Cultural and cosmopolitan, it is one of the smallest islands of the archipelago with its 227 km² (25 km from east to west and 17 km from north to south) and yet it is probably one of the best known of Cape Verde. It is that - long before being the place of music and culture that it has become today - Mindelo is above all a port, renowned for its effervescence and especially for its women. At the time, prostitutes were legion and brothels flourished. Sailors from all over the world pass through, often leaving as a gift an offspring most of whom are unaware of their existence. This creates a fantastic crossbreeding, the effects of which can still be seen.
Approximately 75,000 people live in São Vicente (making it the second largest island in the archipelago by population), with almost 50,000 concentrated in the capital. One of the most arid in Cape Verde with only 2% of arable land, it is characterized by a mountainous relief with three main massifs: Monte Verde, the highest, reaches 750 m, Monte Vigia to the north (302 m) and Monte Madeiral to the south-east with a peak at 675 m. A few extinct volcanoes are a sign of its volcanic past. The island is, on its periphery, generally flat and offers beautiful beaches. The extremely dry climate poses a water supply problem, which is partially solved by the installation of a seawater desalination plant.
São Vicente was not populated until late, around the middle of the 19th century: it developed when the English built a coal depot there in 1838. The port of Porto Grande is expanding, as it is the only one in the archipelago to offer an anchorage allowing large ships to dock. People flocked in from neighbouring islands and abroad and Mindelo became a town in 1858. There are 160 trading companies on the island at the turn of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the problem of lack of water persists and water is supplied from Santo Antão with the help of tankers. In 1893, the English and Scots created the Recreational Society of Mindelo, a club that imported golf and cricket, sports that many Cape Verdeans were introduced to. The first golf course in the archipelago was thus created and the tradition has been perpetuated to this day.
You will come to São Vicente to party and have fun. You will find bars, restaurants and dance halls everywhere. Artists, painters, singers, musicians, dancers, craftsmen and poets abound in the area, giving the island that special and unique flavour and warmth. There are several art galleries on Avenida Marginal in Mindelo which borders the sea. It's nice to wander around São Vicente. Sporty, you won't be outdone, as you can play golf, cricket, tennis, fishing, running and hiking. And if you bring your windsurf or kitesurf, you will find excellent conditions here and, why not, you can try to set a speed record in the São Pedro wind corridor.
With the disappearance of coal as a fuel for ships and competition from ports in neighbouring foreign cities such as Dakar and Las Palmas, commercial activity has slowed considerably. However, São Vicente is still active and trading today. Commercial companies have multiplied but economic difficulties remain. Porto Grande is no longer the only merchant port in the archipelago, as its rival in Praia is gradually stealing the show. Port activity, transfers of goods and population between the islands have gradually been reduced to an exclusively national level. The naval activity is not up to expectations and tourism is not progressing as fast as in the islands of Sal and Santiago. However, some foreign-owned companies, mainly Portuguese, are beginning to establish their bases there, in the clothing and footwear sectors, for example.
The inhabitants are naturally open-minded and curious. Having always been in contact with foreigners, they have experience and familiarity with Western cultures, from which they have been strongly influenced. This can be felt in everyday language, where the use of foreign words, especially English, has invaded the vocabulary: tudo cool or tudo nice, for example. Other habits, such as drinking whiskey, gin and tonic and taking five o'clock tea, are also common.