The Cape Verde archipelago consists of ten islands and is located 800 nautical miles southwest of the Canaries and 400 miles off the coast of West Africa.
Even though the location of the Cape Verdes makes them a logical destination for yachts on an Atlantic circuit or for those sailing from Europe towards the Caribbean, few actually stop here, because of rumors about high crime rates, unfriendly locals or unprotected anchorages. We sailed there in autumn 2011 and fell in love with the islands. We stayed for three months, which still wasn’t enough to explore all islands. Those who pass by miss a beautiful and interesting sailing area as well as a rewarding cultural experience.
The Cape Verde Islands have a pleasant, warm climate with little precipitation. Even though the islands lie close to each other, each one is unique. The western islands of Santo Antão, São Nicolao, Santiago, Brava and Fogo with its active volcano, are green, mountainous and perfect for hiking. The long, sandy beaches and constant winds of Sal, Boa Vista and Maio attract surfers. The crystal-clear waters around the islands are rich in fish and divers can explore the numerous wrecks.
The people are friendly and welcoming. They are descendants of Portuguese colonialists and African slaves. Although the official language is Portuguese, many people have worked abroad and speak some English.
There are few cars, people still walk and heavily loaded donkeys are a common sight on the cobbled roads. There are hardly any official buses, but ‘aluguers’ (mini buses or pickup-trucks) go between villages. They don’t run to a schedule, so be prepared to wait a while or circle around town once you’ve found one—they don’t set off before they’re packed with people, baskets of fish, chickens, etc. It’s a fun way to meet locals, but taxis are also available.
There are some medium-sized supermarkets in bigger towns, elsewhere you can find minimarkets offering a basic, varying range of food (bring your own bags and egg cartons, they are a scarce commodity!). You can buy locally grown veggies and fruit for little money on the markets and the catch of the day is as cheap as it’s fresh: about $3US for a kilo of high quality tuna …
The marina in Mindelo has basic repair facilities, a fuel jetty for yachts, and water. On the other islands fuel is only available at gas stations on the road, but there are many public water hoses and if you can’t find one just ask at a private house.
The passages between the islands only take one or two days and there are numerous anchorages to be discovered. As the charts lack details, careful navigation with the help of a pilot book is necessary. You should stop first at one of the ports of entry (Palmeira on Sal, Mindelo on São Vicente or Praia on Santiago) to get your passport stamped. When moving between the islands one should always clear out with the harbor master (the clearance fee is about $10US)and check in on the next island.
We decided to start with the desert island of Sal. Palmeira is a port of entry with a protected anchorage. The low, dry and brownish landscape lacks attractions, but the friendly locals make it worth a visit. Checking in at the sleepy police station can take a while and is a good way to decelerate and get into the slow, relaxed pace of the Cape Verdes. Remember, their motto is ‘no stress’.
Boa Vista, just south of Sal, offers a beautiful anchorage with turquoise water, sandy beaches and white sand dunes near the main port, Sal Rei. Boats should enter the bay from the south keeping well away from the reef. The dinghy ride from the anchorage to the small town is long and splashy, but the town is nice.
São Nicolao lies 70 nautical miles west of Boa Vista. After the two desert islands it’s a real pleasure to see the green mountains of this island appearing after a night’s sail. The first anchorage you come to is in the bay of the little fishing village, Carriçal. They have neither facilities nor electricity, but some pleasant walks lead into the valley and up the mountains. The former main port, Preguiça, on the western side of the gulf in the south of São Nicolao, has seen better days and can only be approached in calm weather. The best anchorage is on the western side of the island right next to the friendly town of Tarrafal, with its shops and restaurants. São Nicolao is a hiker’s delight—don’t miss the colonial-style capital of Ribeira Brava, situated in a fertile valley surrounded by terraced mountains.
São Vicente has the only marina in the Cape Verdes. It’s located in the pretty, lively town of Mindelo, where you can find well-stocked markets, bars with live music (reggae and the local ‘morno’), restaurants, and the possibility to take a ferry over to Santo Antão. This is the most spectacular island with steep mountain ridges, vertical drop-offs and rugged craters.
Brava, the smallest among the populated islands, lies in the southwest of the archipelago. We anchored in the well protected and stunningly beautiful bay of Faja de Agua with its cragged, black cliffs. Brava is our favorite: tiny mountain villages, friendly fishermen, cobbled paths crisscrossing the island—sail there and see whether you can resist its charm!
For more details, photos, maps, etc. visit our cruising blog: www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and their ship’s cat Leeloo set sail in 2011 on their yacht Pitufa. They have cruised the Mediterranean, Cape Verdes, and the Caribbean. They stick to the ‘barefoot’ route’, but try to avoid the beaten track.