23 Portuguese islands of the Atlantic
The question is, how many can you name…?
For most people they will draw a line after 1 island; Madeira.
For a few they might get to 2 islands; Madeira and Porto Santo.
After that, a small number might remember the Azores or Cape Verde, not realising there are 9 islands in each of these archipelagos and no one will have heard of São Tomé!
We all know the Atlantic is a vast expanse of ocean and under the auspice of Prince Henry the navigator, the Portuguese started exploring it by heading down the west coast of Africa. By chance, they came upon the sandy island of Porto Santo (Holy Harbour) next to Madeira, and slowly the adventurous Portuguese started to claim these diverse and strategic islands as their own.
Each archipelago has its own unique identity, although they do share a common volcanic origin with Madeira and Cape Verde being the geological oldest islands and São Tomé and the Azores the youngest. The climate of these remarkable islands is as varied as the islands are to each other.
The cooler, more temperate islands of the Azores are the furthest north and lie 900 miles west of mainland Portugal. The Azores have a year-round mild climate, with average temperatures of 17°C in the winter and 24°C in the summer.
There are 9 stunning islands, which are like New Zealand, but only 4 hours away! Each island has its own unique and proud identity which only becomes apparent the longer you stay. Corvo prides its self on being the most remote. Flores, for is flowers and waterfalls. Graciosa, a biosphere. Terceira, the cultural and historical beating heart. Pico, for its wine. Faial, with its transatlantic links. Sao Jorge, for its dramatic walks. Santa Maria, being in the lee of Sao Miguel is the driest. Finally, Sao Miguel; the biggest island which has a little bit of all the islands within its shores.
Madeira, being a little further south and off the coast of Morocco tends to be drier and warmer, with average winter temperatures of 20°C and 26°C in the summer. Since the 1860’s tourism here has been flourishing and continues to do so to this day. However, these islands are not as ‘stuffy’ and ‘old’ as many believe. These old favourites are re-inventing themselves as people discover the rugged interior and many of the active experiences now on offer; walking, surfing, canyoning and mountain biking…. it’s worth thinking again about these islands as they are not as you imagine.
If you continue south along the west coast of Africa you come to the driest of all the islands, Cape Verde. The islands seldom get too hot and, in the winter the climate is perfect of us north Europeans with daytime temperatures of 25°C and evenings around 18°C. The name, Cape Verde, implies somewhere green and lush, which is an unfortunate misrepresentation because these islands have very little rainfall and tend to be arid for most of the year. However, these islands also surprise most people as there is a clear divide between the eastern islands of Sal, Boavista and Maio; which can only be described as desert islands. Which, unlike the western islands of Sao Nicolau, Sao Vicente, Santo Antao, Santiago, Fogo and Brava are like the foothills of the Atlas Mountains; remote, dramatic, culturally dynamic and could almost be described and a different country!
São Tomé, Principé and Rolas
Finally, as you arrive at the equator, the smallest of the Portuguese islands of São Tomé, Principé and Rolas reveal themselves. These are tropical islands, where the humidity is high and temperatures an almost constant 28°C. These remotest of islands are a tropical paradise; seldom visited with a feeling of a time now forgotten, where the clocks run slower, the people more innocent and the scenery unspoilt. The journey to these islands is not a straightforward one, but for the dedicated traveller the rewards are definitely worth the effort.
There is much more to say and for the curious it is possible to visit all the islands in one go, though you’ll need a little time and deep pockets!
Travel with the Award Winning Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira and Sao Tome Holiday Specialists
At Archipelago Choice, we have a team of Activity Holidays Specialists who know all about the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira and Sao Tome and the best ways to explore. They are ready to answer all your questions. You can also request a brochure or make an enquiry online – just click on the links.