The Cape Verde islands are comprised of an archipelago of ten islands and five islets that lie about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. In total, Cape Verde covers an area of 4033 square km's (1557 square miles). The Portuguese settled the unpopulated islands in the 15th Century in order to establish a slave post. The population is consequently a mix of Portuguese and African descent and most people speak Crioulo (a blend of Portuguese and West African languages). The official language of government is Portuguese. The capital city is Sal, the biggest city in the archipelago which is located on the largest island, Santiago.
Terrible droughts during the mid 20th Century as well as some volcanic action left more than 200,000 people dead and propelled many of the remaining inhabitants to leave Cape Verde. There are now more Cape Verdeans living in other countries than on the Islands themselves. The current population on Cape Verde hovers at around half a million.
Best time to Go to Cape Verde
Cape Verde has a good steady tropical climate year round (unless you're trying to grow crops). It's cooler than most of the rest of West Africa. The average day time high temperatures range from about 20 - 28 Celsius (70 - 85 Fahrenheit), with the warmer temperatures falling from May to November. For the tourist, it's basically warm enough to hike and swim throughout the year, although nights can get chilly from December through March. The harmattan does reach half the archipelago, bringing hot winds and Saharan sands along with it during November - March. Most of the rain falls between the end of August and beginning of October.
The best time for festivals is around carnival in February, Mindelo on Sao Vicente island in particular should not be missed. The busiest season is between November and April, when the dry warm weather attracts lots of Europeans looking to escape their winter. More on Cape Verde's festivals and music events...
Where to Go in Cape Verde
Cape Verde is a popular destination especially if you are looking for a relaxing, sun-filled package holiday. If you like to get off the beaten track and hate resorts, then you will have to make a little more effort to explore the more remote islands on your own. Cape Verde's crime rate is very low and people are friendly. The seafood is excellent, tap water is safe to drink, and there are decent medical facilties on the main islands. This all helps to make it an attractive destination for tourists. The main attractions in Cape Verde include:
Santa Maria - charter flights often fly straight into Sal Island in order to enjoy the watersports and beaches of Santa Maria. This is one of Cape Verde's most developed islands, and many beach lovers will just stay here for the duration of their vacation (but there is much more to explore!). The rest of Sal is quite barren, so head for one of the other islands for more greenery and good hiking.
Santiago is Cape Verde's largest island and most densely populated. The capital city Praia is quite hectic and may be a shock if you have not traveled to Africa before. But there's a good vegetable market and lots of history that includes pirates and Charles Darwin. The best beaches are at Tarrafal, and don't miss the historic UNESCO site of Cidade Velha, just 15km from Praia.
Boa Vista -- One of the best beaches in the country is Santa Monica beach on Boa Vista island. If you are visiting Cape Verde for the sun, this is the place to go. The volcanic interior of the island is also worth exploring, and many enjoy doing so on 4x4 quad bikes. There are numerous resorts dotted around, but if you like a smaller place to stay, check out Migrante Guesthouse.
What to See and Do in Cape Verde
- Music -- Cape Verde's most famous musician and cultural ambassador Cesaria Evora passed away in 2011. But her legacy lives on and you can enjoy traditional Cape Verdean music (morna and coladeira) throughout the islands. The best places to hear the typically poetic and melancholic notes include Sao Vicente island's capital Mindelo, the cultural capital of Cape Verde and Cesaria Evora's hometown. Carnival here is the best by far on the island and takes place in February every year. More on Cape Verde's festivals and music events.... For more on Cape Verdean music styles read this.
- Hiking - Mount Fogo, an active volcano on Fogo island and the highest peak on the archipelago, is an obvious destination for trekkers. But for great scenery and lovely cobbled paths, head to Santo Antao island. Volcanic peaks, a dramatic rocky coastline and some tropical forest thrown in, makes for wonderful trekking. Spend the night in a bed and breakfast in one of the small villages for an even better authentic experience. Check out more hiking tours...
- Watersports -- Fishing, diving and surfing are all possible on the islands, Santiago island is the tourist hub and it's easy to organize day trips and packages from any number of tour operators and/or resorts. It's quite windy on all the islands, so Cape Verde has become a popular destination for windsurfers and increasingly kite surfers. Check out Surf Zone Cabo Verde for more information.
Getting to Cape Verde
There are many flights to to Sal, Praia and even Boa Vista from London, Manchester and Birmingham in the UK. Many are charter flights. The Portuguese airline TAP has daily flights to Sal. Check out tour operators that specialize in Cape Verde for the best deals, e.g. Thomson Holidays and The Cape Verde Experience. A direct flight on Cape Verde's national airline (TACV) leaves from Boston to Sal once a week thanks to the large local population of Cape Verdeans in the area. TACV also has regular scheduled flights to and from Amsterdam, Madrid, Lisbon and Milan.
Getting Around Cape Verde
There are taxis to get around each island, shared taxis are the cheapest way and they ply set routes. Ferries and small aircraft are the best way to island hop. Note the ferries are not always on time, so make sure your plans stay flexible as some of the islands take half a day to get to. Check out the main ferry schedule here. The local airline TACV flies scheduled flights between all the main islands.
Brief History and Politics of Cape Verde
The uninhabited islands were discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century; Cape Verde subsequently became a trading center for African slaves and later an important coaling and resupply stop for whaling and transatlantic shipping. Following independence in 1975, and a tentative interest in unification with Guinea-Bissau, a one-party system was established and maintained until multi-party elections were held in 1990. Cape Verde continues to exhibit one of Africa's most stable democratic governments. Repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cape Verde's expatriate population is greater than its domestic one. Most Cape Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents.
Sources and More about Cape Verde Islands
Cape Verde.com the official guide to the islands
BBC Profile on Cape Verde
Cape Verde Experience - UK Tour Operator Specializing in Cape Verde.
WikiTravel on Cape Verde