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Lying in the Atlantic Ocean off the bulge of Africa and only six hours' flying time from the major airports of Europe, the volcanic Cape Verde archipelago is rapidly emerging as an inspiring holiday destination for those seeking something different.
The nine inhabited islands are bursting with their own individual character and unique musical culture, besides offering plenty of opportunities for relaxation or active pursuits. The rapidly developing island of Sal is particularly popular, with long white sandy beaches luring European beach buffs and watersports enthusiasts. The main tourist town, Santa Maria, near the international airport, is earning its place on the global map as a surfing destination, and also as a major draw for windsurfers and kite surfers, with its trade winds and winter swells.
A former Portuguese colony, Cape Verde has made remarkable strides after independence to ensure that it is one of Africa's most politically and economically stable nations. Despite a lack of natural resources Verdeans have managed to focus their economy on the service industry, particularly tourism.
Most visitors utilise the inter-island ferries or domestic airline to explore more than just one of these ruggedly beautiful islands, each of which has unique sights or experiences to offer. Sao Vicente is the cultural hub of the archipelago, and it is here that visitors will encounter the music and nightlife for which Cape Verde has become rightly famous. Fogo and Brava are littered with volcanoes, while Sal and Mayo offer pristine beaches and undulating dunes.
Cape Verde has a feast of thrilling experiences for holidaymakers, who are certain to find the type of sun-filled adventure they're after. Those who wish to retreat into a natural paradise where bustling crowds simply do not exist should visit the volcanic island of Santo Antao. Along with world-class treks for hikers, the island showcases the destination's Portuguese roots and is home to the famed Cape Verde rum called , which is enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.
Culture lovers should add Santiago to their itineraries. The island promises an authentic taste of African traditions and, through the 15th-century fortress of Cidade Velha, a glimpse of the region's dramatic history with the slave trade. Sao Vicente is the place to be for travellers who want to dance the night away at lively parties, savour local cuisine at charming restaurants, or windsurf the Atlantic Ocean.
Sal is the liveliest and most developed of the Cape Verde islands. More than half of the tourists in Cape Verde make the trip to Sal to enjoy the crystal waters lapping long stretches of white, sandy beach, including watersports enthusiasts and holidaymakers who make the most of the rapidly developing hotels and resorts. The town of Santa Maria is home to the most popular resorts in Cape Verde. A former fishing village, the streets are lined with pastel-painted buildings that are more likely to host a souvenir shop, bar, or restaurant than anything else. Santa Maria has some of the best beaches in Cape Verde, stretching for five miles (8km) and popular for windsurfing, fishing, and scuba diving.
The largest island in the archipelago and arguably boasting the best scenery, Santiago is also the most populated. Its residents are more traditionally African in culture than those on many of the other islands, which is reflected in their musical traditions, markets and the many festivals held during the year. Santiago is the site of Cape Verde's capital city, Praia, and the picturesque fishing town of Tarrafal. Praia has an interesting marine archaeology museum dedicated to documenting the various shipwrecks that have occurred around the islands. The interior of Santiago is characterised by two towering chains of mountains, while the coastline sports small, sandy, palm-fringed coves.
The island of Santo Antao is divided dramatically in two by a mountain range with peaks rearing up to 4,921ft (1,500m), making it attractive for trekking, particularly through the tropical vegetation of the deep green valleys that encase the 16th-century town of Povoacao. Hiking is the most popular activity for tourists on Santo Antao, and the sparse human development ensures a special experience of nature. Canyoning and biking are also fun activities on this beautiful, volcanic island. A walk around the small town of Ponta do Sol is recommended to enjoy the old buildings and colonial heritage. Visitors can reach Santo Antao by ferry from the port of Mindelo on the more populated island of Sao Vicente.
Lovely voices and volcanic mountains characterise Sao Vicente, the most sophisticated island of the Cape Verde archipelago. It is the home of Cape Verde's most famous singer, Cesaria Evora, renowned as the 'barefoot diva'. The port city of Mindelo is the cultural capital of Cape Verde. Home to over 90 percent of the population of Sao Vicente, it houses a number of interesting markets, a few picturesque colonial-style government buildings, and restaurants serving delicious local cuisine such as cachupa stew. Mindelo has a lively nightlife all year long, but truly comes alive each March for Carnaval, one of the biggest parties in Cape Verde.
