Cape Verde: how to plan your trip by yourself

Independent travel to Cape Verde without going through an agency or tour operator is entirely possible.

To get the most out of your trip, I advise you to prepare it well before you leave and accept that you’ll have to deal with unforeseen inter-island transport problems when you get there.

This article explains how we organized our trip to Cape Verde as independents, and gives you some practical tips for organizing your own.

To whet your appetite for Cape Verde, I recount our impressions of the trip in the following two articles:

As a prelude to your trip, understand the geography of Cape Verde!

A trip to Cape Verde requires, first and foremost, to study its geography to locate the archipelago’s nine main islands, all of volcanic origin, and understand their particularities.

I was surprised by the number of people who asked me where Cape Verde is located? The country lies in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, 600 km from Dakar.

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

The northern islands are called the Barlavento (windward) Islands. There are five of them: Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Santo Nicolau and Ilha do Sal

The capital of Cape Verde is Praia on the island of Santiago.

Three islands are flat and sandy: Ilha do Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio. The first two have gradually become mass tourism destinations, with resorts springing up along the beaches. These are the oldest islands, which explains why the relief has been completely eroded.

Five islands are mountainous: Santo Antao, São Vicente, São Nicolau, Santiago and Brava.

Only one island is still volcanic: Fogo, which last erupted in 2014.

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Cape Verde map

Organizing our trip

A trip to Cape Verde requires a great deal of preparation beforehand.

First step: choosing which islands to visit

We had three weeks at our disposal, which is quite comfortable and allowed us to plan visits to several islands.

In 2017, we were won over by the island of Santo Antao, a true hiking paradise. We decided to include it again in our tour. Going to Santo Antao means including Sao Vicente in our tour, as this is the only way to get there.

We absolutely wanted to see the still active volcano on the island of Fogo. Nearby, despite the difficulty of access, we were tempted to visit the island of Brava.

Last but not least, the island of Santiago is also an essential gateway to Fogo and Brava.

We excluded the flat islands, which are overrun by mass tourism.

Inter-island travel is the great challenge in defining our tour

When planning a trip to Cape Verde, inter-island transport is the biggest organizational difficulty.

Maritime transport is provided by CV Interhilas, with uncomfortable old boats that often break down. Timetables are unreliable and only available on a month-by-month basis. Surprisingly, tickets are easy to buy online!

Domestic air transport is provided by an Angolan company, BestFly. It succeeded Binter Canarias in October 2021. Tickets can only be purchased on the website, and timetables are only published for short periods of up to three months!

Two of the most attractive islands, Santo Antao and Brava, are only accessible by boat.

With these constraints, it was wised to allow for some flexibility in our itinerary and anticipate Plan Bs. Fortunately, Cape Verdean hoteliers know this and are flexible enough to accept last-minute changes.

If you’re coming from Europe, Air Portugal is a must.

To get to Cape Verde, we choosed TAP Air Portugal. The company flies daily from Lisbon to four islands: Sal, Boa Vista, Santiago, and São Vicente.

The alternatives were not very attractive. Royal Air Maroc served Santiago with very uncomfortable middle-of-the-night schedules.

We would have preferred to book directly on the TAP Air Portugal website, but we found better rates on Option Way.

A word of advice: to fly to Cape Verde with Air Portugal, you will inevitably have to transit to Lisbon. Avoid as much as possible a short connection of less than two hours. There’s too much risk of you or your luggage missing the second flight. In any case, we paid much attention to this when planning our trip!

TAP Air Portugal and BestFly

Deciding whether to travel independently or with a tour operator?

We were wondering whether to go to Cape Verde independently or with an agency or tour operator. The answer was not obvious, as Cape Verde is not as easy a destination as the Canaries islands.

Already familiar with the country, we decided to organize everything ourselves. The accommodations are well-referenced on the internet, and the cancellation policy is flexible. We knew how easy it is to get around the islands with shared or private cabs. Apart from the capital Praia, where it’s best to be a little cautious in certain areas, the country is safe.

How did we build our tour?

To minimize inter-island transport, we decided to land in the south at Praia, on the island of Santiago, and leave from São Vicente in the north.

We included the island of Santiago in our itinerary, despite the mixed feelings we had after our internet research. We found it hard to know whether Santiago is worth visiting or not. The best thing was to go and make up our minds! All the more so as it’s a must for visiting the Sotavento islands.

We decided to explore it before and/or after visiting the islands of Fogo and Brava. It acted as a kind of buffer in our tour, to deal with any unforeseen events on the other two islands.

To get to Brava, we chosed to fly to Fogo and then take the boat, as there is no airport on this island at the end of the world, which fascinated us because of its difficult access. It is said to be very beautiful and the greenest of the archipelago. We couldn’t wait to find out.

