This island nation off West Africa may seem small on a map,
but it manages to cram in a variety of landscapes – from the barren expanses of
the eastern islands to the wooded valleys of the western islands. Cape Verde’s
culture is equally eclectic, reflecting African, Portuguese and Caribbean
Dramatic canyons, cloud-covered peaks and vertigo-inducing
drops make Santo Antão an ideal hiking destination. One of the classic walks is
up the stunning Vale do Paúl, passing through fields of sugarcane towards the
pretty village of Passagem. Hotels on the island can advise on routes.
Mount Fogo is one of Cape Verde’s greatest natural landmarks
– a 2,829m-high volcano rising from the floor of an ancient crater. Climbing to
the peak takes around three hours. A good pair of boots is a must, and local
guides can be found in the village of Portela (around £25).
Set around a moon-shaped port and ringed by barren
mountains, Mindelo is Cape Verde’s most picturesque town, with its cobblestone
streets and many pastel-coloured colonial buildings. Take a stroll along Rua da
Libertad d’Africa, which runs into town from the harbour.
Boa Vista has some of
Cape Verde’s best beaches – among them Praia da Santa Mónica in the south.
Turtles also come here to lay eggs – turtle-watching tours can be arranged
through the Migrante Guesthouse
(evening tours from £33, Jul–Sep only).
Nine miles from Praia on the island of Santiago, Cidade
Velha (‘old city’) was the first European settlement in the tropics, founded in
1462 as a stop on the Atlantic slave trade route. The ruins of a 17th-century
cathedral and a grand fort recall its former status.
Eat and drink
In the port city of Mindelo, Café Lisboa is a regular
hangout for musicians, intellectuals and politicians alike. Meet here for
coffee in the daytime and, in the evening, its excellent caipirinhas (no
telephone; Rua da Libertad d’Africa; caipirinhas £2.20).
Painted in lively primary colours, La Pergola 7 is an excellent restaurant
and coffee stop at the Alliance Française (French Cultural Institute) in
Mindelo. Hearty French-accented meals come at very reasonable prices (Alliance
Française, Rua Santo António; mains from £4.80).
Clube Nautica, an upmarket, open-air bar restaurant by the
marina on São Vicente, is a prime spot for fish – tuna is a speciality here. It
is also popular with evening drinkers, with its frequent live music
performances. Morna, the local variant of blues music, is a regular staple (00
238 995 57 88; fish dishes from £5.80).
With rainbow-coloured tables and spectacular views from its
sunny terrace, German-owned Le Bistro 9 in São Filipe on Fogo serves
Mediterranean and Cape Verdean dishes, seizing on the best local seafood (00
238 971 58 83; seafood dishes from £6).
Meaning ‘the woodpecker’, Pica Pau 10 is a lively candle-lit
seafood restaurant in Mindelo, specialising in lobster and risotto dishes. The
walls are decorated with football memorabilia and mementos of old Cape Verdean
life (00 238 232 82 07; Rua Santo Antonio; mains from £6).
The orange-coloured Aparthotel
Holanda is an excellent value hotel in Praia. Arranged around an inner
courtyard, comfortable rooms come with fans, desks and, in some cases, small
balconies overlooking the streets of the lively neighbourhood outside (Rua
Saude; from £28 without breakfast).
Baia Verde offers some of the best value accommodation on
Santiago. Simple, attractive bungalows cluster around palm groves set back from
the main beach in Tarrafal – inside there’s hot water and eccentric bunches of
plastic flowers decorating the rooms (00 238 266 11 28; Tarrafal; bungalows
Dressed up in pink bougainvillea, the Hotel Savana occupies a bright
yellow colonial building in Sao Filipe on the island of Fogo. Simple rooms have
high ceilings and Juliet balconies, and the black volcanic rock decorations
contrast sharply with the bright colour scheme (Alta Sao Pedro; from £35).
Built in the 19th century by a Jewish-Moroccan family, Migrante Guesthouse in the
middle of Sal Rei has five rooms set around a courtyard. Each has darkwood
floors, big soft beds and black and white photographic prints adorning the
whitewashed walls (Avenida Amílcar Cabral; from £35).
A lime-green building
on the seafront in Mindelo, Casa Cafe
Mindelo is a French-run guesthouse
whose four rooms mix African art with contemporary décor. There’s also a café
specialising in seafood. Be sure to book ahead (Rue Governador Calheiros 6;
TACV flies between almost all inhabited islands in Cape
Verde, although last-minute cancellations can occur (singles from around £40). Halcyon Air also offers internal
flights. Inter-island ferries operate, with varying degrees of comfort.
When to go
Cape Verde is cooler than most of West Africa, and can be
visited year-round, even during the rainy season from mid-August to
mid-October. The biggest festival is Mardi Gras, celebrated with particular
gusto in the town of Mindelo on São Vicente.
How to go
The main airport for Cape Verde is on the island of Sal. Thomson flies there from Gatwick
(from £330) and Manchester (from £350). You can also fly to the capital, Praia,
from Heathrow with TAP Portugal, via
Lisbon (from £470).
The article 'Mini guide to Cape Verde' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.