Cape Verde: A Symphony of Nature's Wonders
Embark on an immersive journey through Cape Verde, a captivating archipelago off the coast of West Africa. Discover the enchanting isles, pristine beaches, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural heritage of this West African gem. Experience the tranquillity and isolation of the islands through captivating travelogues and stunning photographs.
Discovering Cape Verde: An Uncharted Paradise
Many, upon reading the title, might not even be aware of the existence of such a country, let alone the islands that form it. I was among those unenlightened until a short while ago. Then, while exploring potential destinations for my May holiday, Cape Verde caught my eye, and I was immediately captivated by the diversity and beauty it seemed to offer.
Located off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde differs from its mainland counterparts in that it's an archipelago, insulated from the endemic issues typically associated with the continent, such as malaria and other diseases. At least, not in proportions that would necessitate fretting over vaccinations.
Cape Verde, I discovered, is an archipelago composed of ten volcanic islands. Two of them, Sal and Boa Vista, stand out as the main tourist destinations, offering pristine beaches and a thriving tourism infrastructure. Direct flights from London are available, making these islands conveniently accessible. However, the islands' capital and hub of activity is situated on a separate island, Santiago, providing an intriguing contrast between the touristic and the authentic local life.
What appealed to me most was the enticing imagery of the larger islands - looming mountain ranges, volcanic craters, and dense jungles. These captivating sights made me vow to plan a more comprehensive exploration of Cape Verde in the future.
The Historical Influence of Portugal
Historically, Cape Verde was a colony of Portugal, and this influence is still evident today, particularly in the prevalent use of Portuguese as the official language. The most convenient travel route from Europe typically involves a stopover in Lisbon, possibly through TAP Air Portugal. This makes it a suitable destination for a week-long holiday, and for those with some extra time, why not incorporate a brief exploration of Lisbon too?
With a fascinating blend of African, Brazilian, and Portuguese influences, Cape Verde's cultural richness is as varied as its landscapes. Its music, particularly the genre known as "morna," is widely celebrated. The late Cesária Évora dubbed the "Barefoot Diva," was one of its most famous practitioners and helped to put Cape Verdean music on the global stage.
My Inaugural Visit to the Flat and Enigmatic Islands
Indeed, I embarked on my journey to these islands, choosing a light itinerary that one could describe as an exploratory mission. I decided on one of the islands that boasted not just sprawling resorts with vast pools and endless beaches, but also a taste of local life. On arrival, the island revealed itself to be exceptionally flat. A scenic drive from the airport to the hotel felt almost surreal, like approaching a colossal castle set by the sea, standing alone with seemingly infinite space around it. It was clear from the get-go that space was in no short supply on this vast and expansive island.
A day, at the very least, would be required to circumnavigate this island by car. It was relatively underdeveloped, with few structures except in the airport vicinity and some local dwellings scattered across the north. Towards the south lay my holiday retreat.
Initially, I had no grand plans to traverse the island extensively. The idea of a relaxed holiday was more appealing. Thus, the first half of my vacation was largely spent acquainting myself with the local beaches, which were absolutely worth the time. Stepping onto the sandy shores, one could see the beach stretch almost infinitely into the horizon, offering a vast expanse to explore. It was a soothing sight to see the waves rhythmically kissing the shoreline before retreating back into the ocean. The vegetation was sparse, save for a few plants around the hotel. The rest of the landscape felt somewhat barren, with little else but a few rocks punctuating the coastline. Yet, there was a unique charm to this seemingly barren landscape that was immensely soothing. After days of basking in the sun, sea, and tranquillity, I felt fully recharged and ready for the next chapter of my adventure.
The Remarkable Diversity of Cape Verde
Despite its small size, Cape Verde has a remarkable diversity of landscapes, from its sandy beaches to its volcanic peaks. The highest peak, Pico do Fogo, is an active stratovolcano located on the island of Fogo. The volcano's last eruption was in 2014, and today, you can trek up to the crater for an unforgettable experience. Also, don't miss the opportunity to sample the local wine produced in the unique volcanic soils surrounding the volcano.
After a few days of lounging on the beaches, I felt an itch to explore the local surroundings. So, one fine day, my journey led me to the area closer to the airport. There, I found the most substantial settlement on the island with its quaint houses, a stark contrast to the hotel's luxurious expanse.
