednesday is the best day to discover Brava–Fogo-Maio because the trip can be done in one day. Before the evening, you’re already back in Maio.
Even though it might be hard to get around on the other Cape Verdean islands, please do visit the periphery islands. Don’t stay in Sal or Boa Vista all the time. Each island is very different and has its own charm.
Where To Stay on Maio
Hotels in Maio:
Where to eat in Maio
You don’t need to be worried to travel to Cape Verde as a solo female traveller when it comes to the peripheral islands. I just had a few concerns at night in Sao Vicente (Mindelo) and in Sal (in the offbeat streets of Santa Maria). Otherwise, all the people I met were genuinely kind and I often had the impression that some were even a bit intimidated like on Brava or Maio.
1. Discover Maio’s Sublime Beaches
I am sorry if I will only speak in superlatives about Maio’s beaches. Or in terms of “amazing” or “breathtaking”. Because they simply are!
In all my travels, I never came across such vast, but completely deserted beaches. Even the beach of the capital Vila do Maio (or Porto Ingles), located behind the pier, was totally empty. I couldn’t control myself and just started running around on that beach like a fool. The sensation of being incredibly privileged to enjoy natural beauty in such a pure state was simply too overwhelming.
Despite its limited size, Maio has a large number of beaches. Rocky coasts alternate with golden or even white sandy beaches. Porto Ingles (Maio’s capital) has two beaches. Bitche Rocha where the fishermen are arriving and Porto Cais behind the pier where it’s very dangerous to swim. But great for long walks.
For me, it is one of the best things to do in Cape Verde.
My favorite beaches of Maio are:
- Praiona (Ilha Cao), with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop and a very quiet atmosphere.
- Ribeira Dom Joao (behind the village), separated by a rock and sheltered by imposing cliffs. Depending on the waves, it is also suited for surfing and other water sports.
- Ponta Preta, located close to the luxurious Stella Maris Villa. It gives you breathtaking views on Maio’s coastline. Be ready to be overwhelmed by a 2 km stretch of pristine beach.
- Porto Cais (Vila do Maio), after the pier for long walks. Don’t swim here; it’s crazy dangerous!
- Bitche Rocha (Vila do Maio), perfect for a refreshing bath and watching the fishermen’s daily grind.
- Bahia Da Calheta, shallow waters with a typical restaurant (Etna’s) located closeby.
2. Relax in Vila do Maio
The colorful houses, the turquoise waters and warm-hearted local community create such a relaxing atmosphere. You can easily spend entire afternoons on a terrace (my favorite one being the one of 7Sois7Luas), and watch the fishermen daily grind. Needless to say that sunsets in Vila do Maio are also an experience of its own.
Vila do Maio is the ideal departure point to explore the island and its lovely neighbour towns. I invite you to wander through its colorful streets, explore the municipal market and visit one of the prettiest churches on the archipelago. Several investments have been made to renovate Castelo do Maio (Maio’s fortress), and a beautiful beach promenade on Vila do Maio’s cliffs has been created.
Where to eat in Vila do Maio: enjoy some typical Cape Verdean food at the 7Sois7Luas Center where Su creates tasteful delights.
3. Visit Maio’s Salt Mines
Dress by Morena Couture
For centuries, Maio has been famous for its salt. During the 17th and 18th, English merchants came to buy the island’s precious good. Still nowadays, you can visit the salt mines located at the capital’s extremity.
The visit of the salt mines is for free and I loved to get an interesting insight in the island’s main business. Formerly exported to Europe and Brazil, Maio’s salt is nowadays mainly exported to Praia and the sotavento (southern) islands of Cape Verde.
The cooperative is mostly run by women and the contrast between the bright, white conical salt piles and the dark green mountainous backdrop and deep blue sky, will stay forever in my mind.
Maio’s salt is still harvested in a traditional way which you could still find in Algarve only a few years ago. That means that the flor do sal (salt flower) is still picked by hand. By purchasing salt from Maio, you’ll thus get an entirely organic and pesticide-free product!
