by Robert La Bua
As cruise companies continue to expand their exploration of the world to include locations previously considered off the beaten path, African nations are in a prime position―both literally and figuratively―to capitalize on this trend. The seemingly insatiable traveler interest in exploring the world stands African destinations in good stead; the continent remains comparatively unexplored by visitors from other continents, which means it is new and exciting to them. Under the right conditions, and with the right cruise companies, passengers arriving by sea increase revenue for businesses and oftentimes also provide funding for local community projects in ports of call in countries visited.
A country making the most of its natural beauty, unique culture, and friendly populace is the Republic Of Cape Verde. In recent years, Cape Verde has become a prized addition to the seasoned traveler’s list of destinations visited. The islands of this nation some 600 kilometers off the coast of Senegal are among the most strikingly beautiful in the world. Thanks to the aforementioned expansion of cruise itineraries to encompass less familiar locations, a stop in Cape Verde has become almost routine on trans-Atlantic repositioning cruises. Much less frequent, though, are the cruises that actually focus on these alluring islands and the people who inhabit them. A crossroads of cultures for centuries, the history of Cape Verde is visible in the faces of the locals and audible in their mournful morna music. Vestiges of Portuguese colonial architecture remain in such places as Cidade Velha, the first settlement in what were uninhabited islands when Portuguese explorers arrived way back in the 1400s. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cidade Velha is located on the outskirts of Praia, the nation’s capital on the island of Santiago and site of one of the country’s two major international airports (the other being on the island of Sal).
National Geographic Expeditions and the French cruise company PONANT together allow sophisticated travelers to enjoy Cape Verde’s dramatic topography to the fullest. Praia serves as a point of embarkation for National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT’s cruises encompassing various islands in the archipelago. Island nations can present logistical challenges to visitors with limited time but unlimited curiosity; traveling from one island to another, and another, then another can become difficult when infrastructure does not favor time-sensitive travel schedules, and getting around each island can again be a transport challenge. What better way to visit multiple islands than on a ship stopping at several islands where all the transport is provided? Given the distances and logistics in Cape Verde, it would be a challenge to visit multiple islands on one’s own, especially outlying islands such as Fogo and Santo Antão, but National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT make it easy and wonderful. As is expected on small-ship cruises, special experiences and personalized attention are offered in abundance on a voyage where every day is a highlight of the trip.
While Cape Verde’s cities of Praia and Sal are perhaps more familiar to international travelers and their travel agents booking them on flights to or through the international airports, the less populated islands of Cape Verde offer even more exceptional experiences to the travelers who go the extra (nautical) mile on board PONANT’s ships in the company of expert scientists and photographers who know the flora and fauna of the islands. The island of São Vicente is considered the cultural heart of Cape Verde (which in Portuguese is called Cabo Verde). This is due in no small part to the vibrant music scene that flourishes here. The island’s small airport is named after the late Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora, whose soulful voice became a worldwide sensation and most famous representative of her country’s morna style of music. São Vicente’s capital, Mindelo, is set on a scenic bay surrounded by mountains. The main attraction of Mindelo, though, is the nightlife; the sleepy town by day becomes a hotbed of musical activity by night.
A short distance away from São Vicente is the island of Santo Antão, regarded by many as the most beautiful island in Cape Verde. Receiving more rainfall than the other islands, the lush vegetation of Santo Antão’s northern region is a green contrast to the rocky (but still impressive) landscapes found on the rest of the island and on other volcanic islands in the country. The jagged peaks descend sharply from their lofty heights, roads twisting and turning between them to deliver astonishing panoramas to those visitors lucky enough to make it here. National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT take their cruise passengers to the best vantage points to make the most of the island’s superb scenery.
The clearest association with Cape Verde’s volcanic topography comes on the island of Fogo, which means ‘fire’ in Portuguese. The still active volcano and the lava fields surrounding it are together a formidable sight; the area is a national park and serves as a reminder that volcanoes are powerful features of the Earth’s landscape. Fogo’s latest eruptions in 2014-15 forced residents of the immediate vicinity to be relocated; the lava-filled homes that remain are strong reminders of the forces of Nature.
National Geographic and PONANT make cruising the islands of Cape Verde a hassle-free experience for its passengers, taking them to several islands on a single itinerary and providing guides, transport, and activities on each island visited. In times when overtourism has become a big problem in locations around the world, it is smart to recognize limits and maximize per capita visitor value. While some people may scorn the idea of luxury cruises in areas where poverty exists, the truth is that wealthy people on an expensive cruise can contribute much to local economies through their spending on purchases made in local shops, meals eaten in local restaurants, taxis hired for local transport, and charitable contributions made to organizations undertaking community projects. PONANT has offered cruises around the islands of Cape Verde for several years, but its new partnership with National Geographic Expeditions now showcases the splendid nature and culture of this isolated country with more expertise than ever before on ships more luxurious than ever before.