Cape Verde holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
CAPE VERDE HOLIDAYS
The official language in Cape Verde is Portuguese, but the language most widely spoken by locals is Cape Verdean Creole, an amalgamation of Portuguese and West African tongues. English is used by the young generation on the busier islands as well as by those working in the tourism industry. It is considered polite for travellers to learn some Creole basics when travelling here.
The official currency is the escudo (CVE), which is divided into 100 centavos. US dollars and euros are accepted by some of the big businesses but they usually give escudos as change. ATMs accepting Visa, MasterCard and Maestro can be found on the more cosmopolitan islands of Sal, Santiago and Săo Vicente. Upscale hotels and restaurants accept credit cards but the majority of accommodation and eateries prefer cash. Money can be exchanged at the major airports in Praia and Sal, and in all banks found in the large towns.
All visitors to the country require a visa. Tourist visas valid for 30 days can be obtained on arrival at Praia and Sal airports or at any other port of entry. Visas can also be arranged before arrival through a Cape Verdean embassy, but the issuing process can take up to 21 days. Single-entry visas as well as multiple-entry visas, for a higher fee, are available.
An advantage of being in the middle of the ocean is the cooling offshore currents which keep Cape Verde’s climate temperate and warm all year-round. The rainy season is from August to October, but rainfall is sporadic, with some islands seeing no rain at all. Temperatures cool down to minimum of 19°C from December to March and rise to a maximum of 29°C from May to November. The best time to visit is probably between February and June, as this period sees long days and a gentle sun.
While AmÃlcar Cabral International Airport on the island of Sal is the most popular gateway, there are several other international airports across the country, including Praia International Airport on Santiago and Săo Pedro International Airport on Săo Vicente. These air hubs receive direct flights from Europe with most global carriers, while some of the small islands have seasonal routes.
National airline Cabo Verde Airlines (TACV) has several services between Cape Verde and cities in Europe, including Lisbon, Amsterdam, Madrid and Paris. Astraeus offers direct charter flights from London Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow to Amílcar Cabral International Airport on Sal. Travel time on a direct flight between London and Cape Verde is around six hours.
Fares during the peak season between February and June rise substantially so make sure to book well in advance. When flying from London, a popular option is to catch a connecting flight in Lisbon, which could lower the overall cost. Flights travel this route up to four times per week.
It is possible to reach some of the Cape Verde islands by boat. The main ports are Praia on Santiago and the lively Mindelo on Săo Vicente. Ferries are notoriously unreliable, however, and may end up costing you more than a flight.
Most travelling between islands in Cape Verde is done via plane, with national carrier Cabo Verde Airlines. There are also daily ferries, but they are not the most reliable or most comfortable of options. Car hire is possible in the large centres but the Cape Verdean roads are not always driver-friendly. Many tourist hubs are establishing metered taxi services.
The main domestic carrier is Cabo Verde Airlines, which flies to all the main regional airports, including the ones on Sal, Santiago, Bao Vista and Săo Vicente. It is often cheaper to buy domestic airline tickets in Cape Verde. A Cabo Verde Airlines airpass is available for travellers intending to make many flights in the country. This pass covers flights within a 21-day block and can only be purchased from outside of Cape Verde.
Local bus services are available in Santiago, Praia, Săo Vicente and Mindelo, with buses only operating within the city boundaries. For destinations outside the city walls, catch an aluguer, an open-air truck with bench seats. These vehicles tend to travel to the outskirts of cities and the more rural parts of the islands. There is no timetable for aluguer and a seat is not guaranteed.
A daily ferry service operates between all of the islands, but particularly between Santo Antao, São Vincente and Mindelo ports. While the fares are much lower than those of flights, the ferries are not always frequent or consistent; be prepared for delays (sometime of up to a day) and possible live cargo. SMT is one of the more reliable companies connecting Praia and Mindela. Polar is also another good option.
Taxis are available at most of the major ports. In the more touristy areas, metered taxis are making their debut. For something cheaper, an aluguer is always an option.