Several funds, mostly from the European Union, have been created to build a museum and to broaden the uses of the salt such as wellness or beauty treatments.
It’s a great way of supporting the local community and spend sustainable holidays in Cape Verde.
4. Enjoy Cape Verde Music
For me, music is one of the main riches of the Cape Verdean archipelago. Cesaria Evora being the most prominent ambassador, Cape Verde has an incredible variety and quantity of local artists. Every island has its peculiar style and bands on its own. Music is a key element of their everyday life.
Even though some of the most popular musical forms are Funaná, Coladeira, Batuque and Cabo love, morna still remains the most prominent one. Lyrics are in Cape Verdean creole and include instruments like cavaquinho, clarinet, accordion, violin, piano and guitar. Some songs are deeply melancholic, whereas others are full of joy.
In Maio, you’ll have the best opportunity to listen to local musicians in a unique setting. The 7Sois7Luas Center, located in a former hospital with the best sea view, is the local main hub supporting Cape Verdean musicians.
Exhibitions are organized on a regular basis and individual performance can be organized upon request. Please ask for information at Su, the chef of the 7Sois7Luas Center.
Other places to listen to local music during weekends are the Horace Silver Lounge Bar (making the best cocktails in Maio) and the Bar Tropical Maio (at the beach).
5. Participate at a Gastronomy Workshop in Maio
The 7Sois7Luas Center (the cultural nevralgic center of Maio ) also offers the unique opportunity to do a cooking workshop. Su (the main chef of the center) will be your teacher. She will give you a valuable insight in the creole cuisine and tell you a lot about life on the island.
Together with Carla form Viajar entre Viagens, Su instructed us on how to prepare a local fish meal. Even though my Portuguese is limited, we got along very well and I particularly loved her frank talking with a good sense of humor. That’s how I got to know that I’m not the best at chopping onions and carrots. Thanks Su! 🙂
After the cooking workshop, your meal will taste even better and you’ll enjoy it with a privileged view on Vila do Maio’s main beach. A colorful sunset will make this one of the most unforgettable experiences you can have on Maio.
Feel free to call Su, the Chef at +2389594542 to organize your cooking workshop.
6. Visit the Cheese Factory in Ribeira Dom Joao
Located in the south east of the island at 20 minutes from the capital, Ribeira Dom João will lure you with its colorful house fronts and welcoming atmosphere. The town is also the main hub for cheese production. Did you know that the main economic activity of Maio is goat breeding?
Supported by European funds, cheese factory with a quaint bar has been built in order to support the local entrepreneurship. Cheese making has a long tradition on Cape Verde and I really enjoyed to get a detailed insight into the process. It’s also the perfect way to get in touch with the local community and learn more about the Cape Verdean culture. It’s thus a perfect form of sustainable tourism, as it is all about learning, cultural exchange and interaction.
25-50 pieces of cheese are produced per day and exported to neighbor islands like Santiago, Sal and Boa Vista. However, the production strongly varies according to rainfall and seasons. The goat milk usually takes 24-48 hours to coagulate and only organic and pesticide-free ingredients are used.
Rosalina (one of the main managers) took great care of me and explained with tremendous dedication the cheese-making process. Needless to say that I had a great time and appreciated her warmhearted kindness.
The cheese factory of Ribeira Dom João is located in the middle of the town’s main street. Like the salt mines, the cheese factory is managed by 16 women. In case that the factory is closed upon your arrival, ask for Rosalina Cardoso or Damiana. Don’t be shy! Simply approach the locals and they will be more than happy to help you.
7. Visit Barreiro and its colorful houses
Do you want to get the “Instagram-perfect” picture from Maio? Even though the entire island looks like straight from a travel calendar, you’ll be particularly spoilt for choice in Barreiro.
