O Mar!
Cercando prendendo as nossas Ilhas!
Deixando o esmalte do seu salitre nas faces dos pescadores,
roncando nas areias das nossas praias, batendo a sua voz de encontro aos montes,
… deixando nos olhos dos que ficaram a nostalgia resignada de países distantes …
… Este convite de toda a hora que o Mar nos faz para a evasão!
Este desespero de querer partir e ter que ficar! …
— Poema do Mar, Jorge Barbosa

A Grand Tour of Cape Verde - Tourist Information

Everybody knows more or less how a Grand Tour of Europe would look like. A person visiting the Old World would probably start in the great cities of London or Paris, make a side trip to the canals of Amsterdam, passing Brussels on the way to check out the EU capital. He or she would then travel up the Rhine, passing Cologne and the romantic castles further up. Going further south from there our visitor would cross the Alps and descend into Italy probably visiting Venice, then on to Pisa, Florence and finally Rome. If he would have plenty of time he or she might jump over the Greece, to visit ancient legendary sites and Athens. Going up again through Italy, the French Riviera is a must as is Barcelona on the Spanish side of the border.

Further south again are Madrid and Seville. Those would be more or less the highlights of Europe, though one could think of plenty alternatives of course. Our visitor might skip Scandinavia, Ireland, Portugal and Easter Europe and leave something for later. You can’t have it all!

More Visual Information - 2,56 m.

Let’s do this exercise with Cape Verde. This small nation of 500.000 people in fact is spread out over a large area consisting of 9 inhabited islands and a lot of Atlantic ocean. Though inter-island connections are relatively well organised, it takes some effort to visit more than one island.

What should a first time visitor get to see? Or where should anybody who hasn’t been to the country for a long time go? The country is changing fast and the island structure makes it hard to catch up on developments if you are visiting just one or two islands. You could of course simply visit them all, but not everybody will.


Our visitor to Cape Verde should start in Praia, the capital. Many flights connect the city now. The airport is slowly taking over the hub function of Sal’s Amilcar Cabral airport, which has a long and colourfull history. If you can afford it, travel in style and arrive with the country’s own TACV from Lisbon in Fragata Class.

For Praia and the rest of Santiago Island one should take at least 4 or 5 days. The city of only 150.000 is developing fast and – though many Capeverdeans from other islands hate to admit it – it’s the place where most things are happening and being decided.

Slowly the historic Plato district is being tidied up and older buildings are being restored. New shops and cafe’s appear along the pedestrian-only central streets.

Praia boasts a couple of excellent international hotels, like the Praia Mar and Tropico, which cater to most business travellers. Of the two, the Praia Mar is best suited for the more casual and relaxed visitor or tourist. Smaller hotels, like Perola, are also popular with foreign visitors.

Another option is to stay in Cidade Velha, the first European town in Africa, just 15 minutes outside Praia (rent a car required). This town is developing into Praia’s gold coast, slowly becoming a high class suburb. Cidade Velha now has a main trump card: the Limeira Hotel, set in paradisical tropical gardens.

Spend at least one day exploring Cidade Velha, climb up to the fortaleza on the ridge and inspect the churches and convent down in the gorge. Don’t forget to wander through the gorge a bit towards the interior of the island. Spend another day on the Plato in downtown Praia, visiting the Casa de Cultura, the Pao Quente bakery, the town square, the Harmonia music store and relax at the Sofia internet cafe.

A couple of small museums have been founded in the capital, among which a small archeological one with objects collected from the many shipwrecks found around the archipelago. Even though modest in character, they deserve attention and support. If you have the guts, plunge into the hustle and bustle of the Sucupira market, just off the Plato. And don’t forget to lunch or dine at the historic Poeta restaurant, albeit for the view and not so much for the food. At night you can dine at the Quintal da Musica (on the Plato) and enjoy some live music.

A rented car will give you freedom to explore the interior of Santiago. Head out in the direction of Assomada on the brandnew highway. A must see place and a good location to have lunch is the Rui Vaz hotel and restarant, set spectacularly high on a mountain. Drive up there on it’s winding access road.

There are many other spots to stop along the way to Assomada and enjoy great views. The mountains of Santiago’s interior have some mystery about them. A first time visitor will be thrilled and feel as if he is entering a lost continent.

