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Things to do in Cape Verde

Must-see Cape Verde sights

Whether you want to shake your booty at a Brazilian-style carnival, sip caipirinhas in chic bayfront cafés or get to know Africa’s oldest Creole culture, there’s something for everyone on the wildly diverse Cape Verde islands.

  1. Wind down on a world-class beach
  2. Get a colourful culture fix
  3. Amble the Garden of Eden
  4. Discover island history
  5. Be awed by a live volcano
  6. Drive through a desert
  7. Encounter ocean giants

Hop from one island the next and you could find yourself snorkelling with loggerhead turtles one day, hiking a volcano the next. One thing’s for sure, there’s a massive choice of things to do on each of the nine inhabited islands.

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1. Wind down on a world-class beach

Powder-soft sand to sink your toes in. Turquoise sea to cool off in. Relax, rinse and repeat. Pretty Praia de Santa Maria on the island of Sal has everything you could ask of a beach. But if you’re wondering what to do when you tire of basking and bathing, this beach is known for its windsurfing. Or you could stroll to one of the promenade restaurants to savour seafood caught by fishermen working off the beach pier – supper doesn’t come fresher than that.

Top alternative: Ponta Preta, Cape Verde’s most famous windsurfing spot, located northwest of Santa Maria.

2. Get a colourful culture fix

The cobblestoned streets of Mindelo - capital of São Vicente - display Cape Verdean culture in dazzling Technicolor, with a backdrop of rugged mountains and bright merchants’ houses lining Porto Grande harbour. Known for its nightlife and Brazilian style Carnival, culture vultures will feel at home here too, with a cosmopolitan café scene and the Centro Cultural do Mindelo offering excellent local arts and crafts exhibitions. Culture vultures - Mindelo should be top of your list when planning what to do in Cape Verde.

Top alternative: Praia, located on Santiago island, and capital of the archipelago.

3. Amble the Garden of Eden

Kind of. The Vale do Paúl on Santo Antão certainly feels like paradise. A sweet, earthy aroma of tropical plants hangs thick in the air as you trek the lush valley, encountering friendly farmers and old ladies lugging baskets of mangoes and papayas along the way. Stop-off at a sugarmill to sample a shot of grogue. With a weird-but-appealing warm banana aroma, this rum-based island icon packs of whole lotta punch. If you have a head for heights (and have kept your grogue intake to a minimum), continue down through the valley to Vila das Pombas where the end of the trail opens onto the sea. For Cape Verde holidays with an injection of outdoor adventuring, this should be top of your list.

Top alternative: Serra Malagueta on Santiago, a protected region of forested mountains harbouring endemic plants and birds.

4. Discover island history

As the main slave trading point between Africa, Europe and America, Santiago’s Cidade Velha (Old City) was the first city to be built by Europeans in West Africa. Today it’s a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a fort, churches and ruined cathedral to explore. What makes this place even more special, though, is that modern village life goes on around the ruins, with kids playing football, neighbours chatting and fishermen pulling up their boats among the historic sights.

Top alternative: Museu Etnográfico da Praia for its beautiful 19th-century building and insights into early island settlements.

5. Be awed by a live volcano

Head to the Parque Natural do Fogo to see Pico do Fogo, Cape Verde’s only live volcano. Its presence looms large in every way – a 2014 eruption saw the park’s headquarters all but swallowed by lava flow, and communities living on the crater floor had to relocate. While hiking here is now a risky activity, it’s well worth taking a guided trip in a 4-wheel drive. A rough road through eerie fields of molten rock leads to the volcano’s perfect cone of lava and ash, making for a truly out-of-this-world experience.

Top alternative: it might be extinct, but the mighty Monte Gordo volcano on São Nicolau will keep hikers happy.

6. Drive through a desert

Dominating Boa Vista’s landscape, the wind-sculpted Deserto de Viana is a top Cape Verde attraction, with its bone-white sands rippling before a mountainous backdrop. Despite its Sahara-esque appearance there aren’t any camels here, so you could either hike it, or quad bike it. And with some dunes reaching a height of 50 meters, you could be in for quite a ride.

Top alternative: Boa Vista’s Praia de Chaves – where dunes sweep down onto a breathtakingly beautiful beach.

7. Encounter ocean giants

From humpback whales to loggerhead turtles, Cape Verde’s Atlantic waters teem with wildlife. For the best chance of seeing the biggest beasts - one of the best things to do in Cape Verde - head to Boa Vista, which is a breeding ground for mighty humpbacks. Peak whale-watching season is in March and April, though sightings are possible from late February to May.

Top alternative: Cape Verde has the world’s third-largest population of nesting loggerhead turtles – visit in July-September to see.

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