Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, 460km west of Senegal, the Cape Verde Islands are a Volcanic Archipelago made up of 10 main islands and 5 smaller ones.
The islands are divided into two groups: Windward and Leeward. The Windward group is Boavista, Sal, Santo Antao, Sao Nicolau, Sao Vicente and Santa Luzia (uninhabited) while the Leeward group consists of Fogo, Brava, Maio and Santiago.
The Cape Verde Islands are at the very northern limit of the tropical rain belt and therefore have a Dry-Tropical climate. If the rains do come (and they often don't), it is usually between August and October. Average daily maximum temperatures range from about 25ºC in January to 29ºC in August. Sea Surface Temperatures range from about 21ºC in winter to about 26ºC in the late summer.
The islands are full of contrasts; flat, barren and parched islands like Sal in the east to mountainous, cloud capped islands such as Santo Antao in the west. Black sand beaches, bleached-white beaches, high cliffs and mountainous peaks and desert plains interrupted by volcanic cones.
There is plenty to see and do: Diving, Hill Walking, Fishing, Windsurfing or just relaxing on the beach. Since Tourism is a relatively recent arrival, you can still sample the real culture of the islands from the more European (Sao Vicente) to the more African (Santiago).
The island of Sal, which in Portuguese means salt and is one of the three sandy eastern islands of the archipelago. It is thought that even before the island was discovered in 1460, it was known by Moorish sailors for its rich saltpans.
Its 14,000 inhabitants live mainly in the town of Espargos, the capital in the centre of the island, and Santa Maria, the village and tourist place on the south coast.
One can take pleasure trips that are offered by different operators either by air, boat , mini cruises or general site seeing around Sal.
Pedro de Lume is the must-see tourist attraction on Sal (besides the Beach).
The starkness of the place confronts the visitor upon approaching the first buildings - the lonely Church, bare earth and the disintegrating 19th and early 20th century wooden buildings and machinery could be straight from a Sergio Leone film set.
A dirt-track (parallel to the abandoned cable car) leads up to a tunnel, which was cut through the crater wall to allow access to the crater itself. Sea-water has filtered into the ancient Volcanic Crater, creating a natural Salt Pan.
Originally, bags of salt were strapped onto pack-animals which would be led up and over the crater walls until the tunnel was built in 1804. The Cable system, built in 1919, increased production considerably and the salt works remained an important part of the local economy until the mid-twentieth century.
Nowadays, Visitors can float Dead Sea-style in the highly saline water and enjoy a mineral rich mud bath.
Windsurfing mainly occurs in Santa Maria at the Southern end of the Island. Northeast winds blow over Cape Verde without fail from October to June, and from February to June the winds can reach very high velocities. More and more windsurfing and surfing centers are opening up in Santa Maria offering windsurfing, surfing, kite surfing and body boarding lessons and equipment rental.
Game fishing, bottom fishing and pier fishing are all presented in Santa Maria. More than few companies now offer an assortment of fishing experiences. Catches include blue and white marlin, yellow-fin tuna, shark, groupers, spearfish, sailfish, goldfish and morays. The fishing season is at its greatest between July and October. It is also possible to join local fishermen on their voyages out at sea.