Cars can be hired in many cities, but most of the islands are small enough for car hire not to be necessary. On the bigger islands of Santiago and Bao Vista, car hire is a good idea. Many of the well-known global agencies are represented at the main international airports, but a good local option is Alucar, which offers reasonable daily rates. Apart from in the major tourist centres like Sal, most of the roads are either undeveloped or cobblestone, which makes for a bumpy ride.
Praia, the official capital of Cape Verde, is a must-see. Located on the biggest and most populated island, Santiago, Praia is the Cape Verdean town with the heaviest African-influenced culture. With a bit of everything, from green valleys to stunning beaches, to a bustling city centre, Praia is worth a few days of exploring. The island is also great for bird watching, with many indigenous species to be found here.
For the cultural centre of Cape Verde, look no further than the island of Săo Vicente. The island’s cultural heartbeat is the port city of Mindelo. This lively little community is quite the charmer with its quaint, rainbow-coloured buildings and original cobbled streets. Visitors won’t be able to walk a metre without coming across traditional live music or another form of art by a local artist. While the beaches here are not as appealing as those on some of the other islands, the art, music and nightlife are unrivalled.
With its stunning white-sand beaches and water so clear you can almost see the sea- bed, Boa Vista is a sun-bather’s dream. With most of the surface area actually covered in sand, it’s no guessing what this small island’s main attraction is. Well-known for its rolling sand dunes and a landscape dotted with quaint date palm trees, Boa Vista has a range of water-based activities to keep everyone happy. At the right time of the year, travellers may even be treated with a sighting of sea turtles, which are most visible at night time.
Brava is the smallest island in the Cape Verdean family, but many visitors argue it is the most beautiful. Known also as the ’island of flowers’, Brava is made for nature lovers. Walking through the lush green valley, which is filled with stunning indigenous flora and fauna, travellers can experience relaxation the way nature intended. For some reason, Brava is not reached by many visitors, leaving it as one of Cape Verde’s best kept secrets. For a chance to get a way from everything, try the nearby fishing village of Faja d’Agua.
Fogo Island has little else to offer except what is arguably Cape Verde’s biggest attraction - Pico de Fogo, a volcano rising to 3,000m above sea level. The village formed in the crater of the volcano, Chã das Calderias, with its extremely fertile land, boasts several activities including wine tasting of the local Cape Verdean wines. The main town of Sao Filipe is quaint and definitely worth a daytrip if you’re passing through this area.
Sal Island is famous for its picture-perfect beaches and Santa Maria, the main city, has become primarily a beach resort destination. With its relaxed atmosphere, pearly white beaches and top-notch service, the island has everything one would expect from an island getaway.
Pico de Fogo, the active volcano on the island of the same name, is often the sole reason for travellers coming to Cape Verde. Reaching 3,000m skywards and with its last eruption taking place as recently as 1995, Pico de Fogo is a hit with those looking for an outdoor challenge. Hiring a guide from the crater village of Chã das Calderias is easy, but climbing to the summit is a different story!
Cidade Velha in Santiago, directly translated as ’old city’, holds a great deal of the country’s history. This UNESCO World Heritage site became the first European settlement in Cape Verde in the 1400s and was the main point of trade for carrying slaves from Africa to Europe and the Americas.
Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe, located in the historic city of Cidade Velha, was a mammoth cliff-side fort of which now only the ruins remain. Built as a defence against attack from pirates, the fort is one of the last reminders of Cape Verde’s once turbulent history. Visiting the museum and information centre inside, travellers can learn more about the realities of the slave trade.
When passing through Sal, the Pedra Luma salt crater should be high on the sightseeing list. A former salt mine that was constructed inside a volcano, Pedra Luma is now a crater filled with swimmable water. Visitors can dip into the waters and float as if in the Dead Sea. Because the area is surrounded by mostly barren land, many travellers call this trip a creepy but intriguing experience.
Mindelo’s Torre de Belem, a tower which is a replica of its namesake in Lisbon, is also worth a visit. The tower itself, while architecturally and historically interesting, is not always the main attraction. Instead, many visitors enjoy walking through the small fishing village in which the tower is located, making a stop at the nearby fish market of Mercado de Peixe.
