Cabo Verde – São Vicente & Santo Antão

Cabo Verde is a beautiful archipelago that flies under the radar of mass tourism. This West African country has been independent from Portugal since 1975 and consists of 10 islands. Since we finalized our plans at the last minute, we were only able to visit two islands as domestic flights were completely sold out. The two we narrowed our focus down to were São Vicente since it is the cultural heart of the archipelago and Santo Antão because it is a hiker’s delight with trails through landscapes considered to be the most beautiful that the country has to offer.  Luckily, our visit coincided with São Vicente’s annual Brazilian-inspired carnival celebration so it was a lively time to visit. Our first three days in Mindelo (a port city in São Vicente) were spent partying with the friendly locals as the downtown streets were sectioned off for parade after parade. What a fantastic explosion of colors, costumes and live music with dancers thrilling the crowd with their captivating moves! Locals lined the street for hours beforehand but we managed to score coveted wristbands so that we could get stadium seats to watch all the action in comfort. After 72 hours of non stop excitement, we hopped on a ferry to the island of Santo Antão. Finding a car rental in the port city of Porto Novo was easy and we immediately set out to explore what this island had to offer. Our first stop was Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, a tiny fishing village boasting a black sand beach nestled beneath towering mountains. It was well worth the detour off the main tourist track as the drive out there was stunning, and our seafood meal was scrumptious. From Tarrafal, we picked up hitchhikers on our drive back towards Porto Novo and could tell from their beaming smiles that they were happy they didn’t have to wait hours for the next collectivo to show up. After reaching Porto Novo, we drove up the old slave road (Rua de Corda), which is a scenic drive up to the Delgadinho Mountain Ridge. This drive was spectacular as we cut through some scenic valleys and snaked along the volcanic ridges of the island, stopping at viewpoints along the way. The entire road is built out of cobblestones – a feat accomplished by slaves over the centuries. After reaching the northern side of the island, we based ourselves out of Ponta do Sol and drove towards Fontainhas as we wanted to do a recon for our hike in a few days time. After checking out the amazing views overlooking Fontainhas, we drove to the end of the hike at Chã de Igreja and Cruzinha before returning to a beautiful sunset over the harbor in Ponta do Sol. The next day, we drove up to Xoxo Valley, Pinhao Village, Lombo Branco Village, Sinagoga salt water pools, and Paúl Valley before taking the coastal road back to Porto Novo where we had to return our rental. Renting a truck for two days to explore the island was a great decision because it gave us a good overview of Santo Antão. From Porto Novo, we hopped into a collectivo heading to “Cova Volcano” so we could spend the night at Biosfera, the closest hotel to the Cova do Paúl volcano crater. It was a great call as we enjoyed our most magical sunset from a nearby lookout point and were able to start our Cova to Cidade das Pombas hike (more commonly known as the “Paúl Valley hike”) first thing the next morning. This epic hike is rated the #1 thing to do on Santo Antão and we can agree that it is unmissable. After a few days of relaxing in Pombas, we made our way over to Ponta do Sol so that we could hike to Fontainhas. National Geographic dubbed this mountainous village one of the best views in the world and we were glad we added it to our itinerary. After doing everything we wanted to on Santo Antão, we took a ferry back to São Vicente to spend the remainder of our time in Cabo Verde. Since we didn’t have a chance to explore Mindelo on our first visit (because of carnival), we made up for it this time by checking out the various markets (municipal, fish, street and handicraft) in the compact downtown area. Then we rented a car for 24 hours to explore the rest of the island which included the peak of Monte Verde, the fishing villages of Salamansa, Baía das Gatas, Calhau, the westernmost village of São Pedro (where swimming with sea turtles is a highlight), and the 12 Voltas slot canyon. Our last day in Cape Verde was spent on beautiful Laginha Beach which had a unbelievable turquoise hue that looked artificial (like the blue lagoon). Two weeks in Cabo Verde quickly came to an end and we are already planning a return trip to visit some of the other islands like Fogo, Santiago and Sal.

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