Cabo verde

As you might know from my blog, I’ve traveled quite a lot, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful as the capeverdian island of Santo Antao. It is nicknamed as a “hiker’s paradise”, which couldn’t be more accurate. I guess just the word paradise itself is the right description.
The landscapes are stunning, the views spectacular, the sceneries magical, the mountains and the ocean powerful. So much that it will leave you speechless many times.

Right, so how to get there?
The only option is to fly to the neighbour island of Sao Vincente and take a ferry from the city of Mindelo. The ferries run every day, both in the morning and in the afternoon and cost 8€ one way. The journey itself takes cca 1 hour.
Remember! When you get to the port town in Santo Antao called Porto Novo, rush to take one of the aluguers before they leave. Aluguer is a sort of a shared taxi that run around the island. Just say the destination and get on board with the other passengers. It’s much cheaper than a regular taxi.

Now, I will describe our itinerary, which you may or may not use as an example:

Day 1: Cova – Valle de Paúl
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Difficult
Type: Steep descent
From Porto Novo we went to Cova, a small village on the top of the Crater de Cova in the mountains. Ask the driver or someone how to get to the Paúl valley. We were staying at Chez Sandro, a guest house in the middle of the the valley. From Cova, it was a steep descent that took us about 2-3hours. As usual, we didn’t calculate the time well and it got dark by the time we were descending, so it got quite adventurous. Anyway. Besides calculating the time well, bring warm clothes because it is very cold in the mountains. Like 3 layers and a warm jacket cold.

Day 2: Valle de Paúl – Pombas
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Type: Mostly descent
The next day, we continued the descent through the valley from our accommodation Chez Sandro to the shore, which took us another 3 hours. The whole descent from the very top in Cova could be done in one day, but be prepared that your knees and thighs will hurt as f✳︎✳︎✳︎. We divided it into two parts and it was definitely more pleasant. Moreover, spending the night in this lush, bright green valley surrounded by the majestic mountains is quite something! You hardly ever get a view like that from your window after waking up. You could also do the whole trek the other way around and go from the shore all the way up to the valley or the crater – depends on what you and your legs prefer!

We ended up in the village of Pombas down on the shore. We got our bags transported by an aluguer to a bar called Aranginha (costs 1€ per bag). We had lunch there and it was delicious! It’s a beaten shack with a few plastic tables and chairs outside with delicious and very cheap capeverdian food. A great, authentic experience, nothing posh, without anyone speaking French or English with you.
Then we got an aluguer to Ponta do Sol.

Day 3: Cruzinha – Ponta do Sol
Duration: 7-8 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Type: Up and down
Together with the Paúl valley, this trek is a must. Get an aluguer or a taxi (not many aluguers go there) to the village of Cruzinha. From there, start walking to Ponta do Sol – if you don’t know the way, just ask the locals, they will direct you. Do not do it the other way around, as it’s difficult to find an aluguer from Cruzinha in the afternoon, it’s a remote place indeed. The hike goes along the shore, sometimes it takes you very high with dizzying, even scary views on the breaking waves underneath. The combination of the majestic mountains and the wild ocean dramatically breaking down on the rocks is really something. After some 3-4 hours, you’ll reach a small village called Formiguinhas. We had lunch at bar Isabel and it was delicious! From there, you’ll continue through the mountains until Fontainhas, a cute village set in a small valley. There’s a nice bar where you can refresh yourself with a juice or a beer before you continue to Ponta do Sol, which is still another 1 hour or so.

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Day 4: Ribeira Grande – Sinagoga
Duration: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy
Type: Flat, on asphalt road
This one is a great option for a more relaxed day, which we certainly needed between the treks. Sinagoga is a small village on the shore about 1,5 hour walking distance on the main road from Ribeira Grande. It is known for its natural pools, which were built between the rocks, it’s kinda hard to describe – just see the picture. I guess you can swim in the pools on a more calm day – which was definitely not our case. It was windy when we were there and the waves were dramatic as usual, splashing in the pools and moving you from one side to the other, which is not very pleasant. But anyway, there’s a small bar right above the pools so we just chilled out there with a beer, looking at the ocean and listening to the sound of the waves.

