January / February 2021
After my return from the Canary Islands and 10 days in Switzerland with Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations, I flew again to the warmth on January 2, this time to the Cape Verde Islands. The Republic of Cape Verde consists of 10 islands located 600 to 850 km west of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. In 1975, the islands became independent from Portugal and are considered one of the most democratic and developed countries in Africa.
Since a PCR test was mandatory for entry, I had a hospital employee in full protective clothing poke a chopstick far up my nose on December 31. It was my first PCR test. The flight was booked. If the test was positive, I would have lost the ticket cost and spent the next 10 days in quarantine. I felt healthy and had no symptoms, so I expected a negative test result, which was confirmed the very next day. My travel colleague received the negative test result a day later, so nothing stood in the way of our trip.
The Portuguese airline TAP offered the only connection to Cape Verde in pandemic times. Last year I could have booked a direct flight from the Canary Islands to Cape Verde.
Early in the morning we arrived in the capital Praia, where a driver was already waiting for us and took us to the rented apartment. We stayed two days in the capital to look around, get Cape Verde Escudos, buy a SIM card and organize the onward flights.
We quickly discarded the idea of traveling from island to island by local ferries. The ferries were unreliable and delays of several days were quite common. We had researched each island before the trip, but we wanted to create an itinerary after we arrived to include local information. However, we did not receive any useful information, on the contrary. I educated the local tourist information about the Covid 19 test requirements for visiting each island, which were regularly updated on the Cape Verde government Facebook page. Generally, no test was required if we were departing from an island with few cases, as in our situation.
The local flights were well booked. Thus, it was a good idea to reserve our flights for the entire trip as soon as possible. For sure we wanted to go to Santo Antão Island for hiking, to Sal for the beaches and back to the main island of Santiago for the return flight. We soon realized that we could not book a flight to Sal until two weeks later. So we had no choice but to spend much longer than planned on Santo Antão Island. As it turned out, this was a twist of fate, as we thoroughly enjoyed our long time on Santo Antão.
São Vicente Island
Before we could reach the island of Santo Antão, we had to fly to the island of São Vicente, because Santo Antão has no airport. The largest city of São Vicente is called Mindelo and is the second largest in the country after the capital Praia.
From our hotel we enjoyed the view over the city of Mindelo and the bay.
Mindelo is much nicer situated than Praia. At sunset we ate our dinner at the Floating Bar.
With a completed health questionnaire, we were able to board the ferry that took us in one hour to Porto Novo, the main town of Santo Antão. The public minibus then took us to the coastal village of Pombas, 30 km away, at the foot of the spectacular Paul Valley.
Hiking in the Paul Valley to Pico Antonio
The next day we went on our first hike. We wanted to take it slow, so we chose the nearby Pico do Antonio as our destination. An aluguer took us up the Paul Valley to our hiking starting point. Aluguer is generally the name for the smaller public transportation on Cape Verde. They come in different varieties such as minibuses or plastic-roofed pickups with built-in benches on the left and right sides of the loading area.
This hike already showed the first great views of the Paul Valley.
To the right of the picture is Pico do Antonio. On the lower left is a small settlement where the simple cafe ‘Chez Sandra’ can be found.
The owner Sandra in front of coffee beans that she has laid out to dry. Of course, she served us a very aromatic coffee from her own beans.
View from the cafe ‘Chez Sandra’
She advised us not to climb Pico do Antonio because the path was not passable. We therefore hiked through a beautiful landscape and past small villages in the valley down to our starting point Pombas. As in the Canary Islands, the steep slopes here are terraced so that agriculture can be practiced.
A traditional stone house with a roof of plants
Hike from Pombas to the volcano of Cova and to Xoxo in the Ribeira Grande valley
Next we wanted to reach the volcano of Cova at the end of the Paul Valley. The owner of our guesthouse advised us to hike from the volcano further down into the Ribeira Grande valley to the village of Xoxo. This tip was spot on, because the descent to Xoxo was also an experience and not yet described anywhere on the Internet.
At the end of the Paul valley at the crater rim of the Cova crater we enjoyed a wonderful view over the valley.
Agriculture is practiced on the crater floor.
