Located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Senegal, Cabo Verde is a chain of islands famous for its cross-cultural riches, verdant beauty, and contagious music. The island of Santiago and its capital Praia is home to most Cabo Verdians, and it's a great base from where to start your trip. Most islands are lightly traveled, so for those seeking a bit of solitude alongside their beach holiday experience, tranquility is never far at Cabo Verde.
Cabo Verde is synonymous with morna, an emotionally melodic form of music popularized by Cesaria Evora, the beloved singer who died in 2011. Perhaps the best place to discover this haunting music is in the bars and clubs of Evora's birthplace of Mindelo. A small and picturesque town on Sao Vicente, traditional musicians and singers are ubiquitous here pretty much every night, all night.
Strong winds on the western coastline of Boa Vista Island make for ideal conditions for experienced wind and kite surfers. Ponte Preta and Kite Beach on Sal are also popular hot spots for wind and surf junkies. Beginners should stick to Sal Rei on Boa Vista, where the wave action is a bit gentler and support services are always available.
With a warm year-round climate, there's a beach in Cabo Verde for every taste. They range from the developed, such as Santa Maria on Sal with its golden sand, water sports and beach bars, to the secluded desert oasis of Praia de Chaves on Boa Vista. Another option is the white party beaches such as Laginha on Sao Vicente, or Santa Monica beach on Boa Vista, allegedly the prettiest of them all.
Most independent snorkel and dive shops are on Santa Maria Beach on Sal. Sign up for lessons or guided dives to visit off-shore wrecks or reefs to view nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, and manta rays. Charter boats can also be hired for day excursions to the waters around the other islands in the archipelago with lunch, drinks and guides included.
There's a special event that happens every summer at Ervatão Beach on Boa Vista. Turtles lay their eggs in the sand, where they mature and hatch before the baby turtles head to sea. This beach is a major nesting ground for loggerhead turtles, in fact, the 3rd largest in the world. Most of the action happens after dark, so numerous wildlife welfare organizations work to ensure the safety of the turtles and their offspring. There are many ways to observe these animals and participate. You can even adopt a hatchling.
Travelers with a taste for the off-beat will enjoy exploring the abandoned fishing village on the island of Boa Vista. Curral Velho is an eerie reminder of change and transformation. Once a bustling enclave of fishermen and their families, this village dates back to the 17th century, making it one of the oldest settlements in Cabo Verde. Located on the rugged southern coast, today Curral Velho is a collection of ruins and a wind-blown sanctuary for seabirds and turtles.
It's not for everyone, but the remains of the Tarrafal concentration camp on Santiago make for a poignant history lesson. Established during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, this grim collection of buildings served as a makeshift prison for political and social opponents of the Portuguese regime until 1974. These days, you can wander the cells and barracks in relative peace, as well as explore the nearby village of Chao Bom.
Although nightlife is low key all over Cabo Verde, there are a few hot spots. Santa Maria on Sal is your best bet for social action, with its mix of music clubs, bars, pubs and laid back patios clustered around the main square. Sample local wines from Fogo, or Strela beer brewed on Santiago, and snack on the national dish called cachupa—a hearty meat or fish stew served with rice.
Salt was once a major export for Cabo Verde. You can still visit the old salt mines and flats at Pedra de Lume on Sal. Here, disused mining infrastructure makes for a unique industrial backdrop for photographs, and you can float in abandoned salt pools. At a nearby rock cave called the Blue Eye—Olho Azul—in the town of Buracona you can watch salt-infused waters glowing neon blue, and take a therapeutic dip.
Mt. Fogo, on the island of the same name, is an active volcano that last erupted in 2015. Using caution, it's possible to explore the slopes and environs. The Cha das Caldeiras trail is popular with day trekkers out of São Filipe. Reaching the summit of Pico Grande should take about a couple of hours, so leave a few more for exploring the crater and regions of volcanic ash.