After passing through the central market town of Assomada head further towards Tarrafal. First the road climbs up a mountain range, where wild monkeys reign in barren gorges. Then the road descends again towards Tarrafal, past the former prison where Portugal sent its political prisoners from all over its empire before the 1974 revolution. Then you enter Tarrafal, set on a splendid bay with beaches, a couple of small hotels and restaurants.

You can spend the night in Tarrafal, but it is also possible to drive around the island in one day and return to Praia before dark. Of course you don’t want to drive back the way you came, so our visitor should follow the coast road to Santa Cruz, passing remnants of the villages of the onetime seclusive rabelados, descendants of runaway slaves.

Back in Praia you can enjoy a good dinner and pack your bags for the next day. Our visitor will embark on part 2 of our Grand Tour of Cape Verde: a visit to Sao Vicente.


Before you book a plane to Sao Vicente there is just one crucial thing you need to know. Sao Vicente is best appreciated on weekends, when there is lots of live music entertainment, lots of partying and lots of dancing. During the week, the island quietly works its way to the next weekend.

Sao Vicente is the country’s cultural capital, which includes a specifically homegrown tradition of parodia or partying. Though these days Praia is catching up with Sao Vicente when it comes to nightlife, so far it’s the latter where things are still done more convincingly.

So we strongly suggest to visit Santiago during the week and head off for Sao Vicente on a guaranteed sunny Friday morning. Be sure to book your flight well in advance as on Friday planes to Sao Vicente tend to be filled to the max.

Soncent – as the locals know it – has got a lot going for it. A nice and intimate town of 80.000, its capital (and only town) Mindelo is a knock out. Set on a large natural bay, the Porto Grande, once famous as a bunker place for oceanic shipping (and other activities sailors used to do in the old days when on shore), it has plenty of sun in combination with a moderate wind to cool you down during long nights.

On the other side of the Porto Grande bay lies Monte Cara, or Face Mountain: its contours resemble a face of someone lying on its back. Further in the hazy distance you will make out the mountainous island of Santo Antao. The whole setting is magical and the light is perfect. It hardly ever rains on Soncent!

The island may have a reputation for parodia, but note that Mindelo used to be Cape Verde’s most important urban centre before independence from Portugal in 1975. It still is an important port (with good facilities and a large shiprepair yard) and there is an industrial freezone near the airport. Lot’s of cash has been invested in new real estate projects lately, though larger developments like tourist resorts are still in the pipeline.

Next to the airport at Sao Pedro there is an excellent beach resort, Foya Branca, but if tasting Mindelo’s culture and nightlife is what you are after, head straight for the town centre. There are plenty of good hotels and pensions and the best and most stylish option is the Hotel Porto Grande on the Praca Nova. The rooms need updating, but the view over the bay, the great terrace and the swimming pool around the back make up for that. Some of Cape Verde’s best musicians, like Tito Paris, Bau and many others, regularly play there on Friday’s and Saturday’s. You may get to know them all personally during your stay in Soncent!

Upon arrival, use the rest of your Friday for getting to know the town on foot. Check out the area around Rua de Lisboa (or depending on your political outlook: Rua Libertadores d’Africa) and the townhall. Sip a coffee or fresh juice at the tiny and intimate Cafe Lisboa, which is by the way the first thing the editor of Atlantico Weekly will do after arriving in Soncent. Also have some lunch at the politically correct but nevertheless extremely nice Casa Cafe Mindelo.

Do visit the tidy Municipal Market on Rua de Lisboa. On the first floor you will find one of Cape Verde’s best music stores. Drop by at the Centro Cultural. There might be an exhibition and the bookstore is interesting. You can buy locally made chocolate at Orley, behind the Townhall.

At night there are lots of good options for dinner. Try Archote (with live music) or Sodade (take a taxi), both longstanding and well established restaurants. Two other large restaurants are also worth mentioning. Both sit in the same building on Mindelo’s waterfront, near the replica of Lisbon’s Torre de Belem. They are the Tradissom & Morabeza and the Kasa d’Ajinha, both offering live music on Friday and Saturday nights. The latter place deserves a little attention. It was founded in early 2011 and it boasts – besides a certain Capeverdianistic attitude – a unique formula of serving only tchuk (porc) and fish (and no chicken nor beef).

