A TRAVEL ARTICLE ABOUT THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS
Ten small islands scattered across the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa make up the Republic of Cape Verde. Nine of the islands are inhabited and each one is distinctly different with its own character and attractions. Sue Dobson introduces them
Location map of the Islands.
Sal is the main island for tourism and most visitors to Cape Verde will arrive at the international airport there. A 20-minute drive south takes you to Santa Maria, where you will find a magnificent beach of fine white sand stretching the length of the coast and sea a glorious shade of turquoise.
Cape Verde lifestyle
Hotels, all-inclusive resorts and self-catering apartments line the bay, surrounded by flower-filled gardens. All have sparkling pools and offer an array of water sports, sailing and fishing trips.
Santa Maria is little more than a straggling village but is very laid back. There are a collection of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. The island itself is very arid and barren and has few highlights.
Like Sal, Boa Vista is an arid island, but the interior is much more interesting and the long, powdery white beaches are more spectacular. The new international airport and all-inclusive resort hotels are attracting more and more visitors looking for a sun, sand and sea holiday.
São Vicente beach
Island of musicians, poets and artists, São Vicente is the cultural heart of Cape Verde. Mindelo, its main town, is the big attraction. Wrapped around a deep-water harbour, it has wide streets, colourful, colonial-style buildings, some good restaurants and the liveliest nightlife. Its Carnival rivals Brazil’s and the summer music festival, held on the beach at Baia das Gatas on the island’s east coast, attracts up to 100,000 people from all over the world.
An island of dramatic beauty, Santo Antão is just a short ferry ride from São Vicente, but it couldn’t be more different. The drive from the port to Vila da Ribeira Grande on the northeast coast is one of the most spectacular in the world.
Layers of rugged mountains are terraced with tiny fields, villages tuck into valleys and cling precariously from craggy cliffs, exotic fruits are cultivated in lush valleys and vegetables are grown in the giant crater of an extinct volcano. Along the coast, mountains drop sheerly into the pounding surf.
Santo Antão is definitely not the place for beach lovers, but is heaven for walkers and hikers.
Only 55 kilometres long and 29 kilometres at its widest, Santiago is the largest and most populated island in the archipelago. It is home to Praia, the seat of government and is the capital of Cape Verde. It has the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, Cidade Velha.
Santiago is where the nation’s history began, where the slave trade flourished and the first European city in the tropics was built. It has the best infrastructure, lively African-style markets, a couple of interesting museums situated in Praia and here you will also find Cape Verde’s only botanical gardens.
Local market in Praia
Stay in Praia or the eco-retreat in the mountains above Assomada and take a round-island excursion. Especially beautiful after the rainy season (intermittent between September and December), Santiago is an island of high mountains, wild plateaux, small bays, lush valleys and terraced fields cascading down steep hillsides.
All the Cape Verde islands are volcanic in origin, but Fogo (‘fire’) still has an active cone. Amazingly, there are two villages, a winery co-operative, an eco hotel, bar, restaurant and pizzeria with internet access inside the volcano’s vast crater.
Built on a cliff above black sand beaches pounded by surf, the main town of São Fillipe has wide, tree-lined streets and charming colonial Portuguese mansions, many of them lovingly renovated.
The volcano is a must-see but don’t miss the green and fertile north of the island where steep hills are cultivated in terraces right into the ravines that slide headlong into the sea.
Hardly touched by tourism, from a distance São Nicolau looks barren but it has a beautiful green heart. Its pretty little main town, Vila de Ribeira Brava, lies in a steep-sided valley and remembers its descendants – influential poets, writers and thinkers.
A scenic drive across the island winds between green, tree-covered mountains, steep terraces, sugar cane, banana plantations and the prehistoric-looking Dragon Tree, the only island where it grows naturally. A great island for hiking.
Sleepy, unspoiled little Maio is ideal for people who prefer not to share their beaches with other visitors and are happy with quite basic but homely accommodation. Although just a 15-minute flight from busy Praia, tourism is in its infancy. Vila do Maio is small but it has some pleasant, mainly British and Portuguese, colonial buildings.
This tiny island is romantic and mountainous and difficult to reach. There’s an irregular ferry service from Fogo and the crossing is rough, but if you’re not tied to schedules it’s well worth going there. If flower-filled Brava were easier to reach, it would be a Cape Verde favourite. But unfortunately it isn’t!
CAPE VERDE TRAVEL TIPS
In this developing country, tourism is still relatively new and low-key. Service tends to be slow but the smiles feel genuine. There’s still a lot to be done to improve the infrastructure on the islands, but they’re working on it. For the latest currency exchange rates please go to www.xe.com
Try to visit at least three islands to get a feeling for the country. Portuguese is the official and most widely spoken European language, but you’ll hear everyone speaking Crioulo. English, French, Italian and German are spoken in tourist resorts. For current visa requirements please go to www.projectvisa.com
Cape Verde is sunny all year round, with average temperatures 20ºC–30ºC. Rainfall is sporadic (the islands have a history of devastation by drought), most likely between September and December, but unpredictable. Between January and June, hot Harmattan winds from the Sahara can make the desert islands uncomfortable, but as they whip up the waves, surfers love them. For more detailed information and statistics please go to www.worldweather.org
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