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Day 5: Ribeira Grande – Xoxo
Duration: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Type: Rather flat, on asphalt road
Although this one is more of a walk than a hike, for me it was one of the most beautiful experiences here. It is some 2 hours from Ribeira Grande to Xoxo (pronounced sho sho – love it), on the main (asphalt) road. Soon after leaving Ribeira Grande, you’ll reach the Ribeira de Torre valley, which, to me, was the most beautiful one. Once again, green, lush and abundant, yet different to Paúl. The mountains are more solitary and as they are also covered in green, they remind you of the Avatar movie. Another factor that made this easy walk so memorable for me was that there were quite a lot of people on the road (no cars though) – kids coming back home from school, women going to prepare diner, teenagers playing football, people on bicycles…which was very nice to see, since the island is rather solitary and not very lively most of the time. The sun was shining and it was just a perfect picture. The road is flat and only gets up some 20 minutes before Xoxo. Get a natural juice from sugar cane in the lovely bar in Marrador, the last village before Xoxo, and you’ll know for sure that you are in paradise. Warning! You’re not going to want to leave!

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Day 6: Xoxo – Cova
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Hard
Type: Steep ascent
For me, this was the hardest but at the same time the most beautiful hike. We started from our accommodation in Xoxo. From there you simply go up. There’s just one path, but in case you don’t know just ask the locals “Cova?” and they will show you the direction. It’s a really long and sometimes really steep ascent. Xoxo is already located in some altitude but even from there we couldn’t see the top of the mountain we were going to. Partly because it was covered in mist, partly because it was simply too far and too high. The hike is amazing though. The higher you go, the greater views of the valley you have. When you start reaching the top, the landscape and vegetation suddenly changes and the little green fields, sugar cane, potatoes and papaya trees are swiftly changed by pine trees and a european kinda forest. The greatest thing was probably that we climbed through the mist and at the very top, we were standing above it. It felt like standing on the clouds. Exhausted and sweating, you enjoy it even more. Like, those views were really worth it! From there, we walked through a pine forest and after another 30 minutes we reached the village of Cova, where we had lunch at Amor do Día restaurant. After lunch we decided to go to see the Cova crater, but unfortunately it was all covered in a dense fog on that day and wee saw nothing. We hitchhiked a ride back to Ribeira Grande then and from there took an aluguer back to Xoxo. We slept like babies that night.

Day 7: Coculi – Corda
Duration: 4 hours
Difficulty: Medium-hard
Type: Ascent
Doing this hike I realized what was so great about Santo Antao – every hike is totally different! This time, we were actually in the neighbour valley, not far from Xoxo, but the sceneries were so different! Different but beautiful, as usual. We took an aluguer to Coculi, a relatively big village and started hiking there.
Warning! Do ask the direction because you might easily pass the turn-off to Corda! That’s exactly what happened to us. When you reach the next village after Coculi,Figueiral you need to take a super steep rocky path that is hard to spot, so once you’re there, ask the locals to direct you. The first 30 minutes are quite tough, it’s a really steep, rocky path (sometimes not even that) in between the fields. After that, it becomes wider and you continue going up for some 2 hours or so (I don’t remember the times exactly, sorry). Once you reach the top, it’s probably half an hour to Corda. You can have lunch in a restaurant (the only one there) owned by a Dutch couple. They make great homemade cookies and cakes and have good coffee, which is a nice treat after the hike.

I recommend not taking an aluguer or other transport in Corda straight away, because the road from Corda to Ribeira Grande has probably one of the most breathtaking views on the island (and the most dizzying ones, too). We walked more or less 1 hour and then hitchhiked a car for the rest of the journey to Ribeira Grande. From there, an aluguer to Xoxo, as usual.

Day 8: Cascada de Xoxo
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Medium-hard
Type: hard to classify 😀
The most important thing you need to know if you want to go to the waterfall near Xoxo is that you need to go with a guide or a local. No, I don’t like having a guide behind my back and yes, I like to do everything on my own. But in this case, someone who knows his way around is a must. I’ll tell you why. There is no actual path leading to the waterfall. You basically zig-zag between the fields, turning left or right every now and then, changing the paths (if it can be called so) like 50 times and even if you would ask the locals, you would never get there. Luckily, we had the receptionist from Casa Xoxo with us. Not only he showed us the way, but also helped me to overcome my fear when I had to walk around a huge rock on super narrow path, with a super deep hole underneath. Just see the photo. I was scared as hell because I hate heights and situations like this in general. But overall, it was a nice, 2-3 hour walk, good for a more relaxed day.

