Brava is the smallest of the inhabited Cape Verdean islands, and the most remote. Yet many of those that venture ashore the impressive mass of land which rises sharply from the Atlantic Ocean say it is the most stunning of them all. Due to a colder, more humid climate, the island is a covered in a rich assortment of flowers and vegetation and the green mountain peaks make ideal terrain for walking.
Brava which measures just 10km across at its widest point lies at the most south westerly point of the Cape Verde islands, a short ferry journey from its nearest neighbour Fogo. Often referred to as the ‘secret island’, it boasts a dramatic landscape of towering lava cliffs, deep gorges and a mountainous interior which is both beautiful and wild. The highest peak lies at 976 metres. Brava is home to around 4,000 people, many of whom live in the capital, Nova Sintra, a colourful town built at 520 metres.
A Temperate Climate
Brava is known for its wet and cooler climate. Temperatures range from between 16 to 25C, with the wettest months being from August to the end of October. On high ground, there is often a lingering mist which is perfect for growing plants of all shapes and sizes. Here you will find date and coconut palms thriving alongside oleander bushes, hibiscus, jasmine and bougainvillea, which clings to many of the colourful houses in the town of Nova Sintra. For these reasons Brava has also gained the name ‘Island of Flowers’.
The History of Brava
Although the island was discovered in 1462 by Portuguese explorers, it was not inhabited until more than 200 years later when a volcanic eruption on Fogo forced many of its settlers to move. The former inhabitants of Fogo found a rich and fertile island where crops grew in abundance, thanks to the rain and humidity. They started to grow coffee, sugar cane, corn and potatoes whilst the fishermen brought home quantities of tuna, lobster, limpet and conch. Life was so good that many decided not to return home, but to stay on Brava where they lived harmoniously and self-sufficiently. By the end of the 1850s, the population had grown so much that a secondary school was built on the island, attracting students from other Cape Verde islands.
However, the population saw a decline during the late 19th century when throngs of men left Brava on whaling boats to Massachusetts and Rhode Island in America. The ships stopped at Brava to stock up on supplies and took on young locals eager to emigrate. Many of the Cape Verdeans that had left for America returned during the Depression. However, they found conditions on the island just as tough. During the 1940s there were a succession of droughts and in 1943, wishing to escape famine, a number of Bravans bought an old whaling ship called Mathilde and set sail for New England. It is understood that the vessel sank near Bermuda, leaving no survivors.
Brava is still no stranger to adversity. In 1982 a hurricane destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure and in 2004 its airport was closed indefinitely due to strong winds. However, Brava is currently going through some sort of rebirth. A large number of Bravans have relations in America due to the mass emigration of the 19th century, and some have started to return to build grand houses which they adorn with stars and stripes. One American has even opened a ‘motel’ - Manuel Burgos Motel - in the town of Faja d’ Agua where you can eat chicken and rice while he talks about the ‘old days’ on the island.
A Remote Yet Stunning Wilderness
Up until this year, the only means of getting to Brava was on a tatty old ferry which operated weekly crossings from nearby Fogo, or from the country’s principal island, Santiago. Historically, therefore, it has been a remote island to reach, and as a result has been absent from many tourist routes. All this could change, however, with the arrival of a new fast ferry service recently launched. The service operates daily services from Fogo and a bi-weekly service to Praia.
The island has a great deal to offer. Beach lovers will be disappointed as the steep shoreline means that there are virtually none. But what it lacks in beaches, it makes up for in its stunning interior.
Here are some of the highlights:
Nova Sintra - the island’s main town, named after Sintra in Portugal because of similar topography. Built in a bowl of mountains along a ravine and crater, it is an attractive town with a museum, several churches and shops. The musician Eugenio Tavares was born here, and there is a statue dedicated to him in the main square, surrounded by a beautiful garden full of sunflowers. Much of the architecture in Nova Sintra derives from the Portuguese colonial rule.
Faja d’Agua - a small harbour on the west coast where you will find a natural swimming pool called the ‘Piscina’. The quaint village has been built around a long bay, and enjoys a stunning backdrop of steep mountains behind. It was here that the whalers used to anchor and come ashore for provisions and new recruits.
Nossa Senhora do Monte - a village high up in the mountains, from where you can take many different walking trails. There is also a pilgrimage church.
Furna - a fishing port in a small bay which is dominated by a small chapel for thanksgiving on surviving the sea. It is from here that the ferries from Santiago and Fogo depart and arrive.
Getting to Brava
There is a new hydrofoil that operates a service to and from Praia, on Santiago and Fogo. The service departs for Fogo every day, and there are two weekly services to the capital.
Development and the Future
Brava has remained less developed than the other Cape Verdean islands, mainly because of its remoteness and inaccessibility. The airport was closed due to the island’s unpredictable winds and ferries were infrequent and unreliable.
However, all this has changed with the launch of a hydrofoil ferry service linking Brava to Santiago and Fogo. When the vessel called the Kriola made its inaugural trip earlier this year, police had to intervene to stop so many people trying to board the hydrofoil for Brava.
The launch of the new service, operated by Cabo Verde Fast Ferry, was heralded as a momentous occasion for the island and its population. On launching the hydrofoil, Cabo Verde Fast Ferry administrator Andy Andrade said: “Brava needs hotels and restaurants, and this is just the first step in the island’s transformation.
His words were reiterated by the Cape Verdean Prime Minister José Maria Neves, who added: “At the moment, we’re investing some 300 million euros in all of Cape Verde’s ports. “The Kriola is a symbol of the transformation we envision for Cape Verde,” he said. “Beginning today, taking the Kriola will give us an idea of the future and modernity we want.”
Activities - Hiking
As mentioned, there is no beach action on Brava, but there are some wonderful hikes with incredible views. There are a number of marked walks, ranging in distance from a few kilometres to ten kilometres. Most leave from the capital, Nova Sintra. Paths are often steep and not very clear, so it is a good idea to get hold of a detailed hiking map, or better still a guide.