The Islands of Cape Verde Compared
Which island in Cape Verde reigns supreme?
Awesome beaches, magnificent mountainous, volcanic and desert landscapes, breathtaking surf, and bags of morabeza (the Creole word for hospitality)... Cape Verde or Cabo Verde is a volcanic archipelago set 300 miles off Senegal on the northwest African coast rightly becoming a hot spot amongst western travellers for chilled tropical getaways. Consisting of 10 islands, this Atlantic paradise is still relatively undiscovered but fast gaining a reputation as the African Caribbean.
Originally settled by the Portuguese in the 15th century - a key port in the Atlantic slave trade - and an independent nation since the 1970s, the islands are a tantalising mix of Portuguese, Brazilian and African cultures.
Why go to Cape Verde?
The windswept Atlantic waters are ideal for watersports like surfing, kitesurfing and wreck-diving; it rarely rains; and temperatures are at their chilliest at a balmy 19°C, with an obliging cool Saharan breeze wafting in during hotter seasons. Take a short tour of the unique Cape Verde islands, and get planning that dream beach holiday.
The archipelago's largest island contains the current capital Praia and the old capital, Cidade Velha, with its great hill fortress Fortaleza Real de São Filipe. More than half of the nation's population live on Santiago. With history and culture aplenty and a largely African feel, Praia is the place to come for lively African markets, live music and nightlife, and a taste of the colonial era.
Santiago is probably the most diverse of the islands when it comes to landscapes, with fine white sand beaches, two mountain ranges, dry steppes and fertile valleys, all providing incredible scenery and fantastic hiking trails. You'll also find the largest and oldest tree in Cape Verde here, a 40-metre kapok which has been around for 500 years or so.
Sunny, salty and sandy Sal is Cape Verde's most popular island for visitors, who come for the gorgeous beaches and watersports (surfing and diving in particular). The distinctive landscape also features the Pedra de Lume salt pans and Buracona with its natural swimming pools and underwater caves.
Pretty, characterful cobbled resorts like Santa Maria offer long and wonderful beaches (some reaching 200-metre in width) surf shops, cafes and restaurants. Espargos (asparagus!), the island capital, is a bustling commercial centre and home to the international airport, while Porto de Palmeira is an appealing harbour town with a Portuguese flavour.
A generous 55 kilometres of pristine sand encircle the Cape Verde island translated as beautiful view. Outstanding windsurfing and stunning beaches draw increasing numbers of travellers to the prospering resorts and hotels.
Boa Vista also stands out among the Cape Verde islands for the amazing shifting white dunes of Praia da Chave, the protected loggerhead turtles nesting on many of the island's beaches, and the lovely (and only proper) town Sal Rei. The off-road adventure opportunities to explore the island's desert interior are another great reason to stop here.
Rugged mountains, fir and pine-topped hills, canyons, knee-trembling ravines and unexpectedly lush valleys of sugarcane plantations and wild flowers make Santo Antão a hiker's paradise. Most travellers head to the north east of the island, but the west is worth exploring too. Take a ride from Porto Novo to Ribeira Grande on the old cobblestone road to really appreciate the contrasts of Santo Antão, travelling through towering rocky peaks, verdant pine forest, mountain ridges, volcanic craters and terraced plantations.
Vibrant Mindelo is São Vicente's capital and the Cape Verde islands' cultural heart, packed with restaurants, bars and music clubs throbbing with live native music and dance (morna and funana). Visitors also have the chance to watch local craftspeople producing ceramics and weave cloth. Mindelo has a distinctly colonial vibe, with cobbled squares, wide streets and 19th century European architecture.
São Vicente as a whole is dusty and mountainous; Monte Verde its highest peak, Monte Cara a mountain eroded into the shape of a human profile. Nearby Santa Luzia is the country's smallest and only uninhabited island, with spectacular deserted beaches and dunes. It's possible for intrepid travellers to search out a friendly fisherman in Calhau to give them a ride.
Dominated by a huge black volcano, Fogo translates appropriately dramatically as 'fire'. Pico do Fogo reaches 2989 metres above sea level, and is very much alive and kicking having last erupted late in 2014. Up until then, a community of more than a thousand lived close to the crater in a settlement named Cha das Caldeiras. They were descendants of a Frenchman who introduced vines to the island in the 19th century, and continued to produce local wine.
The town is being rebuilt and local guides will still take visitors on hikes up the volcano. The colourful towns of capital São Filipe and Mosteiros are also worth a trip.
Travel back in time on this sleepy cobbled island with its terraced farmland still worked by mules. The smallest of the populated Cape Verde islands, Brava has few overseas visitors, yet its dramatic coast of craggy cliffs and rocky coves and mighty mountains further inland are very impressive. And in contrast to most of the other dry and barren isles, Brava is moist and tropical where date and coconut palms, oleander bushes, hibiscus, almond trees and bougainvillea thrive. Short hikes from the beautiful little capital Vila Nova Sintra are a joy.
São Nicolau & Maio
So far almost untouched by development and tourism, São Nicolau is a lush and fertile island with mountains perfect for hiking and mountain-biking and rich waters ideal for sea fishing; while Maio has secluded beaches and native birdlife sure to excite twitchers, from coursers and ospreys to bar-tailed larks and swallows.
Thomas Cook offers all-inclusive holidays in Sal and Boa Vista, Cape Verde.
Thomson Airways flies to Boa Vista and Sal direct from the UK.