9 Reasons You Should Travel to Cape Verde
Why you should add Cape Verde to your bucket list
1. For pristine beaches
Shores swept with stone white sand wind along Cape Verde’s coast, typically without another soul in sight. Bright blue seas lap the land, leaving a lingering lavender hue glimmering in the spot it dampened. You can tread along your own trail on the beaches here, never interrupted by a passer-by, let alone a crowd. Else, you can opt for the next beach over, where the flurry of fishermen clamber over one another to pull in their haul for the markets. Customers haggle loudly, vendors jostle good-spiritedly, and each part carries out their daily routine. Find yourself lost in the hustle and the bustle, and then head out to the next untouched, white beach to regain your space. Tranquility is always waiting around the next corner, in these beautiful, but sparsely populated, islands.
For perfect beaches, the best islands to visit are Boa Vista, Sal and Maio. Yet, in characteristically Cape Verdean style, every one of the islands has incredible beaches to offer.
2. To hike through the rainforest
A sudden bloom of freshest green pops out of the solid blue expanse of the Atlantic ocean, an oasis of life and colour in the rainforest mountains of Cape Verde. Embark on hiking trails that will take you up active volcanos, through cavernous valleys, to village homes stacked perilously along mountain ridges, and up to panoramic viewpoints over the archipelago.
If you’re interested in having forested trails all to yourself, and in building meaningful connections with communities living in the depths of the forest, Cape Verde has those uninterrupted treks to offer. For any traveller interested in nature, in unique ecosystems, or in remote lifestyles, the Cape Verdean forests are for you.
The best islands to visit for those interested in hiking through forests are Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Brava or inland on the island of Santiago.
3. To find explore the volcanoes
As mentioned before, Cape Verde is home to a number of volcanic islands. One of these, Fogo, is home to an active volcano. Pico de Fogo last erupted in 2014, and the ashen sands that sweep over the island are fertile remnants of the volcanic fallout which played such a significant role in the lives of each of the islands residents. For you intrepid travellers, Fogo island offers the opportunity to hike up an active volcano. A challenging but rewarding hike, it remains one of the few of its kind in the world.
An unusual social phenomenon also exists on the isle of Fogo, where you can find a community living inside the crater of the active volcano. Growing coffee, vineyards and fruits in the fertile volcanic soil, their makeshift homes are built using blocks of lava.
Dormant volcanoes, and evidence of a once volcanic presence, exists on a number of the islands, but if you’re a interested in the best, then Fogo is the best island for you.
4. Wildlife & environmental conversation
Cape Verde, despite its comparatively minuscule size and population, has one the largest area of ocean of any West African country. They are also passionate and proactive in the conversation of their marine life. The islands are home to 60 species of rays and sharks, including formidable hammerheads and loping manta rays, 20 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and is one of the most important nesting spots for the global turtle population. The islands are also home to a huge variety of seabirds, with the Cape Verde shearwater being found nowhere else on earth.
The government in Cape Verde has already committed to protecting 5x more ocean than its West African neighbours (though this is a climb from 1% protected to 5% protected), and has set up 19 coastal marine parks. In a country incredibly reliant on the local fishing industry for sustenance, the local fishermen have committed to preventing overfishing and damaging their most important natural resource.
Unfortunately, like many poorer African nations, Cape Verde have often fallen victim to illegal, exploitative, mass-fishing boats that pollute and damage many of Africa’s natural resources. Take Somalia, for an extreme example. By making themselves a leader in marine conservationism in Africa, Cape Verde hope to prevent this threat from destroying their home.
For wildlife fans, Cape Verde is an ideal location for ethical animal watching. To see whales, head to Boa Vista in March or April. For nesting turtles, your best bet is visiting in August, and you can head to the hatcheries in Sal and Boa Vista to watch the baby turtles be born and returned to the ocean. The money that you pay to take tours to see turtles nesting or hatching is put straight back into the conservation projects that care for them and maintain their population numbers.
