About Cape Verde


The islands of the Cape Verde archipelago are windy, hilly, dry - almost lunar - and fairly sleepy. But there's beauty in them parched hills. And some of the islands are actually lush. There's good diving and hiking, lively nightlife and plenty of quiet corners to hide away in.  Cape Verde has ten Islands of which Santiago is the main one. The Islands are on the same latitude as Barbados. A well kept secret place.  Based in the Atlantic Ocean it can be found below the Canary Islands, five and a half hours from the UK.  With lots of history including being visited by Darwin and Sir Francis Drake. Sandy white beaches and beautiful mountainous landscapes ready to be explored.

Islanders mix up African, Portuguese, Mediterranean and Latin influences and come out with a flavour that's distinctly 'Cabo'. Package tourism has gained a foothold, but Cape Verde is still independent and unspoiled, the perfect place to pretend that your real life doesn't exist.

At the cross-road of the three continents that border the Atlantic, there is an obligatory stop in the middle of the ocean, the Archipelago of Cabo Verde. Located 450 km off the coast of Senegal, it is composed of 10 islands and 8 islets. Of volcanic origin and positioned between parallels 15 and 17 of the North latitude, Cape Verde is made up of two distinctly different types of islands. Its six inhabited islands, located more to the West, are characterised by their mountainous landscapes, whereas the remaining three are distinguished by their long sandy beaches.

The islands are divided into two groups named according to the trade winds that reach them from the African Continent: windward and leeward.
The first group consists of the islands of Santo Antão, S.Vicente, Santa Luzia (disabitata), S.Nicolau, Sal, Boavista, and the second, more to the South, comprises the islands of Maio, Santiago, Fogo and Brava. The sun spreads its warmth the whole year round, soothed by the fresh sea breeze. The climate is tropical and dry. With vast beaches that allow for all types of water sports, impressive mountains, high quality fish, various types of delicious seafood and the melodious beauty of its music all distinguish Cape Verde as an exciting tourist destination.

Where politics are, the country is known for its stability and absence of any type of conflict. Because it is strongly influenced by Western culture, the people are mainly Christian and the majority of these are Catholic.  With a total land area of 4,033 km Cape Verde is one of the five Atlantic Archipelagos of the Macaronésia. The others are Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and the Savage Isles.
Full country name: Republic of Cape Verde
Area: 4,030 sq km
Population: 401,343
Capital City: Praia
People: Creole (mulatto) 71%, African 28%, European 1%
Language: Portuguese
Religion: Roman Catholic (infused with indigenous beliefs), Protestant
Government: republic
Head of State: President Pedro Pires
Head of Government: Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves
Flora and FaunaGDP: US$581 million
GDP per capita: US$1,450
Annual Growth: 7%
Inflation: 4.3%
Major Industries: food and beverages, fish processing, shoes and garments, salt mining, ship repair, bananas, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, coffee, peanuts, fish
Major Trading Partners: Portugal, Germany, Spain, France, UK, Malaysia, The Netherlands, US

Visas: All visitors need visas to enter Cape Verde.
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -1
Dialling Code: 00238
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

Exchange Rate: 110.265 CVE = 1 Euro.

The wild life is not abundant and mainly consists of birds, of which there are about 75 different species distributed throughout all islands. Cape Verde has many species that you can't find anywhere else in the world. Interested ornithologists research the wonderful birds - including the colourful Passarinha kingfisher. There are no large mammals or snakes, but there are green monkeys and geckos. Offshore you can find green turtles, dolphins, whales and yellow fin tuna.

The natural vegetation was practically destroyed to make way for cultivation fields, thus only in the highest areas those species are still to be found. There are still some rare species such as the "Dragoeiro", in S. Nicolau, and which is considered today one of the symbols of the country.

History of Cape Verde

Cape Verde Islands were uninhabited when discovered by explorers commissioned by the Portuguese Crown in 1460.  Africans (originally brought in under slavery) mixed with Portuguese, English and French, to create a Cape Verdean people.  Intermittent periods of drought led to famine and emigration - more Cape Verdeans live overseas than on the Islands.  In 1975, the Cape Verdean people were given Independence from Portugal.  In 1991, multi-party democracy began.

In 1460, at the beginning of their adventurous discoveries, navigators in the service of the Portuguese Crown, landed in Cape Verde. Although there is no actual proof, there are indications that the Romans and the Carthaginians were aware of the existence of the Archipelago. It is also speculated that in the XII century, Arab seafarers may have reached the then unhabited islands.