After dinner take a drink at the Kiosk on the square opposite the Hotel Porto Grande and wait for Mindelo’s nightlife to explode. You will soon notice the crowds patrolling the square and folks checking each other out before heading off to private parties or discotheques. But first listen to some excellent live music at the Hotel Porto Grande or in one of the several music cafe’s around the centre. Be assured of some big Capeverdean names playing Soncent just about every weekend.

Then, after 01.00 hrs, do as everybody else and find yourself a discoteca. Sirius, below the Hotel Porto Grande caters to a very young crowd, but we prefer Cave, just a few blocks away from the square. Cave is a very intimate and safe place and it is more suitable for a – let’s put it nicely – “slightly older” public. It is the place where you might learn a bit or two about Capeverdean dancestyles, most notably zouk and CaboLove. But be prepared for some intimate encounters in the dark!

When you wake up on Saturday morning, after an invigorating first night on Soncent, there is just one sensible thing to do: go to the beach. Mindelo’s popular city beach is Laginha, a short walk from the centre. There are some cafe’s in Laginha, offering a good choice for a light lunch or snack. Caravela offers particularly nice view across Porto Grande bay.

Otherwise take a taxi and set off for Baia das Gatas on the other side of the island. The cab will bring you across some mountains, passing below Monte Verde or Green Mountain, Soncent’s highest peak. Down in the bay there is a nice beach, suitable for bathing. The town of Baia das Gatas is a straighforward resort town, including a handfull of restaurants. You can have a nice lobster here.

After bathing, take a cab and drive to Calhau along the new beach road, past Baia Norte. Calhau is another small resort town. Drive back through the interior valley of Sao Vicente to Mindelo, passing date palms and the island’s main water springs.
As it is Saturday evening by now, you can enjoy your second night out on the island, in a similar fashion as the previous one. On Sunday afternoon you should take the ferry to Santo Antao, for a relaxing week among Cape Verde’s farming community.

PART 3: Santo Antao Island

Our visitor heads off to Santo Antao on a calm Sunday afternoon, after an inspiring and musical weekend on Sao Vicente and ready to start his or her second week in Cape Verde. The third leg of the Grand Tour of Cape Verde is going to be entirely different from the first two legs. No island is the same in Cape Verde and each of them represent small countries of their own, with distinct dialects, cultures, landscapes and economies.

Santo Antao lingers in the back when staying on Sao Vicente, as its contours can clearly be seen from Mindelo, across Porto Grande bay and the Canal de Sao Vicente, the stretch of sea between both islands. Santo Antao’s character is a clearcut one.

It was one of the first settlements established by Europeans and it remains untill today the third most important island, with roughly 40.000 inhabitants spread over three municpalities.

Contrary to most other islands, Santo Antao has water and especially its northern valleys traditionally know intensive use as agriculture areas. The two historic (and rival) towns of Ribeira Grande and Paúl give access to lush and fertile valleys, hidden from the sea, as most of Santo Antao’s coast looks barren at first sight. Agriculture remains the mainstay of the island’s economy right up till today and it is even expected to grow bigger, now a ban (due to a millipede plague) to export its products to other islands has been lifted a while back.

The island of Santo Antao attracts a steady stream of nature loving tourists who come to hike along centuries-old footpaths, crisscrossing the islands high mountains and steep valleys. People come to Santo Antao to chill out, enjoy the peace and revel in the fascinating and dramatic landscape. It’s an ideal place for artists, thinkers, hikers and everybody else in need of a good break away from it all. Its position as “last island” on the northern stretch of the Cape Verde archipelago enhances its seclusion. To reach Santo Antao you need a slow boat to cross unruly waves.

And now you are going to cross that sea. At the moment three shipping companies provide the transfer. Though a bit outdated, the best option still is the Mar d’Canal of the Armas company. Armas itself hails from the Canaries, where they are a big player in the ferry business. Eagerly awaited is the arrival of the state of the art Liberdadi, the second vessel of the Cape Verde Fast Ferry, a new company that is rapidly setting new standards for passenger shipping in Cape Verde. The Liberdadi will cut the crossing between Mindelo and Porto Novo by half, to around 30 minutes.