Located in the south and only 10-15 minutes away from Vila do Maio, Barreiro is famous for its colorful house fronts. Indeed, every house is painted in a different color, creating a relaxing vibe around the village.
Barreiro is thus the perfect photo location for your pictures from Maio and to absorb the sleepy vibe of a small town in Maio. You easily get to Maio by aluguer (collective taxi) from Vila do Maio or by renting a quad.
8. Turtle Watching
Instead of eating them, the turtles are now preserved and cherished as they are a great tourist attraction. Thus, by deciding to go on a turtle watching tour with the Maio Biodiversity Foundation, you will directly support a local business.
The turtle species that you can spot on Maio can only be found there. It is thus very important to fight against their extinction.
During a turtle watching activity, you’ll assist the nestling of the turtle. The guides from the Maio Biodiversity Foundation take great care that the activity is respectful with the animals and only spot them from distance.
The turtle watching experience usually takes places at nightfall, when it’s dark. Even though it is not 100% guaranteed that you’ll spot some, the turtle watching is great fun and I enjoyed waiting with my guide on the beach at night.
Maio Biodiversity Foundation
Pink building behind the church, Assomada Zone, Porto Ingles
Price: 5500-7500 CVE (55-75 €)
9. Hiking Monte Penoso or Monte Branco
Even if Maio is rather arid, its dry landscapes are contrasted thanks to the acacia forests. The palm plantations like in Ribeira Dom Joao are even green oases.
Monte Penoso (Mount Painful) is a great hiking destination and day trip from Vila do Maio. With its 400m height, it’s a relatively easy hike, providing a great view on the island. Monte Penoso (the highest point of the island) is located between Alcatraz and Pedro Vaz.
Monte Branco is located right next to Monte Penoso and it’s perfect if you want to extend your hike. Together with Monte Penoso, Monte Branco covers a protected landscape of 11 km2.
10. Do the Island Tour
The tour can be either done with a guide (I had Bemvindo from Contina Viagem, +2382551218 or +2389874866), or by renting a quad. In case you opt for the quad, you can arrange a rental at the Pensao Big Game Maio (4,000 CVE, 40 €) or at the Maio Info Center (Main Avenue).
As roads are not the best and the dunes natural park in the north are hard to access, I recommend going by quad or jeep.
My island tour with Bemvindo (who has been guiding tourists for 20 years) was great fun and he took me to the most emblematic spots. Thanks to him, I got to see his favorite beach (Praiona), which is one of the most spectacular, empty beaches I’ve ever seen in my life!
On your island tour, I recommend reserving lunch in advance at Etna’s (a typical restaurant in Calheta, +2389830839). You can also just show up, but be ready to wait some time for your lunch as it is all freshly prepared. In the meanwhile, I recommend taking a swim on the beach, right next to the restaurant.
I suggest the following itinerary for your island round tour:
- Departure in Vila do Maio
- Ponta Preta (next to the Stella Maris Villa)
- Barreiro (for its colorful house fronts)
- Figueira da Horta with its former grogue (sugar cane schnapps) factory
- Ribeira Dom Joao with its cheese factory and beach
- Alcatraz (near Monte Penoso)
- Cascabulho (close to the dunes natural park)
- Calheta (for lunch at Etna’s)
- Arrival in Vila do Maio
Travel agency: Contina Viagem (+2382551218 or +2389874866)
I hope that some of these, admittedly very personal highlights of my visit to Maio, Cape Verde, could convince you to include this beautiful island in your travel plans.
The stunning red dress of the very first photo is by the talented Osvaldina, designer at Morena Couture.
Have you ever been in Maio, Cape Verde? Did you enjoy it? I would love to hear about the things you loved (or loved less) in the comment form.
Map: Attractions of Maio, Cape Verde
Disclaimer: I have been a guest of the 7Sois7Luas Festival. All my opinions are, as always, my own. This post contains affiliate links. In case you purchase one of the items, I’ll receive a small commission. The price remains the same for you.