Some countries shine brightly on the map of the world. Your eye is drawn to them before your brain has clicked into gear. The US is one of them. So is France. So is Italy, as it dangles its no-doubt shapely leg down into the waters of the Mediterranean.
Cape Verde, it is perhaps fair to say, is not one of these countries. It hides in the mid-Atlantic, a 10-strong cluster of islands which, born of volcanic fury, are as beautiful as they are mysterious.
Where are they exactly? OK – let your gaze drift down Africa. Look to the left flank of the continent. Go down through Morocco and Mauritania until you find Senegal – then drag your vision 350 miles to the west.
There you go, Cape Verde.
So not the most famous or obvious of destinations, then? True. But it’s a good enough reason to provide 10 reasons as to why you should pay it a visit.
1. It’s more accessible than you think
Despite the distance involved – the capital Praia is 2,837 miles from London, and the journey takes you most of the way to the Equator – Cape Verde can be reached with ease from the UK. In fact, there are direct flights. Thomson Airways (0871 231 4787; thomson.co.uk/flight) flies to the island of Sal from Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Gatwick and Manchester – and to its neighbour Boa Vista from Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester. Thomson Cook Airlines (01733 224 330; thomascookairlines.com) follows suit, touching down on Sal from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham, and on Boa Vista from Birmingham. Each of these services takes six hours or thereabouts.
Portugal’s national carrier TAP (0345 601 0932; flytap.com) is a further option, serving Sal and Boa Vista – plus sibling islands Santiago and Sao Vicente – from Lisbon. It offers UK connections to London City, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester.
2. Its nearly year-round sun
The Canary Islands tend to be Britain’s go-to destination for a decent dose of warmth in the depths of December, January and February. But those who are prepared to fly an extra two hours into the Atlantic are rewarded by the Cape Verdean weather, which rarely shifts from the upper 20°C at any time of year. The nearest it comes to a vast swing in temperature is the five degree gap between the January average of 25°C and the 30°C that defines September. Hours of sunshine? Between five and nine. Lovely.
3. To bag a good package holiday
The presence of Thomson and Thomas Cook in the list of travel options should be a clue that these travel giants sell fly-and-flop escapes to Cape Verde as well as flights. They focus on Sal and Boa Vista, the two islands where you find the majority of the beach resorts.
These tend to be solid rather than spectacular, and dependable rather than deluxe – but if you want a swimming pool and a balcony, they will do nicely. Thomas Cook (01733 224 808; thomascook.com) offers breaks at the Oasis Salinas Sea, at Santa Maria on the south coast of Sal – a seven-night all-inclusive stay, flying from Gatwick on November 22, costs from £679 per person. Tui (020 3451 2585; tui.co.uk) offers the Hotel Riu Touareg – a one-week all-inclusive stay, flying from Birmingham on October 25, costs from £927 per person.
4. Its intriguing colonial heritage
The anthropological history of Cape Verde is an unusual one. Unlike most parts of the planet, it was empty until colonialism gave it a population – the isles were uninhabited when Portuguese and Genoese sailors stumbled upon them in 1456. Portugal put down the first roots, founding what is now the town of Cidade Velha, on the south coast of Santiago, in 1462. Praia followed in 1615, before becoming the archipelago capital in 1770. A small city of 130,000 people, it looks back into the past (Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal in 1975) via the Monumento de Diogo Gomes (a statue of the Portuguese explorer who discovered Santiago in 1460) and the Presidential Palace (which was built in the 19th century for the Portuguese governor).
5. Its unique music
Cape Verde’s cultural gift to the world is morna – a lilting, rhythmic form of music which slipped into life on the archipelago (probably on Boa Vista) at some undefined point in the 18th century. Its spiritual leader is Cesaria Evora, a singer nicknamed the “Barefoot Diva” who hailed from Sao Vicente – and was so loved that, since her death in 2011, its airport has been named after her. Her powerful voice and grasp of melody lingers in her birthplace, the island capital Mindelo. Here is a pleasant, picturesque small town where morna drifts out of the doorways of bars and cafes – such as the Casa Cafe Mindelo where you can witness live performances.
6. To explore Africa’s most westerly point
São Vicente’s neighbour Santo Antão is an outpost. It is the most westerly segment of the archipelago and – depending on how specific you want to be about geography – the most westerly point in Africa as a consequence. It certainly feels like the end of a continent. Home to just 44,000 people – many of them clustered in the town of Porto Novo – it is a place of desolate grandeur, with its rocky interior rearing up from the water, coffee plantations strewn across its sides. You can only travel to it by water, via ferry from Mindelo – but if you make the crossing you have definitely left the beaten track.
7. Its incredible volcanic landscape
Santo Antao makes little attempt to disguise its lava-fried origins – but its is beaten to the unofficial title of “Most Visibly Volcanic Island in the Cape Verde Archipelago” by Fogo. The giveaway is the name – “fogo” is, of course, Portuguese for “fire”. The island lives up to its moniker, rising to the conical summit of Pico do Fogo, which troubles the sky at an altitude of 9,281 feet (2,829 metres). It has erupted as recently as 2014. Not that this seems to worry the locals. You can drive up to Chã das Caldeiras, a village of some 1,000 souls which, remarkably, is located inside this kraken’s crater.