5. The music
On Cape Verde, music is an essential part of everyday life. An old saying asserts that there are more musicians per square mile in Cape Verde than on any other nation on earth, and the local people are incredibly proud of their local musical heritage. While there are local musicians preforming in the streets every day, and live gigs to attend every night of the week even in the smallest of towns, the ultimate Cape Verdean musical experience is a trip to carnival.
A smaller, more intimate version of the festivities famed in their cousin nation of Brazil, carnival in Cape Verde has all the same spirit, colour, and musical prowess. Visit in February to dive deep into the festivities, learn quickly about local music and dance, see the flamboyant costumes on display, and watch the elaborate floats go by.
The best island to visit if you’re looking for spontaneous street parties and lively festivities is Sao Vicente, to the Mindelo carnival.
6. For ‘No Stress’
The motto of Cape Verde is ‘no stress’, and this is quickly discernible across the islands. Life is laid back here. There is never a need to rush, never a need to panic, never a need for anxiety. When you live amongst idyllic beaches and strong community bonds, it is easy to slip into a contented stupor, to sit alongside the languorous locals playing chess by the side of the street, or else laid out on the pier after a morning’s work on the sea. Once you’ve made some local friends, and integrated somewhat into life in Cape Verde, you too will slip into this lovely, relaxed speed of life.
In my experience, the best spot for befriending locals and getting to grips with the Cape Verdean lifestyle was Boa Vista. Head here, and talk to everybody.
As is unsurprising, on an island archipelago, the fresh seafood is the name of the game when it comes to cuisine in Cape Verde. With heavy influence from Portuguese, Creole and West African cuisines, restaurants pick up fish from the markets all over the islands, their being plucked from the ocean mere minutes before reaching your plate. Stick to simple seafood dishes, or try anything made with the local goat’s cheese, an ingredient popular in local Cape Verdean cuisine.
8. Suitable for every budget - luxury to backpacker
Whether you’re looking for a luxury, all-inclusive resort, or your looking to camp in the mouth of a hurricane, Cape Verde has something for you. Since Thomas Cook opened up the islands to outsiders, the most popular islands of Sal and Boa Vista have had a number of affordable, all-inclusive beach resorts crop up on their shores. While Sal is somewhat defined by these, with the vast majority of the tourists coming on package holidays from Belgium, Italy and Portugal, the other islands are still relatively fresh to the tourism scene. If you’re looking for a sunny getaway in a plush resort, Cape Verde is a great option away from the European crowds.
If you, like me, prefer travelling on a budget, there are many local budget options available. I opted for hostels and guest houses, which rarely strayed to more than $10 a night, and offered great opportunities to meet both locals and travellers. Life can also be very cheap if you stick with the locals, they’ll introduce you to their local mate making moonshine on the side of the street, or to the lady that grills chicken on an open barbecue for all her local community to share. Haggle at the markets for the freshest fish or fruit, and it isn’t hard to maintain a cheap and sustainable lifestyle here.
Whether you’re looking to spend $20 a day, or $200, Cape Verde can provide.
For luxury travellers, try Sal. For budget travellers, try everywhere else.
9. The Islands are still relatively unknown
Cape Verde is still far off the radar of your average traveller. In fact, very few people I spoke to about my trip had even heard of the country, let alone planned a visit. The one consistent thread amongst each of the best reasons to visit Cape Verde, is that there are no crowds, virtually no tourists outside of Sal, and you’ll have the islands’ incredible riches all to yourself.
Without a prevalent tourist culture, it is far easier to make local friends, and to integrate into local life. The beaches are better, because they’re virtually exclusive to local families playing and fishermen floating easily over bright, turquoise seas. The rainforests aren’t subject to rampant over-forestation, the animals aren’t scared of people, and the trails are yours alone.
There are plenty of reasons to visit the world’s popular tourist destinations, but should you prefer to forge your own path for a while, you would be remiss to forget about Cape Verde. As more and more cheap flights connect the islands to Europe, Africa, and Brazil, tourism is sure to be on the rise in the archipelago. Take your chance now to beat the crowds to this oft-forgotten paradise.
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