We then planned to visit Fogo and its impressive volcano. At the time of planning the trip, we didn’t yet know the boat timetable, but we were anticipating the possibility of seeing Fogo before or after Brava.

After visiting the three islands known as Sotavento, or “the Leeward Islands”, we planned to take a plane to the island of São Vicente, part of the Barlavento or “Windward Islands”.

São Vicente is a small, arid island, but home to Mindelo, the pretty birthplace of Césaria Evora and the cultural capital of Cape Verde.

Finally, Santo Antao was be the last island of our trip. We already knew it, but it’s beautiful and rich enough to make us wanted to come back.

We flew back to France with Air Portugal from São Vicente.

In the construction of the tour, we alternated days of hiking with moments of rest.

The main challenge was to minimize the impact of transfers. So, rather than make the Fogo – São Vicente trip in one go, with an obligatory connection in Praia, I prefered to split it into two flights on different days. This way, we didn’t feel like we werere wasting a day waiting in airports.

Our three-week day-by-day tour

 

Discovery of the Sotavento islands (leeward)

We landed in Cape Verde at the capital Praia on the island of Santiago. From here, we first visited Brava, then Fogo, and finally Santiago. These were the islands of Sotavento.

  • Day 1: Paris – Praia (Santiago Island) via Lisbon by plane – Accommodation in Praia (1 night)

Brava Island

  • Day 2: Visit Praia, then fly from Praia to Sao Filipe (Fogo Island). At the end of the day, transfer by ferry to the island of Brava, then by car to our accommodation in Fagua d’Agua (3 nights).
  • Days 3 and 4 : Hiking in Fagua d’Agua
  • Day 5 : Hike inland on Brava Island – Lodging at Nova Sintra (1 night)

Fogo Island

  • Day 6: Transfer by ferry from Brava island to Fogo island – Lodging near Sao Filipe (1 night)
  • Day 7: Transfer by car to the Caldera and accommodation in the Caldera (2 nights)
  • Day 8 : Ascent of Gran Pico
  • Day 9: Hike to Mosteiros and return to our accommodation near Sao Filipe by car (1 night)

Island of Santiago

  • Day 10: Flight Sao Filipe – Praia (Santiago Island) then from Praia to Tarrafal by rental car through Santiago Island, from south to north – Lodging in Tarrafal (3 nights)
  • Days 11 and 12: Rest and excursions around Tarrafal
  • Day 13: Return by car from Tarrafal to Praia airport, via Cidade Vielha.
Travel route map Sotavento islands

Discovering the Barlavento islands (windward)

After discovering Santiago, Brava, and Fogo, we took a domestic flight to Sao Filipe.

  • Day 13: Flight from Praia to Mindelo (Sao Vicente island)

Santo Antao Island

  • Day 14: Ferry from Mindelo (Sao Vicente Island) to Porto Novo (Santo Antao Island) then transfer by car to our accommodation in Ribeira das Patas (3 nights)
  • Day 15 and 16: Hikes around Ribeira das Patas
  • Day 17: Transfer by car to our accommodation in the Paul Valley (2 nights)
  • Day 18: Hiking in the Paul Valley
  • Day 19: Transfer by car to Ponta do Sol then hike to our accommodation in Cruzinha (2 nights)
  • Day 20: Rest day at Cruzinha

Sao Vicente Island

  • Day 21: Transfer by car to Porto Novo then ferry to Mindelo (Sao Vicente Island) – Accommodation in Mindelo (1 night)
  • Day 22: Return flight Sao Vicente – Paris via Lisbon

Pros and cons of our independent trip

We had a wonderful trip to an undiscovered country.

We liked :

  • Cape Verdeans. Their welcome is very kind and gentle.
  • The climate. Late July is the start of the rainy season, but in Cape Verde, the rains are rarely long and often non-existent. With the trade winds, temperatures remain reasonable all year round.
  • Hiking. The scenery is superb, and the roads, designed for local use rather than tourists, are very well maintained.
  • The Fogo wine is a pleasant surprise.
  • Brava, Fogo volcano, Mindelo, and Santo Antao are our favorites.

Inter-island transport was our least favorite aspect. Having to take the plane, even if it’s a small propeller plane, takes some of the fun out of the trip. We would have preferred to do it all by boat, but because of the lack of comfort and the unreliability of the timetables, we avoided it as much as possible.

Apart from a few exceptions in guesthouses, the cuisine is healthy and natural, but not gastronomically remarkable.

We were delighted to have made this independent trip, which I hope will inspire you to do the same.

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