© ATTA / Gustavo Timo

Cabo Verde: The Next World-Class Hiking Destination

29 August 2023

“Does Cabo Verde have the potential to become a world-class hiking destination?”

This was the question the ATTA team of experts had in mind when starting a Cabo Verde Hiking Market research report commissioned by the World Bank in the last months of 2022. I had the opportunity to visit Cabo Verde, or Cape Verde as it is also known, to experience the country’s unique hospitality tradition known as morabeza (a creole word difficult to translate that describes the innate warmth, kindness, and open hospitality of the local people). I hiked the trails, ate fresh food, talked to members of the community, and was amazed by the combination of mountains and ocean that makes up the islands’ dramatic landscapes. 

My time in Cabo Verde paired with my own 30 years of experience in destination development work have convinced me that growth here is inevitable. Nevertheless, the journey to sustainable development faces significant challenges that require public and private sectors to cooperate with each other in making consistent decisions and responsible choices. 

Finding an answer to our question required choosing an approach that consisted of a consumer survey, a trade perception survey, a competitor analysis, a site visit including interviews with key players, and an analysis of existing information on the topic.

The result is promising. Intrinsic qualities of the destination, current conditions, and external factors tell us that by using adventure travel as a strategy for tourism growth, Cabo Verde can become a world-class hiking destination as well as a model in sustainable economic development. 

First impressions

Internal conditions are promising and positive, showing endless potential for adventure tourism. Located 500 kilometers off the west coast of Africa, Cabo Verde is a stable and peaceful country made up of an archipelago of ten volcanic islands that spread over an area of 4,000 square kilometers. Its mild temperatures ranging from 20° C (68° F) to 30° C (86° F) enable travelers to explore its extensive existing trail system year-round. 

© ATTA / Gustavo Timo

Tourism currently accounts for 25% of its GDP and the country has easy access to some of the most important global outbound markets. Visitors to these islands have a long average stay, high spend rate, and show a deep level of satisfaction, especially hiking travelers. Given these figures, it’s no surprise that Cabo Verde's public sector is willing to implement public policies to support the industry. The private sector is in many cases export-ready or willing to make the investment to grow. 

External factors, which include forecasts of tourism recovery after COVID-19, show a positive outlook for meaningful, off-the-beaten-track destinations like Cabo Verde, which is currently only trending in a few markets. These include French speaking and German speaking markets, which have easy access to Cabo Verde, traveler demand for a less-structured product, and greater destination awareness. 

Although it’s hard to measure with precision the size of the hiking market, there is no doubt it has great potential. Our research has found that each year, millions of people are willing to travel to experience a new trail. In fact, a competitor’s analysis conducted as part of ATTA’s research shows practical examples of how other destinations have become successful within this travel niche.

Next steps

So we return to our key question: How can Cabo Verde grow sustainably while ensuring that investment, entrepreneurship, and new job opportunities prioritize benefitting members of local communities, especially youth and women?

The answer to this inquiry begins at Santo Antão, Cabo Verde’s main hiking destination and second largest island. Santo Antão has plenty of growth potential and while infrastructure development is still a work in progress, it has already been the subject of initiatives by the World Bank and the European Union (EU). An example of this is Projeto Raizes, a EU-funded project that has led to the development of sustainable practices by setting standards, developing products and engaging the communities along Santo Antão’s most popular hiking trails. 

Santo Antão has the highest number of accommodations in Cabo Verde (although not the highest number of rooms), which suggests that the local workforce can find entrepreneurship opportunities in small, family-owned businesses. These accommodations are the foundation that allows other businesses to grow, e.g, restaurants, cafes, shops, rental cars, tours and activities, and craftsmanship, thus allowing the tourism value chain to develop sustainably.

The rest of the answer to our key question lies in different elements that influence Cabo Verde’s potential as a hiking destination. These include a focus on local farming and agriculture, deepening and diversifying product development, integrating protected areas, trail management and monitoring, and additional experiences that the islands offer. 

© ATTA / Gustavo Timo

Target markets

Another question to consider is, what type of travelers does Cabo Verde want to have?

After conducting a thorough site inspection and interviewing key players and collaborators, we reached the conclusion that Cabo Verde has significant potential to become a world-class hiking destination that can spread the benefits of sustainable tourism throughout all of its islands.

Although hiking tourism is more visible and it is driving tourism development in Santo Antão, other islands have the same growth potential. An example of this is the Caminhos Vicinais, an estimated 1,000-kilometer paved stone trail that traverses all the islands. Even though the level of the trail’s conservation and maintenance varies from section to section, the system is present in all of Cabo Verde’s islands and can be leveraged to become an asset that will attract hikers from around the world. Travelers could walk, hike or run across the different islands and encounter a variety of products, experiences and attractions for all comfort levels. One of the greatest challenges facing this growth is limited connections and access among the islands for travelers looking for a multi-island itinerary.

Take this as an example: travelers looking for authentic and original experiences may choose to travel to São Nicolau or Brava Islands, which have less infrastructure and fewer service providers. On the other hand, travelers who want to combine culture or who expect more infrastructure and diverse service providers may choose Santiago or São Vicente. And Santo Antão and Fogo can be included in a multi-island itinerary. 

The key takeaway is that diverse attractions, cultural identity, morabeza, and the Caminhos Vicinais trail system are the elements that make Cabo Verde and all its islands a strong contender for tourism development as a world-class hiking destination. The country has a unique opportunity to shift its tourism strategy to sustainable adventure travel, which offers the greatest potential to benefit the people, communities, natural resources, and economy of Cape Verde.

For a deeper dive into the opportunities and challenges facing Cabo Verde as a hiking destination, read the final report in English or Portuguese.