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Cape Verde

Cape Verde: Guide to Exotic Island Hops

Experience Cape Verde's sand deserts, barren and lush nature, volcanoes, carnivals and endless beaches. Get to know which island to choose with this guide for the archipelago.
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Cape Verde: Guide to Exotic Island Hops is written by Naja Mammen Nielsen.

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Explore Cape Verde's island gems

500 kilometers from West Africa coast a lying horseshoe emerges Islands up in the Atlantic Ocean. Here is the island state Cape Verde.

Cape Verde consists of 10 main islands and 8 smaller islands, which are divided into the northern and southern archipelago. Nine of the islands are inhabited by descendants of Portuguese and African slaves. The mixed culture is expressed in language, music and food.

The Cape Verde Islands are formed by volcanoes, but they are very different and there is something for every traveler. From the flat, sandy and dry Sal, Boa Vista and Maio, the volcanic island of Fogo, the hilly and lush Santo Antaõ, São Vicente and Santiago to the pristine São Nicolau and Brava.

Are you in doubt about which island to choose? Then here's a guide to Cape Verde's islands.

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Sal Island - sun, beach and surfing

Sal is the most visited of the Cape Verde Islands. The flat island with the long sandy beaches has long made Cape Verde a favorite tourist destination with the opportunity for sunbathing, snorkeling and drinks on the beach. In addition, the trade winds make Sal ideal for surfers, because there are perfect weather conditions.

Sal has more to offer than sandy beaches. As the name suggests, the island is home to natural salt reserves. Production has long since stopped, but it is still possible to visit the former salt basins and see the large salt flakes.

Another unique place is the natural pool, Blue Eye, which is shaped by lava rock. The water glows in a beautiful turquoise color and it is refreshing to take a dip.

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Boa Vista - Viana Desert - Cape Verde - West Africa

Boa Vista - sand desert, sunbathing and whales

Boa Vista is located south of Sal and is also a popular tourist destination. The island has some of Cape Verde's most beautiful beaches, stretching over 55 kilometers. Here there is plenty of opportunity to relax in the sun, throw yourself into various water activities or speed off on an off-road ATV.

Away from the beaches, Boa Vista looks like a lunar landscape consisting of rocks and sand desert with a few date trees. In the main town of Sal Rei there is a large selection of restaurants, beautiful ancient architecture and the opportunity to see humpback whales near the coast.

In the Viana Desert lie endless amounts of sand, which over time have been blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert. And on Ervatão beach you can be lucky to experience sea ​​turtle cubs, when they hatch and embark on their perilous journey towards the sea.

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Mindelo - São Vicente - Cape Verde

Saint Vincent  - carnival, exotic rhythms and Mediterranean atmosphere

In São Vicente, it is easy to be seduced by the music. Here lived the barefoot diva Cesária Évora, who has got Cape Verde on the world map with her passionate fado-sang. Her soul is still alive and you can dive into the history of the local museum and hear her music from the small cafes and bars.

The capital, Mindelo, is the cultural capital of Cape Verde. The city exudes music, charming little shopping streets, colorful colonial buildings and a fish market. The port area is confusingly similar to it French Riviera with wide promenades and small sailing ships. And on Laginha Beach you can frolic in the waves during the day and dance to live music in the evening.

But what makes Mindelo something very special is the carnival. Big parades, glitter, feathers and sequins, drums and samba rhythms, dance and euphoric atmosphere occupy the streets once a year. The carnival takes place all over Cape Verde in February, and Mindelo lays streets for the biggest. The event is strongly inspired by the parade in Rio de Janeiro, and the hour-long parades are broadcast live on television.  

The rest of São Vicente stands in stark contrast to the colorful city with barren and desolate stretches and small houses. On the other hand, the city has perfectly good conditions for windsurfers.

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Santo Antão - Cape Verde's pantry

In the northwesternmost corner is Santo Antão. The island is divided into two with dry areas to the south and the lush, green valley with gorges to the north. The fertile part of the island is described as one of the most beautiful places on earth. And with good reason.

Here the root fruit grows cassava, corn, beans, chili, coffee, sugar cane and bananas on the green mountain slopes. Often the plants are so tall that it almost feels like being in a jungle. The ideal growing conditions mean that Santo Antão is called 'Cape Verde's pantry'.  

The Paúl Valley is the green paradise that covers the mountain sides with a green carpet. The small paths in hilly terrain and the beautiful views make the area ideal for one walking holiday

To get to Santo Antão you have to sail for an hour by ferry from Mindelo in São Vicente. The ferry departs several times a day, and occasionally the dolphins swim past.

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São Nicolau - catch giant fish and taste rum from Cape Verde

São Nicolau is an unspoilt gem that attracts few tourists. It's a shame, because the island has a magnificent nature, and it is obvious to explore it on foot, on horseback or on mountain bike. Off the coast, there are extremely good conditions to get a blue marlin or a barracuda on the hook.

