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Reticent to take a cruise with strangers? Charter the whole ship just for you, your friends, your family.

(above: PONANT's Dumont d'Urville off the coast of the Bijagós Islands)

Given the expectation that air travel will become more onerous when international travel resumes in robust form, a luxury cruise offers a more relaxed way to travel, especially for people who wish to see more than one destination on the same itinerary.

Even though a single aircraft can seat anywhere from 50 to 350 people, sometimes more, a major airport hub can have hundreds of thousands of people pass through it in a single day. That is a lot of people, doubled when considering both ends of the journey at the departures and arrival airports. Compare that to a small ship with fewer than 200 passengers plus crew―that means a lot less exposure to other people. Wish you could travel with even fewer people? Take over a whole ship on a private charter for your family, friends, or company.

(above: A lighthouse in Cape Verde.)

In times when safety and health are of paramount consideration in the cruise industry, it is comforting to know there is a way to enjoy the pleasures of cruising without having thousands of other passengers sharing the same space as you. Small ships such as the Explorer series of vessels in the fleet of French cruise company PONANT carry a mere 184 passengers maximum in their luxurious staterooms and suites. In addition to favourite destinations of cruisers worldwide, PONANT also takes its privileged passengers to some of the world's most exotic destinations―and some of the most isolated, which means fewer travellers visiting them. Two of those faraway destinations are the countries of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. Look at the specks of land off the coast of Senegal to find the archipelago of 11 islands that together constitute the Republic of Cape Verde. Just south of Senegal is the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, whose Bijagós Islands are among the least visited places in the world.

(above: A lifeguard's chair seems to float above the sand on a Cape Verde beach.)

The seemingly indomitable interest in exploring the world stands African destinations in good stead among intrepid travellers.

(above: Cape Verdeans are intensely proud of their country) Aside from popular destinations such as Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa, the countries of Africa remain comparatively unexplored by visitors from other continents, which means they are new and exciting—and far less crowded than most other places in the world.

Under the right conditions, and with the right cruise company, passengers arriving by sea increase revenue for local businesses and oftentimes also provide funding for community projects in ports of call in countries visited. What is small change to affluent travellers can be a major contribution to the local economy, and never has the influx of tourism revenue meant more to these economies than right now.

(above: Porto do Sol, Cape Verde)

The Republic Of Cape Verde is one place that makes the most of its natural beauty, unique culture, and friendly populace. In recent years, Cape Verde has become a prized addition to the seasoned traveler's list of destinations visited. The islands of this nation some 600 kilometers off the coast of Senegal are among the most strikingly beautiful in the world. Although a stop in Cape Verde has become almost routine on trans-Atlantic repositioning cruises, the islands are much less frequently visited by ships with itineraries that actually focus on these alluring islands and the people who inhabit them. A crossroads of cultures for centuries, the history of Cape Verde is visible in the faces of the locals and audible in their mournful morna music. Vestiges of Portuguese colonial architecture remain in such places as Cidade Velha, the first settlement in what were uninhabited islands when Portuguese explorers arrived way back in the 1400s. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cidade Velha is located on the outskirts of Praia, the nation's capital on the island of Santiago and site of one of the country's two major international airports (the other being on the island of Sal).

(above: Portuguese colonial-era building in Bolama, Bijagós Islands)

National Geographic Expeditions and the French cruise company PONANT together allow sophisticated travellers to enjoy Cape Verde's dramatic topography to the fullest. Praia serves as a point of embarkation for National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT's cruises encompassing various islands in the archipelago. Island nations can present logistical challenges to visitors with limited time but unlimited curiosity; traveling from one island to another, and another, then another can become difficult when infrastructure does not favor time-sensitive travel schedules, and getting around each island can again be a transport challenge. What better way to visit multiple islands than on a ship stopping at several islands where all the ground transport is provided? Given the distances and logistics in Cape Verde, it would be a challenge to visit multiple islands on one's own, especially outlying islands such as Fogo and Santo Antão, but National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT make it easy and wonderful. As is expected on small-ship cruises, special experiences and personalised attention are offered in abundance on a voyage where every day is a highlight of the trip.

