The many faces of Cape Verde
This ten-island archipelago has been subjected to so many cultures that it has become utterly unique. African influences merge seamlessly with South American and European cultures to produce a country with innumerable faces and landscapes. Nature plays just as important a part as culture, from the incredible sand dunes of Boa Vista and the lush green valleys of Santo Antao, to the endless salt marches of Sal and the volcanic heights of Fogo.An up-and-coming destination
Still relatively untouched by mass tourism, the archipelago sits roughly 400 miles off the coast of Senegal. But the immense platter of activities offered by the islands has made them one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world. The islands of Sal and Boa Vista were for many years known only to water sport fanatics, but now attract holidaymakers from all over Europe in search of incredible beaches and inexpensive resorts.Nature next to culture
On the other side of the coin, the island of Santo Antao is becoming well-known amongst seasoned hikers, attracted by its grandiose volcanic landscapes and sumptuous green countryside. For those ready to discover a world of culture on one small island, Sao Vicente and its capital Mindelo hold enough charm to win over even the most hard-hearted traveller. With an excellent carnival - often referred to as a miniature Rio - the island is a treasure trove of surprises.Beach break or adventure holiday?
A trip to Cape Verde may contain infinite surprises but the archipelago requires time to be discovered properly. Travelling by air between the islands can often be quite difficult and sea transport is rare. Opting solely for a beach break on Sal or Boa Vista will allow you the briefest glimpse of the country's beauty and originality, whilst the islands to the south of the archipelago, including capital city Praia, are almost exclusively the domain of the tourist. Those in search of a little more adventure should head instead for Santiago, Fogo, Brava or Maio, all with a mountain of activities to offer.Taking it easy
It may not be a rich nation, but Cape Verde is slowly developing and transforming. Outside of the large, even immense, resorts on Sal and Boa Vista, the country remains personal and original. But those who choose to visit these islands should know that apart from water sports and partying, there's not a huge amount to do - great if you're all for taking it easy, less so if your tastes run to cultural and historical exploration.A slower pace of life
Even in Praia and Mindelo, arguably the most dynamic cities, you'll have no problem letting go and relaxing into the lethargic rhythms of the local music and the lapping waves. With its unique combination of relaxation, hidden gems and a love of life, you'll struggle to board the plane home.
Surface area : 4033.0 km2
Population : 499796 inhabitants
Local handicrafts are often of quite poor quality, limited to crochet-work in the form of tablecloths, mats and bedcovers. You may find a selection of basic artwork, straw hats, and items made from shell to bring home and on Boa Vista, the village of Rabil is known for its pottery. You'll also be able to find wooden sculptures, masks and other items from Senegal, often of good quality.
Mindelo hosts an excellent fruit and veg market in the praça Estrela, whilst the boutique Cap Vert Design, rua da Luz, offeres the finest Cape Verde handicrafts. Shops open from 8:00am to 12:00pm and from 3:00pm to 6:00pm/7:00pm from Monday to Friday, and from 8:00am to 12:00pm on Saturday.
A real mix of African and Portuguese flavours, Cape Verdean cuisine is simple but excellent. The national dish - caechupa - is like a cassoulet made from corn, peas and a special type Portuguese sausage with plenty of garlic for flavour. Fish, chicken, pork, rice and vegetables make up the basics of Cape Verdean cooking, as well as excellent grilled lobster and even sea snails.
There are obviously several Portuguese wines to try, as well as wine from the volcanic island of Fogo. Beer drinkers will find the Portuguese Super Bock all over the archipelago, usually easier to get hold of than local brews. Typical of the archipelago, grog is a popular choice amongst locals, made from white or brown rum and served as a punch. According to connoisseurs, you'll find the best brew in Santo Antao.
Keep an eye out for the constant games of cards, draughts, chess and "awalé" played by locals at any time of the day or night. Sat round the table for an aperitif, after work, even during funeral vigils, you'll find that a pack of cards is never far away. If you visit one of the islands' markets, it's fine to bargain with the sellers, but don't be too insistent.
