A settlement at Mindelo was founded in 1795 by the Portuguese. It became a coal deposit for ships of the British East India Company in 1838, followed by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in 1850. The town grew to 1,400 inhabitants in the 1850s. In 1884 a submarine communications cable was laid between Europe, Africa, India and North America, making Mindelo an important communications centre for the British Empire.
The shift from coal to oil as fuel for ships after 1900 caused the decline of Mindelo. Unemployment and poverty struck the island, even worsened by famines and the crisis of the 1930s. Many inhabitants emigrated. With independence, the city gained more prominence and has seen steady growth.
Mindelo was the cultural capital of the Portuguese-speaking world from November 2002 until November 2003. Mindelo is also considered the cultural capital of Cape Verde.
Mindelo is situated at the Porto Grande Bay, a large natural harbour. The town is surrounded by low mountains: the Monte Cara and the Morro Branco headland to the west, and the Monte Verde to the east. The town is crossed by the river Ribeira de Julião.
The Cesária Évora Airport lies 9 km (6 mi) southwest of Mindelo, near the village São Pedro. Ferries for Santo Antão leave from the port. The main streets of Mindelo are Rua Lisboa and Avenida Marginal. Many colonial buildings have been preserved in the city centre.
Mindelo city enjoys very rare mild and a dry tropical climate (classified as BWh according to Köppen's and Geiger's systematization), much akin to Santa Cruz de Tenerife or Las Palmas on the Canary Islands with only difference of being somewhat warmer during winter months. The average annual temperature in Mindelo is 23.2 °C (74 °F) which is exactly two degrees more than in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. City is very dry with only 98 mm (4 in) every year. These rare climate conditions are due to its position far off the west African coast and because Cape Verde are in the middle of cold Canary Current.
Its economy consists mainly of business, fishing, shipping, boating and more commonly tourism which developed more recently. Mindelo has several hotels, restaurants and tourist agencies.
According to 2010 data, Mindelo has a population of 70,468 inhabitants (50,000 in the mid-1990s) and is the second largest city in Cape Verde after Praia.
Mindelo is twinned with: