Icelanders Want to Make the Azores and Cape Verde the Next Big Thing in Travel

Jul 8, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Vikings are renowned for having opened the first routes across the Atlantic, settling in the land that we now call Canada. Fast forward a few centuries, and their descendants in Iceland are trying to make connections across the ocean again.

Tiny Iceland, population 350,000, continues to punch well above its weight when it comes to cross-ocean travel. Having carved for themselves a respectable niche in the North Atlantic market, Icelandic airlines are now on the offensive on more distant shores. Specifically, they are after Macaronesia — which is neither a far-flung tropical paradise, nor some kind of pasta. It is an imagined “region” formed by four Atlantic archipelagos — the Azores, the Canaries, Madeira and Cape Verde — that are relatively close to the European mainland.

This collection of islands is renowned, among the initiated, for its great natural beauty and biodiversity. But not many people know them yet. Aside from the Canaries, long a holiday destination for Europeans thanks to plentiful flights and being part of Spain, Macaronesia is not exactly on the tourism map. The Azores and Madeira, both part of Portugal, are making their way into more and more itineraries, but the independent nation of Cape Verde is still relatively unknown.

But Icelandic aviation executives see opportunity there, and they’re putting their money into Macaronesia.

Icelandair is in talks to buy 49% of Azores Airlines from the Azores’ autonomous regional government, which currently owns it. The deadline to present offers has been extended to July 26. Though financially ailing, Azores Airlines has new Airbus A321neo jets on order, which can easily reach the US East Coast and Midwest, and it has been developing its own mid-Atlantic hub with nonstop flights between the Portuguese archipelago and three US cities: Boston, Providence and Oakland. The latter is served with a long-haul Airbus A330. If it sounds like a familiar model — flying relatively small jets to an island destination that’s jumping from unknown to hip — that’s because it is: Icelandair and the other Icelandic long-hauler, WOW Air, have been at it for a while now.

Dolphins break the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Miguel island in the Azores on June 2, 2015. With its lush vegetation, lakes resting on the bottom of volcanic craters and colonies of sperm whales, the Portuguese Azores archipelago has everything what a lost paradise could offer to nature lovers, who flock en masse since the arrival of low cost airlines at the end of March, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRATO GO WITH A AFP STORY BY THOMAS CABRAL - / AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Dolphins break the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Miguel island in the Azores. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Azores, known for their lush greenery and superb whale spotting, have seen visitor numbers going up in recent years. In addition to Azores Airlines and Portugal’s biggest airline, TAP, the islands have also attracted the likes of Ryanair and Delta Air Lines, which launched a seasonal flight between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada (PDL). The number of overnight stays has more than doubled since 2012, to more than 2.3 million per year, growing at a rate of more than 20% in the past three years. The secret is out. (We’ve made one of our Trip-Spiration videos about the islands. As for getting there on points and miles, we’ve got you covered.)

Cape Verde, on the other hand, remains a relatively little-visited destination. And the Icelanders are there too, having just agreed with the government to manage Cabo Verde Airlines and turn it around.

This former Portuguese territory, located about 1,000 miles south of the Azores and 200 miles off the coast of West Africa, has a lot going for it: some of the best development indicators in Africa, pristine seas and a rich cultural heritage.

Yet, despite visitor numbers up more than 11% in 2017, at slightly over half a million international arrivals per year, Cape Verde is far from fulfilling its tourism potential and the lack of air links may have a lot to do with this state of affairs.

This has not always been the case.

Amilcar Cabral International Airport on Sal island (SID), Cape Verde’s main air gateway, used to be kind of an aviation hotspot. Built with Italian assistance just before World War II to provide a refueling stop for flights between Italy and Latin America, it became a popular place to stop for gas for early-generation airliners that didn’t have ocean-crossing range. Aeroflot and Cubana, flying Soviet jets that lacked long-haul legs, used to stop there. So did South African Airways, when South Africa’s apartheid regime was shunned by most other nations and SAA flights to Europe could not overfly Africa — so they had to go around the continent, burning fuel, and stop in SID to fill up.

The development of more capable, longer-range airliners ended Cape Verde’s role as a key stopover point. The restructuring of the Cape Verdian commercial aviation industry that is currently underway holds some promise, though.

A boat on the beach of Santa Maria, Sal Island, Cape Verde.
A boat on the beach of Santa Maria, Sal Island, Cape Verde. (Photo by DEA / V. GIANNELLA / Contributor / Getty Images)

The arrival of the Icelanders has meant the rebranding of TACV as Cabo Verde Airlines as well as the introduction of new aircraft (ex-Icelandair Boeing 757s) that will facilitate the expansion of a route network that spans several continents.

Cabo Verde Airlines’ revamped route map includes Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador in North-Eastern Brazil; Lisbon, Paris – Orly, Milan – Malpensa and Rome in Europe; and Boston in the US, home to a lot of Cape Verdian emigrants.

As part of this new strategy, Cabo Verde Airlines has also given up its domestic and short-haul routes that have been taken over by Spanish airline Binter, which connects the Cape Verde islands with a fleet of ATR 72 turboprops. It is also planning to launch some routes to Guinea Bissau and Senegal on the African continent before the end of the year.

So is Cape Verde set to become the new Azores? As one of the most tourism-dependent economies in the world, it would very much benefit from it. In the meantime, the islands of Macaronesia seem bound to become an unlikely hotspot of the global airline industry.

Featured image of a  dolphin off the coast of Sao Miguel Island in the Azores by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.