I bet you never heard of Cabo Verde: did you? Also known as “Cape Verde,” it is an archipelago and a country in Atlantic Ocean close to African coast. It consists of ten – amazingly different in terms of landscapes – volcanic islands. They are situated between 600 to 850 kilometers (320 to 460 nautical miles) west of Senegal and have the total population of about 500,000. The islands were uninhabited until the 15th century, when Portuguese sailors discovered and colonized them.
Thanks to geographic position en route to Americas, Cape Verde played key role in the Atlantic slave trade. But its location attracted not only merchants: the islands also became a heaven for pirates and the so-called “privateers” (essentially, maritime mercenaries). For centuries, various races and ethnicities (mostly Black Africans, Portuguese and French) blended with each other and evolved into a very distinct Creole culture and population. Today, Portuguese is the language of government and instruction in the schools, while the Cape Verdean Creole is an equally recognized national language. To make it clear, Creole is spoken by the vast majority of population, but several attempts to create its universal written form have essentially failed.
In terms of culture, Cabo Verde is probably not “famous” for the literature or fine arts, but people here are well known for their musicality which incorporates African, Portuguese and Brazilian influences. The quintessential national music style is morna, a melancholic and lyrical type of song. The other local music styles are coladeira, funaná and batuque. Cesária Évora, the “Queen of Morna,” was the world-known Cape Verdean singer. Nicknamed the “barefoot diva,” she liked to perform barefooted on stage.
Formerly a Portuguese colony, Cape Verde achieved full independence in 1975. Since the early 1990s, it has been a stable representative democracy and one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa. Lacking natural resources, national economy is largely dependent on remittances from the Cape Verdean diaspora community. In fact, Cabo Verdeans living across the world outnumber significantly the inhabitants on the islands. In the USA, big pockets of Cabo Verdean communities are to be found in several towns in Boston area.
What else a prospective traveler to Cabo Verde should know? The violent crime is virtually non-existent here and the same is true about various “natural dangers:” no poisonous snakes and no need for vaccinations when traveling to Cabo Verde. Country’s warm tropical climate is milder than that of the African mainland, because the surrounding sea moderates temperatures. The islands also do not receive the upwelling (cold streams) that affect West African coast. As a result, the air temperature is cooler than in nearby Senegal, but the ocean is warmer. The islands generally have little precipitation and – except three moderately rainy months (August, September, October) – the chances of visitors to enjoy sunshine and warm sea waters are close to 100%. Of ten islands, two have become a prime “beach destination” for package-style vacations and most tourists: Sal and Boa Vista. And this was exactly why I did NOT go to these islands.
During three weeks in Cabo Verde, I explored four islands which form southern part of the archipelago: Fogo (a “volcano and wine” island), Brava (a “hiker paradise” island), Maio (a “forgotten beach” island), and Santiago (capital Praia, lush vegetation, and beautiful mountains),.
First thing first: how to travel to Cabo Verde? The country has three international airports: in capital Praia (Santiago island), and on Sal and Boavista islands (with many charter flights arriving there). Predictably, as a former Portuguese colony, most frequent flights to Praia are from Lisbon and this is how I flew there. The first image of Praia from the air was quite appealing.
With more than 150,000 inhabitants, Praia accumulates about one-third of the entire country’s population, and it is quite sprawling by the territory. The best area to stay in Praia is the so-called “Plateau” – a naturally elevated part of the city with nice pedestrian streets, many restaurants and cafes, governmental offices, etc. I was lucky and found an excellent AirBnB (right in the middle of Plateau) which is run by a cheerful young couple: Suelly (she is teacher of English) and Ildo (he is a personal trainer). Their three-story house has several rooms and a roof-top terrace, and they also offer travelers a lot of small yet essential services: personalized guided tours, transportation through the island, etc. You can find Suelly’s place on AirBnB site (look for “Solo Traveler in the Heart of Praia”). Or, simply walk there, knock on the door, and ask for accommodations. The address is Rua Serpa Pinto 40, Praia.
