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Santa Luzia Island Guide

Santa Luzia Island Guide
Santa Luzia is the only uninhabited island of the Cape Verde archipelago and is also the country’s smallest. With a surface area of just 35 square kilometres, it is nestled between the larger islands of São Vicente and São Nicolau, in the northern Barvalento isles.

Santa Luzia was once populated by an industrious people who tried to get the best out of the dry and barren land. However, they bled the soil dry and deserted the island more than 200 years ago. Since then, a few groups of farmers have tried where their ancestors failed – and failed again.

The island is now home to one of the country’s most important nature reserves, as well as a lizard unique to Santa Luzia. A meteorology station has also been recently built on the island.

A short history

Santa Luzia was discovered by Portuguese explorers on December 13th 1461, shortly after the sailors happened upon the neighbouring island of São Nicolau and just before they came to São Vicente. However, due to its lack of any water source, the island was deemed too barren and dry to be of any use. It wasn’t until several hundreds of years later that a group of farmers sailed to Santa Luzia with their cattle and sheep and tried to make a living. Desertification led them to abandon the island in the 19th century.

A small community came to the island in the 1960s to once again try to make Santa Luzia their home, but they too abandoned it in the 1990s.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that a lone shepherd with a small flock of sheep can be seen wandering the island, but these sightings have yet to be confirmed.

A deserted island

Santa Luzia may be the Cape Verde’s only uninhabited island, but it is by no means undiscovered territory. Local fishermen from outlying islands frequently come to fish in waters off Santa Luzia, and a very small number of intrepid tourists have started to come to the island to walk, bird watch, and explore the country’s very own ‘desert island’. The highest point of the island is Monte Grande, also known as Topona, which lies at 395 metres. Other scenic highlights are two large beaches on the south side of the island, and on the north east where there are many wonderful dunes.

As the island can only be reached by chartering a local fishing boat from the port of Calhau, on São Vicente, visitors are infrequent. The journey takes two hours, and there are no facilities on the island so all provisions must be taken with you.

Santa Luzia became a natural reserve to protect and preserve the processes that occur naturally on a volcanic island. Here, an astonishing number of birds and endemic reptiles succeed in surviving the arid conditions. There is also a large collection of sub-aquatic species which can be found in its coastal waters.

How to get there

The only way at present to get to Santa Luzia is by boat from Calhau, on the east coast of São Vicente. The crossing takes approximately two hours each way.

Development and the future

Due to its arid landscape, it is unlikely that Santa Luzia will ever be developed to the same extent as other Cape Verde islands. Its status as a nature reserve also means that it is a protected area.


Although there are currently no facilities on Santa Luzia whatsoever, visitors can make day trips to the island. Several tour companies offer basic excursions to Santa Luzia from São Vicente where they can hike around the island, enjoy the wildlife and vistas, swim in the emerald blue sea and fish off the white sandy beaches.
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