Summer on São Vicente, Cabo Verde
If you like abundant vegetation, Cape Verde is probably not the best destination for you. Situated in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Senegal, 9 inhabited islands form this fascinating country. Each Island is different. Sal and Boa Vista are the islands where most tourists go, with stunning white sandy beaches and hotel resorts. Santiago, the main island, is the most crowded one, Santo Antão is the green chamber and a paradise for hikers. Fogo’s main attraction is the volcano that shapes the island and then there are the smaller and lesser touristic other islands.
This July, I was on São Vicente, the cultural capital of Cabo Verde. The main city Mindelo is known for the many cultural offerings and of course also for the amazing carnival. Mindelo was built where it is because of the unique and safe natural harbor, that was formed thanks to an underwater volcanic crater. While everybody who arrives by plane lands in São Pedro, not many people know about that little fishing village at the coast next to the airport. But you should consider a visit there.
São Pedro is very small, the beach is bigger than the village and is also a highlight for plane spotters. The planes arrive directly over the beach. But don’t worry about the noise, there are only about 2 planes a day and you only hear them the second they are directly over you.
At the right end of the beach, there is a nice hike to the lighthouse. If you are scared of heights, this might not be the best hike for you, as the road is small and falls off steeply into the ocean. From the hike and also the lighthouse, you will be able to spot sea turtles in the ocean. If you go swimming early enough, you might be able to swim with them near the village. The lighthouse is not functional anymore and also not the most beautiful building just to look at. But I like abandoned places and the hike there is totally worth it. Also, the view from here is awesome.
My friend and I stayed at Aquiles Eco Hotel in São Pedro, on the beach. The hotel is not a luxurious resort, but the rooms are cosy and functional and most of all, Eco-friendly. The hotel is run by Achille, an Italian ex-soccer-coach and the most friendly host you can imagine. His son, the architect of the hotel, lives and works with his wife in Mindelo and has received many prices for the first Eco-Hotel in Cape Verde. You will not only be a guest in the hotel, you are a part of the village. Achille will tell you all about the village, the fishermen who go out fishing every morning to sell their freshly caught fish at the market in Mindelo, the local kids soccer club (which he trains) and he will prepare a mean dinner with the fresh caught fish from the morning.
Hiking is a good way to explore the island. The vegetation is scarce due to its volcanic origin, it is mostly brown and stoney and there are not many trees. So sunscreen is a must even for city sightseeing. From São Pedro you can hike in around 2 h to Flamingo Beach. There are no flamingos there, but the beach is nice and a little more remote than the one in the village. And the hike there is adventurous if you try to use the (in retrospective invisible) path over the mountains. There is a marked path around the mountains, which would be the best to use. Just follow the white posts along the footpath. Make sure you bring enough food and water, as there is nothing along the way. At the beginning of the path, you will find an abandoned production site, with lots of rusty barrels and machines. As I said before, there is some kind of beauty in rusty and abandoned places. For me, this looked like a filmset for some spaghetti-western.
Another good way to see the island is to rent a car for a day. You can easily get around the island in one day. You can also do that by public transport or collective taxis, but the buses don’t run that often, so a car is a little more flexible. In the Northeast, there is the Baia dos Gatas where you can find lots of holiday apartments, restaurants and also a natural pool at the beach. The place is most crowded in August, when the locals have their summer holidays and the festival is taking place there. From there, you can make your way up the highest mountain on the island, Monte Verde, 750 m high. From the summit you have an almost 360° view of the island and you can even see the neighboring islands in good weather. On the slopes of Monte Verde and in the Valley south of the mountain, there are many farms. Each farm has a well, that runs with wind energy. The wells go deeper and deeper each year, as water is a little scarce on the island. Here, the island is pretty green and surprisingly you will also find a (closed) water adventure park in this valley.
The best feature of the island for sure are the people living there. I have hardly ever met friendlier people than here. Everyone is happy to help, talk to you or share their experience. And everyone is so generous here, I don’t think we met one person who did not offer us a glass of their homemade puntch.
The best experience was just by walking down the street, when two people turned around and started talking to my friend and me. 2min later, they invited us to join them for a sundowner at the harbor in Mindelo. As it turned out, they were staying in the other hotel in São Pedro and were also from Switzerland, not far from where I live. The third person, a restaurant owner in Mindelo, invited us to come have lunch with him the next day. Lunch was planned, but as it goes in Cabo Verde, you will get lost in time there. At lunch, there were 2 more friends of the restaurant owner. One, a farmer and sailor from Santo Antão and the other one an english teacher from Lisbon. We left there in the evening, with new friends and a bag full of Mangos and a few bottles of puntch for us and the other 2 Swiss guys. We met the lunch crew again at night in the streets of Mindelo where we spent some more time chatting and getting the best tip for Lisbon (check out my travel tips). While the Mangos and the alcohol will fade, these moments, those memories will surely last forever.
I am a swiss photographer (www.fmphotography.ch),
a travel, wildlife, volunteer and outdoors addict who cares about zero waste, the environment and simply our planet.