Africa's Cape Verde Islands: a low-cost rival to the Caribbean

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The Independent Online

Only 1,000 British tourists visited Cape Verde in 2004. The republic off the western coast of Africa comprises 18 islands that have been kept virtually secret - until now. The former Portuguese colony has lost the fight to keep its salt-mining and shipbuilding industries, and it is now turning to tourism to provide income for its 485,000 residents.

Developers are being welcomed with open arms and the charms of the islands are being paraded in adverts and on websites.

The climate runs from 25C to 35C, and on many islands there are only half a dozen rainy days per year. It is only an hour behind Britain, so visitors don't suffer from jet lag. Direct flights take less than six hours from London - an easy trip compared to the Caribbean.

"It was an obvious choice, although we hadn't heard of it before last year," says James Longton, an accountant from Maidenhead. Mr Longton has bought an off-plan, two-bedroom flat for £41,000 on Santiago, one of five islands where developments are being built. "The travel is easy, it's cheap and the country is charming and unspoilt," he says.

Santiago is home to the capital, Praia, and to some of the republic's most beautiful countryside. The islands of Sal, Fogo, Sao Vicente and San Antao are harder to get to, but they also have unspoilt beaches and countryside and lots of new developments.

Properties are as varied as the islands. Modern apartments close to Sal's Santa Maria beach cost as little as €40,000 (£27,000). Six-bedroom villas with six bathrooms and a pool go for €500,000 (£340,000). British agents and developers are pitching at UK buy-to-let investors.

Take Ponta Bicuda, a new scheme on a 170-acre peninsula with two miles of coastline. The five-star, car-free resort, which is in the process of being built, has six self-contained villages, and 95 per cent of the properties will have ocean views. Once it is built, there will be restaurants, cafés, a spa, health club, art school, cookery school, cricket pitch, tennis courts, boat house, moorings and private beaches. Prices range from £50,000 to £1.1m and there are three purchase options.

One is for investors buying a home, using it four weeks a year and then leasing it back to the developer in return for a 5 per cent annual rental income. The second is for investors who can use their property as much as they like and then rent it out for the rest of the time. The third option is for people who will build their own villas but not rent them out.

Charles Weston-Baker of Savills, the selling agent, says: "Ponta Bicuda offers a fantastic investment opportunity. Cape Verde is the same as the Caribbean but without the long haul."

Maverick estate agents are moving in, especially at the lower end, and overcharging on properties by as much as €30,000. Yet Cape Verde remains one of the most exciting new markets for Britons. But with developers piling in, how long it will remain unspoilt is a moot point.

Buyers' guide

* Cape Verde uses Portuguese property laws. Purchasing falls into two parts: the preliminary "promissory buying and selling" contract (contrato de promessa de compra e venda) and the completion contract (escritura).

* The promissory contract legally secures the purchase, and is subject to satisfactory searches having been returned.

* The signing of the completion contract can be carried out on your behalf if you give someone power of attorney. At this stage, the buyer must pay the remaining balance of the purchase price, plus 6 per cent of the purchase price in transfer tax and legal fees to the notary.

* Estate agents: Noscasa (020-7872 5690; www.noscasacv.com), Visual Property (01277 261 140; www.visualtours.co.za), Cape Verde Property Ltd (08452 613 385; www.property-cape-verde.co.uk), Escapes2. com (0161-351 2160; www.escapes2.com), Property Showrooms (08000 470 597; www.propertyshowrooms.com), Savills (020-7016 3740; www.savills.co.uk).

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