(above: Young people take pride in their cultural heritage on Guinea-Bissau's Bijagós Islands)

While Cape Verde's cities of Praia and Sal are perhaps more familiar to international travellers transiting their international airports, the less populated islands of Cape Verde offer even more exceptional experiences to the travellers who go the extra nautical mile aboard PONANT's ships in the company of expert scientists and photographers who know the flora and fauna of the islands.

The island of São Vicente is considered the cultural heart of Cape Verde (which in Portuguese is called Cabo Verde). This is due in no small part to the vibrant music scene that flourishes here. The island's small airport is named after the late Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora, whose soulful voice became a worldwide sensation and most famous representative of her country's morna style of music. São Vicente's capital, Mindelo, is set on a scenic bay surrounded by mountains.

(above: Mindelo harbour)

A short distance away from São Vicente is the island of Santo Antão, regarded by many as the most beautiful island in Cape Verde.

(above: Traditional dances performed in Guinea-Bissau are still part of daily life)

Receiving more rainfall than the other islands, the lush vegetation of Santo Antão's northern region is a green contrast to the rocky (but still impressive) landscapes found on the rest of the island and on other volcanic islands in the country. The jagged peaks descend sharply from their lofty heights, roads twisting and turning between them to deliver astonishing panoramas to those visitors lucky enough to make it here. National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT take their cruise passengers to the best vantage points to see the island's superb scenery.

(above: Fogo's volcano is the gargantuan focal point of a dramatic landscape)

The clearest association with Cape Verde's volcanic topography comes on the island of Fogo, which means 'fire' in Portuguese. The still active volcano and the lava fields surrounding it are together a formidable sight; the area is a national park and serves as a reminder that volcanoes are powerful features of the Earth's landscape. Fogo's latest eruptions in 2014-15 forced residents of the immediate vicinity to be relocated; the lava-filled homes that remain are strong reminders of the forces of Nature.

(above: Expert lecturers on board National Geographic Expeditions PONANT cruises provide insight into destinations visited)

National Geographic and PONANT make cruising the islands of Cape Verde a hassle-free experience for its passengers, taking them to several islands on a single itinerary and providing guides, transport, and activities on each island visited.

(above: Have Cape Verde's beautiful beaches all to yourself!)

While some people may scorn the idea of luxury cruises in areas where poverty exists, the truth is that wealthy people on an expensive cruise can contribute much to local economies through their spending on purchases made in local shops, meals eaten in local restaurants, taxis hired for local transport, and charitable contributions made to organisations undertaking community projects.

(above: The Observation Lounge on PONANT's ship Dumont d'Urville)

PONANT has offered cruises around the islands of Cape Verde for several years, but its new partnership with National Geographic Expeditions now showcases the splendid nature and culture of this isolated country with more expertise than ever before on ships more luxurious than ever before.

(Get close to the hippopotamus clan on Guinea-Bissau's island of Orango)

Taking that expertise one step further, PONANT also counts the exotic Bijagós Islands among its destinations.

(above: The swimming pool on board the Dumont d'Urville)

The only cruise company in the world to include the country of Guinea-Bissau on its itineraries, PONANT takes its passengers to several islands in the archipelago to experience a mix of adventures. Perhaps the most impressive is the visit to the island of Orango to see the hippopotamus population that inhabits freshwater by day and saltwater by night.

(The colourful buildings of Cape Verde are as vibrant as its people)

Visits to local villages and relaxation on pristine beaches are also on the agenda, but of course passengers have the option of doing nothing more than enjoying the ship's onboard facilities such as the spa, the pool, library, and the restaurants—all of which can exist in your own personal universe on a private charter.

(above: PONANT's Dumont d'Urville ship off the coast of Fogo)

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