CAPE VERDE – a guide to five amazing islands

Cape Verde – a group of amazing islands scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa.

Fishermen pulling boat on shore in Tarrafal, Cape Verde
Fishermen pulling boat ashore in Tarrafal.

I get asked quite often which was my best trip and which has been my favorite country so far. How can I possibly answer such a question? How can I compare let’s say Italy to Vietnam?
Well, the pizza is tastier and the language is prettier in Italy.
Then again the Buddhist temples are bigger and the variety at farmers’ markets is more abundant in Vietnam.
Got the point? How could I ever compare?
Fortunately, I don’t have to.

But if someone pointed a gun to my head and made me choose, I would say Cape Verde. Cape Verde with its beauty, charm, and incredible variety is the secret star on my personal globe.

15 islands and countless tiny isles form the Atoll of Cape Verde. Nonetheless, only nine of those are inhabited.

What’s fascinating is the variety of the nine islands. Much to my regret I only visited five of them, and even among these five, the difference was amazing!

It’s as if each one of them stayed for an element – Brava for water, Boa Vista for the earth, Fogo for fire. However, there’s a refreshing wind blowing on all of them.

A Little Bit of History

Dark Years of Slavetrade

Until the Portuguese discovered the archipelago in the 15th century, it was uninhabited. Actually, it was the first European settlement in the tropics.

Due to its ideal location between Africa and the Americas, it was perfect as a trading post for the slave trade. After all, it’s located only 500 kilometers from the African west coast. The Africans were brought here from the mainland, “trained” to work and obey, and forwarded to the colonies.

The Pelourinho at Cidade Velha on Cape Verde's main island Santiago
The witness of a dark past: The Pelourinho, a marble pillar that was erected in the early 16th century. It was here where rebellious slaves were publicly punished.
(Photo: CayambeCidade Velha Pelourinho square b 2011CC BY-SA 3.0)

Therefore, it grew prosperous during the following centuries until the end of transatlantic slavery in the 19th century.

People Come…And Go

After a short economic decline, Cape Verde, again, became an important stopover for shipping routes. Also, over the centuries, there was major immigration from Portugal and Madeira.

On the other hand, about 700,000 are living outside the country, many of them in the USA and, of course, in Portugal. Hence, there are more Cabo Verdians living in the diaspora than in the motherland.

The Museu da Resistência focuses on one of the darkest chapters of Cape Verde's history.
The Museu da Resistência focuses on one of the darkest chapters of Cape Verde’s history.
(Photo: CorreiaPMTarrafalEdificios, cropped to 2:3, , CC0 1.0)

Seeking Independence

In 1975, following the Portuguese Carnation Revolution, Cape Verde achieved independence. Since then, it has always been governed by leftwing, intermittently Marxist, parties.

For thirty years by now, Cape Verde has been a stable representative democracy. In the democracy index of 2016, Cape Verde is number 23 of 167 countries – the best position within the African continent.

Practical Information

Getting There

I don’t presume that you are getting to Cape Verde by freight ship – and international flights are going to the Nelson Mandela Airport on the main island Santiago as well as to the most touristy isles Sal and Boa Vista.

Since many flights have a stopover in Lisbon, make sure to check out my post on how to spend 24 hours in Portugal’s capital because some layovers grant you a couple of hours to explore the city.

Getting Around

By Air

Once you are in Cape Verde, the most convenient way to travel from island to island is, obviously, flying. At this moment, the best option seems to be going by Binter, a Spanish airline serving mainly the Canary Islands, but also other destinations in that region, for instance, on the North and Northwest African mainland.

The airport on the island of Fogo.
The airport on the island of Fogo.

By Sea

However, not every island has an airport, hence, there are ferries connecting all the islands. Nevertheless, you might have to juggle your schedule a bit since the connections aren’t necessarily synchronized. I will not lie to you, if you don’t travel Cape Verde on an organized trip, your itinerary shouldn’t be too tight. It can also happen that an island cannot be accessed due to bad weather condition; and this can also be the case while you are on that island.