By the way, a small airport in the town of Ponta de Sol is now defunct, but a new one is being planned for Porto Novo town in the future. Nevertheless, the Santo Antao-Sao Vicente crossing will remain the busiest ferry route of the country.

The trip to Porto Novo now takes about an hour with Armas. Take a seat on deck and prepare for sightings of dolphins and other flying fish. Be aware that, though the towns and mountains on both sides of the canal makes you feel like on a ferry between two Greek islands, this sea is neither the subtle Aegean nor the smooth talking Med. It is the Atlantic Ocean and you will know it!

Once you arrive in the aptly named town of Porto Novo (New Port) you have the option of staying there for a while or move on to the other side of Santo Antao. It is not a bad idea to hang around for a few days. Porto Novo now boasts Santo Antao’s first resort hotel, the Santo Antao Art Resort, just outside the centre. You can stay in this Italian owned hotel for a few nights, making use of a wide range of amenities or settle for one of the local pensions, such as the Residencial Antilhas.

Porto Novo is a relatively new town and it grew around Santo Antao’s only port. This port is now being enlarged, so it can take more than one larger vessel at a time, including cruise ships. Porto Novo will also be the site of a future Santo Antao (domestic) airport. Furthermore, a section of the coastline outside town has been designated for the development of more resorts and hotels. These developments reinforce the town’s function as a gateway to Santo Antao. Another interesting plan is the redevelopment of the old army barracks in the centre of town into a hub for creative industries.

Porto Novo is nice for a few days relaxing on the beach and staring back across the Mar de Canal to Mindelo, pondering your weekend’s activities and thinking about your new acquaintances from Cave. But you will soon start plotting the exploration of the rest of Santo Antao. First our visitor will have to go north.

There are two roads now to the northern towns and valleys. You should leave the excellent and brandnew asphalted road along the coast (boasting Cape Verde’s first tunnels) towards Paúl for you return from the north to Porto Novo. The best thing to do definitely is to take the older, high road to Ribeira Grande. It is advisible to either rent a car or to book a regular taxi in Porto Novo to bring you there.

More collective forms of transport can be quite uncomfortable, like the Toyota Hiace (pronounce: Yass) vans or the even rougher chuvite pick up trucks.

As your car winds up the mountain behind the town you will experience sweeping views across the canal towards Sao Vicente and beyond. After many bends and curves you will reach higher ground and the barren landscape will make room for cooler and wetter areas, with plenty of pine trees. Other great views will emerge and be sure to peek into Cova, the green and fertile crater of an old and – rest assured – now extinct vulcano.

The narrow road now starts winding even more wildly and you will soon notice you are actually driving on top of a high ridge in between steep and deep valleys. This situation culminates in a place called Delgadinho, where the road sits exactly on top of the ridge and you can stare down on both sides in two of Cape Verde’s most beautifull ribeiras or valleys.

Leaning over the rickety walls that line the road you will soon distinguish green and – depending on the time of year – less green farmlands.

Part 4: Santo Antao Island (continued)

On the final stretch of road after the Delgadinho viewpoint the road descends towards Ribeira Grande town. Ribeira Grande is made up of three small townships, of which Povoaçao is the centre. Here, on a small bit of land between two riverbeds (those of the Ribeira Grande and the Ribeira da Torre), all roads of northern Santo Antao converge.

The town has a small historic centre around the church. There are a couple of pensions, restaurants and shops. To the west lies the Penha da França township, on a ridge on the other side of the Ribeira Grande, overlooking Povoaçao. On the other side lies the old fisherman’s village of Tarrafal, on the opposite bank of the Ribeira da Torre stream. Both riverbeds are usually dry, but after the rainy season on Santo Antao (from August untill October) the most ribeiras may turn into wild streams. Brand new bridges span both ribeiras now so that you can cross them with your feet dry.

You could stay in one of the pensions in town, but we recommend the Pedracin Hotel, about 10 minutes driving into Ribeira Grande valley, past the township of Coculi. Pedracin is one of the best options for spending the night in this part of the island, though it is advisable you rent a car, as the hotel is quite far away from any town. You can relax here, enjoying the sweeping views through the valley, plunge in the pool and have an excellent lunch or dinner.

