São Vicente (227 km2) is second in importance after Santiago and is considered the ‘capital’ of the Barlovento or Windward Islands. At 774 m, Monte Verde is the highest point and Mindelo the island capital. The landscape is relatively flat, particularly in the centre, west and some areas in the north, while heavily eroded slopes and mountains feature in the south and northwest. Extensive dunes fields are found towards the east in the Calhâu–Praia de Palha Carga area, and Lazareto–São Pedro, to the west, as well as in Baía de Salamansa and, to a lesser extent, Baía das Gatas, in the north. The only examples of recent volcanism are visible to the south of Calhâu (Topim sector), where there is a very large well-preserved volcano and several lava flows penetrating the sea.
In contrast, the rest of the island shows signs of heavy erosion, evident in the stark mountains and peaks that dot the landscape. Several beaches of organic sand stretch along the coast at São Pedro, Salamansa and Mindelo, while the southern, northern and northwestern tips feature cliffs that can tower up to 200 m at certain points. The climate is generally arid, with an annual average rainfall of below 200 mm. However, the considerable influence of the northeast trade winds make Monte Verde a much cooler area. In good years, rains can be plentiful, giving rise to a fleetingly verdant landscape.
São Vicente has a population of 76 107 (2010 census), more than 15% of the total for the archipelago as a whole, largely due to the presence of Cape Verde’s second important town, Mindelo. The population of the island has risen by 1.3% in comparison with 2000, which is considerably lower than for Boavista, Sal and Santiago. The local economy has undergone profound change in recent decades, in step with social advances and improvements to infrastructure. The services sector, particularly tourism, is growing in importance, a fact that is reflected in the new facilities springing up in Mindelo and surrounding area, as well as in Calhâu and São Pedro.
The history of São Vicente has been chiefly shaped by the fortunes of its port, for a long time the most important in the archipelago, owing to its magnificent location in a broad, sheltered natural bay. Several international companies, mostly British, established their operations bases here as a stopover for their colonies in Africa and Asia. Fishing, which is closely linked to this port, is another mainstay of the economy. The Cape Verde fishing fleet has been gradually modernized in recent years and now benefits from a research centre associated with the local university. Despite the fact that stockbreeding is losing importance in the local economy, several years ago new breeds of goat were introduced from the Canaries, with promising results.
The major problem on São Vicente is the lack of water. Consequently, a desalination plant was installed a few years ago to ensure water supply to the large population. Wells have also been perforated and fog-catching nets have been installed in Monte Verde, with very positive results. Acacias and other trees adapted to semi-arid conditions have been planted to prevent erosion and today cover more than 1200 ha.