Most of the time, things are fine and everything runs smoothly, however, you should be aware of small unexpected bumps.

By Land

There is an okay system of public transportation on most of the islands. Mostly, there are mini-busses that cruise around a certain area until they find enough passengers. Eventually, they make up for the loss of time by racing like mad. However, before you go to a place, make sure that there will be a bus going back the same day so you don’t get stuck. Local people are very nice and helpful, so ask if you aren’t sure.

However, your first ride from the airport to your accommodation should be pre-booked and you can do so conveniently on this page*.

Where to stay

The Cape Verde islands are not a cheap country to travel to. You can compare prices to those in southern Europe such as Spain or Portugal. Especially cabs are not a bargain. Since they are not metered, you should agree on the price before your trip.
Also, you won’t get a great room at a cheap price.

Hotelroom on Boa Visa
Accommodation on Boa Vista.

On this trip, I had booked all the accommodations through booking.com – here you can check out availability and rates of some great lodging options*:

Booking.com

Money

Another remnant from the Portuguese colonial times is the name of the local currency. Just like in Portugal until the installment of the €uro, it is called Escudo respectively Escudo de Cabo Verde, abbreviated CVE. For 1 US$ you get 90,90 CVE, for a €uro 110,27 CVE (as per January 2021). You can check the current rate here.

Bills from Cape Verde
They don’t have only one of the most beautiful countries, they also have the most beautiful money, decorated with poems by local poet and musician Eugénio Tavares – and his portrait on the other side.

Credit cards are not as widely accepted as e. g. in Europe or Asia, even some small guest houses do take only cash. Some businesses add a small percentage if you pay by credit card – which can become a quite high amount if you pay for instance for a couple of nights at a hotel.
There are ATMs where you can get cash on all of the islands I’ve visited.

At least on the touristy islands such as Boa Vista and Sal you can also pay in €uro. Since I didn’t do it, I cannot tell you if you pay a hidden surcharge.

Language

As Cape Verde used to be a Portuguese colony, the official language is Portuguese, but people speak krioulo. This is a local patois and, like many dialects, differs a tiny bit even from island to island.

People do speak some English and French, but it is certainly helpful to have some basic knowledge of the local language.

Before my trip, I’d practiced using babbel. The first lesson is free and supplies you with the most important words to interact with people.

What to See

I’m an avid solo-travelling woman. Since solo-travel doesn’t equal solitude, I love to join organized tours here and there. They allow me to meet fellow travellers – for just a short moment or a lifelong friendship.

Therefore, here are some great ideas of what to do during your stay on Cape Verde. Exploring the islands with qualified guides will help you make the best of your stay*:

Map

This is the route I travelled.

Five Islands

These are the islands I visited.

Pinnable Pictures

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CAPE VERDE

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Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in April 2021.

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58 Replies to “CAPE VERDE – a guide to five amazing islands”

  1. I am intrigued to read about the history of Cape Verde; the fact that it was initially used as a place for slave trade due to its proximity to Africa, and became a Portuguese colony later, is interesting. I’d also really like to visit the islands you have mentioned about. I will bookmark your post for whenever I plan to visit the place because your guide is really comprehensive!

  2. Quite a short post from you. I was waiting to find out the stark differences among the islands. But very interesting to know about the existence of this historical archipelago.

    1. The post is a general introduction to the archipelago. There are links to extended posts on the individual islands. I’m irritated that you haven’t noticed them. 🙁

  3. Love those photos and share on this beautiful place, we wish one day our family can travel there too!

  4. I did not realize that Cape Verde was so big and that there were actually 5 different islands. So fascinating that you would put Cape Verde up a the top of your favourite places to visit. Good to know you can hop from island to island by plane. Those mini buses though sound like a wild ride.