Traveling between various Cabo Verde islands, I stayed several times in Praia and always with Suelly and Ildo: one really cannot wish anything better.
I had only one full day in Praia and simply walked around and explored Plateau part of the town. The national presidential palace is nice but fairly humble
Right next to the palace, I found a Catholic church (over 80% of Cabo Verdeans are Roman Catholics) with service in progress. Due to COVID restrictions, some people were listening to the mass sitting outside, and I joined them for a while
Praia has many street markets. The most famous (and by far the largest) is Sucupira market. Because of diversity of people and goods sold there, Sucupira Market is also known as the “Portrait of Cabo Verde.” Even if you are not big on shopping, it is definitely worth visiting and exploring.
Plateau area also has its own, much smaller but well stocked, market. And this was the place where I did most of the grocery shopping.
Next day, I was planning to go to Fogo island and then some unplanned adventures began. There are two ways of traveling between islands. The first option is by air. Except Brava and Santo Antao, all islands have small airports which are served by domestic flights (for tickets, look at http://www.bestflycaboverde.com). The second, more adventurous and much cheaper, option is by taking ferry boats which are operated by the ship company called CV Interilhas (www.cvinterilhas.cv). CV Interilhas is notorious for being inevitably off schedule: departures and arrivals times can be delayed by the hours. But I was not in a hurry and wanted to travel as the locals do. Problem was that by time of my arrival to Cabo Verde all CV Interilhas’ ferry boats (there are just three of them) were broken and non-operating. I was told that this does not happen very often (good news), but no one knew when the ferry will resume its service (bad news). Interilhas’ website did not offer any information or updates. When I visited in-person central office, the distressed employee was wildly guessing and said: “May be in a day, or two, or a week…” With limited choices, I bought air ticket (about 40 Euro) for a flight to Fogo. The departure was at around 6 am and, except few passengers traveling with me, the airport was nearly deserted at that time.
By the way, “flying to Fogo” is not exactly correct description. The plane essentially takes off, ascends up to certain altitude, and almost immediately begins landing. The whole thing lasts only about 30 min. And here I am: welcome to the airport of Sao Felipe, the capital of Fogo island.
Fogo Island: Volcanoes, Wine and Black Sand Beaches
Fogo (Portuguese for “fire”) is 26 km long and 24 km wide, and it has a population of about 36,000. Rising to 2,829 meters (9,281 feet), active volcano, Pico do Fogo, is Cabo Verde’s highest point and the major attraction for visitors to Fogo. The whole island is essentially a stratovolcano that has been active frequently and recently: it last erupted in 1995 and 2014. In the middle of the island is Bordeira, a nine-kilometer-wide (5.6 mi) caldera with walls of one kilometer (0.62 miles) high and a breach in its eastern rim. The road through this breach which connects inside of caldera and the rest of the island. Why someone would need a road inside of volcanic caldera? Because two villages, Portela and Bangaeira, exist on the floor of the caldera and form together a community Chã das Caldeiras with about 700 inhabitants. The perseverance of the residents of Cha das Caldeiras is amazing. During last two eruptions, both villages were destroyed and people were evacuated. Yet, both times they returned back and rebuilt homes. There is no running water or electricity in Chã. The locals use generators to light and power their homes. The rainwater is collected and stored in large cistern tanks.
I will tell more about the trip to Cha das Caldeiras a bit later. But first – a few words about Sao Felipe, the capital of Fogo. It was founded in the 16th century and has a nice historic city center (called Bila Baxo) which is on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites. Sao Felipe is known for colonial architecture: many houses have colorful and richly decorated façades, wooden balconies, or bay windows. About 50 mansions are the so-called sobrados – the town-houses dating back to Portuguese colonial epoque. Featuring typically two floors with a wide balcony, the sobrados were the residences of the notable and rich people. And I ended up staying in one of these – nicely restored – sobradas. Looking through the various AirBnB options, I found a place called “Casa Beirmar.” It had very positive reviews from the guests was run by the “superhost” named Mustafa. Casa Beirmar had two floors, several rooms and apartments, and huge balcony overlooking ocean. But during the stay in Sao Felipe, I was the only guest in this sprawling mansion.
