19 things you didn’t know about Cape Verde
The usual reaction after I mention our trip to Cape Verde is either polite bafflement – or an enthusiastic, ‘I’ve been wondering about a trip there’. Usually followed by, ‘Where exactly is it again?’
So I thought I’d draw together a few facts, figures, statistics, quirky trivia and essential bits of knowledge to have before you travel – my top 19 Cape Verde things to know.
Because with sun, sand, sea, some lovely places to stay, and quite a bit to discover, why wouldn’t you want to travel there?
1. Cape Verde (or Cabo Verde) is made up of 10 islands – nine are inhabited, one is not – as well as a string of islets off the coast of Africa. The entire land area is only slightly larger than Suffolk.
2. The islands are 300 miles off the west coast of Africa, to be precise, sitting between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator. Closest to Senegal and The Gambia, they’re named after Cap Vert in Senegal, the westernmost point of continental Africa. Keep going west and you’ll hit the Caribbean – Dominica or Martinique.
3. Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony until 1975 – first discovered by them in 1456. It’s now an independent republic but Portuguese is still the official language, while Creole is widely spoken, although in the tourist centres you’ll find plenty of people speak English too.
4. Despite the Portuguese influences, there’s definitely far more of an African feel than the rest of Macronesia – the Canaries (around 1,000 miles north) have their own cultural heritage but are still distinctly Spanish, the Azores have their own volcanic side but again are very European. Don’t expect that here.
5. You need a visa if you’re travelling from the UK. For those on a package holiday, they’re usually included or organised through the tour operator. If you’re travelling independently (or on a last-minute trip) you need to buy it at the airport for 25 Euros. On Sal, it was incredibly easy – instead of taking the main passport queue, head off to the left and line up for the small window to buy yours. Don’t then do what we did and rejoin the main queue, as that covers immigration.
6. The local currency are escudos – it’s illegal to take this out of the country, and the Euro is widely used across the islands.
7. Sal was the first to open up to tourism, with the crews of the first international flights from South Africa to Germany stopping over there in the late 60s.
8. Sal, Boa Vista and Maio are the easternmost three and have similar climates and landscapes – flat, dry, with golden sand blown in from the Sahara. Boa Vista has 55km of beach, while Maio has far less tourism than the others.
9. Fogo is for thrill-seekers with an active volcano that erupts anywhere between every few years and every century – last in 1995 and 2014. The rich black volcanic soil that results makes it great for growing grapes and the islanders have made wine for over a century (between eruptions), while coffee also grows here. It’s not unusual to see lighter skinned, blue or green-eyed islanders here.
10. Santiago is the biggest of the islands, around twice the size of the Isle of Wight, and is home to Cape Verde’s capital Praia. Each of the islands has its own mayor and some their own capital ‘city’.
11. Sao Nicolau is known as one of the most traditional islands, home to the oldest seminary in West Africa.
12. Santa Luzia is the group’s smallest island and also uninhabited for almost all of the past two centuries. Today it’s a nature reserve, and home to a lizard found only here.
13. Santo Antao is the greenest of the island group, lush and mountainous, where sugar cane is grown to make the local ‘grogue’ along with plenty of fruit. It also has its own Jewish heritage since the 15th century thanks to Portuguese and later Moroccan Jews fleeing persecution. Today there are no practising Jews on the island, although this history is remembered in the name of the village Sinagoga.
14. Sao Vicente is the cultural hub, home to some of the island’s greatest musicians and writers, especially in Mindelo – the perfect place to go if you want to discover Cape Verdean music and art, as well as colonial architecture.
15. Brava is known as the island of flowers, the smallest inhabited island in the group with dramatic mountainous scenery.
16. Cotton was once cultivated on the islands, and you can still see plants with their fluffy seed casings and yellow flowers by the side of the road in Sal.
17. 15 species of shark live in the waters around the island, including lemon sharks which come to the warmer shallow waters off Sal – if it’s quiet and you’re lucky, you can get within wading distance of them. You also find five species of turtle, with protected loggerhead turtles nesting on Sal, Boa Vista and Santiago.
18. The strong regular winds which blow make this a haven for kite surfers too, especially on the beaches of Sal and Boa Vista, with the world championships held here.
19. Sal gets its name from the salt lake in a volcanic crater where the water is 26 times saltier than the sea. Pedra de Lume once supplied salt to Brazil but now it’s just for the island, taking three months for the spring water to evaporate in the salt pans – in the meantime, you can float in one of the pools, which promises all kinds of benefits for your skin too.
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