Floating off the west coast of Africa, Cabo Verde encompasses ten islands and five islets. You might know it better as ‘Cape Verde‘, its official name from 1975, but in 2013 the country formerly changed its name via the United Nations to the Portuguese ‘Cabo Verde’. Widely considered to be Africa’s second-most democratic country, it’s also one of the world’s safest countries to visit. This, combined with its spectacular scenery, vast golden sand beaches and rich culinary history, make it a popular holiday spot. But how much do you really know about the mountainous region beyond its beautiful beaches and year-round sunshine? Here are a few interesting facts about Cabo Verde you may not have heard before.
Interesting facts about Cabo Verde
1. It was uninhabited until the 15th century
Portuguese sailors discovered the uninhabited islands in 1462. They arrived on the island of São Tiago (Santiago), and established it as an important trading post for slaves, ivory, gold, firearms, rum and cloth. It remained a Portuguese crown colony from 1495 until 1975 when it became independent. Portuguese is still the country’s official language. After gaining independence, Cabo Verde initially voted to merge with Guinea-Bissau. But after the 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau, officials scrapped the plans for unity.
Cabo Verde is still home to one uninhabited island – Santa Luzia. To reach the tiny island, you need to hop on a two-hour chartered fishing ride from Calhau.
2. More people from Cabo Verde live outside the country than in it
Severe droughts and famine in the mid 20th century caused an estimated 200,000 deaths. In São Nicolau and Fogo, an estimated 31% of its entire population was wiped out. In just two years (1946–1948) Santiago lost 65% of its population. Thousands of islanders emigrated to São Tomé and Príncipe. Today, more people with origins in Cape Verde live outside the country than inside it. Money sent back by emigres and descendants is an important source of foreign currency.
3. Cabo Verde is extremely vulnerable to climate change
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Cabo Verde is among the countries that suffer most from the consequences of climate change. Despite contributing very little to global warming, the fragility of its ecosystems means that it is vulnerable to increased climatic aridity, higher frequency of droughts, worsening saline intrusion and deterioration of groundwater, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity. Models estimate temperature increases of up to 4ºC (39ºF) and a decrease in rainfall by up to 20% by the year 2100.
4. It was the first place Charles Darwin landed
Cabo Verde was the first stop on the 22-year old Charles Darwin’s famed HMS Beagle voyage. The British naturalist visited Santiago in 1832. According to the National History Museum, he was particularly impressed by the island’s octopuses, among other specimens. It contributed to the development of his theory of ‘evolution by natural selection.’
5. It was home to a mysterious ‘ghost’ ship landing
In 1968, a mysterious ‘ghost chip’ carrying Korgs, Moogs and Hammond organs ran aground off São Nicolau. There was no crew on board the ship, so authorities decided to distribute the cargo to local schools. Overnight, the whole youth population gained access to the latest electric keyboards. This might explain why the country enjoyed such an impressive post-independence music renaissance a few years later.
6. It’s the world’s third-largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles
Cabo Verde is the world’s third-largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles when measuring the numbers of nesting females. Only Florida and Oman boast larger nesting sites. There are around 200,000 loggerheads here in total. Head to Ervatão Beach, on the south-east coast of Boa Vista, in July and September for the best chance to witness the turtles laying their eggs.
7. Cabo Verde is home to some extraordinarily high peaks
The Pico do Fongo is Cabo Verde’s highest peak, soaring to 2,829m (9,382ft). It’s also an active volcano that last erupted in 2014 and 2015. While it’s obviously risky, farmers and winemakers grow coffee, fruit and vineyards on its slopes.