FX Excursions

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Bask in the Warmth and Cultural Fusion of Cabo Verde’s Islands

by Ron Bernthal

Jun 20, 2024

© Sam74100 | Dreamstime.com

June 2024

Césaria Évora, Cabo Verde’s “Barefoot Diva,” often sang about her home, the stunning island of São Vicente, one of the 10 inhabited islands comprising the nation of Cabo Verde. When Évora died in 2011 at the age of 70, all of Cabo Verde mourned.

Growing up, Évora experienced the ubiquitous poverty of Cabo Verde, an island nation with few natural resources and high unemployment. It saddened her that almost 70 percent of the country’s skilled workers had to leave their homes for work in other countries. For many Cabo Verdeans who live abroad in Europe or North America, sending money back to their island families is a monthly ritual, but with current tourism expansion and cultural and sustainable development projects, more prosperity has arrived in this beautiful archipelago off the coast of West Africa.

paddleboarding

© Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort

Although the official language of Cabo Verde is Portuguese (Portugal ruled these islands for 500 years), the language in the streets is Creole, a mixture of Portuguese and West African tribal languages. In many ways this group of sun-drenched islands, arranged in a backward C shape, proves a perfect place to relax and kick back. Sunshine bathes the islands 300-plus days per year, and the temperature hovers between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. During the past two decades, international travelers, mostly from Europe, discovered the spectacular white- or black-sand beaches of the islands, with many purchasing affordable vacation villas just a few hours’ flying time from cold winters in London, Berlin and Zürich.

In the town of Santa Maria, on the island of Sal, named for its many salt ponds, visitors book villas, large resort properties or small boutique hotels, with watersports the main activity. Ribbons of new asphalt now stretch for miles into the flat, desert-like terrain surrounding Santa Maria, with new seaside properties opening each year. One of the biggest resorts on Sal, the $140 million Royal Horizon Ponta Sino, will debut later this year with 550 rooms and a large beachfront.

On Santa Maria Beach check out Atlantic Star Nautical Center in front of Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort with water activities including diving, windsurfing, snorkeling, kiteboarding, beach buggies, Jet Skis, electric beach bikes and more. Just 15 minutes away find Zipline Cabo Verde, opened in 2021.

On the island of Boa Vista with its 30 miles of white-sand beachfront, the environment is somewhat greener than Sal. European and North American visitors arrive daily at the island’s new international airport looking for music, nightlife and love in Sal Rei, the largest town on Boa Vista.

For more beaches and interesting cultural venues, take a short flight to the island of São Vicente and stay in the pretty colonial town of Mindelo, founded in 1793. Known as Cabo Verde’s music and cultural center, the island is the birthplace of Évora. Take time to visit Mindelo Cultural Center, where visitors can experience serendipitous moments by coming across a theater rehearsal, music classes, visual art displays or yoga classes. Mindelo offers a scenic, deepwater harbor, usually filled with boats bringing in fresh fish for your night’s dinner.

restaurant

© Chez Pastis

Cabo Verde’s largest and most populated island, Santiago, measuring 35 miles long and 18 miles wide, is more tropical and mountainous than the others. Its flourishing agricultural industry exports bananas, mangos and coffee. Because the country’s capital city, Praia, is here, you’ll find numerous neighborhoods to explore, some gritty, others more developed with businesses, shops and pretty residential sections.

In Praia you will see barefoot schoolboys playing soccer on dirt pitches and women selling clothing, fruit, t-shirts and souvenirs at the outdoor market. Small barbecue stands appear on the streets at sunset offering inexpensive, fresh-grilled fish and chicken to visitors and locals, often accompanied by nearby audio speakers playing morna, a soulful music genre sung in Creole and Portuguese. Kick back at an outdoor barbecue with a local beer and music for a quintessential Cabo Verde experience.

Rental cars are available for exploring Santiago; when visiting smaller islands use local, inexpensive taxis. Praia, the name of the capital, means “beach” in Portuguese, and you will see them often while traveling around Cabo Verde. Or just hang out on one island and soak in the relaxed atmosphere and friendly vibes.

interior

© Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort

Lodging

Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort

With 241 modern guestrooms, this beachside resort sits by Atlantic Star Nautical Center and Casino Royal, the country’s only gaming venue. Enjoy several dining options and complimentary breakfast daily.
Avenida dos Hotels, Santa Maria, Sal
$$$–$$$$

Oásis Atlântico Praiamar Hotel
Just 4 miles from Nelson Mandela Praia International Airport, the business-style property offers 123 guestrooms and three suites, some with sea views. Amenities include outdoor pool and pool bar, cliffside Panorama Bar, auditorium, on-site car rental and beach proximity.
WF3P+5V9, Praia, Santiago
$$$

Ouril Hotel Mindelo
Opened in 2023, the 130-room hotel lies a five-minute walk to Mindelo Harbor and a 10-minute walk to stunning Laginha Beach, cafés and restaurants. Guests enjoy free breakfast, WiFi, covered self-parking, two outdoor pools and wonderful views.
Avenida Marginal, Mindelo, São Vicente
$$–$$$

Dining

Chez Pastis
Try the unique smoked fish carpaccio appetizers with slices of fish fillet, lemon juice and olive oil, and the popular grilled Brazilian filet mignon. At the end of your meal, ask staff to prepare the special Sambuca Tchaka Tchaka experience.
R. Amilcar Cabral 5, Santa Maria, Sal
$$$

Dokas Restaurant & Bar
Eat outdoors in Mindelo overlooking the marina and harbor or in the air-conditioned dining room with large glass windows. Main entrées include grilled chicken, kebabs, grilled catch of the day, mixed grilled seafood and lobster.
Avenida Marginal, Baia Porto Grande, Mindelo, São Vicente
$$$–$$$$

Morabeza Beach Bar & Lounge
This outdoor restaurant on Estoril Beach prepares excellent steak, grilled lobster and fresh seafood just off the boat. Located near the town of Sal Rei, the chic spot often offers live music at night.
Praia Estoril, João Cristovão, Sal Rei, Boa Vista
$$$–$$$$

market

© Hilton Cabo Verde Sal Resort

INFO TO GO

Cabo Verde boasts 11 islands (one an uninhabited nature reserve) and seven airports, with the island of Sal’s Amílcar Cabral International Airport considered the main airport for domestic and international flights due to the island’s many tourist accommodations. Nelson Mandela Praia International Airport serves the capital city of Praia with domestic and international flights. Travelers on São Vicente use Cesária Évora Airport for domestic and international flights, and on Boa Vista Island, Aristides Pereira International Airport. Cabo Verde Airlines offers frequent service from Lisbon; Paris; and Bergamo, Italy; and TAP Air Portugal flies frequently from Lisbon. Several other airlines offer service from numerous European cities.

There is no public transportation from/to any airport in Cabo Verde. It is best to inquire at your accommodation about airport transport before arriving. Taxis are generally available, and prices are fairly standardized throughout the islands. Fares run about €10–15 (about $11–16) each way for airport trips. Tipping 10 percent is appreciated.

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