PRAIA (Reuters) - Portuguese colonial officers in the 17th and 18th centuries perceived the West African slave-trading hub of Cabo Verde as a dead-end posting - often literally because of its propensity for drought and tropical disease.
Today the wind-pummeled, volcanic archipelago 600 km (370 miles) off the coast of Senegal is a growing tourist spot, offering dramatic landscapes for hikers, along with a vibrant music scene and year-round sunshine. (Map: goo.gl/maps/kq3fW)
In the past three years, the number of tourists going to Cabo Verde - also known as Cape Verde - has beaten the rate for Africa’s $34 billion market, growing on average each year by nearly 20 percent, according to a U.N. report.
National Geographic has called it a “must see” destination for this year.
Here are tips about getting the most out of a trip to Cabo Verde from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Cabo Verde’s vertigo-inducing mountains seem to burst straight out of the ocean and are the perfect destination for winter hiking.
In Santo Antao, colorful hamlets cling to blades of basalt rock thrusting upwards across a lunar landscape. In the steep valley of Ribeira de Torre, thin rivers tumble down waterfalls surrounded by yam, pawpaw and banana plants. Some of the plunge pools have guppies that nibble your toes.
Friendly guides can easily be picked up along the way, although you may have to try out your Creole - a language that even native Portuguese speakers say they strain to understand.
Most of the population is mixed race, a legacy of the strict colonial policy of primogeniture that left many whites landless and with a similar social ranking as freed blacks, referred to as “branco de dinheros” (white from having money).
Reuters used travel agency Nobai, which can organize treks across the island and home stays with locals who prepare dishes such as the hearty Cachupa stew made with green bananas and manioc. (www.cap-vert-trekking.com/?lang=en)
Or stay in the charming Aldeia Manga ecolodge in the lush Paul valley with its natural swimming pool and explore on your own. (www.aldeia-manga.com/en/)
While short hops by plane are possible for most of the 10 islands, Santo Antao can be reached only via an hour-long ferry from the neighboring island of Sao Vincente. Be sure to take one of the sick bags on offer from the stewards as the channel often churns with rolling waves.
The southerly island of Fogo, named for its active volcano that last erupted in 1995, offers a nearly 3,000-metre (9,800-foot) peak for ambitious hikers. Reward yourself afterwards with a glass of the crisp, mineral-rich white Fogo wine.
Another option is to walk around the parks on the main island of Santiago and try to spot wild monkeys.
DANCING THE “FUNANA”
The most famous Cabo Verdan is no doubt the late Cesaria Evora, known as the “barefoot diva”. Her beautiful morna - the melancholic national music that fuses Portuguese, African and island rhythms - can be heard in her hometown of Mindelo. Casa da Morno, opened by musician Tito Paris, does regular concerts.
On the main island of Santiago, you’re much more likely to hear the accordion-based “funana” that pulses out of local buses called hiaces.
Visitors should note these buses do not leave at a scheduled time but when they are full, meaning they can do laps around town squares for up to half an hour before departing.
In the capital Praia, you can dance by clasping your partner’s hand and thrusting it up at 45 degrees from the ceiling while waggling your hips frantically.
While in the capital, it’s also worth visiting the central market where you can find delicious artisanal candy made almost entirely from sugar cane - a great source of energy for both hiking and dancing.
Cabo Verde’s beaches are mostly made of volcanic sand but not so on the islands of Boa Vista, Sal and Maio, whose seemingly endless white beaches were created by strong gusts from the Sahara Desert.
For those keen to avoid the large hotels, check out the beautifully decorated Migrante Guesthouse in the heart of Sal Rei on Boa Vista. The charming colonial house is a perfect base for visiting the island’s remote beaches, exploring the town’s bars and restaurants or just sitting around doing nothing. (www.migrante-guesthouse.com/en/guesthouse/)
Kite surfing is popular between November and April when the winds are all but guaranteed. Divers can explore wrecks and underwater caves and look out for whale sharks or loggerhead turtles. Anglers can cast a line off the beaches or head out on a boat for larger catches.
History buffs will enjoy the 15th century town of Cidade Velha, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first European settlement in the tropics.
Additional reporting by Julio Rodrigues and David Lewis; Editing by Michael Roddy and John O'Callaghan