Small hikes can be made from here into some of the smaller valleys that end in the Ribeira Grande. Going deeper into the interior of the island from Pedracin Hotel you could reach several other towns by car, including the rural community of Garça as well as pictoresque and peaceful Cha de Igreja, which gives acces to the sea near the fishermen’s town of Cruzinha. Small beaches can be found among the rugged and rocky coastline there.

Another must see and do is a trip, either drive or hike, into the Ribeira da Torre (Tower Valley), starting at Ribeira Grande town. A new access road is currently being built, but the valley is best appreciated as it wildest and greenest, all the way at the end, near a towering rock that gave its name to the valley.

Most visitors to Santo Antao will head straight from Ribeira Grande to Ponta do Sol (Sunny Point) on the northwestern tip of Santo Antao. Hikers congregate in Ponta do Sol and there are plenty of bars and restaurants as well as pensions and small hotels. You should not leave Ponta do Sol without having tried Dona Fatima’s lobster. Fatima is well known and averybody will be able to show you her restaurant cum pension on the town’s waterfront.

Closeby you can observe how, during the day, fishermen set out in small rickety boats to come back from the dodgy ocean several hours later with their catch of the day. The open air fish market is a good place to watch how the fish is then being prepared and sold off.

Ponta do Sol has received a lot of investments from the island’s emigrants abroad lately and it is full of residential projects under construction. Its small airport however is to remain closed permanently after an aviation tragedy around a decade ago. A short nice hike or drive can be made from Ponta do Sol to the cute village of Fontainhas with its colourfull houses perched on the steep mountains along the coast. Real hikers take it from there all the way along the coast to Cruzinha.

You could spend at least three or four days in the Ribeira Grande/Ponta do Sol area during your first visit to Santo Antao. Then one should move for another few days to the town and valley of Paúl, a 15 minute drive south from Ribeira Grande along the coastal road.

On the way you will pass several barren looking valleys, but be assured that behind the unpainted houses close to the road fertile valleys can be found, including some of the island’s best kept secrets. Also on the way lies the hamlet of Sinagoga, once home to the island’s Sefardic community, now being redeveloped. Small beaches can be accessed here from the coastal road.

Paúl is one of the loveliest places of Cape Verde. It is ideal for hiking among its plantations and smallholdings. Lots op sugarcane is grown here and this Ribeira produces some of the countries best grogue. If you are looking for a good place to watch the traditionl method of distilling, visit Mr Ildo Benros. He still uses an ox for crushing the cane. He can be found behind one of the gates at the end of a row of houses when arriving in Vila das Pombas, the coastal part of Paúl . There are a couple of restaurants and pensions in the village, of which the Aldeia Jerome appears the nicest.

But wherever you stay in Paúl, go wander around the interior valley, passing the townships of Eito and Passagem. There are several hiking options, depending on your stamina. But you could always catch a taxi up to Passagem and then walk downhill, back to Vila das Pombas.

After spending a couple of days it is time to return to Porto Novo in order to catch a ferry back to Sao Vicente, from where you can travel further. Now you should take the brandnew coastal highway, going through Cape Verde’s first tunnels.

There is much more to see on Santo Antao, such as the other valleys in the centre of the island, which can only be reached from Porto Novo. But one of the best kept secrets of Cape Verde is the huge beach in the south of Santo Antao, stretching from the fishermen hamlet of Tarrafal Monte Trigo to Monte Trigo. As this area is still hard to reach by car and the road needs upgrading, we leave this for a next visit. Just to make sure you will be coming back!

Part 5: Sal island

Our visitor leaves Santo Antao for Sao Vicente in order to continue his or her journey to Sal Island. We said before that Sao Vicente is best appreciated during the weekends. So most likely our visitor returns to Sao Vicente on a Friday or Saturday and he is going to spend at least one more night in Soncent to listen to good music and possibly to join some good parodia.

On Sunday you catch a plane for Sal (Salt Island). The flight lasts about 30-40 minutes. After take off the plane turns east high above Mindelo and you can see the town well. Later you might catch a glimp of Santa Luzia, a large, wild and uninhabited island where wildlife still has free reign. It is possible to visit Santa Luzia from Sao Vicente, for instance with the help of fishermen or other small boat owners in Calhau resort. You can picknick there and return the same day.