It would be a real shame to limit your visit to the seaside resorts on Sal and Boa Vista and miss out on the rest of the country. For those with the luxury of a lengthy escape, take a fortnight to really get to know the islands. Spend a few days relaxing on Sal or enjoying the great beaches of Boa Vista, before heading to African-infused Santiago, volcanic Fogo, green-covered Santo Antao, and finally the lively Mindelo on Sao Vicente.
This beautiful city is the cultural hub of the island of Sao Vicente. It hosts two traditional festivals of great interest; in February Carnival rolls into town whilst in August the Baia das Gatas Music Festival gets underway. Visit the Centro Cultural do Mindelo where you can see exhibitions of local arts and culture, and browse the local crafts, music and books on offer in the centre's shop. Cape Verde is full of fishing ports and villages so it would be a shame to miss out on the best of their daily catch. Head to the fish market in Mindelo and see why it has such a good reputation.
Sal island is named after its most famous export: salt. The crater in Pedra de Lume sits inside a dormant volcano and was previously used to mine salt but these days all you'll find is visitors floating effortlessly in the wonderfully salty water. Mount Fogo, however, is Cape Verde's highest peak with a summit of 2,829 metres. Although the volcano is still active, and last erupted in 2014, you can find daredevil farmers growing coffee and wine grapes on its cinder slopes. The ascent takes three to four hours but the dramatic view of the volcano rising out from an ancient crater is well worth the work once you reach the top.
The fishing town of Santa María is home to the best beaches in the whole of Cape Verde. Watch the traditional fishing boats come and go or enjoy a great variety of aquatic sports such as diving, surfing and kite-surfing, for which it is world-renowned. Thanks to its colourful corals, majestic sea turtles and tropical fish found in its waters, the archipelago is one of the top ten snorkelling locations in the world. The sleepy fishing village of Palmeira is Sal's only port and can be found on the north-western part of the island. It is a very picturesque location with colourful houses lining the roads and fishing boats bobbing in the harbour.
Nicknamed Olho Azul ("blue eye") by locals, the Buracona lagoon is a natural wonder. The natural pool is actually an underwater cave formed by a huge hole in the rock formation and when the sun's rays hit the water, its surface magically lights up like a blue eye. For experienced divers it is a great site for exploring the hidden caves and grottos.
One of the major draws of Boa Vista is the Viana Desert, an extension of the Sahara in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind of the ocean continually brings immense amounts of sand from the African continent, forming spectacular sand dunes and creating a unique lunar landscape. The best way to explore the desert is on quad bikes and if you are lucky enough to be here during a full moon, make the most of it and go at night. Chaves Beach is a dreamy landscape where sand dunes rise high and roll out into the placid turquoise waters of the ocean. By day you can appreciate the intriguing shapes of the sand formations and by night the sunsets are spectacular.
The island of Sao Vicente is home to Monte Verde ("green mountain") which reaches 750m in height. The summit offers unrivalled views of the whole island, including the city of Mindelo, as well as other islands that neighbour Sao Vicente. As part of a natural park, climbers can also see some of the endangered flora that thrives here.
This may not be the easiest trip to plan, given the irregular flight connections between islands. If you have only a week at your disposal, the dream team of Sao Vicente and Santo Antao will give you a real flavour for the landscapes and people of this fascinating archipelago.
Be patient and always ready with a smile when out in Cape Verde as the locals can seem very relaxed about everything, including service. The country is still only slowly opening up to tourism, with no "tourist culture" to speak of - one of the islands' real charms.
If you can organise your trip in February, don't miss the carnival in Mindelo - falling every year on Shrove Tuesday at the beginning of the period of Lent. It's one of the biggest events of the Cape Verde calendar, with colour and music in abundance.
Thanks to its tropical climate, Cape Verde enjoys great weather all year round. Windsurfers and kite-surfers would do well to wait for the period between December and February, when the trade winds are particularly favourable.
You can travel between islands either by boat or by plane. Those opting for air travel have no choice but to fly with national airline TACV. Unfortunately, you should be prepared for long waits and last-minute changes, as TACV has a tendency to modify its entire schedule from one day to the next.
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