Off the coast of Portugal and Western Africa lie three largely unknown destinations that should be on every well-seasoned traveler’s bucket list. The islands which makeup the Azores, Madeira and Cabo Verde archipelagos feature incredible nature, beautiful beaches, delectable dishes and breathtaking views. Not to mention, they are even easier to get to than ever before! Best of all, they are mostly untouched by the common western tourist leaving their unique offerings ripe for exploring.
We can easily add the Canaries, a fourth set of Atlantic islands, to this list as they offer just as much culture and stunning landscape, but since we have already touched on them a lot on the blog, we’ll focus on the three lesser known destinations. Click here to read our blogs on the Spanish Canary Islands.
Let’s start with the Azores, the furthest north in the group, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic and an autonomous region of Portugal. These islands are known for their dramatic landscapes, quaint fishing villages, green pastures and hedgerows of blue hydrangeas. Flying there takes only 2.5 hours from Lisbon, and for those in America, it’s almost as easy with a 4.5-hour direct flight from Boston, which means no lengthy stop-over on mainland Europe.
A main reason dining in the Azores is such a treat is because almost all of their ingredients are locally sourced. For example, did you know the Azores produce over 2 million pineapples a year? Or about the wide variety of delectable, locally made cheeses? Their cheese is so popular that 50% of the cheese consumed on mainland Portugal actually comes from the Azores. Other dishes include organic beef from cows raised in those green pastures, and of course delicious seafood dishes from fish caught in nearby waters. And let’s not forget a cup of tea from the oldest tea plantation in all of Europe. For more on what to eat in the Azores, check out our blog post here.
Most visitors love to explore the Azores for its natural, physical beauty. From vast scenic vistas to ancient fishing villages, it’s easy to be swept away within every setting. One could spend an entire week enjoying wellness spa treatments at the natural, geothermal hot springs!
A 2-hour flight southwest of the Azores and south of Lisbon, just off the northwest coast of Africa, sits another autonomous region of Portugal: the Madeira archipelago. While not as well known by American tourists, Madeira has been a favorite of Europeans for years thanks to its nearly perfect climate - it’s warmth in winter, and slightly cooler summers, making it just right year-round. Plus, the topography is gorgeous due to its rugged cliffs and magnificent shorelines.
Visitors of Madeira love this island for its beaches and adventures. Spend the day enjoying the best views from the hilly capital of Funchal, by taking a cable car up to the top of the hill above the city. Then, cruise down the windy roads on a Monte Sledge, or wicker toboggan, guided by two men in traditional white cotton clothes and straw hats who use their rubber-soled boots as brakes. This is definitely an experience not to be missed! For even more outdoor adventure, enjoy the variety of hiking opportunities including one of the most popular hikes along the “levadas”. A levada is an irrigation system of the island of Madeira, which is a man-made river built on the side of the mountain.
Like the Azores, Madeira boast amazing locally sourced food and cuisine including delicious fruit like the English tomato and custard apple. And don’t forget their tiny bananas which regulations in the 1990’s deemed to be too small by mainland Europe, so they’re only available on the islands and are sweeter than larger bananas.
Then there is the wine. Madeira is famous around the world for the wine that bears its name. It can be a dry table wine, but it’s most well-known for its fortified sweet dessert wine, or rich after-dinner drink, much like the port wine of Portugal.
The last set of largely unknown islands in the Atlantic is the Cabo Verde archipelago, which is about 300 miles off the west coast of Africa. It has strong Portugease ties and influence due to the fact it used to be one of its colonies, and only became an independent country in 1975. Portuguese and English are spoken around the islands along with a local creaole. The Euro is commonly used alongside the local currency. Cabo Verde is made up of 10 volcanic Islands that offers visitors the perfect blend of mountains, long stretches of beach and peaceful seaside villages, with cultural influences from nearby Africa and Brazil.
Adventurous travelers are drawn to Cabo Verde’s rugged topography, unspoiled landscapes, and challenging hiking trails, while those looking to relax will enjoy the breathtaking volcanic landscapes and beautiful white-sand beaches. Depending on the islands, there are black and white sand beaches, some white stone from deposits from nearby Sahara, and others black from all the volcanic rock. More active travelers can summit the ancient volcano of Fogo, take an off-road dune ATV adventure or go horseback riding on the salt flats. For a slower pace, try swimming in a saltwater crater, or turtle watching as Cabo Verde has the third-largest population of nesting loggerhead turtles in the world.
With all of its unique offerings, Cabo Verde is a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be explored. There are non-stop, direct flights weekly from the US, from Boston and Dulles Airports. Come visit before the crowds figure out what an amazing destination this is!
At Quest Travel Adventures, we provide exciting and unique trips to all three of these island destinations. Call us today for a customized quote or visit our website.