Part of the crater rim
On the descent to Xoxo in the Ribeira Grande valley, the impressive rock needle that makes this hike so special stands out.
Impressions on the way to Xoxo
Shortly before Xoxo, the rock needle impresses from a different perspective.
A view back up the Ribeira Grande valley
With an aluguer, which also brought a fish seller back to the sea with his unsold fish, we reached the village of Ribeira Grande, from where another aluguer brought us to our pension in Pombas. As the photos show, this hike was one of the highlights of our Cape Verde stay!
Hike from Pombas to Pico da Cruz
The following day we wanted to reach the 1’585 meter high Pico da Cruz. After an aluguer ride to our starting point, we hiked again in the Paul Valley, but this time on the left side of the valley.
The Paul Valley from another angle
After climbing up the Paul Valley, we reached a paved road that led to the village of Pico da Cruz. From there it was a short walk to the top of Pico da Cruz. From the viewing platform we had a wide view over the southern part of the island with the main town Porto Novo and …
… over the western half of the island.
Actually, we wanted to return the same way in the Paul Valley. But soon shreds of fog came up from the valley, so we decided to take the aluguer to the island capital Porto Novo. Here we ate extensively in a good restaurant and then wanted to take an aluguer back to our pension in Pombas. Shortly after 5pm we found out that the last aluguer had left at 5pm. Finally we took a cab the 30 km to Pombas.
Trip from Porto Novo to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo
On Sundays there is no aluguer from Porto Novo to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo. However, the owner of the guesthouse in Tarrafal knew of a driver who drove from Porto Novo to Tarrafal on Sunday morning because he was transporting goods.
On the way, before we descended into the Tarrafal valley, a view of the western part of the island of Santo Antão with the highest mountain on the island, the volcano Topo da Coroa, at 1,979 meters, opened up to us.
The road to Tarrafal passed through a unique landscape!
Terraces also allow agriculture in the steep Tarrafal Valley. Thanks to the ideal microclimate and sufficient water, mangos, bananas, papayas, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, cassava, corn, beans and many other products grow here.
The village is located at the end of the Tarrafal Valley
Tarrafal de Monte Trigo
The black beach of the small town of Tarrafal
The village with the traditional houses of the locals stretches far up into the valley, from where there is a wide view over the bay.
Hike from Tarrafal to Monte Trigo
The 12 km hike led above the coast from Tarrafal to the even smaller neighboring village of Monte Trigo, which can only be reached on foot or by boat.
View along the coast. The white houses of Monte Trigo can already be seen in the distance.
We watched the fishing boats from the cliffs.
The village of Monte Trigo seen from a cave on the beach
A stone overgrown with moss on the beach
After lunch at a family in the village, a fisherman took us back to Tarrafal in his boat later in the afternoon.
Already before sunrise the next day our transport, a pickup truck, drove back to Porto Novo. Since a few people didn’t want to miss the ferry to the next island São Vicente, we didn’t make a stop at the place with a view of the volcano Topo da Coroa in the light of the rising sun. Too bad, because the morning atmosphere in this unique area is indescribable. After a breakfast in Porto Novo, we took an aluguer 42 km to the northernmost point of the island and of all Cape Verde, to Ponta do Sol.
Ponta do Sol
In Ponto do Sol the cobblestone road from the island’s capital Porto Novo ends. The wind blows from the sea and waves crash against the harbor wall. The end-of-the-world feeling was heightened by the pandemic, as we were almost the only tourists. Besides a few cheap junk food snack bars, there was only one restaurant open, which had room for improvement.
We came to Ponta do Sol mainly to hike the impressive cliff path to Cruzinha.
Hiking from Ponta do Sol to Cruzinha and further to Chã de Igreja
The day before, the guesthouse owner advised us to reserve a cab to take us back to Ponto do Sol at 4pm following the hike. However, after two hours of hiking, we realized that we did not need the cab. Thanks to the well-maintained path, we made quick progress. That’s why we wanted to walk the same way back and experience the views and villages again in the afternoon light. I called the cab driver five hours before the agreed pick-up time and cancelled our trip. Although he had not yet performed any service, he did not want to cancel the trip. When the guesthouse owner called me and said that if we didn’t take the cab, he would have to pay the cab driver for the ride, we gave in. We agreed, however, that the driver would pick us up at Chã de Igreja, which is an hour’s hike away from Cruzinha.
