About Cape Verde
The Cape Verde Islands are a Portuguese-speaking archipelago located off the coast of West Africa (the nearest country being Senegal). The main islands are: Sal, Boa Vista, Santiago, São Vicente, Santo Antão, São Nicolau, Fogo, Maio, and Brava. There are also uninhabited islands within this archipelago, like Santa Lucia, Branca and Raso.
These islands are unique in that they were uninhabited before the Portuguese colonized them in the mid-1400s. In 1461, after the Portuguese established their first settlement at Santiago, they made Cape Verde the very first European overseas colony in sub-Saharan Africa.
In time, Cape Verde’s role in Portugal’s colonial structure was that of a way station for its ships that were in transit to its more lucrative colonies – ranging from Brazil in South America, to Angola & Mozambique in Africa, trade enclaves like Goa in India, and Macao in China. With slavery in effect within Cape Verde for most of its period as a Portuguese colony, much of the population evolved into a mixed race (or mestiço) community, consisting of African and Portuguese heritage. These islands also went through a period of occupation by the Spaniards (during the late 16th century), as well as pirate attacks by trading rivals such as the Dutch, French, and the British.
Because of the harsh agricultural conditions of many of Cape Verde’s main islands, the limited cultivation options meant that the country’s population was never going to grow tremendously (often exacerbated by periods of drought) . This resulted in portions of the population leaving for better opportunities and living conditions elsewhere, especially after slavery was abolished in 1878. Aside from migration to Portugal and Brazil, Cape Verdeans went elsewhere, such as other European countries (like France), and the USA (the whaling trading in New England attracted a wave of such immigrants from the 19th century onward, resulting in enclaves of such individuals at Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other parts of northeast USA).
After the formation of a nationalist movement for both Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau (a Portuguese colony located on mainland West Africa) called PAIGC, an independence struggle ensued. After Portugal itself went through revolutionary regime change in 1974 (“the Carnation Revolution”), Cape Verde was granted independence in 1975. Since then, Cape Verde has evolved into a service economy. According to the Bank of Cape Verde, tourism has grown from 15% of the country’s GDP in 2010 to as much as 24.3% in 2012.
Foreigners visiting Cape Verde are there to discover the natural beauty found at some of these islands – resulting in tourism development, as well as to sample its unique culture. The number of visitors to Cape Verde skyrocketed from approx.. 115,000 in 2001, to about 533,837 in 2012 (flying in mainly from the UK, France, Portugal, and Germany (visiting mainly the white sandy beaches found at the islands of Boa Vista, Sal, and Maio). Of those three islands, tourism has been most developed at Sal (its main town, Santa Maria, is packed with restaurants, bars and hotels. Green-fringed beached can be found outside that town).
Cultural tourists have been attracted to the town of Cidade Velha (Santiago island) – which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Santo Antão, the second-largest of Cape Verde’s islands, is known for the hiking trails that extend through its pine forests and steep canyons (appealing to eco-tourists). Such travelers are also visiting the Pico de Fogo volcano at Fogo island (“fogo” being Portuguese for “fire”).
Of Cape Verde’s major islands, the more populated ones are: São Vicente (whose main city, Mindelo, holds the majority of that island’s 80,000 residents), and Santiago (where the country’s capital, Praia, is located, with a population of about 100,000 residents – out of 236,000 residents on that island).