CAPE VERDE – a guide to five amazing islands

(Updated January 2020)

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 Viet Nam?
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 Viet Nam.
Got the point? How could I ever compare?
Fortunately, I don’t have to.

Fishermen bringing in a boat at Tarrafal in the north of Cape Verde's main island Santiago
Fishermen bringing in a boat at Tarrafal in the north of Cape Verde’s main island Santiago

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.

So let me guide you to five of the atoll’s nine amazing islands.

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 / 310 miles from the African west coast. The Africans were brought here from the mainland, “trained” to work and obey and forwarded to the colonies.

The infamous Pelourinho in the town of Cidade Velha on the island of Santiago
Witness of a dark past: The Pelourinho, a marble pillar which 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.

Museu da Resistência near Tarrafal on the island of Santiago
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

Money

Another remnant from the Portuguese colonial times is the name of the local currency which is called – just like in Portugal until the installment of the €uro – Escudo respectively Escudo de Cabo Verde, abbreviated CVE. For 1 US$ you get 100,01 CVE, for a €uro 110,27 CVE (as per January 2020). 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.

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 routes have a stopover in Lisbon, make sure to check out my post on how to spend 24 hours in Portugal’s capital since some layover grant you a couple of hours to explore the city.

Getting There

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 destination in that region, i. e. also North and Northwest Africa.

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

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.

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.

Where to stay

The Cape Verde islands are not a cheap country to travel. 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.

A hotelbed in Boa Vista island of Cape Verde
Accommodation on Boa Vista.

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

Booking.com

Map

This is the route I’ve travelled….

Five Islands

 

Pinnable Pictures

If you choose to pin this post for later, please make sure to use one of these pictures:

Pinnable Picture If I had to choose one favorite country, it would probably be Cape Verde with its beauty, charm, and incredible variety. This is a guide to five of the atoll's nine amazing islands.
CAPE VERDE
Pinnable Picture If I had to choose one favorite country, it would probably be Cape Verde with its beauty, charm, and incredible variety. This is a guide to five of the atoll's nine amazing islands.
CAPE VERDE
Pinnable Picture If I had to choose one favorite country, it would probably be Cape Verde with its beauty, charm, and incredible variety. This is a guide to five of the atoll's nine amazing islands.
CAPE VERDE

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

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

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

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

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

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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.

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

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