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Sao Vicente Island

São Vicente, Cape Verde

Sao Vicente Island


Sao Vicente was discovered on January 22, 1462, on Saint Vincent’s Day, by the Portuguese explorer, Diogo Afonso. As with many of Cabo Verde’s islands, lack of a freshwater source led to its new colonists releasing goats onto the island to graze. Thus Sao Vicente’s first inhabitants were horned ruminants, which unwittingly set about degrading Cabo Verde’s fertile soil. It was an action which was to have dramatic consequences for later human settlements. The only other visitors who might land were pirates and corsairs. They would set about hunting the wild goats and donkeys, roasting their meat on a spit, and using their hide to cover bottles.
By 1795 only a few human settlers had managed to settle amid the relative greenery of Monte Verde’s peak. It was Sao Vicente’s geographical location which would later become its saving grace, but only once the era of coal-fired steamships had begun. To the north is a half-moon shaped bay which offers shelter from the winds. Porto Grande Bay became a perfect spot for refueling ships on their way to the Americas from Europe. The capital of Mindelo sits just off this bay today.


The island is roughly rectangular In shape with an area of 226.7 square kilometres (87.5 square miles). From east to west it measures 24.3 kilometres (15.1 miles) and from north to south 16.3 kilometres (10.1 miles). The island, of volcanic origin, is fairly flat. The last volcanic activity is considered to have taken place in the Pleistocene. Although very eroded, some craters still remain, for instance Viana.
Its highest point is Monte Verde, located in the eastern part with an altitude of 744 metres (2,441 feet). Other mountains include Madeiral (680 m), Caixa (535 m) and Monte Cara (490 m).
92.6% of the island population lives in the urban area of Mindelo, on the Porto Grande Bay, a caldera that is breached by the ocean. A small islet, Bird islet, is less than one nautical mile off the coast of Porto Grande Bay. There are a few intermittent streams, including Ribeira de Calhau and Ribeira de Juliao.

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