Getting to know Cabo Verde.

Julia Engel reflects on her time in the Republic of Cabo Verde, where she lived for seven months

Being a well-seasoned traveller with more than ten years’ experience working in tourism, teaching English and other trades, being offered the opportunity to live and work in the Republic of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) was an exciting prospect.

To my shame, I had never heard of the archipelago, let alone found them on a map. Located 350 miles off the West African coast, the ten volcanic islands are a vibrant mix of cultures, stemming from their colonial history and their use as a trading post during the slave trade between the 15th and 17th centuries. Portuguese slavers brought slaves to these islands from the West Africa before selling them onto the Americas and other countries. A large number of slaves who were not sold lived together on the islands, and on Sal (meaning ‘salt’) slaves were used to mine the salt flats at Pedra de Lume, at the base of the old volcano.

Today the islanders have a mix of skin tones, music and dance styles, and speak ‘Creole’, a mix of English and Portuguese. The Cape Verdeans living on the biggest island, Santiago (which is considered the capital island), have the darkest skin, whereas on Sal, Sao Vincente and Santo Antão the locals are much lighter-skinned.

Legend has it that on Fogo, the only island with an active volcano, a Frenchman discovered the island’s fertile soil and grew grapes, setting up a vineyard. He had many local wives and, over time, the family became known for their blonde hair and blue eyes, which you can still see in many of the residents today.

While Santiago is the largest island, Sal and Boa Vista are the most geared up for tourism. Tourism is a relatively new industry in Cabo Verde, with the Italians and Portuguese only arriving during the last ten years. What makes these islands unusual beyond the development of hotels, night clubs and the usual tourists attractions, is that the islands are not particularly family friendly. They are the perfect spot for adults looking for a cultural experience.

On Sal, approximately 21 miles from north to south and 6 miles at the widest point east to west, there are several attractions of interest. Tourists can enjoy the chance to float in the Salt Lake at Pedra de Lume and visit Buracona lagoon, a natural phenomenon known as ‘The Blue Eye’ due to its bright blue water that sparkles like a crystal when the sun shines deep into the cave.

There is an abundance of sea life in the waters around Sal. A variety of fish are caught daily from Santa Maria’s wooden pier and at the fishing port of Palmeira. Through the seasons, several species of whale and shark can be seen, such as humpback and pilot whales, dolphins and lemon sharks. Every September through to October, female Loggerhead turtles come to the islands to lay eggs, and Cabo Verde is the third biggest turtle nesting place in the world.

For adrenaline junkies, off-road buggy tours and sailing vessels provide the opportunity to explore this unique island and culture. At the weekends, Santa Maria comes alive with street entertainment and there is the best opportunity to see the extremely friendly locals at their most relaxed!