The tropical climate of Cape Verde is tempered by trade winds, with temperatures remaining constant most of the year. Temperatures average between 78°F and 86°F (26°C - 30°C) year-round, but it can get hotter on the flatter islands or inland. The weather does vary slightly from island to island in the archipelago, depending on each island's geography and location. There is almost uninterrupted sunshine from November to May but the winds usually keep the heat bearable.
The wind can be strong in Cape Verde and, although it is great for making waves for surfing, it is also important to note that visitors should pay attention to the lifeguard warnings and flags for their own safety when the surf is powerful. The rainy season is during August, September and October; the amount of rain is rather unpredictable and Cape Verde has suffered severe droughts in the past. When it does rain the showers can be dramatic and sudden. The sea temperatures are lovely and warm, which adds to Cape Verde's popularity.
The best time to visit the islands is between March and June, though the best waves for surfers are found from April to June.
The unit of currency is the Cape Verdean Escudo (CVE), broken down into 100 centavos. As this is a local currency it cannot be obtained before arrival and cannot be reconverted outside of Cape Verde. There is a bureau de change at the airport. ATMs can be found at the airport and in Sal, Praia and Sao Vincent. Major credit cards, particularly MasterCard and Visa, are currently accepted in a few main resort hotels and restaurants. Banks will give cash on credit cards but commissions are high.
The official language is Portuguese, though a patois known as Crioulo tends to be used in conversation.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50 Hz. Round two-pin attachment plugs and Schuko plugs are used.
US nationals: US citizens require a valid passport and visa. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
UK nationals: UK citizens require a valid passport and visa. A visa is not required for stays of up to 30 days. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
CA nationals: Canadians require a valid passport and visa. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
AU nationals: Australians require a valid passport and visa. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
ZA nationals: South Africans require a valid passport and visa. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport. A visa is not required for up to 30 days. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a valid passport and visa. A visa can be obtained on arrival. All documents must be valid for six months after the arrival date.
Visitors of any nationality require a passport valid for the period of six months after intended stay to enter the Cape Verde Islands.
A yellow fever vaccination is required for those arriving from an infected area. No other vaccinations are required for travel to Cape Verde, but vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid, and it is generally advised that all travellers be up to date on vaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria. Malaria medication is recommended for travel to Santiago Island. Outbreaks of Brucellosis are occasionally reported.
Water is unsafe to drink without prior treatment, and milk is unpasteurised. Medical facilities are limited and some medicines are in short supply. Visitors should receive free hospital treatment in general hospitals on presenting their passports, but health insurance is strongly advised, with coverage for emergency repatriation. Those who require prescription medication for their holiday should bring it with them. They should also make sure they have the necessary documents from their doctor to get the medication through customs.
At least 10 percent tip should be given if no service charge has been added to the bill, and tips should be in local currency.
Visits to Cape Verde are usually trouble free. The political situation is stable and the crime rate is low. The only danger is presented by occasional hazardous sea conditions around the islands.
Though Cape Verdeans are friendly and hospitable, there are a few local customs that visitors should be aware of. A handshake is generally a proper greeting, but on occasion women may kiss on the cheek. People tend to stand close together when speaking, and may touch each other platonically. Casual dress is acceptable in most situations. Visitors should note there is zero tolerance towards possessing, using or trafficking any type of illegal drugs. Those who are convicted can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Business in Cape Verde is conducted in Portuguese or English. Most of Cape Verde's business links are with Portugal. Business hours are generally 8am to 12:30pm and 2:30pm to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
The country code is +238. The outgoing code is 0 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 044 for the United Kingdom). WiFi is available in the main town squares on all the islands, and also in major hotels; visitors can purchase local SIM Cards for unlocked phones.
Travellers to Cape Verde are permitted the following items without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes, 1 litre of alcohol, 250 milliliters of eau de toilette and 50 grams of perfume, and some gift items. The import or export of narcotics is strictly prohibited.
Cape Verde Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Canada): +1 202 965 6820.
Cape Verde Consulate, London, United Kingdom: +44 7876 232305.
Cape Verde Embassy, The Hague, Holland (responsible for Ireland): +31 00 355 36 51.
United States Embassy, Praia: +238 260 8900.
British Consulate, Sao Vincente: +238 232 3512.
Canadian Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Cape Verde): +221 33 889 4700.
South African Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Cape Verde): +221 33 865 1959.
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