Day 9-12: Tarrafal
Tarrafal, oh Tarrafal…where to start?
Tarrafal is the only place with a beach on which you can actually swim in the whole island of Santo Antao. A little oasis surrounded by the ocean waters and mountains. A little paradise in the middle of the rocky wilderness.
As inviting as it may seem, this place is a bit hard to get to. You’ll need to take an aluguer for 7eur/person from Porto Novo. The journey takes 2 hours, the first part being on a normal asphalt road, the second one on a plain dust. If you are sitting on the deck like us, choose you clothes well (see the picture below).

Regarding accommodation, if you’re searching on internet, you’ll only find three places – Mar tranqulidade, Marina d’Tarrafal and Guesthouse Tarrafal which all cost more than 40 eur for a double room. Travelling on a budget, it left us with mixed expectations and also with no accommodation reserved.

When we came, we asked the driver if he knew something nice but cheap, a casa familiar or something. Next minute we already had a decent room for 5eur per person (!). The place didn’t have a name, so if you’re interested, contact me for more info. It is a great option if you want to save some money and spend it rather on the delicious sea food.

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We slowed down a bit in Tarrafal. It’s very hot there (comparing to the rest of the island), so we’d spend the mornings by reading books and drinking coffee on one the terrace and go hiking only when the sun went down, between 3-4pm. One day we went to search for a waterfall (cascade) somewhere up in the mountains above the village. Even though we didn’t find the waterfall, it was a beautiful walk indeed. I’m sure we were close but the sun started to set and we didn’t want to walk at dark, so we decided to go back. Anyway, just go up through the valley, zig-zag between the fields, ask locals the way if needed. The whole hike takes about 3-4 hours and it’s awesome.

The other day we went to the volcano, some 1-1,5 hours from the village, if you go in the direction of the road towards Porto Novo. Even though the first part is on the black sandy beach, wear hiking shoes! I went in flip flops so I couldn’t climb up the volcano then (intelligence, yes). It’s really steep and the rocks are really sharp.
20190210_164504The most common hike that you can do in Tarrafal though is the one to Monte Trigo, a fishermen’s village some 4 hours walking from Tarrafal further west. The hike goes along the coast and you can get back by a boat with one of the fishermen (you have to pay them of course).

From Tarrafal we went back to Porto Novo (warning, there’s only one aluguer, leaving at 6am), took the ferry back to Sao Vincente and sadly, flied back to Europe.

…Tereza didn’t you forget to mention something? Like food?!
Right. How could I?! Capeverdian food is a bomb! You will eat a lot and super nice in Cabo verde. The national dish is called cachupa and it’s a sort of bean and corn stew, served either with fried egg, chorizo or fish/meat. Another common option would be fish with rice and local vegetables (ignam, bread fruit, green plantains or sweet potatoes), sometimes with a portion of beans, too. Both options are exactly what you need after a long, tough hike. All the fish and seafood is delicious, since is freshly caught. The tuna and the octopus are one of the best I’ve ever had! When it comes to drinks, Cabo verde is all about grogue and ponche. The first one is a strong alcohol made from sugar cane, the latter is a very (!!!) sweet liquor that comes in many variants – honey (the classic), coconut, strawberry, peanut, maracuja… It was too sweet to my taste, I’d call it rather a dessert than a drink. I remember just one that I actually liked – it was in Tarrafal, in a restaurant called Chez Mimina where they served a baobab ponche. Strange yet good and not too sweet, this one is definitely worth trying if you go there!

What to add? Cabo verde was amazing, it has the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen, great food and nice, easy going people. I’d probably say just one more thing, a very important one – this blog post is about the island of Santo Antao, I haven’t been to the other islands! If you go to Sal or Boa vista, you’ll get something totally different – long sandy beaches with flat, dry landscape (and lots of hotels). In other words, choose your island well, according to what you like. If you’re into hiking, nature, and quiet, remote places, Santo Antao will be the perfect choice.
T.

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