Another island you pass by on your way from Sao Vicente to Sal is Sao Nicolau island, still a bit off the beaten track and largely ignored by foreign tourists, bar one or two hikers. We will leave Sao Nicolau for a future edition of the Grand Tour of Cape Verde.

Landing on Sal will give you a grand overview of the touristic developments on the island, especially around the Santa Maria area, where hotels, resorts and real estate projects are now starting to sprawl out along the coast.

Amilcar Cabral Airport, one of the largest and best equipped in West Africa, has an intriguing history. Started by the Mussolini government in the 1930s with approval of the Portuguese, the Italians planned to use Sal as a refuelling point for long haul flights to Latin America. World War Two interrupted these dreams.

Much later, when South African Airways (SAA or SAL in Afrikaans) was denied over-flying rights by most African countries in the 1960s, the airline arranged with the Portuguese the right to refuel and change crews at Sal in order to maintain services to its European and American destinations. The runway was enlarged to take bigger aircraft.

This practice continued after 1975, when the same landing rights were obtained from the Capeverdean governments by SAA. Interestingly, Sal airport more or less simultanously became a refuelling base for Russian airplanes carrying Cuban troops and equipment to Angola during that country’s conflict with South Africa. It must have been a colourfull period in the history of Sal. In 2006 however, SAA switched its operations to Dakar in Senegal.

The sparsely populated island’s economy depended for centuries on the collection of salt and this product – as you might have guessed – gave its name to the island. Post-independence Cape Verde decided to develop the tourist industry on the island, making good use of the excellent airport facilities, the hotels needed for flight crews and abundant sunny weather.

It rarely rains on Sal and the island is ideal for a lazy beach holiday. There are nice sandy beaches, lots of good hotels and plenty of activities. The island is well known among surfers. Santa Maria is the main tourist town and these days home to over two thirds of Sal’s population. Due to the large numbers of European holidaymakers and expats, African immigrants and modern building styles the town hardly feels like Cape Verde. Something entirely new is being created here, by both foreign and local investors. There is even a political movement to make the town independent from Sal Municipality.

The airport, plenty of real estate options and good hotels will make sure this island has a bright future. It will be interesting to watch Sal develop over the next decade. Signs of sophistication can be seen already. A yearly Cape Verde International Film Festival is now organised every October and the beating hart of a turtle protection movement is based on Sal.

A dual lane expressway connects the airport to Sal and your taxi will speed along it as fast as possible. In Santa Maria there is a wide choice of hotels. Two of the best are the Morabeza and the Odjo d’Agua, both in the centre of town and smack bang on the beach. They have good restaurants too, especially the one at Odjo d’Agua, where you can taste such niceties as tartare of serra (a typical Capeverdean fish).

You can have a drink at one of the bars on Santa Maria’s main street, such as the long established Chill Out. Nightlife in Sal must be rivalling that in Mindelo. But if you are looking for a night out without to many tourists and with a distinct Capeverdean flavour, you’d better head back for Espargos, the town that grew around the airport.

You can spend as many days as you like on Sal and perfect your tan. There are many flights from the island to Europe and elsewhere, so you do not have to fly back to the capital Praia.

Well, folks, that was our Grand Tour of Cape Verde and we hoped that you have enjoyed this trip, worth around 3 weeks of holidaying. We have seen four different islands, each with a unique landscape, culture, style, economy and future. We are sure that you will find in Cape Verde something that is to your liking.

And, these three weeks are not enough! It’s not just that we are sure you will be back, there are also half a dozen islands we haven’t even discussed yet. We have only shown the highlights and the most accessible places. But just like with a Grand Tour of Europe, you cannot see or “do” it all. So on a next visit to Cape Verde our visitor can choose to go back to one or more of the islands we have just described and stay there a bit longer for a more in depth visit. Or our visitor can come back for a round of “new” islands.

Because we want to show you Fogo, the volcanic Fire Island, with its homegrown and excellent wines, fruits and coffee as well as old colonial towns. We want to show you cute little Brava next door, Sao Nicolau (good for trekking and one of the cradles of Capeverdean culture), Maio with its endless sandy beaches and last but not least marvelous Boavista (close to Sal and also set to be come a tourist hub).

A Grand Tour of Cape Verde