Two years after its discovery, the islands of the Archipelago were colonized and, soon after, Cape Verde developed a largely mestizo population with its own unique culture that had been influenced by many other countries. Free Europeans and slaves of the African coast intermarried to form their own way of life and their own dialect - the "Creole". Together these formed the roots of the country's culture. Consequently, side by side, there can be found the large wooden pestle and the European stone grinder, the drumming sound of characteristic of the African dances and the sound of the Portuguese triangle as well as the West African game 'banco de ouri' which is played by everyone.
Since the origin of their history, the Cape Verdeans have been a largely mestizo: 80 per cent of the population is mestizo, 17 per cent black and 3 per cent white. Little by little Cape Verde formed its cultural identity and then began to search for its own political identity. They finally obtained this with the National Independence, on the 5th of July 1975 after a long fight for the national liberation.
On the 13th January, 1991, they finally settled upon the multi-party system with all the institutions of modern democracy. Today, Cape Verde is a rapidly developing country that enjoys peace and social stability.
As far as health services, education and quality of life are concerned, Cape Verde is ranked the 4th in Africa.

The history of Cape Verde is dominated by three overriding facts: there were no people of any sort on the islands when the Portuguese first arrived; the environment has become increasingly fragile over the centuries, largely due to the impact of people and overgrazing; and it's farther from the African mainland and closer to the Americas than any other African country. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that Cape Verde developed along somewhat different lines from the rest of Africa.

When Portuguese mariners first landed in Cape Verde in 1456, the islands were barren of people but not of vegetation. Seeing the islands today, you find it hard to imagine that they were once sufficiently verde (green) to entice the Portuguese to return six years later to the island of São Tiago to found Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha). The Portuguese soon brought slaves from the West African coast to do the hard labour. The islands also became a convenient base for ships transporting slaves to Europe and the Americas.

The islands' prosperity brought them unwanted attention in the form of a sacking at the hands of England's Sir Francis Drake in 1586. Cape Verde remained in Portuguese hands and continued to prosper, but in 1747 the islands were hit with the first of the many droughts that have plagued them ever since. The situation was made worse by deforestation and overgrazing, which destroyed the ground vegetation that provided moisture. Three major droughts in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in well over 100,000 people starving to death. The Portuguese government sent almost no relief during any of the droughts. The 19th-century decline of the lucrative slave trade was another blow to the country's economy. Cape Verde's colonial heyday was over.

It was then, in 1832, that Charles Darwin passed by, finding dry and barren islands. It was also around this time that Cape Verdeans started emigrating to New England. This was a popular destination because of the whales that abounded in the waters around Cape Verde, and as early as 1810 whaling ships from Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the US recruited crews from the islands of Brava and Fogo.

At the end of the 19th century, with the advent of the ocean liner, the islands' position astride Atlantic shipping lanes made Cape Verde an ideal locale for resupplying ships with fuel (imported coal), water and livestock. Still, the droughts continued and the Portuguese government did nothing. Thousands more died of starvation during the first half of the 20th century.

Although the Cape Verdeans were treated badly by their colonial masters, they fared slightly better than Africans in other Portuguese colonies because of their lighter skin. A small minority received an education; Cape Verde was the first Portuguese colony to have a school for higher education. By the time of independence, a quarter of the population could read, compared to 5% in Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau).

This largesse ultimately backfired on the Portuguese, however, as literate Cape Verdeans became aware of the pressures for independence building on the mainland and started a joint movement for independence with the natives of Guinea-Bissau. But the Portuguese dictator Salazar wasn't about to give up his colonies as easily as the British and French had given up theirs. Consequently, from the early 1960s, the people of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau fought one of the longest African liberation wars.

In 1975, Cape Verde finally gained independence from Portugal. And still the droughts continued, one lasting nearly 20 years. Despite kinder weather and doubled crop yields in the mid to late 1980s, an extreme and lengthy drought in the 1990s necessitated emergency food aid from abroad. In 1991 the first-ever multiparty elections were held, and the newly formed Movimento para a Democracia (MPD) party won 70% of the vote and formed a new government under the leadership of Dr Carlos Veiga as prime minister, and António Monteiro as president. Both were returned in elections the following year, the first held under the country's new constitution. There were major setbacks in the 1990s - the slow economic progress in the wake of the drought led to a splintering of the MPD, and one defector established a rival party. However, the MPD prevailed in parliamentary elections in 1995.

Crippling drought wiped out over 80% of the islands' grain crops in 1997. The following year, the country's pig population was devastated by an outbreak of African swine fever. That same year, Prime Minister Veiga survived a plane crash in which one of his bodyguards was killed.

Recent presidential and parliamentary elections have seen a new prime minister and president voted in, with the power base once again shifting back to the left, with the former ruling African Independence Party, the PAICV, resuming power.


The Cape Verde islands are in the Atlantic Ocean, 620km (385mi) west of West Africa's coast at Mauritania. There are 10 major islands (9 of them inhabited) and 5 islets, all of volcanic origin and grouped into the Barlavento (Windward) group (Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, Ilheu Branco, Ilheu Raso, São Nicolau, Sal and Boa Vista) to the north and the Sotavento (Leeward) group (Maio, São Tiago, Fogo and Brava) to the south.

The interior of the main island, São Tiago, is mountainous, and Fogo has the islands' highest peak, Mt Fogo (2840m/9320ft). Fogo was rocked by a volcanic eruption in 1995; there have been seven such eruptions since 1760. Many of the islands are arid and hilly, and cultivation of the hillsides has caused widespread soil erosion. Santo Antão has the highest rainfall and tends to be much greener than the other islands.

Common plants in the islands include rhododendrons, the fire tree, dragon tree, marmulano, corn plant and the Florida Beauty dracaena.

Among the islands' most colourful fauna are its coral and fish, especially in the waters around Sal, where you'll see parrot fish, barracuda and moray eels. You might also spot blue and humpback whales, the narrow-snouted dolphin, harbour porpoise and loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles. The Raza Island lark, Cape Verde petrel, brown booby, frigatebird, tropicbird and Cape Verde warbler are among the birds winging around the archipelago. Creepy crawlies include the Cape Verde skink and the giant Cape Verde gecko.

Cape Verde has the coolest temperatures of any country in West Africa. Daily highs range from 20°C (68°F) to around 29°C (84°F) from August to October, when there can also be rainstorms. Due to ocean currents, the sea is also considerably chillier than along the West African coast.


See Climate Information

Events and Festivals 

See Activities 

Getting Around

There's a network of expensive internal flights between the islands; between Praia, Mindelo and Sal there are flights at least once daily.

Travel on the islands is by bus or truck. Taxis are generally very expensive and there aren't many of them. You can rent cars on São Tiago, Fogo, São Vicente and Sal. You'll need an international driver's licence; driving is on the right.


Santiago was Cape Verde for the first few centuries - still today it is sometimes referred as 'Cabo Verde' as if it were the mainland.  Ribeira Grande (today called Cidade Velha) became the first European settlement in the Tropics from 1462 and was replaced by Praia (the modern capital) from 1750 onwards.  The capital, Praia, has attractive old colonial buildings.  The Island has received much interest over the years, including a visit from the famous Charles Darwin who explored the fascinating flora & fauna.  Beautiful beaches, exotic tropical plantations and breathtaking mountains.  Botanical gardens.

Facts for the Traveler

Banks in the major towns can change money and travellers' cheques. Some hotels in Praia will also change US dollars into escudos. There's no bank at the Praia airport, so be sure to unload your excess escudos in town before you leave.  Expect to tip 10% in better restaurants, but check the bill carefully to be sure a service charge hasn't already been added.


Agostinho Neto Hospital is comparatively well equipped.  Private health and dentistry clinics - no inoculations are required  24/7 pharmacies availableGood telecommunications system with Internet (including Broad Band) and mobile phone network (roaming provided to most European Service Providers).  Visa and Mastercard accepted in most hotels and banks as well as Euros and Traveller's Cheques.


Lobster, tuna, squid, octopus - generally Portuguese cuisine.  Local dish is 'Cachupa' - a form of stew typically made with meat or fish, coconut, maize, beans, cassava and sweet potato.  Papaya, mango, banana, coconut, date and sugar cane are plentiful.  Red and white wine are produced though most is imported from Portugal.  A local made drink is called 'Grogue', which is a type of rum.  Music underpins Cape Verdean life - Traditional music includes the Morna as sung by Cesária Evora.

The vestiges of Portuguese culture are much more evident than those of African culture, although this is less true on São Tiago Island, which has a significant number of people of African ancestry. Most people in Cape Verde are creole; about a quarter are of African descent.

Portuguese is the official language. People also speak Crioulo, an Africanised Creole Portuguese. For its tiny size, Cape Verde has produced a wealth of literature. The works written prior to independence focused on liberation and were mainly in Crioulo. Postindependence, the themes expanded to include the mass emigration from the islands by the 'Americanos' (those Cape Verdeans who've gone to the Americas) and racial discrimination. Some writers, such as Kaoberdiano Dambara, continue to write in Crioulo, while others, such as Onésimo Silveira, write in Portuguese, the dominant literary tongue.

Cape Verde is home to a variety of musical styles. One of the most popular is the foot-stomping funana, a dance beat popular in Praia and other cities and towns; morna, the national songform, typically slow, moody and in a minor key; and coladeira, a fast-moving, fluffy style of dance music. The country's best-known musician is Cesaria Evora, the 'barefoot diva', who sings in the traditional Cabo styles.

