The archipelago is made up of 10 Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 500 kilometres off the West African coast. Sometimes referred to as the ‘African Caribbean’ due to their fantastic white sandy beaches and rainbow coloured houses, the relatively unknown islands have only recently become more of a main stream holiday destination.
The islands were originally discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th Century and, being ideally located for the Atlantic Slave trade, became prosperous over the following 300 hundred years. However, the end of the slave trade in the 19th Century led to economic decline until, finding a new role as a stopover for shipping and more recently tourism, they have recovered and won a reputation for achieving political and economic stability. The official language is Portuguese, but the majority of the population uses Creole as their national language.
Now a cultural melting pot of African, Brazilian and Portuguese influences, the Islands are a great option for anyone looking for year-round sunshine, miles and miles of unspoiled white sandy beaches and a low-key, laid-back vibe. Also less than a six hour flight from most European countries, there’s no jet lag to worry about either!
The Cape Verde weather is excellent for beach and mountain holidays and as they lie in the Trade Winds belt with its gentle Atlantic swell, they offer the perfect conditions for sailing, kite or windsurfing. The climate is tropical and dry with warm temperatures throughout the year, ranging from 24ºC to 30ºC, making them almost 10ºC warmer than the Canary Islands in the winter months.
There are two main seasons; the rainy season from August to October, when sudden but spectacular rainstorms can punctuate the hot sun, and the dry season from December to June when the trade winds blow with more intensity. However, Sal, Boa Vista and Sao Vincente islands receive almost no rain, while on some of the higher peaks on Santo Antao and Fogo there can be up to 2 meters of rainfall a year, making them lush and green.
Sal is the most popular island in terms of tourism and with its deserts and dry valleys it is known for its lunar- like landscape. It is called the ‘Sunniest Island’ as it is pretty flat, so there are no hills for clouds to gather around. For many years the island was a centre for salt mining – hence its name Sal, meaning Salt. Now the strong wind that blows from November to June makes it a mecca for surfers. The southern pastel coloured town of Santa Maria is an ideal holiday destination with its long, wide beaches, water sports, traditional restaurants, surf shops, and a pretty square with al fresco cafes. Live music plays a huge part in Cape Verdean culture and is often performed live in various bars in Santa Maria during the evening.
Closest to the African mainland, Boa Vista is not only renowned for its stunning beaches but its marine life too. Mass tourism has not yet come to Boa Vista so the island offers a truly authentic experience, but with its 55 kilometres of golden beaches it is seriously attractive destination. Like Sal, it also has a desert landscape, but here the larger island also has a few mountain ranges and also offers excellent conditions for water sports.
The biggest of the islands and with more than half of the Cape Verdeans living on it, Santiago also has the most diverse landscape. There are fine sandy beaches, mountains and dry desert areas, as well as fertile valleys and plateaus. The islands’ capital Praia is a bustling African town where you will see Santiago’s vibrant culture and turbulent history. The old colonial buildings line the main square on the Plateau, and there is also the Presidential Palace and the Palace of Justice.
The active volcano on Fogo is one of the highlights of Cape Verde and has created what is a very fertile land; coffee is grown on the outside slopes whilst the vines used to produce the famous Fogo wine are grown inside the crater.
Visitors to Fogo tend to embark on a hike up the volcano with a rewarding lunch at the top in a restaurant offering magnificent views. The dark rocks and black sands of the island give an impression of a lunar landscape.
São Filipe, the capital of Fogo is a pretty town full of Portuguese squares, cobbled streets and pastel houses.
Located 25 km to the east of Santiago, the spectacular unspoilt beaches of Maio is similar to that found on Boa Vista and Sal although parts of the island have been re-forested.
With a population of just 4,000 and untouched by tourism, the small island of Maio is a great place to escape, relax and take in the scenic landscapes, lonely beaches and mature forests.
The cultural hub of the islands, São Vicente is home to some of Cape Verde’s greatest musicians, writers and thinkers.
Mindelo (pictured left) is proud of its rich tradition of music and art and has a vibrant nightlife with a lively buzz of music throughout the pubs, restaurants and nightclubs.
Beaches on São Vicente are not as attractive as the other islands but they ideal for windsurfers (best conditions Nov-Apr) when they are one of the world’s finest for speed windsurfing.
Festivals are an important pastime for the Cape Verdeans with the biggest celebrations taking place on the island of Sao Vicente: a beach music and culture festival during the full moon in August which attracts musicians and visitors from all over the archipelago and secondly, the exotic carnival with Brazilian influences in mid February
A day trip to Santo Antão will allow you to see the spectacular views across the island’s mountain range, and visiting the village of Fontainhas, perched on the edge of a rock above a deep ravine is incredible. The houses in this unique village line the street and have a sheer drop of several hundred metres behind them! However, the precarious mountain road may not be everyone’s idea of fun!
This tiny island, known for its rich assortment of flora and fauna is often referred to as the ‘island of flowers’. Brava is the smallest inhabited island in the archipelago and the southern most point in Cape Verde.
With mountain ranges and spectacular scenery, this quiet island remains relatively untouched. The high mountains and varied landscapes make São Nicolau an ideal place for walking. Birdwatchers are also attracted to the island as it is home to the endangered fairytale Dragon tree.
Deep sea fishing is also popular on the island (best time Apr-Aug) as there is an abundance of Blue Marlin. The beaches at Tarrafal are said to have healing powers so don’t be surprised to see locals burying themselves in the sand!
The island is very dry and barren and totally uninhabited. It has only been inhabited by a small community between the 1960’s and 1990s! The only way to reach the island is from Calhau, on the east coast of São Vicente, where it is possible to charter a fishing boat for the day to take you to Santa Luzia.