Come to São Vicente’s rugged ports to enjoy sailing and other water sports.

When asked, “What is something that Americans should know about Cape Verde?” Matt Ipson replies, “That it exists.”

Cape Verde is well off the beaten path—an exotic escape most travelers don’t have on their bucket lists, but should. Cape Verde is an island country with ten volcanic islands about 345 miles off the west coast of Africa. Although the islands were uninhabited until Portuguese settlers colonized them in the fifteenth century, they now contain a rich mixture of both African and European culture. “There are Badios and Sampadjudos,” explains Cape Verdean Bryan Monteiro Lopes. “Badios are descendants of a pure African lineage and are mostly on the island of Santiago. Sampadjudos come from European lineage and make up the rest of the islands.”

Cape Verde is not for the faint of heart, so come ready to hike and barter your way through a place that is uncharted territory for many Americans. Whether you are the adventurer who wants to hike up and into Mount Fogo, or the relaxer who wants to spend time on the black sand beach of São Filipe and listen to the island music, there are activities for everyone on these beautiful islands. Here’s a look at six of Cape Verde’s islands that offer different cultural and entertainment experiences.

A colonial lighthouse and cannon on the island of Santiago.



Santiago is the largest of the islands in both physical size and population and is home to the country’s capital, Praia. This island has several historical sites, including Cidade Velha—the first capital of Cape Verde. From the beautiful ruins of cathedrals to the buildings that once held African slaves, the architecture has a sense of gravity and importance that constantly reminds the living of the island’s past. Santiago also holds the famous Sucupira, or open market, where you can mingle with the locals and learn to barter for food, clothing, and African artwork.

While walking through Santiago, you will also enjoy the sights of shoeless, wrinkled old men playing Banco, a count and capture game in which you try to collect all of your opponents’ seeds from the game board. After a morning of hard work, men gather throughout the streets to play the game and eat lunch. When you visit Santiago, take the time to learn how to play Banco while enjoying the historical architecture this island has to offer. 

Mindelo, the bustling port and capital of São Vicente.


São Vicente

With its beautiful ports and music festivals, São Vicente has the most prominent European influences. Cobblestone streets in traditional Portuguese fashion take you through the city past candy-colored colonial houses and down to the largest port in Cape Verde—Mindelo. Here you can walk through the port and see true Cape Verdean culture all around you: hardworking, smiling people trying to sell their goods.

São Vicente is also known for the Festival de Musica da Baia das Gatas, or the Bay of Sharks music festival. This festival takes place on the beach in the first or second week of August each year. The beach becomes a campground and an open-air nightclub with dancing, music, and drinking until dawn. One of the best musicians at the festival is Cape Verde’s most famous singer, Cesaria Evora. And you won’t want to miss Gil Semedo, the “Michael Jackson of Cape Verde.” Spend the night dancing with the locals and getting acquainted with island music. Bryan Monteiro Lopes explains the two types of popular music: “Zouk, which is a music sung by most of the youth, is a music that speaks of love. Morna is traditional music of Cape Verde that expresses the homesickness of immigrants and also speaks of everyday life.”

The famous mountain hike atop Porto Novo on the island of Santo Antão.


Santo Antão

Santo Antão is ideal for lovers of the outdoors. This island has the most beautiful hiking opportunities that Cape Verde has to offer. Starting from the village of Porto Novo, you can take a van to the top of the cloud-covered mountain. Here you feel as though you’re walking in the sky. From there, your hike winds down the opposite side of the mountain through the farmlands of sugarcane. You pass the cement ditches used for irrigation and follow the path as it continues past farmers as they distill their native alcohol, grogue. If you give them a kind smile, you might be lucky enough to be offered a stalk of sugarcane. The hike then crisscrosses among grass-hut homes and ends at the shore at the bottom of the mountain. This beautiful hike takes only about three hours.

An interior view of Cape Verde’s largest volcano, Mount Fogo.



“Fogo is one of the best vacation spots of Cape Verde because of the great volcano and the sympathy and sweetness of the people,” explains Lopes. Fogo is famous for its enormous active volcano, Pico de Fogo. This volcano sits at an impressive height of 5,249 feet, with an interior cone peaking at 9,281 feet. You can drive to Chã de Caldeiras, the city that sits inside part of the volcano, and from there you can hike straight into the active volcano. Many tourists collect rocks from inside the volcano and write their names in the sulfuric sand. Once you climb out of the interior, you have to make a quick jog down the opposite side—a trail that consists of a deep layer of lava rock pebbles. Plan ahead and wear long pants, or your legs might get scratched up from mounds of lava pebbles as you run!

 Fogo is also known for its beautiful black-sand beaches. “If you go early in the morning—4:00 am—you can catch little crabs and watch the fishermen in the distance working hard on their little fishing boats,” says Brad Jurgensmeier, who once lived on the island of Fogo. Be sure to set your alarm if you want to see this memorable sight! You’ll find that most members of the community wake up early to get their work done before the afternoon heat hits.


A group of old fishing boats roped to a pier in Sal.

Sal is the most Americanized of the Cape Verdean islands. It is definitely the island to visit for those who like relaxing vacations where they are treated like royalty. Here you can find the cushy five-star hotels and the easy-going, stark-blue waters of the oceans. Santa Maria Beach is a great place to be with family and friends of all ages. You can take an easy stroll hundreds of feet out into the shallow, crystal-blue water or engage your adventurous side by windsurfing and diving. Either way, Sal has some of the most beautiful beaches of Cape Verde.

A favorite jumping-off point in Brava.



Brava is known as “the island of the flower.” This island is almost always covered in clouds of fog, making it the greenest island of them all. Not many tourists have visited this island because it can be reached only by boat while other islands can be reached by plane. But if you want to see some of the most luscious gardens and scenery you can imagine, a trip to Brava could be just the ticket.



— Marianne Jurgensmeier


Jagacida: Cape Verdean Beans and Rice

Don’t have the time or money to travel to Cape Verde? Experience a taste of the islands’ flavor by making this Cape Verdean appetizer:


2 tablespoons oil

1 medium onion

3 cups rice

6 cups water

1 (15 oz.) can kidney beans

1 tablespoon paprika

2 bay leaves





Simmer onion with oil in a two-quart pan until golden brown. Add water, paprika, bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Add rice and beans. Reduce heat, cover pan and simmer for 25 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is cooked. Turn off stove and let stand.

—Lydia Ross



This fast-paced sport mixes surfing and sailing. Famous among windsurfers for its powerful waves, Ponta Preta in Cape Verde is where the Professional Windsurfers Association has held a World Cup event
every year since 2007.

—Pieter Mueller


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