The Cape Verde archipelago is made up of 10 islands and 8 islets. The Barlavento islands, windward islands, include Santo Antoa, Sao Vicente, Santa Luzia, Sao Nicolau, Sal and Boa Vista. The Sotavento islands, leeward islands, are made up of Maio, Santiago, Fogo and Brava.
Sal island is the oldest island of the archipelago and was first discovered on the 3rd December 1460. It was initially named Llana until the salt deposits were found in Pedra de Lume and then named Sal which is the Portuguese word for salt. The salt industry began in the 1800’s and in the early years 30,000 tons were being exported. Portuguese and French salt investors kept the industry going up until 1984. Throughout most of the island’s history the population of Sal has been low. Typically, there would be only 500 people living on the island. In more recent times and largely due to the explosion of the tourism the population has vastly increased and is currently 35,000.
Many travel writers describe Sal island as the “African Caribbean”. The island is made up of pure white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue seas. This is the number one attraction and is a lot closer to Europe than the Caribbean. Flights are approximately 4 to 5 hours depending on which airport your flight departs. Espargos is the islands capital but Santa Maria is the main tourist town located at the south end of the island. Here one will find colourful shops and buildings as well as a vast selection of delicious food typically European and African but a whole range of others can be found.
Sal is also famous for its trade winds blowing in from the Sahara mainly from November to April. As well as making life more comfortable during the hot days it has made Sal a top tourist destination for a variety of sports. There are a number of surfing spots from the beginners waves which can be found on the main beach in Santa Maria to the professional waves which can be found around the corner of the island at a place called Ponta Preta. Ponta Preta is not for the feint hearted but worth a visit when the waves are big and the professional surfers are in action! The winds are also a magnet for both windsurfers and kitesurfers. The latter can be found on kitebeach which is a short trip in a taxi from Santa Maria. There is a bar and restaurant so it is worth a trip even if you just want to go and enjoy the view. There are a variety of other sports and activities to be found on the island including fishing, snorkelling, boat trips, sailing, quad biking, cycling, whale watching and turtle watching (please read our information on wildlife and conservation in Cape Verde).
Boa Vista is the third largest island and situated south of Sal and north of Maio. The island is overall flat but does have numerous mountains with the highest point being 1270 feet. Diogo Gomes discovered the island in 1456 and thought of the name Boa Vista as it was the first descriptive words that came into his head. It means “beautiful view.” Boa Vista has the smallest population of all the islands which has grown from 4,000 in the 19th century to 8,554 in 2010.
The main attractions are the spectacular beaches of Boa Vista and the island has 55km of them. There are a number of hotels to cater for holidaymakers with the Riu Touareg Hotel situated on the 16km Lacacao beach. The hotel can cater for 1700 guests and has a variety of activities and entertainment. As well as relaxing on the spectacular beaches one can take a tour of Sal Rei and ending with a drink or meal in one of the local bars or restaurant. Other activities include water sports similar to Sal and fishing, sailing, whale and turtle watching. The other trip to take is to see the infamous 1968 shipwreck of the Cabo Santa Maria.
Santo Antoa, Sao Vicente, Santa Luzia and Sao Nicolau
Santo Antoa, Sao Vicente, Santa Luzia and Sao Nicolau form the second group of islands in the Barlavento section. This group lie west of Sal and Boa Vista. Santo Antoa and Sao Nicolau were the first inhabited of these islands followed by Santa Luzia, Boa Vista and Sal. Santo Antoa was for many years the most populated of these islands. Now Mindelo on Sao Vicente is the most populated city with a population of 69,904. Sal has the fastest growing population due to the explosion of tourism since the 1980’s.
Santo Antoa and Sao Nicolau are the most mountainous islands offering a completely different holiday experience to the flatter islands such as Sal. These two islands offer spectacular scenery and wonderful views from the mountains. There are also a number of hiking trails available for the adventurous explorer! Sao Vicente is one of the best places to listen to “morna.” This is traditional Cape Verdean version of the blues type music and can be heard playing from a number of cafes and bars.
Maio, Santiago, Fogo and Brava
Maio, Santiago, Fogo and Brava make up the Sotavento islands and sit in the southern part of the archipelago. The first inhabited place in Cape Verde was Cidade Velha, formerly known as Ribeira Grande, on Santiago in 1461. The remainder of Santiago, Maio and Brava were inhabited in the mid to late 16th century. Santiago is the most populated island in the archipelago with a population of 324,062 in 2010 and a projected population of over 400,000 by 2020. Praia is both the largest city and the national capital of Cape Verde and is located at the southern end of Santiago. Praia means “beach” in both Portuguese and Cape Verde Creole and has a population of 138,803 recorded in 2013. Praia is also home to a commerce centre, a shipping port for import and export, fishing industry and a number of beach hotels nearby.
The most mountainous islands are Fogo, Brava and Santiago. Maio is to the east of these four islands and is much flatter, relied heavily on the salt industry and thus more like Sal and Boa Vista. Fogo has the countries tallest mountain, Pico do Fogo, elevating to 2,829 metres above sea level. The island was initially known as Sao Filipe but was renamed Fogo meaning the “island of fire.” The name was a result of Pico do Fogo being the most active volcano on the Cape Verde islands. The main cone erupted in 1675 resulting in mass emigration. The more recent eruptions have been cited in 1951, 1995 and 2014. However, the last deadly eruption killing a number of people was back in 1847. There are a number of trips and tours in and around the volcano which is an iconic part of the island. There are also trekking opportunities on the island as well as a number of Cape Verdean shops and restaurants to while away your time. Fogo had specialised in growing cotton, coffee and grapes due to the fertile grounds which were then transferred to Santiago for export to Guinea and Brazil. So don’t forget to try the local coffee and wine when on the island of Fogo!