The capital Ribeira Brava is filled with colorful old colonial buildings and beautiful gardens. Here there is also a good opportunity to taste the popular rum Grogue, which is made from sugar cane and is on most menus.

The easiest form of travel to São Nicolau is by domestic flight, but you can also get to the island by ferry from São Vicente or Santiago. However, the ferries are few and the trip less comfortable.

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Santiago - historic sites, black sand and sundowners

Santiago is the largest of the islands in Cape Verde both in size and population. Most live in the capital Praia. The city itself does not have as many sights, but a special atmosphere that exudes African culture.

Raised above the water is a plateau where there are stunning views of the black sand beach. Here you can explore the small streets with architectural remains from the colonial era. And in the local market there is a lot of energy, a splash of colors and a feeling of being in a "real" African market.

Near Praia is the ancient capital of Cidade Velha. It was founded by Portuguese back in 1462, and it was from here that the slave trade took place between Africa, Europe and America. Visitors can explore the old city and get a feel for the history.

At the northern tip of Santiago lies the small port town of Tarrafal. A small cozy town with a stunningly beautiful beach. Here it is possible to get surfing flex and enjoy a cold Caipirinha overlooking the bay. This is in stark contrast to the concentration camp for political prisoners, which is located on the outskirts of the city and today serves as a museum.

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Maio - tranquility, beautiful beaches and special animal species

East of Santiago is the small island of Maio. Here live just 4.000 inhabitants. The island is not very developed and tourism is very limited. In return, there are some of Cape Verde's most beautiful and unspoilt beaches.

The flat landscape and the salt basins are very reminiscent of Sal and Boa Vista. But the amount of tourists is something completely different. Here you can relax and go for long walks on the beaches completely undisturbed.

Visitors in the summer may be lucky to see little ones turtles on several of the beaches, and in the area near the natural lagoon in the north live different kinds of seabirds.

Even though it only takes 10 minutes to fly from Santiago to Maio, keep an eye on your departure time as the flights often change. The same goes for the ferries.

Here you can also experience sea turtles up close

Fogo - volcano - Pico de Fogo - West Africa - travel

Fogo - the mountain of fire, bird life and wine

To the southwest is the volcanic island, Fogo, which houses the volcano Pico de Fogo - 'Fire Mountain' - which towers 2.829 meters up and dominates the island's landscape. There is still activity in the volcano, which last erupted in 2014.

A trip to Fogo is for the active travelers, and the biggest attraction is of course a visit to the volcano. It is possible to get really close, and if you choose to lace up your hiking boots, you can pull up the small, steep paths to the top and look down into the crater Chã das Caldeiras.

The volcano is of great importance to Fogo's flora and fauna. The crater is home to rare bird species, and many ornithologists go here. In addition, the island is lined with coffee and wine plantations. Here coffee beans and grapes are grown in the volcanic soil. It gives a very special aroma to the finished product Red wine og coffee, so do not cheat for a tear at one of the cozy cafes in the capital São Filipe.

If you prefer beach life, Fogo is not the place. There are only beaches with black sand and, the opportunities to dive into the waves are very limited.

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Brava - the flower island with an American touch

Farthest to the southwest is the smallest of Cape Verde's islands: Brava. The small, charming island is known for its dramatic cliffs and unique flora and fauna that lie like a green carpet over the sharp lava formations. That is why Brava is also called the flower island.

Few choose to go here - most prefer the neighboring island of Fogo. But Brava also has unique places and there are a wealth of beautiful hiking trails around the island. You can also step on the pedals or go sailing with one of the small fishing boats. But ask the locals for advice before you throw yourself into the waves.

The Creole language on Brava is spiced with a number of American words, as several American cargo and whale ships pass by, which can also be seen in the range in the shops.

Getting to Brava can be a challenge. Aviation has been stopped due to dangerous crosswinds and the ferries from Fogo are often canceled. So a visit requires patience and good time.

In Cape Verde there are many opportunities for an exciting journey. Then pack your suitcase and leave.

Nice trip!

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Cape Verde Islands:

  • Sal Island
  • Boa Vista
  • Saint Vincent
  • Santo Antão
  • São Nicolau
  • Santiago
  • May
  • Fogo
  • Brava

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About the travel writer

Naja Mammen Nielsen

Naja has travel blood in her veins and has a penchant for islands. She has traveled on five continents and has a great knowledge of the African continent, where she has traveled in 11 countries. In addition to countless trips to the region, she has started a development project for former girl soldiers in Sierra Leone, worked two years in Tanzania, been on island hopping in Cape Verde, crossed Zambia and Zimbabwe by train and moved in the footsteps of genocide in Rwanda.

The destinations are carefully planned on their own, targeted at the locals, the less touristy places and the preferred means of transport is by train and bus.

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