Cape Verde comes alive at night, mainly during the peak holiday seasons and in the tourist centres. The country is famous for its music, and live performances can be found in bars on almost every island. The main islands offer good nightlife and a variety of festivals throughout the year, making for great entertainment.
The capital, Praia, is the most popular spot for nightlife and has the widest selection of bars and restaurants in the country. Not to be missed is the open-air disco near the harbour. Around May every year, the biggest music festival in the country (Festival Praia da Gamboa) descends on the city. Taking over the beach of the same name, this festival is a celebration of Cape Verdean culture and boasts music of both Portuguese and African roots.
Another entertainment hotspot is Santa Maria on Sal Island, which has a plethora of talented local musicians and great discos as well as live music and open mike nights. In September, join the Santa Maria Beach Festival where more modern day, less traditional Cape Verdean music is performed.
Nightlife in the cultural centre, Mindelo, is alive and well. Its signature morna music, made famous by Cape Verde national Cesaria Evora, can be heard from bars and clubs on every street. While most of the night-time activity has been relegated to the weekends, tourists will still get their taste of music and dance here.
The annual, Brazilian-like carnival just before Easter is the most flamboyant festival in Cape Verde. The streets of Mindelo are taken over by floats, parades and people dancing day and night during the biggest party of the year.
With the same heritage as the Creole language, Cape Verdean cuisine is a wonderful marriage of Portuguese and African influences. Unsurprisingly, fresh seafood is in plentiful supply, with tuna, bass, shell fish and octopus arriving on diners’ plates straight from the ocean. A popular traditional seafood dish is lagostada, which is made with lobster.
Other traditional meals include the Cape Verdean national dish, catchupa (a stew which is made with maize, beans, cassava and meat or fish), and a speciality called canja (rice served with a delicious, thick chicken soup).
For breakfast, locals generally stick with cuscus, corned bread that has been steamed and drizzled with honey, and is served with local coffee. Alternatively, diners could try tosta mista (the West African answer to a toasted ham and cheese sandwich), which serves well as a quick snack. Cape Verdeans also love dried fruits, which are generally accompanied by goats’ cheese.
The islands have several delicious local drinks on offer, mostly alcoholic. From the local wine made in Fogo, called manecome, to sugar cane rum called grogue, visitors will not be left thirsty. Several international beers are on sale at restaurants and bars, but why not try the local lager, Strela?
If you tire of the local staples, rice and corn, it is possible to get a taste of home at the busier tourist resorts, whose restaurants serve international favourites alongside local dishes. But visitors should be aware that international dishes are usually more expensive than local dishes, as the ingredients mostly need to be imported.
Cape Verde’s beaches are somewhat of a buffet, with so many on offer there is something for everyone’s palate. The main beach islands are Sal and the beautiful Boa Vista. From the string of beaches in Sal which are perfect for lazy days, to Boa Vista’s waters, which are an adrenaline junkie’s dream, there is no shortage of choice. Săo Vicente’s San Pedro Beach is also making an impression on visitors.
All of the islands offer something of a romantic getaway, whether it be a luxury weekend in a top-notch hotel or an exotic honeymoon in a seaside bungalow. Take long walks on the beach and sip a cocktail at one of Sal’s many resorts or find a private alcove on the rarely visited island of Brava - the options are endless.
Sal, and especially Santa Maria, is a great place for families with children as the beachside resorts have all sorts of activities and facilities available. The beaches on Sal are also child-friendly and the waters are mostly calm. Boa Vista’s beaches are also an option, and kids may even be able to spot turtles here if they’re lucky. On some of the islands, like Santiago, horse riding trips along the beachfront can be organised for the whole family.
With all that Atlantic Ocean to play with, water sports have become Cape Verde’s speciality. For travellers looking for something more exciting than lazing on the beach, there are many alternatives. Whether its windsurfing and scuba diving off the coast of Boa Vista or in Sal’s clear waters, activities in the water abound. There are also many areas where visitors can hike and trek. Most notably, the hike up Pico de Fogo is a challenge, while visitors to Santo AntSăoo can embark on treks across steep terrain, through the island’s dense pine forests and up to the top of the island’s own dormant volcano.