What piqued my interest most were the famous sand dunes of the island. Reaching them felt like a mini-adventure. I spent half a day rolling in the fine sand, trying to capture the shifting patterns on my camera. The sand, almost fluid in nature, flowed from one side to the other, forming unusual shapes along with the indigenous bushes. Despite the heat, it wasn't unbearably hot, thanks to the gentle wind that started blowing eventually. This allowed me to spend ample time amidst these sandy waves without any discomfort.
Surprisingly, there were hardly any people around, and I didn't notice any critters – no insects, scorpions, or snakes – a point I considered maybe I should have researched about the local fauna. At the moment, however, it didn’t bother me as I walked carefree among the sands, attempting to capture a few good shots.
Photographing the dunes was challenging due to the island's flat landscape. They weren't as high as the ones you'd see in Gran Canaria but extended for kilometres. Their appeal lay in the feeling of being in a natural environment rather than a tourist hotspot. They had a sense of untouched beauty, known but not excessively populated, that made the experience all the more special.
Having appreciated the dunes, my next destination was an intriguing shipwreck on another part of the island. Evidently, these islands were once significant seafaring points, evidenced by the numerous historical shipwrecks dotted around. This wasn't an ancient relic but an abandoned ship stranded on the southern coast. The sight of this solitary vessel in the sea, battered by waves and wind, and surrounded by the sandy beach, was quite a sight to behold. Approaching it was a challenge, but its melancholy beauty made the journey worthwhile.
Jumping over sand dunes and quarries, I tried to approach the water's edge. Despite the tumultuous waves, I managed to capture a few shots. It was slightly challenging due to the strong waves and disorienting landscape, but given that I found myself in this part of the island, I didn't want to miss out.
On another day, I decided to venture closer to the hotel. The beach extended into vast, flat plains frequented by quad bikers. There were also more sand dunes that stretched out to the sea. One unique aspect of this part of the island was the dried-up lakes covered with a white crust, especially visible where vehicles had disturbed the surface layer.
The landscape resembled a desolate prairie with sparse vegetation. But the highlight was definitely the expansive beach. Here, the dunes were taller, forming a narrow strip of beach that seemed to stretch out to the horizon. A notable downside, however, was the wind. It was usually breezy on the island, and this place was no exception. The wind stirred up a lot of sand, creating an almost cinematic spectacle of waves crashing into the shores among the peaceful beaches. But one had to be careful of the sand carried by the wind from the inland areas of the island.
Besides the beach and dunes, there wasn't much else to see on the island. In the distance, near the airport, I could spot a group of relatively tall hills closer to the north of the island. One of my routes took me there, offering vast landscapes and slightly more hilly terrains. The vegetation there was mostly made up of sparse bushes, with patches of larger plants interspersed.
There were small local villages in the north, offering a glimpse into the island's culture. However, there weren't any specific places that beckoned for a prolonged stay. It was more of a sightseeing tour. After this exploration, I was eager to return to the comfort of the sea and the beach, where I could relax and spend the rest of my week.
Indeed, this trip had its unique appeal, characterized by the isolation and tranquillity of the island. The second island, even flatter and with fewer local attractions aside from the beaches and hotels, offered a heightened sense of seclusion, which was captivating in its own way. However, for me, exploring larger islands with diverse landscapes is far more intriguing. The variety of scenery, from volcanic craters typical of island landscapes to tropical vegetation, tends to provide a more engaging experience.
The plan to visit the main island is still in my mind. When the time is right, I definitely intend to explore the other islands of Cape Verde. But such a trip will require more planning, especially considering the pace of life there, which is somewhat laid-back by African standards. Cape Verde offers a fascinating mix of cultures, with local inhabitants having Portuguese roots due to the country's past as a Portuguese colony.
While Cape Verde is relatively developed, one must understand that it still has its own peculiarities and challenges, particularly when it comes to organization. This isn't a mainstream tourist destination, and therefore, it necessitates some research and self-dependence.
There's something about islands that draws me in – perhaps it's their sense of completeness. For instance, Sardinia, Corsica, and similar islands, like the Canary Islands, each seems to be their own encapsulated world. The borders are clear, allowing you to grasp the island's essence in its entirety rather than just experiencing a part of the mainland. Undoubtedly, the islands of Cape Verde, particularly the main island with the capital, are on my list of places to explore when the opportunity arises.