With 10 islands to explore, year-round sun and heaps of activities, what’s not to love about the Cape Verde islands, asks Karl Cushing
Legend has it that the Cape Verde islands were created when God rubbed his hands after creating the rest of the world and some crumbs fell off and landed in the north Atlantic off the coast of West Africa. Scientists, rather less entertainingly, suggest volcanic activity was responsible.
Cape Verde is in fact not one but two groups of islands in the Atlantic, the Barlavento Islands to the north and the Solavento Islands to the south. As a winter sun destination it has a lot to offer, with the archipelago enjoying year-round sunshine.
What little rain the area gets comes in late-July to mid-October, and favours the greener, more mountainous islands such as Santo Antao, while trade winds provide welcome respite from the heat and great opportunities for water sports.
It’s also less than a six-hour flight from the UK and just one hour behind GMT, so jet lag is minimal.
The islands are home to about 430,000 people and a culture and cuisine that blends its African roots with Portuguese colonial history and Brazilian influences. The Portuguese first dropped by in the 15th century and locals speak Portuguese and Creole, as well as some English and French.
As you’d expect, seafood is plentiful, and local dishes include a fish and bean stew called cachupa and the paella-esque arroz de marisco. Tipples range from Portuguese favourites such as caipirinha cocktails to locally-produced wine and beers, such as Strela.
Rebecca Hamshaw, Cape Verde product manager at Thomson and First Choice, says: “Cape Verde has done very well for us and each year it just seems to do better, which is why we keep adding capacity.
“It’s a great year-round destination and a viable alternative to the Caribbean, with lovely little islands and great beaches, and it’s less than a six-hour flight from the UK. It’s very nice if you just want to fly and flop, with great all-inclusive hotels such as the Riu properties.”
Flights and products
Portugal may have had a larger influence on its history but it’s the UK that supplies the lion’s share of its tourists. However, the destination’s fortunes tend to rise and fall on the availability of flights. Currently, Thomson operates flights to Sal from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham, and to Boa Vista from Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow (from May).
Alternatively, clients can fly on Portuguese carrier Tap Portugal via Lisbon. Once there, aside from the various ferry services, national carrier TACV, which has a codeshare agreement with Tap Portugal, jets visitors between the main islands.
Specialist operator The Cape Verde Experience offers 15 hotels on six islands – Sal, Boa Vista, Sao Vicente, Santo Antao, Santiago and Fogo. Its range includes all-inclusive breaks at the Iberostar Club and Royal Decameron in Boa Vista, and the Crioula Hotel in Sal. Other options include island-hopping itineraries and twin-centre holidays including Gambia and neighbouring Senegal in West Africa. capeverdeexperience.co.uk
Riu has three properties in Sal and Boa Vista, all offering all-inclusive options and all sold exclusively through Thomson and First Choice. The latest of the three properties, the Riu Touareg in Boa Vista, will open for summer 2011 and Thomson is taking bookings from May 1.
Other specialists who sell through the trade include Cape Verde Travel. Its standalone Cape Verde brochure offers a range of island-hopping adventures and an extensive range of hotels across the islands.
Sal and Boa Vista
Sal is home to the main airport, Amílcar Cabral International, and some of the best hotels, around tourist resorts such as Murdeira and Santa Maria.
The name Sal, meaning salt in Portuguese, gives a clue to the island’s former importance as a centre for salt mining. Visitors can check out the old salt pits near Santa Maria and take the tunnel to the crater of the extinct and low-lying Pedra de Lume volcano.
The other main tourism centre, Boa Vista, is home to a wide range of accommodation options and an international airport. The island is famous for its sand dunes, which can be explored by dune buggies and is reportedly the birthplace of the local mournful musical style, morna.
It is also an important breeding site for loggerhead turtles and has some great stretches of white sand such as Santa Monica Beach.
And the rest...
Of the other islands, Santiago is the biggest and most populated and is home to the capital, Praia. Activities here include exploring the local market and the historic former capital, Cidade Velha, and hiking in the mountains.
Notable staying options here include Hotel Morabeza (hotelmorabeza.com) while new tourism developments include the four-star Sambala Village at Sao Francisco Bay, which is due to be completed next year with a view to accepting tourists from winter 2011-12.
Set within 20 square kilometres of private grounds, the Sambala Resort will include four five-star hotels, including one with a marina; two 18-hole golf courses; and a range of villas, townhouses, restaurants, bars and sporting and spa facilities. Keep an eye out for details of fam trips planned for 2011 prior to the launch.
In Sao Vicente, Mindelo has one of the Cape Verde’s most lively musical and arts scenes and its party-loving locals put on the biggest of the local carnivals held each February. There are also great beaches such as Baia das Gatas, Praia Grande and Sao Pedro. From here, an hour-long ferry ride takes you to Santo Antao, arguably the prettiest of the islands with its stunning lush green mountainous landscape.
Fogo has a 3,000-metre-high volcano to explore that last erupted in 1995 and there’s some nice colonial architecture in the capital Sao Felipe. The greenest (and smallest) inhabited island, Brava, whose mountains bring welcome rainfall, can be reached by ferry from Fogo. Of the rest, Sao Nicalau is seldom visited and Maio is flat and rather barren but home to some great beaches.
As befits an island nation caressed by trade winds, Cape Verde is a prime sailing destination. Winds can be strong in the winter, but this makes for great surfing and windsurfing. Top spots include Ponta Preta in Sal, home to a renowned surfing break.
Sport fishing is popular and tourists can try to reel in marlin and sailfish. Scuba diving is another big draw, with wreck sites on offer as well as the reefs.
Turtles breed on the beaches in Boa Vista and between December and February humpback whales can be glimpsed offshore.
The Cape Verde Experience offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the Parque de Dunas Hotel in Boa Vista from £699 in March, including transfers and flights from Stansted. capeverdeexperience.co.uk, 0845 330 2071
Thomson offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the four-star ClubHotel Riu Garopa in Santa Maria from £725 including flights and transfers, departing Gatwick on May 2.
thomson.co.uk, 0871 231 3235