The cobblestone path from Ponta do Sol to Cruzinha was well maintained and offered impressive views of the cliffs.
A look back to Ponta do Sol
The picturesque village of Fontainhas
The path offered spectacular views
The village of Corvo consists of only a few houses.
In painstaking manual labor, for centuries the inhabitants have created terraces that allow agriculture.
An abandoned settlement
We reached Cruzinha for lunch. Here, we had two opportunities for a ride. On the one hand, a cab was ready that would have brought us back to Ponto do Sol. In addition, a couple would have gladly shared the fare of the taxi they ordered with us. Thus, the cab reservation was really not necessary.
Since we had plenty of time before our taxi picked us up, we explored the coast around Cruzinha and then hiked our way to Cha de Igreja.
A cemetery between Cruzinha and Cha de Igreja in the middle of an impressive landscape.
The landscape around Cha de Igreja
The taxi ride over a pass down into the Ribeira Grande valley offered magnificent views of rugged valleys and steep cliffs.
The next day we took a rapid antigen test in Ribeira Grande. This was necessary because we were traveling from an island with higher case rates to Sal Island with lower case rates. This marked the end of our 11-day stay on the island of Santo Antão.
By ferry we reached the island of San Vicente, where the airport was located.
Hike from Mindelo to Monte Verde
We spent a day on San Vicente, which we used for a day hike up Monte Verde. It is the highest mountain on the island at 744 meters.
View over the island of San Vicente during our hike to Monte Verde
Since there were no direct flights from San Vicente to Sal, we first flew to the capital Praia and after waiting for several hours we continued to Sal.
The island of Sal is 30 km long and thanks to its beaches and 350 days of sunshine a year, it is the most touristy of the Cape Verde islands. At normal times, countless charter airlines fly directly to Sal. However, in January 2021, due to the pandemic, there were only connections from the capital Praia.
In the main tourist town of Santa Maria, we encountered only a few other tourists. Some hotels were closed.
A deserted beach near the main tourist town of Santa Maria
The sea was too cold for us to swim, so we spent the time exploring the restaurants, walking and jogging.
Since our stay in Sal was coming to an end soon and we had hardly seen anything of the island, we rented a car on the second last day and drove to see the few sights.
Blue Eye (Olho Azul) – Buracano
First we visited the so-called ‘Blue Eye’ in Buracano on the northwest coast of the island, 28 km from Santa Maria. Here there is a twenty meter deep vertical cave by the sea that glows bright blue when the sun shines into it. From the Internet I had the information that this is the case between 11 and 12 o’clock. But this information was not correct, because the time changes with the seasons. We would have had to wait more than two hours for the natural spectacle, so we decided to forgo it and continue our journey. Nevertheless, the visit was worthwhile. The roar of the sea and the force of the waves hitting the rugged coastline were impressive. A garden with desert plants and a pavilion with a view of the sea completed the attraction.
Just behind the ‘Blue Eye’ stands the 263 meter high Monte Leste, an extinct volcano.
A few kilometers from the ‘Blue Eye’ is the small port town of Palmeira.
Fishermen offered their catch at the harbor.
A fishing net
There were also a few moray eels on offer.
The salt mine of Pedra de Lume
Salt was mined in an extinct volcanic crater from 1833 to 1985. The salt lakes were initially formed naturally in the crater by seepage of sea water into the crater floor, which was below sea level.
In 1921, a cable car was put into operation to transport the salt from the crater to the port of Pedra de Lume.
The remains of the cable car
The terminus of the cable car at the port
The water of the salt lakes evaporates and leaves the salt behind.
The church of Pedra de Lume
The port where the salt was shipped
After not seeing any sharks at ‘Shark Bay’, Bikini Beach in the southwest of the island was our last stop on the island tour. Here are countless hotels and resorts for package tourists, which were all closed because of the pandemic.
At the Bikini Beach Club, all hell usually breaks loose. But now, we were almost the only ones to enjoy a drink, accompanied by loud disco music.