Cape Verdean food is basically Portuguese, but some dishes are unique to the islands. One of the most unusual and delicious is pastel com diablo dentro (pastry with the devil inside) - a mix of fresh tuna, onions and tomatoes, wrapped in a pastry blended from boiled potatoes and corn flour, deep fried and served hot. Soups are also popular. One of the most common is coldo de peixe (fish stew), which is loaded with vegetables and spices and thickened with manioc flour. Other specialities include bananas enroladas (bananas wrapped in pastry and deep fried) and manga de conserva (an unsweetened chutney-like concoction).

About 80% of the people are Roman Catholic. At the time of independence in 1975, the Church was the single largest landowner in the country. Subsequent land reform has reduced these holdings, but the Church remains powerful in the country.

An Emigrant People

The poor resources and the long and constant droughts which have always struck the country forced Cape Verdeans, more than three centuries ago, to look for other places in search of a better life. Therefore, the emigrating population (500 thousand) is well above the local resident population (350 thousand). This makes Cape Verde a country of emigrants, who, however, maintain very close relations with their home-land. This can be seen in the culture, particularly in the music and in the development of the country. The remittance of moneys sent to the members of their families resident in the Archipelago, constitute an important source of incoming currency.

Economics and Politics

The country is stable socially and politically. All political parties are very keen to attract foreign private investment, particularly into the development of the tourism sector.  The exchange rate of the Cape Verde Escudo is fixed to the Euro (1Euro=110,265CVE).  Over the last 5 years, average annual inflation has been contained below 1,4% while GDP has grown per annum by more than 6%. GDP per capita approximately US$1,500, resident population of about 450,000.  UN Development Programme's Human Development Index (2003) places Cape Verde as fourth highest of all African nations behind only the Seychelles, Mauritius and Tunisia; declaring it a middle-income country.


In the more humid areas, agriculture is based on the cultivation of corn, beans, squash, sweet potatoes and manioc. In the past the cultivation of sugar cane, coffee, pine nuts and Angola weed, amongst others, basically meant for export and which did in fact play an important part in the commercial balance of the Archipelago. Banana continues to be a product for exportation.


One of Cape Verde's main riches is the sea, due to its very abundant maritime fauna, the underwater platforms and the purity and temperature of the water that varies between 21° to 25°. Among the many permanent species of fish there is the dory, the sawfish, the victor fish, the moray and the grouper. There are also many migratory species such as the tuna, dolphins, whales, sperm whales and killer whales. But it is for its abundant and varied shellfish that the seas of Cape Verde are often visited.

 Lobster, various kinds of crabs and shellfish with magnificent shells, together with the coral are the delight of any collector. Turtles that are considered an endangered species all over the world, choose the beaches of the Archipelago for laying their eggs, and Cape Verde is considered the preferred habitat of diverse types of this species.

The Economist Intelligence Unit reports
Since independence there has been no significant incident of civil unrest in Cape Verde, and changes of government have occurred peacefully. The army has never taken an active role in politics. The geographical isolation of the Islands means that conflicts in the West African region have negligible impact. Violent crime is not common."

Hospitals, Health Centers and Pharmacies are to be found on all the islands, and are available in case of necessity.

Despite being near to the African continent, Cape Verde has exemplary sanitary standards, with no contagious or endemic diseases, and with good coverage on all the islands. Its levels place it among the first of African countries and therefore, for this reason, no vaccination is required before entering the country.


The literacy rate in Cape Verde is about 70 percent, and the demand for primary and secondary education is 85 percent and 48 percent, respectively. Most professionals are college graduates with degrees from European and American universities. Total investment in education accounted for 12 percent of the country's estimated budget for the period 1992-1995.

Further Reading

  • Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle is a diary of the trip that led him to develop the theory of natural selection. There are good descriptions of 1830s Cape Verde.
  • Jen Ludtke's Atlantic Peeks: An Ethnographic Guide to the Portuguese-Speaking Islands covers the ways and wiles of Cape Verdeans.
  • Richard Lobban's Historical dictionary of the Republics of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde is a good reference for Cape Verde's pre-independence history.
  • Follow the ups and downs of the archipelago's politics and social life since independence in Basil Davidson's The Fortunate Isles.
  • Mark Langworthy and Timothy J Finan reveal the complex relationship between Cape Verde's ecology and agriculture in Waiting for Rain.
  • A Birders Guide to the Cape Verde Islands, edited by Dave Sargeant, is a comprehensive guide to all creatures winged and wonderful in the archipelago. But if that's not enough for you, get Cornelis J Hazevoet's Birds of Cape Verde Islands.
  • Know your enemy! Get Noxious Beetles of the Cape Verde Islands, by Michael Geisthardt and Antonius van Harten.

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