Almost all the dive sites are a few minutes boat-ride from the spacious, sandy beaches and dive centers. Even if fish are not as multicolored in Cape Verde as in the Red Sea, Sal proposes the opportunity to watch large fish and huge schools of fish rather close to shore. The dive sites use RIBs or hardboats, different from the other islands, where you will typically dive off a tiny wooden fishing boat. Aquatic life to be witnessed include: surgeonfish, bright yellow polyps, parrotfish, spotted triggerfish, sand tiger ,barracuda, sharks, manta rays, trumpet fish, catfish, humpback and grey whales, (March and April) slipper lobsters, and lots of moray eels. Adventure type of diving consist mainly of The wreck of the "Santo Antao", the steel hulled freighter sunk in 1966, after it stranded on rocks close to shore (13m/40ft. max depth). Salao Azul, a very fascinating wall reef just off the coast of Pedra de Lume (45m/135ft. max.depth). North of the Port of Palmeira, there are good dives at the many small caves and inlets along this rocky coast line on the West Coast of the island. The wreck of the "Demfior", a merchant Danish ship, crashed on the rocks of the eastern coast of Sal island just after World War II (13m/40ft. max depth). Buracona Cave, the entry of the cave is at 20m/60ft.down, divers slowly pass all the way through a tunnel and travel through blackness for about 45m/130ft. until the tunnel turns upwards and you reach an open-topped cave, 10m/30ft. in diameter and Ponta do Farol, a dramatic reef wall dive ending at a large cave (45m/135ft. max.d
Espartos is the capital city of the island of Sal and it is situated right in the heart of it. The name "Espargos" comes from the wild Asparagus bushes that are said to have grown here. It is just a run of the mill town with schools, churches, banks, a hospital and a few squares. Espartos has good hotels and restaurants.
Santa Maria is the most urbanized town and is located in the southern part of the island of Sal. It is the tourist-orientated town in the archipelago. Its few wide streets are lined with pastel single-storey houses and much of the area is flat, dry and sandy with no flora. Surfing, windsurfing, diving and fishing are its key activities. Santa Maria is the best outfitted for beach holiday: its beautiful 4km. long sandy white beach, up market hotels, restaurants with live music, bars and shops tick all the boxes for an exceptional holiday.
Seafood is Santa Maria's speciality and a special mention should go to Restaurante Americo's on the main street (don't let the tacky plastic sign put you off). Although most people are there for the Lobster, the Percebes (gooseneck barnacles) and grilled fish of the day should not be missed.
Apart from the in-house entertainment organized by the Hotels, Santa Maria also has a couple of Bars and a Disco (the building with Pirate ship sticking out of it's roof!). Two bars to visit are Tam-Tam (run by a young Irish Couple) and Chill-Out (which also offers Internet Access).
While you are there, you should try a local Caipirinha, like the Brazilian original, except with local Grogue substituting the cachaça.
Buracona is situated on the west side of the island, at 4 km west of Espargos and accessed by the road linking with Palmeira. It is a natural swimming pool enclosed in black lava rock over which white foam falls every now and then. Its a great and perfect place for diving and swimming. Close by is the renowned Blue Eye, an underground naturally formed lagoon, shaped like an eye, reached through a large hole in the ground. When the sunlight hits the precise spot, it illuminates the underwater cavern in a astounding display of sparkling turquoise.
One should unquestionably visit the Cape Verde Island for the stunning long white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue sea where windsurfing, surfing, diving and deep sea fishing can make this holiday your most treasured one.
Praia is the capital of the Cape Verde Islands and its biggest city with over 113,000 inhabitants. Praia became capital in 1770, following the decline of nearby Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha) and was granted city status in 1858. Nowadays, as well as being the country's administrative centre, it is also an important port which exports coffee, sugar cane and tropical fruits.
Charles Darwin visited Praia on his famous voyage on-board the HMS Beagle and began his journal here. It was at Porto Praya on St. Jago - Cape de Verd Islands [sic] that he first witnessed tropical vegetation and tasted his first Banana.
Most of the interesting colonial buildings and museums are located on or are near to the Praca Alexandre Albuquerque, an impressive square in the old part of the city known as Plato (Plateau). Highlights include the 19th Century Palácio Presidencial (Presidential Palace), the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Graca (Church) and the Palacio da Cultura which also houses an Internet Cafe and Bookshop. Nearby, views over the bay and the Ilheu de Santa Maria can be enjoyed from the City's (slightly derelict) fortified walls complete with canons.
The bustling Fruit and Vegetable Market, located on the Avenida 5 de Julio, is worth a visit to see the Island's agricultural produce and taste one of those Bananas!.