Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The enchanting islands of Cape Verde

Cape Verde comprises ten enchanting islands (one is uninhabited) and eight small islets. The islands are primarily volcanic in nature. The topography of the islands range from spectacular mountain ranges, to lush valleys, to sand dunes, to deserted white sandy beaches. The landscape found on these islands is too varied to do justice in a single post. But, take it from me, there is something here for everyone.

The archipelago is situated some 570 km (350 miles) off the coast of Senegal in West Africa. The islands are divided into two groups based on the weather patterns that govern the region: the Barlavento or winward islands, and the Sotavento or leeward islands.

The Barlavento (windward) islands are:

  •  Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia (uninhabited), São Nicolau, Sal,  and Boa Vista.

The Sotavento (leeward) islands are:
  •  Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava.

The capital of the country is the city of Praia and is located on the island of Santiago (also called Sao Tiago), which is also where the seat of government and commerce resides. As indicated in the map, the islands are all relatively small and are similar in size to some of the islands found in the Caribbean. In fact, Cape Verde is often referred to as "the Caribbean of Europe."

Climate is heavily influenced by the maritime location as well as the winds which originate in the Sahara. The islands are much cooler and drier than mainland Africa. The islands are primarily arid and desert like. Combined with its volcanic origins, although I have never been to the moon, I would describe the landscape in some areas as lunar! This is actually a good thing because it makes for an amazing experience if you like to explore - and it is one of the things that makes Cape Verde unlike any place you have ever been ... on Earth. Those of you who have been to the moon will completely understand.

Despite the desert-like setting, on the wind-sheltered slopes and valleys of Santiago, Santo Antao and Sao Nicolau, you will wind lush greenery. And given their favorable climates, these islands are where most of the local food is grown.

This diverse topology also gives rise to beaches that vary from a coastline of black volcanic rocks, to miles of pristine white-sand coastlines. One island, Boa Vista, is even famous for its miles and miles of sand dunes. Again, this diversity adds to the charm and uniqueness of these enchanted islands.

Cape Verde is also internationally known as one of the best spots for wind-surfing. The American wind-surfer, Josh Angulo, emigrated from Hawaii to Cape Verde and became a world champion. He now resides in Cape Verde.

Although, hurricanes form in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Verde before moving west toward the Americas, Cape Verde is not exposed to hurricanes. In fact, very little rain falls in the islands, except irregularly in the later half of the year. You could call this the "rainy season", but some years, it never rains. So drought conditions are the norm. But when it does rain, look out! The downpours can be quite heavy. Due to poor draining, there can sometimes be severe flooding in low-lying areas.

Other than getting drenched in a deluge of rain, the odds of which are slim, the risk of natural disasters is low to non-existent. However, you should be aware of an active volcano on the island of Fogo. It last erupted in 1995, but is better known for its bark than its bite. Driving or hiking up to the crater of the volcano is a must-do for those who want to explore the islands. It is entirely safe and will be a treat you will never forget.

You'll find a wealth of additional details about each island elsewhere in this blog. This will help you to find the island which is just right for you, whether you are going on a vacation or planning to live there for longer periods.

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