There are four main islands: Brava (67 km²), Fogo ( 476 km²) and Santiago (991 km²) are rocky and volcanic agricultural islands, with the longest histories of human habitation and densest populations in the Cape Verdes. Maio (269 km²) lies to the east and is a flat desert island whose economy was primarily based on salt, giving it more in common with Sal and Boa Vista among the Barlavento.
The islets Ilhéu Grande, Ilhéu de Cima, and the minor islets Ilhéu do Rei, Ilhéu Sapado and Ilhéu Luís Carneiro make up the Ilhéus Secos (or Ilhéus do Rombo) islets group north of Brava. The little Ilhéu de Santa Maria lies off Santiago and the like.
Praia on Santiago, being the national capital is the most populated city followed by Assomada and Pedra Badejo also on the island, São Filipe on Fogo is followed, Tarrafal, Chão Bom on Santiago, Mosteiros on Fogo and Calheta de São Miguel on Santiago are followed as towns. Cidade do Maio on Maio and Nova Sintra on Brava are one of the most populated areas, the two each are island capital, others are Ribeira da Barca, São Domingos and Cidade Velha on Santiago.
The most mountainous islands are Fogo, Brava and Santiago. Fogo has the country's tallest mountain, the Pico do Fogo elevating 2,829 meters, others include Pico da Antónia, the tallest on Santiago, Serra Malagueta the second tallest range on the island and Monte Fontainhas on Brava. The least mountainous island is Maio.
The first settlement on Cape Verde was Cidade Velha inhabited in 1461, the second populated place would be São Filipe, the remainder of Santiago, Brava and Maio would be populated in the mid to late 16th century.
Santiago for much of the time has been the most populated island in the island chain, it is the most populated island in Sovatento. Until the late 1990s, the leastly populated island was Brava. Sotavento has nearly double the population of Barlavento and is home to about 2/3 of the country's population. Santiago has a huge percentage of over 84% the population of Sotavento, in most of the 20th century, it had a mid percentage of Sotavento. The capital alone has 40.19% of Sotavento's population.
From 1900, the population has more than tripled from 91,600 to 281,060 in 2000. As of the 2010 census, the population was 324,062. The projected 2020 population could be over the 400,000 mark.
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- Michel Lesourd, Les îles Barlavento (Barlavento Islands), Le Cap-Vert (Cape Verde), Jaguar Publishers, Paris, 2006, p. 68-153 978-2-86950-408-0 (in French)