The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 570 km (354 mi) off the west coast of Africa. The landscape varies from dry plains to high active volcanoes with cliffs rising steeply from the ocean. The climate is arid.
The archipelago consists of 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and leeward (Sotavento) groups. The six islands in the Barlavento group are Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, is Boa Vista. The islands in the Sotavento group are Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All but Santa Luzia are inhabited.
Three islands – Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio – generally are level and lack natural water supplies. Mountains higher than 1,280 metres (4,199 ft) are found on Santiago, Fogo, Santo Antão, and São Nicolau.
Sand carried by high winds has caused erosion on all islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the sea on several of the mountainous islands. The lack of natural vegetation in the uplands and coast also contributes to soil erosion. Only the interior valleys support natural vegetation.