São Vicente Island

What To Do?

  • Island Tour
  • Windsurfing
  • Cycling
  • Horse back riding
  • Sailing
  • Golfing
  • Bathing
  • Surfing
  • Music festivals
  • Cultural sightings
  • Night life
  • Theater festivals
  • Carnaval

What To See?

  • Mindelo
  • São Pedro Beach
  • Calhau
  • Lazareto
  • Laginha
  • Baía das Gatas

São Vicente Trips

Get Inspired


São Vicente, also known as Son Visent or Son Sent in Cape Verdean Creole, is one of the Barlavento islands of Cape Verde. It is located between the islands of Santo Antão and Santa Luzia, with the Canal de São Vicente separating it from Santo Antão.

The island is roughly rectangular in shape with a surface area of approximatelly 227km2. From east to west it measures 24 km and from north to south no more than 16 km.

This is the second most populous island of Cape Verde, registering in the 2010 census 79,374 inhabitants, of which 5,639 are rural.
92.6% of the population lives in urban areas, which is the highest level in the whole country. Life expectancy is 76 years and the birth rate is 2.7%, with an infant mortality rate of 18 per 1000 live births.

Still according to the 2010 census, the island of São Vicente has the largest unemployment rate of the country — 14,8% — while the national average is 11%. Unemployment affects women more than men. The industrial park of the island — the Industrial Zone of the Lazareto — concentrates diverse types of manufacturing, essentially due to foreign investment, in the activities of footwear, confections and fish processing.

Due to the lack of rain and consequent lack of natural resources, the economy of São Vicente is based mainly on commerce, services and turism. Fishing has some relevance, but conditions prevent it from being more important, not only for the catch — lobster — but also for the associated industries: conserves, drying and salting of fish and naval construction.

Porto Grande is the main port of Cape Verde, through which passes much of the country’s imports. It has a terminal of containers, silos, and refrigeration units that make handling load overflow possible. There is also a modern seawater desalination plant, which provides water for public consumption and for naval shipyards.

Since a few years, the National Center of Workmanship of Mindelo supports local craftsmen in the production and commercialization of ceramic parts, articles made of coconut rinds and necklaces made of shells and rocks.

In the industrial sector, the island presents an abundance of manpower, even though unskilled, resulting from the exodus of inhabitants of other islands to São Vicente. About 27% of the employed population is unskilled. Highly qualified employees — company executives, public administrators and managers/directors — make up less than 2% of employees. It is distinguished, however, by a bigger participation of women in decision-making positions than the national average.

The literacy rate is 85%, and 98.9% among Cape Verdean youth. 54% of the island’s population (those aged between 1 and 12 year old) receive education.

Other than Portuguese which is the oficial language, Cape Verdean Creole is mainly spoken by the majority of the population. The São Vicente variant is known as Sampadjud.

Although volcanic in origin, the island is quite flat. Its highest point is Monte Verde, located in the northeast-central part, with a maximum altitude of 725 m. A great amount of erosion has taken place but some craters still remain — in particular near the bay of Mindelo. Other mountaintops include Monte Cara and Topona. The terrain includes mountains in the west, southwest,  south, east-central and north. The area is flat in the north-central, the central part, the eastern part south of Calhau and the northern part in the Baía das Gatas area. The urban area of Mindelo is in the northern part.
A small islet, called Ilheu dos Passaros, is located immediately north of the bay of Mindelo, less then one nautical mile from the coast.

Up to the mid-20th century, trees were scarce in the island. The deforested parts of the island remain in the north, the east, the south and the westernmost portion. Most of the wide valleys have become forested along with its smaller dales particularly in the middle part.

São Vicente enjoys a very rare mild and dry tropical climate. The average annual temperature in Mindelo is 23.2 °C. The island is very arid with only 80 to 130 mm falling annually, somewhat higher only near the tops of the few mountains. These rare climate conditions are due to its position far off the west African coast and because Cape Verde is in the middle of the cold Canary Current. The ocean water temperature every year is between 22 °C and 25 °C.

The two seasons are easily identified: December through July is mainly dry, cool and windy, while August through November is a wetter and warmer season.


During the last Ice Age, the island was larger and compromised an estimate size of 1,500 km2 of land. The name of the island, that at the time included Santo Antão, Santa Luzia and two other islets, was likely the “Northwestern Island”. A couple of thousands of years ago flooding took place and broke it up into the three main islands and the two islets.

São Vicente was discovered on Saint Vincent’s Day (January 22) in 1462. The island was originally granted to the Dukes of Viseu, it was never populated and it remained inherited until it passed to Manuel I of Portugal.

Due to its lack of water, the island was initially used only as a cattle pasture by some proprietors of the neighboring island of Santo Antão. The island remained practically uninhabited until 1795.

The first name of the island’s first settlement was Nossa Senhora da Luz, the first church on the island and nowadays a parish area.
In 1819, the village was to be renamed to Leopoldinha after empress Maria Leopoldina of Austria, wife of Peter IV of Portugal. However it was not renamed until 1838, when they adopted the name Mindelo after a Portuguese military expedition that occurred in the beaches of Mindelo, Portugal, during the Portuguese Civil War.

The British, Portugal’s ally, expanded most of the island’s economy after Brazil declared independence in September 1822. It was only in 1838, when a coal deposit was established in Porto Grande to supply ships on Atlantic routes, that the population started to grow rapidly.
São Vicente was the first island in Cape Verde to abolish slavery, São Nicolau and Santo Antão abolished it a year later.
Telegraph lines, today known as communications lines, established in 1874 by the Western Telegraph Company, via Madeira connected it with Recife.
In 1886, it would connect other parts especially the southern and eastern parts of the British Empire.
At the start of the 20th century, diesel ships became more usual and its importance as a coal deposit fell. Later on ships would use Dakar and the Canary Islands and the island economy declined.
The hard hit years were after the Great Depression and the late 1940s, which caused a rise of the independence movement. The poor economy lasted until Cape Verde became independent, in 1975.
The historic center of Mindelo has buildings from that time preserved into the present day. The Liceu Nacional Infante D. Henrique (now known as Escola de Jorge Barbosa), built in 1921 is one of many examples of the colonial architecture, which had huge importance on the development of the rising nationalism of Cape Verde.

São Vicente has a great tradition in sports; from here many sports have spread to the remaining islands. Windsurfing, for example, relies on the excellent conditions here. The beach of São Pedro is considered one of the best for windsurfing, as shown by the many world-class champions of the sport. Cycling, walking trails and horseback riding are good ways to explore the island. The English influence on the island is still recognizable today in the golf: São Vicente has an excellent 18-hole golf course. For these reasons, tourism has excellent growth potential on São Vicente and in the rest of the Cape Verde archipelago. Traveling between the diverse localities of the island is provided by a system of public transportation operated by five private companies. However, especially for places farthest from the city of the Mindelo, namely Baía das Gatas, Calhau, and São Pedro, van and bus leasing are the usual forms of transportation.

“Geography” and “History” source: São Vicente, Cape Verde. (2017, January 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:37, February 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=S%C3%A3o_Vicente,_Cape_Verde&oldid=762708451