  5. I have always wanted to visit Cape Verde. It’s a place that’s rich with so much history.

  6. I would love to visit there. I want to visit more of Africa — so far my visits have focused on Eastern Africa. Thank you for this information!

  7. I feel silly saying this, but I never knew these beautiful island even existed. Thanks for opening my eyes to this gorgeous location iand all it offers

  8. This place looks quite amazing and also the slave trade history kind of amuses me. I love visiting such places which offer a great balance of adventure and culture too.

  9. Wow Ive never even heard of this place , looks stunning! Definitely saving and sharing with ny husband.

  10. I’ve never considered visiting Cape Verde, but your blog definitely made me add it to my bucket list. Thanks for the insightful information here, especially sharing about the history.

  11. I have never heard of Cape Verde until now. Africa is likely my favorite continent to travel, so a “light version” may not be what I need, but it sure looks freakin awesome. I’d love to hit the beach and explore this place in the future.

  12. I like reading the history of the island and how it’s evolved now. Your candid descriptions were helpful too.

  13. what is the best place to stay in Cape Verde? What is the best island for holidays and tourism in Cape Verde?

    1. Well, that strongly depends on what you like to do. For beaches, definitely Boa Vista and Sal. For hiking, rather the Islands further north. Santiago is a great mix – and the most African one.

  14. I am wondering which place was left untouched by Portuguese. Portuguese had ruled India and still we got to see remnants of Portuguese colonies. Such a fascinating thing! You have explained very well about Cape Verde. Definitely a place to explore by myself 🙂

    1. That’s true – I was surprised to find so many remnants of the Portuguese past around Asia. Funny how their global importance declined.

  15. Capre Verde definitely looks the kind of place I would love to stay in for a long time. Love your picturs

  16. Cape Verde seem like an affordable palce to stay in. I absolutely also love your writing style

  17. Though,the Cape Verde islands are not a cheap country to travel to, but I guess it is really worth it because of its innate beauty and charm that you'd surely love to stay even longer. I love that you share a comprehensive guide about Cape Verde, since it is really a great help for first timer visiting this amazing place in the world.

  18. Hi Anthony, like I wrote, only nine islands can be visited (and a tenth one only with a guide if you have a special permission).
    I visited five in three weeks, but spent too much time on the beach in Boa Vista, so I'd say six in three weeks if you do want to appreciate them: three days Sao Tiago, one to two days Brava (no airport, accessible only in good wheather conditions), three days Fogo (or even more…), Boa Vista has great beaches, so it depends on how long you want to hang out on the beach, Sal is the most touristy, but still ok – great beaches here, too, but also other things to see (in one day tour, though). These are the ones I've visited. Sao Vicente is known for its great cultural life, Sao Nicolao and Sao Antao for great hiking – I would schedule three days for the first one and at least two days each for the two latter ones.
    The food was not great. They have this traditional national dish that consists of chicken peas with some stuff, you get it either steamed or fried and it's dull. They have the tendency to boil veggies to death and they don't use much spices.
    Since they are European (mainly from Italy) and African (e. g. from Senegal) expats, you can be lucky to get some better food, but the local food…not good.
    Hope this helps. In case of further questions, just ask away!

    1. Sorry, forgot Maio: tiny beach-island, no airport neither. I'm not sure if there is a regular ferry service there. Anyway, ferries are prone to be delayed or canceled due to bad weather conditions.

  19. 15 Islands would take sometime to visit any idea how much time a person should allocate to seeing all the islands?

    What was the food like there? Do they have a distinct cuisine style? From experience I have found that islands have a tendency to develop their own regional style and flavours. We would love to know more about what Cape Verde tasted like.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

  20. Nope, you don't. And I definitely will be back to see the rest of it, three weeks were far too short. 🌴🌴🌴

  21. Cape Verde was one of my best travels ever. Yes, the beaches – especially on Boa Vista, but also on Sal – are unutterable. Gogogo!

  22. I'm so envious that you've visited Cape Verde. It seems like such a unique place and I hear the beaches are fantastic!

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