As it turned out, the owner of Casa Beirmar, Mustafa, is somewhat of a legendary person on Fogo. A Turk by origin and devoted mountain climber by passion, he lives and works mostly in Western Europe. But he also has family and sizeable tourist business on Fogo. I communicated with Mustafa via WhatsUp, asked him many questions about the island, and before long it felt like talking with an old friend. Big THANKS goes to Mustafa for his numerous tips and insights into life on Fogo. Upon arrival to Casa Beirmar, I was greeted by the cheerful housekeeper Camilla who takes care of all guests staying at Casa Beirmar.
Speaking of Camilla, when you stay at Casa Beirmar, there is no need to go to restaurants: Camilla is an outstanding cook. You tell her what type of food you like and then simply let her create a very “personalized” dish. I told Camilla that I like fish, fruits and vegetables (but no rice or potatoes, please) and here is my dinner plate which looks more like an artwork.
Casa Beirmar is right next to an old Catholic Church – “Igreja Nossa Senhora da Conceicao.”
The parish community seems to be very active. Nearly each evening the Church had worship services accompanied by a choral singing which I enjoyed sitting on balcony of Casa Beirmar.
Across the square in front of the church and to the left of Casa Beirmar, there is an excellent seafood restaurant called “Pensao e Restaurante Sea Food.” One night Camilla was unable to cook and I ordered from this restaurant my very favorite: grilled octopus.
Casa Beirmar is also very close to the town square of Sao Felipe. I enjoyed daily walking through this small but very appealing “plaza.”
Even outside of the small historical center, the streets of Sao Felipe are fairly appealing and the houses are often painted in various bright colors.
On first day on Fogo, I visited “salinas.” “Salinas” is a coastal area on the north of Fogo (about 20 km from Sao Felipe) where black lava formed a series of ledges and arches. There is a viewing platform to walk around and a black sand crescent beach. Several blowholes inside of the rocks spray salty water which then dries out into white sparkling salt: hence, the names “salinas.” It is also a good and safe area for swimming. Lava created here many natural pools which are protected from ocean’s waves and currents. The trip to salinas from Sao Felipe by taxi costs about 30 Euro and it is well worth it. The landscapes along the coastal road were impressive.
No one was at salinas when we arrived. I spent about one hour exploring rock formations and even took a short swim.
And then a local fisherman came and began sorting out his catch of the day. When I approached, he was busy “butchering” a sizeable moray eel – another seafood specialty of Cabo Verde.
Salinas are often recommended to tourists as a perfect place for swimming on Fogo, but there is a much better option in a walking distance to Sao Felipe. The town has a big commercial port for ferries and cargo ships, but just a few hundred meters from it, there is a much smaller fishermen’s harbor. It is protected from the ocean by a solid wall with a small opening for boats to go in and out. During the day, there is little traffic and almost no boats there. The water is clean, calm and warm: think of the huge swimming pool filled with ocean water. While in Sao Felipe, I went there each day for a couple of hours of sunbathing and swimming.
Next to this protected pool, there is also a huge black sand beach. During several days of staying in Sao Felipe, I did not see a single tourist on that beach. On the picture below, there is a white building in a distance and on the slope of a mountain. This is Fogo’s prison. It looks that local inmates have truly astonishing view over the ocean.
It was time to visit the community of Cha das Caldeiras: to climb volcano, to explore villages in caldera, and drink locally produced wine (yes!). When traveling on Cabo Verde islands, most common option is “aluguer” – the minibuses which travel in different directions. Sometime there is a definite schedule for various destinations, sometime aluguer leave when they are filled with passengers going in the same direction, and sometime you can pay extra to driver so that he would take you to a particular spot. Regardless, traveling on aluguer is always fun as your “rub shoulders” with locals and observe everyday life from the window of a minibus.
After about two hours on the road, we arrived to the “official entrance” to Cha das Caldeiras
From there, the road begins to slowly climb up: the floor of caldera and villages are at the elevation of 1700 meters/5200 feet.