All hotels and resorts on Bikini Beach were closed.
From Sal we flew to the main island Santiago, where we spent the last week on Cape Verde. We stayed with an expatriate French woman in the small town of Fundura in the northern part of the island. The town was only a few kilometers from the Serra Malagueta National Park, where we planned to do some hiking.
Hike from Boa Entrada to Fundura
Since we arrived already around noon, we took a short hike in the afternoon to a kapok tree in the nearby village of Boa Entrada. It is the biggest tree on Santiago Island and maybe even in the whole country. Afterwards we walked through villages hardly visited by tourists back to our hotel in Fundura.
Just the roots of the huge kapok tree were impressive.
Because of its size, it was not possible to capture the whole tree on one picture.
On the way back to Fundura
These two women each carry a cauldron full of stones on their heads. But they have not lost their laughter.
Hike in Serra Malagueta Natural National Park to Hortelao – green trail
After registering and paying a small fee, we received a map of the national park from the park office. We decided to take the main hiking trail marked in green on the map from the park office to the village of Hortelao.
Soon we were enjoying a wide view of the valley of the river ‘Ribeira Principal’
On the way
In the village of Hortelao, we met this local woman who offered fried chicken thighs. Hoping that these were from free-range chickens in the village, we bought one thigh each.
Since there was no aluguer waiting for us in Hortelao, we continued hiking along the road, amidst an impressive landscape.
At some point, an aluguer did pass by, taking us to the transfer place Tarrafal, from where another aluguer took us to a viewpoint.
The great view from the road from the park office in the direction of Fundura
Hiking in Serra Malagueta Natural National Park to Lagao – blue trail
The next day we did another hike on the trail marked in blue on the map to Lagao. This trail was partly difficult to find and had no new views to offer, so I can’t recommend this trail.
The third largest city of Cape Verde, Assomada, was only a few kilometers away from our hotel. Here, a large market is held twice a week, where everything from fruits, meat, live animals, clothes, furniture, shoes, fake branded goods, bags, kitchen utensils, and toys are available for purchase. As always at such markets, there is a hustle and bustle that makes it easy to take pictures of people.
After the market visit, we had a coffee in a cafeteria where this smiling woman served us.
Ribeira da Barca
In the afternoon we took an aluguer to the coastal town of Ribeira da Barca, where we ate freshly caught seafood for lunch. Afterwards, we explored the surrounding area before returning by aluguer.
At the northern beach of Ribeira da Barca
After a last morning red as seen from our hotel in Fundura, we traveled by aluguer to Tarrafal, the northernmost town on the island.
The settlement with more than 6’000 inhabitants is located at the end of the two main roads through the island of Santiago, 66 km from the capital Praia. The place gained sad fame through the Portuguese concentration camp ‘Campo do Tarrafal’ outside the town, which was unofficially also called ‘Campo da morte lenta’ (Camp of slow death). Between 1936 and 1954, political prisoners were quartered here under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. Some did not survive the terrible conditions and torture.
Today, the beach and the waves attract many people on weekends.
The beach on a weekday …
… and at the weekend
Fishing boats on the beach
The waves are ideal for surfing.
Since Tarrafal was our last destination on Cape Verde, we afforded a villa in the best resort in town.
During our stay in Cape Verde, Portugal introduced mandatory PCR testing even for transit passengers, so we had to visit the hospital in Tarrafal for the test within 72 hours before departure. Thanks to the support of our resort, we received the negative test result in time before our transfer to the airport in Praia.
This was the end of an unforgettable one-month trip to Cape Verde. Especially the landscapes on the islands of Santo Antão and Santiago were fantastic. We would have liked to visit the island of Fogo with the volcano ‘Pico do Fogo’. And on the island of Santiago there are more stunning areas to discover. We were also impressed by the friendliness and honesty of the people.
The plane from Portugal to Switzerland was almost empty, because Switzerland imposed a 10-day quarantine for travelers from Portugal. Since we came from Cape Verde and only changed planes in Lisbon, we were spared this.
After 10 days in Switzerland, I traveled on to Costa Rica.
This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by deepl.com