The SAMUM-2 experiment took place in the Cape Verde islands in January–February 2008. The colocated ground-based and airborne instruments allow the study of desert dust optical and microphysical properties in a closure experiment. The Meteorological Institute of the University of Munich deployed one sun-sky photometer and two tropospheric lidar systems. A travelling AERONET-Cimel sun-sky radiometer was also deployed. During the measurement period the aerosol scenario over Cape Verde mostly consisted of a dust layer below 2 km and a smoke-dust layer above 2–4 km a.s.l. The Saharan dust arrived at the site from the NE, whereas the smoke originated in the African equatorial region. This paper describes the main results of the Sun photometer observations, supported by lidar information. An analysis of the variations in the aerosol optical depth (AOD) in the range 340–1550 nm, the Ångström exponent, volume size distributions and single scattering albedo is presented. The aerosol mixtures are analysed by means of the fine mode fraction of the AOD provided by the sun-sky inversion data and the Spectral Deconvolution Algorithm. The mean AOD (500 nm) was 0.31, with associated low Ångström exponent of 0.46. Several types of events were detected within the data set, with prevalence of dust or mixtures as characterized by the Ångström exponents of extinction and absorption and the fine mode fraction. Aerosol properties derived from sunphotometry were compared to in situ measurements of size distribution, effective radius and single scattering albedo.