Cape Verde: Main Sights
An Archipelago of 10 Volcanic Islands
Consisting of 10 main islands and eight smaller islets off the west coast of Africa, Cape Verde is an archipelago with a lot to offer tourists, whether they are looking for a relaxing beach holiday, great surfing or a hiking trip in volcanic and mountainous terrain. Sal, the main tourist island, has wonderful sandy beaches to rival any in the world and also fantastic surfing and diving spots. Those who prefer a trekking holiday will find lovely trails in the mountains on Santo Antao and around the big volcano on Fogo. With its warm climate all year round, wonderfully diverse landscapes, friendly locals and great food and music, Cape Verde really is an attractive destination.
With its international airport, this is the closest island to the African coast: its unspoilt beaches make Boavista a paradise for sunbathers. Santa Monica in particular is spectacular: over 5km of powder soft white sand, massaged by rolling surf, fringing a turquoise ocean: pure bliss for any holidaymaker looking to escape from it all. Boavista is excellent for water sports including sailing, diving, surfing, fishing, sea canoeing, scuba diving in wrecks, fishing, swimming, snorkelling, walking in the sand dunes as well as on longer, overland guided tours. Better known as Santa Monica, Curralinho beach is one of the most beautiful beaches of Cape Verde and certainly the archipelago’s largest.
The island of Brava is the wettest and greenest of the Cape Verde Islands, offering an abundance of flora and vegetation, making this the most attractive island of the archipelago - perfect for walkers. Enveloped in a near-permanent mist, the island’s climate is quite humid and generally cool, with temperatures ranging between 16 and 25 degrees C. Reached by ferry from Fogo, only 20 km away (approximately 1 hour journey), this island is less frequented by tourists. The mountainous landscape reaches a height of 976m. Brava is the smallest and most gentle of the islands and has retained it’s tradition and charm. The town of Vila de Nova Sintra, situated at an altitude of 500m, is the capital of the island with many flower filled gardens. Faja d’Agua has the island’s only beach. A small black, volcanic sand beach opening into a small bay. It is said that the minerals in the black sand go someway to ease the symptoms of arthritis. Furna is the main port, located approximately 3km from Vila de Nova Sintra. This bustling port comes alive during ferry arrivals and departures. The aluguer journey from Furna to Vila de Nova Sintra takes in the spectacular mountain scenery and provides excellent opportunities for photography. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities on the island.
Fogo is the volcano that became an island, the summit reaching 3,000 m in height. The ground, as one ascends, begins to be formed of black stones and the hot climate lasts all year long, making this island the hottest of the entire archipelago. From the summit, there is a fantastic view of the many lava formations from past eruptions. The landscape of Fogo shows considerable contrasts between the dry and arid zones of the south and the northern parts of the island, humid and amazingly fertile. Sao Filipe, the capital, is built on a cliff and the architecture reflects it’s colonial past. At the foot of the town stretch the black sandy beaches. To the north of Sao Filipe is Salina de Sao Jorge offering a natural swimming pool protected by black reefs. An area of beauty and contrast. It is worth taking the three hour journey from the town of Sao Filipe to the village of Chas das Caldeiras located in the crater of the volcano.
If you want to get away from it all, Maio is for you – a peaceful almost forgotten flat island with deserted white sand beaches. Even the gracious capital Vila Do Maio with it’s huge white baroque church is a sleepy town, where only the sound of nature breaks the silence. Morro is so sleepy that even the donkeys can’t be bothered to hee-haw – but the pastel painted houses and coconut palms make it worthy of a stroll. A white sanded island, Maio is tranquil and almost forgotten. One of the flattest islands of the archipelago with vast, deserted beaches. Due to the influence of wind erosion, the island shows very little evidence of its volcanic past. The diversity of this island offers desert-like landscapes, small oases and many unspoiled beaches. Excellent opportunities available for walking the sand dunes, which is a joy for holidaymakers looking for some seclusion.
Almost all the entire coastline has fine beaches for sunbathing and enjoying the water in complete isolation. These are the beaches which are generally chosen by sea turtles for laying their eggs. Vila do Maio, the capital, runs alongside one of the longest beaches of the archipelago. It is a small town with a traditional central church. Located approximately 3 miles from Vila do Maio is the small town of Morro, with one main street worthy of a stroll and is surrounded by coconut palms
Sal is the liveliest and most touristy of the Cape Verde Islands, the town of Santa Maria being the centre of the action. Crystal clear waters lap long stretches of white sandy beach, drawing water sports enthusiasts and holidaymakers who make the most of the rapidly developing hotels and resorts. Nearer the international airport is the town of Espargos, where shops, bars and restaurants do good business, the strains of live music usually filling the air. The island's main port, Palmeira, is a working fishing harbour and import station, but is currently improving its tourist infrastructure in line with the rest of the island. Sal's landscape is unexciting, being flat and arid, but there are some interesting features to visit including the salt lake at Pedra de Lume and a volcano crater. Tourists also enjoy day trips to the nearby island of Boavista, known for its sand dunes, by catamaran.
The dramatic mountain range that divides the island of Santo Antao into two, with peaks rearing up to 4,921ft (1,500m), make it attractive for trekking, particularly through the tropical vegetation of the deep green valleys which encase the 16th-century town of Povoacao. Visitors can reach Santo Antao by ferry from the port of Mindelo on the more populated island of Sao Vicente, arriving at Santo Antao's small port of Porto Novo. In contrast to the mountainous interior, the island's coast is rugged and bare, but sugar cane, bananas and coffee are grown by the locals. Sugar cane is the raw material for the famed Cape Verde rum, called 'grogue', which is produced here and enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. A walk around the main town of Ponta do Sol is recommended to enjoy the vista of some old colonial buildings, and the main site of historic interest is a mysterious inscribed rock near Janela dating from the 1400s, when the islands were believed to be uninhabited and undiscovered.
The landscape of Sao Nicolau bears the mark of a past intense, volcanic activity. The rugged features will enchant both walkers and trekkers looking for real contact with nature. It is the quietest island of the archipelago with small, traditional, rural communities dotted around the coastline. Vila de Ribeira Brava, the capital town of the island, is located in a deep valley with an empty river bed flanked by two mountain ranges reaching a height of 1,312m. The harbour town of Tarrafal is located next to the black sanded beach. The bay of Tarrafal is rich in high quality fish, sustenance for the islanders. It also attracts leisure fishing enthusiasts, particularly those seeking the much sought after Blue Marlin.
The largest island in the archipelago, boasting the best scenery, Sao Tiago is also the most populated. Its residents are more African in culture, which is reflected in its musical traditions, markets and the many festivals held during the year. Two towering mountain chains characterise the interior, while the coastline sports small sandy palm-fringed coves. Sao Tiago is the site of Cape Verde's capital city, Praia, and the picturesque fishing town of Tarrafal. Praia has an interesting marine archaeology museum dedicated to documenting the various shipwrecks that have occurred around the islands. The historic old port city, Cidade Velha, was a major slave-trading post and retains cobbled lanes and stone buildings in the shadow of its old 15th-century fortress and Cathedral.
Voices and volcanic mountains characterise this, the most sophisticated island of the Cape Verde archipelago. Mindelo, the capital of Sao Vicente is a cultural centre. Many artists, intellectuals and musicians have made Mindelo their home including the world renowned Cesaria Evora. The most cultural and cosmopolitan island of the archipelago, the island also boasts beautiful beaches, too, particularly the Baia das Gatas lagoon that has been formed by volcanic activity, and the long, sandy stretch of Sao Pedro beach, sought out by windsurfers. Many visit Sao Vicente for the music. Where possible, try and include a visit to the island during the time of the carnivals in February or August, the time of Cape Verde’s two most lively annual festivals.