Cape Verde is a spectacular volcanic archipelago off the coast of West Africa. Safe, relatively developed, and with a friendly culture, this small island country makes for a wonderful (and somewhat off the beaten path) trip.
Where is Cape Verde?
Cape Verde is a collection of nine islands off the coast of West Africa, roughly near Senegal and Mauritania.
It’s about 6 hours flying from London, Paris, or Amsterdam. From Lisbon, where I live, it’s roughly 4 hours.
There are also direct flights from east coast USA. From Boston, it takes about 7½ hours to get to Cape Verde.
What you should know about Cape Verde?
Cape Verde (known as Cabo Verde in the native language) was uninhabited before the 15th century. So when we say the Portuguese ‘discovered’ the islands, they actually did — before promptly colonizing it, of course. Cape Verdians are mostly descendants of European settlers and African slaves who were brought to the islands.
The islands became independent from Portugal in 1975 and have been a stable democracy since the 1990s.
About half a million people live in Cape Verde, though more than that live around the world as part of Cape Verde’s diaspora. It’s very much a culture of emigrants; when you speak with Cape Verdians you’ll quickly notice that many have worked abroad, or have family there.
You can also notice countries like Portugal, Netherlands, and Luxembourg have ties with Cape Verde because of its diaspora. These countries are often involved in development projects on the islands.
What’s the best time to visit?
Cape Verde is a tropical destination with a rainy season from July to October. That typically doesn’t mean it rains all the time, but you could be quite unlucky with the weather if you visit during this time.
The best time to visit Cape Verde is usually considered from November to April. It’s dry and sunny during this time, making it a perfect winter escape from Europe or North America.
When I visited in February, air temperatures were mostly in the 25 to 30 Celsius range. But at times it could easily be 5 degrees lower, depending on the location. The towns are mostly on the coast where it can be breezy, while areas further inland can be much more sunny and dry. Bring sunblock and sunglasses, but equally a jumper.
When I return to Cape Verde in the future, I plan to visit shortly after the rainy season, when the landscapes are at their greenest.
What is Cabo Verde known for?
Cabe Verde is known for its volcanic landscapes, warm tropical climate, Portuguese colonial heritage, unique musical forms (including morna and sodade) and delicious hearty cuisine. It’s Africa’s most westerly point and thanks to being in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s a great location for whale, dolphin, and sea turtle spotting.
Are there many beach resorts on Cape Verde?
There certainly are quite a few, especially on the islands of Sal and Boa Vista, which have had the most tourism development. Cape Verde is known for its all-inclusive resorts, so if you’re looking for a beach holiday, this will be a great destination to consider.
If (like me) you prefer traveling with a backpack and a travel guidebook in hand, then Cape Verde is absolutely your place to go as well! I went to the islands of Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, and Santiago, where most tourism is very small-scale and local.
When researching Cape Verde prior to my trip, I had the impression that Cape Verde is really all about resort tourism, mainly because much of the information online comes from package tour organizations like TUI. In practice, I found that many of the islands are ideal for independent travelers.
Can you travel solo on Cape Verde?
You certainly can as Cape Verde is a safe and interesting destination to explore by yourself.
I traveled solo to Cape Verde mainly with the goal of hiking many of the trails. I walked some of the solo, others together with other backpackers. The routes are obvious and there are often villages along the way where you can grab lunch or ask for directions if needed.
I also rented a car and explored the islands, sometimes picking up local passengers along the way. This was a fun way of interacting with Cape Verdians and learning about their lives. Most islanders speak only Portuguese or French, so your mileage may vary, but if you can communicate you’ll find they are super friendly.
If you’re used to backpacker-style travel, then hostels can help you meet other travelers. There aren’t many hostels on Cape Verde but the few that exist can more easily introduce you to other people. For example, there is Simabo’s Backpackers in Mindelo, a charity hostel which helps fund an animal rescue center. Black Mamba on Santo Antao is a guesthouse that has a hostel-like atmosphere.
That said, Cape Verde is not such a well-known (solo) backpacking destination, so you may not be able to socialize with other travellers easily all the time. If you are okay with doing some things alone or engaging with the local culture, you can have a great solo trip.
Is Cape Verde safe?
Yes, broadly speaking it’s very safe. The islands are very peaceful and low-stress. Crime rates are low and not to be compared in any way with mainland West Africa.
You might hear a few cautions or two about the big cities at night. For example, the outskirts of Mindelo or certain neighborhoods in the capital Praia are known for increased crime, though these are also not areas of any tourism interest.
Although Cape Verde is technically part of West Africa — a part of Africa not usually known for high levels of safety — it is separated from it by hundreds of miles of Atlantic ocean, having a very different safety profile of its own.
My overall sense was that in terms of safety it is more similar to Europe. The usual safety or theft precautions apply in Cape Verde (as they do anywhere!), but you can generally feel safe on Cape Verde.
