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.
Costa Rica - Off the beaten track
My aim is to see the world. All of it. Therefore, I usually don't go to the same country twice in order to be able to see another country I have not visited yet.
This year, I made an exception. And I am glad I did. After 9 years, I went back to Costa Rica to volunteer again in this awesome seaturtle project on the caribbean side of the country. I will do a separate post about this soon, stay tuned.
9 years ago I went only for that project and did not see much of the rest of the country. This year I had time to add another week to indulge in this country of plenty.
I like holidays off the beaten track, so all I booked beforehand was the flight and a hotel in the area I planned to see. I did not research, what I could do and see there. I did google though to rule out destinations I don't need to see. Since Costa Rica is booming, there are a lot of destinations flooded with tourists. I prefer holidays where I can meet locals, engage with local culture and wildlife, etc.
So, the first destination that went OFF my list was Puerto Viejo. As it is a very beautiful spot, it is one of the main tourist areas. Pretty much all the tourists I met in Costa Rica were there at least a few days. Other destinations that went off my list were Jaco and Manuel Antonio and of course San José. The capital city did not impress me much when I was there 9 years ago so I decided to skip it this time completely. I went to the old capital instead, Cartago, and stayed literally in paradise. El Salto Ecolodge in Paraiso was just what I needed. A cosy little boutique hotel, ecofriendly, awesome views over the Orosí Valley and Lake Cachí, great food and the most friendly and open owner you could imagine. Really a home away from home.
As I said, I did not plan much ahead. I rented a car (4x4) and explored the valley in front of me. At the hotel, I downloaded google maps for the area to work offline and then just drove off.
I was close to the Turrialba volcano that just started being active again 2-3 weeks before my holidays. So I tried to go see it of course. But being in Costa Rica during rainy season means there is a lot of fog around and it does rain every now and then. The rain does not bother me much, it is still around 27 degrees Celsius in October/November so you only get a little wet but not cold. The fog on the other hand was a bit annoying, always clouding up around the top of the volcano. So seeing the volcano was not always possible. Best times were before 9 am or after 4pm. And then again, you can not get too close to the volcano anyway. About 8 km from the volcano, the police installed road blocks, not allowing tourists to get any closer. So instead of seeing the volcano, I had a nice chat with the police officers showing me pictures from the morning or the day before where the volcano was clearly visible from the point I was right at that moment. Charming, right?
And then, the one officer even tried to make a deal, he offered to take me closer to the volcano if I go on a date with him. Since the view was really bad anyway, I declined. But that encounter made my day.
Just driving around with no goal but to see the area is very nice. You can stop wherever you like it and you are very flexible. But you have to be prepared that in Costa Rica, everything takes longer than expected. For one, mostly only the main roads are paved, and even those have many many holes in them. The lesser travelled roads were mainly gravel or even dirt roads. That is why I rented the 4x4, and I was very glad I did.
With these roads, you understand that maximum speed is hardly ever over 40 kmh, on the even worse roads where I usually drove even only 10-20 kmh, so travelling around takes time. And you have to be flexible, because every once in a while, the road you took just stops. Either because a landslide made a big hole into the road where only the knight riders car could jump over or the road just ends and you have to go all the way back. I enjoyed it even more like this.
One day, I went to see the Sanatorio Durán. I found this while googling places I DON'T want to visit. The Sanatorio is an abandoned sanatorium from 1918. Since I do like abandoned places I thought I'll give this a try. I was there in low season so I had the whole sanatorium to myself. It is a huge place and it is said to be haunted. Well, I did not see any ghosts, but while I was there, it did feel a little creepy, especially while being all alone. More interesting than the ghosts was the architecture, or more how the rooms were used. There was a bakery room just in front of the Morgue, and behind that was the dining and cinema room. There was a huge building only for women and children, and a smaller one for guys and one building for married couples. After about 1.5 h, a local school class showed up at the place. They did not know I was there so I decided to have a little fun with them. I hid in the darkest room there (the x-ray room) and when some of them came there and flashed their phone-lights into the room (yes it was that dark), they got scared to actually see me there, staring at them...and then we all laughed. It made both our visits excellent.
Cartago was the capital of Costa Rica before San José. As I said before, San José is not my cup of tea. And if you ask around, you will not find many people (if at all) recommending that city. Cartago on the other hand has much more charm, friendlier people, it is safer and a little smaller. I spent almost a whole day in the market in the middle of the city. I have to say I love those markets with all their food stalls where you can buy fresh and local produced fruits, veggies, meat and fish. I spent over an our at one of the fruit &veggie booths, talking to the owner. He basically gave me a lesson about all the local fruits he had on display. And he gave me each and every single one of those to eat. I am talking about fruits like the guanabana, mamón chino or the kas but also the variety of bananas and platanos. Did you know that even the most common banana comes in different colours? While they all look yellow from the outside, there are bananas with a white flesh, yellow flesh, golden flesh, etc. And they all are extremely delicious. At the end, the owner did not even let me pay for all the fruits I ate, that is how generous and friendly Ticos are and how much they enjoy talking to interested people as well. So if you go there, don't hesitate to chat up the people working there, even if you don't speak spanish too well.
In my later post about the seaturtle project I will also talk more about the diversity in nature, as Costa Rica is a paradise for wildlife and nature lovers. And the government actually cares for conservation. There are many national parks and protected areas, recycling is not only theoretical and this year, 98.12% of the energy was generated from renewable sources. Costa Rica is really one of a kind. It has something for everybody: sandy beaches, waves for surfing, national parks ideal for birdlovers and wildlife spotters, volcanos, adventure & hiking opportunities and the best fruits and foods you could wish for.
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.