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"What do you get when you blend Brazilian, African and Iberian influences in a place already blessed with incredible weather and scenery? The Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa, which are finally coming into their own as an exotic vacation destination.
The 10-island Atlantic archipelago -- around 570 kilometers (350 miles) west of Dakar -- mixes pristine beaches and outdoor adventure with a unique homegrown culture, a melting pot simmering since the 15th century when Portuguese navigators came across the uninhabited islands.

The islands are best known for music, a melodic heritage that borrows from all three of its mother cultures and that provided one of the sparks of the modern World Beat sound. Despite its small population, Cape Verde has spawned five distinct musical genres including morna -- the national music and dance.

Volcanic peaks provide a dramatic backdrop to the archipelago's beaches and bays, waterfront towns spangled with pastel houses and hiking trails that meander across lava fields, along deep ravines and through the island's bizarre Dragon Trees.

There's history too. Like the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cidade Velha, a 15th-century Portuguese outpost where Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama stopped off on their epic voyages of discovery.

Don't miss: Sip locally made grogue (rum) while listening to morna -- folk tunes sung in the local kriolu dialect -- in a bodega along the waterfront of Mindelo town on São Vicente Island."