In Mindelo I was approached a few times by strangers asking for money to buy educational materials (pens, paper, etc.) or who were hoping for a tip after giving me directions. The level of hassle seemed to be very low overall and truly a world apart from the extreme hassle that can be experienced in nearby countries such as Morocco.
Is Cape Verde cheap to travel?
I traveled mostly on the islands of Santo Antao and São Vicente and traveled around budget-style, avoiding resorts or major hotels. Based on my impressions, I thought Cape Verde was mostly a ‘medium budget’ kind of destination.
It’s not super cheap like certain corners of Asia or Latin America, but it can be a lot cheaper than much of Europe, the US, and so on. Here are some rough indications (100 escudos is about $1 USD or €0.90).
|Meal in a regular restaurant||~ 500 escudos (typically rather big portions)|
|Meal in a tourist-focused restaurant||800 – 900 escudos|
|Basic room in guesthouse or pensão||~ 2000 escudos|
|Dorm-style accommodation||Rare and not that much cheaper, typically 1500 to 2000 escudos|
|Fancier guesthouse (e.g. beautiful decoration, Airbnb-style)||Up to 5000 escudos|
In total, I believe I spent about $45 USD per day on my trip, without trying to be frugal.
Transportation between towns and cities is very inexpensive if you take shared minivans that are called alugueres. I often hopped between villages for just 100 escudos or so.
On Santo Antao, you’ll probably want to get to the centre of the island where many of the hiking trails start. The standard price for this ride is about 2000 escudos (about $20) one way. You can reduce this cost by finding other travellers to share the ride with. The cost is this high because there is no town at the centre where alugueres go.
I should mention your travel costs can rise a lot if you go island hopping. One traveler told me he’d spent over 1000 Euro on flights alone so he could move to another island every 2 days or so. I only spent 500 Euro on my flights to- and from Cape Verde by focusing my trip on two islands and taking a ferry between them.
Any scams or rip-offs to know about?
It seems most people are honest on Cape Verde. This country isn’t like, say, Morocco where people try to fleece tourists at every opportunity.
Ride fares to airports or tourist sights are standardized, so it’s unlikely you’ll be ripped off by taxi drivers. I did notice people often nudged me towards the more expensive tourist option (e.g. taking a private taxi instead of a shared minivan) but that’s to be expected.
In a city like Mindelo, people might sometimes approach you on the street, but in pretty good-natured ways (based on my and other travelers’ experience at least). For example, one guy asked for a donation to buy education supplies, another wanted to recommend some live music in town for some escudos.
What languages are spoken on Cabo Verde?
People mostly speak Portuguese or a Creole that’s pretty similar to it. Some people also speak a bit of English, especially those working in tourism.
Since I speak a bit of Portuguese, I thought I’d have an especially easy time. During my first days on the island of Santo Antao, I was surprised that many people replied to me in French. It seems this is due to a fair number of French expats calling it their home, as well many people from French-speaking Africa. I later learned 14% of Cabo Verdians are francophones.
Cape Verde is a nation of emigrants; of the million Cape Verdians, half live abroad. I met a few locals who spoke perfect Dutch since they or their family worked in the maritime industry in Rotterdam.
If you don’t know Portuguese, you can still get by with using gestures and improvisation. Knowing some Spanish may help you understand some basic Portuguese.
What about flights to Cape Verde?
During normal non-pandemic times, regularly scheduled direct flights can be found to Lisbon, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Rome, Boston, Washington DC, among others.
Seasonal holiday flights with companies such as TUI and Transavia also fly from numerous locations, including the UK. These flights mainly go to the resort hotel islands of Sal and Boa Vista. From there, you can take a domestic flight to other islands.
How can you island-hop in Cape Verde?
The islands that are close to each other are easy to travel between by ferry. All islands also have an airport except for Santo Antao.
Do you need a visa for Cape Verde?
Citizens of many countries can enter Cape Verde visa-free. This includes visitors from almost all European countries, as well as the USA, Canada, and Brazil. You can see further details on Wikipedia. You can stay up to 30 days visa-free.
When you can travel visa-free, you still need to pay an Airport Security Tax. A website where you can pre-register and pay the tax exists here, but you may find this system is a little broken. But no matter; you can just pay this tax upon arrival in Cape Verde. You’ll find a counter just before passport control.
The tax is 3400 escudos (about 30 Euro). It can be paid in cash or using a bank- or credit card. If you don’t yet have any escudos, you can also pay in Euro.
What’s the local currency?
The local currency is the escudo. You can’t get it outside of Cape Verde. You’re also officially not allowed to take escudo notes out of the country.
There are ATMs on the islands where you can take the local currency out using your bank- or credit card. If you’re going to a place that’s not a major city or reasonably sized town, it’s possible there won’t be a bank ATM. It’s worth having some cash with you for these situations. Only some businesses accept card payments.
What plug type is used in Cape Verde?
Cape Verde uses Type C and Type F plugs. This is the same plug type as used throughout Europe (except for the UK). You’ll need a plug adaptor if you’re from the UK, North America, or further afield.
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