8. To go island-hopping
Although strewn across some 1,500 square miles of the Atlantic, the archipelago lends itself to multi-island journeys. Specialist operator Cape Verde Experience (01489 866 969; capeverde.co.uk) offers a range of island-hopping breaks, including a 14-night “The Peaks of Cape Verde” package which takes two weeks to tick off São Vicente, Santo Antão, Santiago, Fogo and Sal. From £1,869 a head – with international flights.
9. …and sailing
Tropical islands plus ocean also equals sailing escapes. So it proves with Cape Verde. Classic Sailing (01872 580 022; classicsailing.co.uk) describes the archipelago as an “un-spoilt alternative to the Caribbean” – and has an 11-day “Island Hopping in Cape Verde” voyage scheduled to depart from Sal on January 11 2018. The journey will be aboard the Oosterschelde, a 300- ton schooner. No prior experience is needed to sign up for this near-fortnight under sail, and participants can help out as much or as little as they like on a route which will also take in Santiago, São Vicente, Santo Antão, Sao Nicolau and Boa Vista. Berths are available for £1,486 (€1,650) per person. Flights extra.
10. Its eerie abandoned airport
If you want to venture truly off-grid, the islet of Brava is your obvious port of call. “Port” being the pertinent word here because, as with Santo Antão, you can only reach it by boat. Not that it doesn’t have a runway. Esperadinha Airport sits on its west coast next to the hamlet of the same name. It occupies one of the only flat pieces of land on the island – a precarious location on a narrow promontory on the edge of the water. Too precarious, in fact. Opened in 1992, the airport ceased operations in 2004 because the strong winds which swirl here make it too dangerous for planes to land. You can, though, stroll along its deserted tarmac. Cue the Scooby Doo theme tune…
Cape Verde: The biggest draw is a natural high
David Attenborough eat your heart out. I’m standing on the edge of the beach of the Dune of Sal in Santa Maria in the Cape Verde islands.
We’re cooing as if the cutest ever newborn is being paraded. Eight tiny loggerhead turtles, barely a day old, are taking their first steps since being rescued by the Project Biodiversity team. The group, supported by TUI’s Turtle Aid Programme have set up a flat sandy area with hundreds of nests filled with turtle eggs. Each is numbered.
They’ve been moved away from areas of the beach which suffer from light pollution or where eggs would have been damaged, to ensure they hatch and make it down to the sea. Even the little ones which are not strong enough are placed into buckets and released into the sea at night, to give them the best chance of survival.
This stunning volcanic island chain is made up of ten islands and five islets and sits 310 miles off the coast of West Africa. It could be likened to islands in the Caribbean thanks to their all-round sunshine and golden sands.
But they also offer visitors the rare chance to get up close to the turtles. The archipelago is home to the third largest loggerhead turtle nesting population in the world and second in the Atlantic ocean overall. Cape Verde has often been referred to as The African Caribbean but in reality it’s perhaps only now that it has the quality of hotels, activities and restaurants to rival the likes of Barbados and Jamaica.
With a two-hour time difference and just a six-hour flight time, there is no jet-lag to speak of. Although there are palm trees and pastel coloured homes in every shade, what you’ll also find is a blend of mountains, beaches and peaceful seaside villages set amid a melting pot of African, Brazilian and Portuguese cultures.
The 18-mile long island of Sal, with its red deserts and salt pans, is also home to unusual wildlife. You can paddle with baby lemon sharks and deep-sea dive with tropical fish.
Depending on how lazy or adventurous you are, the Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort, can be a base to explore or a paradise to relax in without going very far. Opened in 2017, it offers a glorious vacation spot in the colourful town of Santa Maria. As well as the oversized swimming pool at the heart of the hotel, and the Eforea Spa which does fantastic post-flight massages, including the signature Cabo Verde Earth Reconnecting Journey, there are also four restaurants, including the excellent Magellan, bars, water-sports and fitness centre.
But if you do, you could sink your toes in the pristine white-sand beaches and stroll to destinations such as the extinct Pedra de Lume volcano surrounded by white and pink salt pans.
We joined a tour with guide, Manuel. Swimming in the medicinal salt waters is a bit like taking a dip on a giant industrial estate that has been built on Mars.
There’s still old mining equipment scattered around and the old cable car frame, so it’s not the most glamorous of locations but the salt is good for my skin – apparently.
Other highlights of the day tour was Shark Bay to see the lemon sharks which swim around your feet, (they only eat fish apparently) and the natural phenomena, the Buracona Lagoon.When the sun hits the water in a particular way, it lights up the surface like a blue eye. Eerie but beautiful.
That night we dined at the appropriately-named LobStar restaurant in Santa Maria, working our way through seafood platters washed down with their homemade sorbet served in champagne flutes.
The next morning I decided to try my hand at something a little more strenuous. The Atlantic Star Nautical Centre focuses on all things water-sports, in particular kite surfing and water-skiing. I tried my hand at the latter but given the amount of times I fell over, it was clear I was not a natural. The centre also offers a Scuba Diving Day, which aims to introduce people to the wonders of diving, including a theory session before diving into the Hilton pool, followed by an open water dive.
However it’s kite surfing that’s the big draw, thanks to the perfect wind conditions. It’s no surprise then that three world champions hail from the island.
The local mantra of Cape Verde, and the phrase they live by is “no stress”. It wouldn’t be a difficult decision to choose to come again.
(Article source: Various)