Cape Verde, a collection of 10 islands and 5 islets off the coast of West Africa, is still an undiscovered ecotourism destination. Thanks to an amazing natural diversity it is completely within the realm of possibility to make an ecotourism experience. The islands are full of contrasts; flat, barren and parched islands like Sal in the east to mountainous, cloud capped islands such as Santo Antao in the west. Black sand beaches, bleached-white beaches, high cliffs and mountainous peaks and desert plains interrupted by volcanic cones.There is plenty to see and do: Diving, Hill Walking, Fishing, Windsurfing or just relaxing on the beach.
These islands are indeed very interesting from the cultural point of view. Under Portuguese rule the islands became the centre of the slave trade in the Atlantic and the population today are the descendants of both the Portuguese Colonisers and the African Slaves that were captured. Since Tourism is a relatively recent arrival, you can still sample the real culture of the islands from the more European (Sao Vicente) to the more African (Santiago). Cultural richness and geographic diversity are making the difference and Cape Verde has the potential to become more than an alternative to the packed beaches and seaside destinations.
Far from big resorts and idyllic white and sandy beaches, there are others that have more non-traditional beauty. Flamengos, in the island of Sao Vincente, is one of these non-typical beaches. It is isolated, reachable only by 4×4 and features black sand and unswimmable waters. This is one of many such non-tourist beaches on Cape Verde. For those with an adventurous streak and a desire to truly get away from it all, Flamengos and its rugged peers are ideal attractions.
In the islands of Sao Nicolau, Santiago and Boa Vista there is a major focus on ecotourism. Monte Gordo National Park on the island of Sao Nicolau, near the main island of Sao Vincent, is part of the Protected Areas of Cape Verde Network. The park features tropical plants, birds and rocky, arid landscapes. Its beaches are a popular nesting place for various species of sea turtles. Serra Malagueta National Park, on the opposite end of archipelago on the island of Santiago, is another of Cape Verde’s protected areas. The rugged highland areas, valley and forests of the park are crisscrossed with trails. This is a popular place for birders, as there are a dozen unique species that call Santiago home. The national parks are heavily involved in education and development projects that help the communities in the areas surrounding the park.
Boa Vista, the easternmost island in Cape Verde, has become a popular place for tourists. It is an arid island, but has beautiful, mostly uncrowded beaches. Most guesthouses on Boa Vista are small and located adjacent to nearly vacant beaches, but there is also an eco-resort, Spinguera Eco-Resort, the most overtly green sleeping spot in Cape Verde. The use of water and electricity is restricted and there are no TVs or air conditioners. This small resort uses solar power to heat water. There are plenty of chances for eco-tourism activities, such as hiking, horseback riding, diving and bushwalking tours.
Naturalia, a local ecotourism agency that began to work on Boa Vista island in January 2009, organizes several wildlife tours “to discover, know and enjoy the bio-diversity of Cape Verde”: whale watching, bird watching, snorkelling and turtles watching.
The island of Sal (originally known as flat island, its name changed to the current name after the discovery of salt deposits) is one of the most developed, thanks to white beaches that hosts a good number sea resorts. Nesting sea turtles and other wildlife bring another dimension to the island’s tourism industry. SOS Tartarugas is a privately run conservation program that seeks to protect the sea turtles that come to nest on the beaches of the island of Sal. The organization was started by a wildlife filmmaker who saw local people harvesting the sea turtle eggs. Conservation-minded tourists can volunteer to be part of the effort.