Some portions of the road are literally cut through lava.
And finally we were inside of caldera with the prime view of volcano Pico de Fogo
Some people come to Cha das Caldeiras only with a short day visit, but it is definitely worth to spend there one or two nights. Even if you do not plan on hiking and/or climbing volcano, simply staying in this unworldly lunar landscape is a unique experience. After last devastating eruption of 2014, the enterprising inhabitants of Portela and Bangaeira villages have not only returned to Cha and restored their houses, but also built a number of accommodations for tourists: small pensions, hostels, etc. Most of them are fairly simple, but there is one nearly luxurious option. Remember my “AirBnB friend” Mustafa – the fellow who owns Casa Beirmar in Sao Felipe? Well, his wife Marisa and her family are from Cha das Caldeiras and they operate by far the best hotel in caldera: “Casa Marisa 2.0” (www.fogo-marisa.com).
Casa Marisa has fine restaurant, main hotel’s building, and nicely landscaped courtyard.
But I would say that the major “drag” of Casa Marisa are several “funcos” – comfortable bungalows which – from the outside – replicate traditional Caboverdian houses that originate from Africa. Funco houses have circular form, their walls are made of rocks and stones, while conical thatch roof was traditionally made of palm fronds. Truth to be told, Casa Marisa offers quite upscale versions of “funcos:” they are very spacious, have hot showers, WiFi and even roof-top terraces. I stayed in this one.
After arrival, I still had a few hours of sunlight and went on a hike exploring the area inside of caldera. Amazingly, some plants and even flowers have managed to grow out of volcanic lava and ashes.
I saw a few traditional “funco” houses, but probably not nearly as comfortable as the one which I had at Casa Marisa.
But most people here live in even simpler houses like this one.
Shortly before sunset I climbed on the slope of the hill to get a better view of the entire area and both villages on the floor of caldera: Portella and Bangaeira.
And then there was time to head back to Casa Marisa. This evening, Mustafa arranged for me a special experience: tasting local wines which are produced by the agricultural cooperative of Cha das Caldeiras. Why the wines are produced in such unlikely place as a volcanic crater? Here is an answer. In 1870, a Frenchman, the Count of Montrond (François Louis Armand Fourcheut De Montrond) stopped on Fogo on his way to Brasil. He liked the island and stayed on Fogo until the end of his life. Montrond brought from France the vines and kicked off wine production in the caldera. He also produced coffee and exported it to Portugal. Today, many of the inhabitants of Chã das Caldeiras have light skin, blond hair, blue eyes, and the same family name: “Montrond.” They all trace their ancestry back to the biologically prolific Count of Montrond.
In terms of climatic conditions, because of the high altitude, Chã das Caldeiras has milder temperatures and greater precipitation than other areas of Fogo. Hence, local people manage to grow here a variety of fruits and vegetables: apples, grapes, quince, pomegranate, figs, peaches, tomatoes, beans, corn, etc.
Many villagers make wine for the private home-consumption. The local agricultural cooperative buys excess grapes from the farmers and produces commercial white, red, rosé, and passito wines (all labeled “Chã”); and also grape, apple, quince, and peach distilled spirits (labeled “Espírito da Caldeira”). Chã das Caldeiras is the only area in entire Cape Verde that grows significant quantities of grapes and produces export-quality wines. When I came back to Casa Marisa, an impressive table was set under the stars with samples of all wines and spirits produced by Associação dos Agricultores de Chã (Chã Farmers Association). Quite appropriately, the name of the person who presented wines and explained various details was Eurico Montrond.
Fogo island is also known for soft goat cheese. Small cheese-heads are round shaped and wrapped in banana leaves. This cheese is produced by a number of people, and sold at markets, restaurants and shops. My dinner at Casa Marisa that night consisted of expertly prepared seafood (some mollusks I never tried before), fresh goat cheese, and a bottle of aromatic white Cha wine.
The next day began early. At around 6.00 am (to use cool part of the day), I headed to “conquer” volcano Pico de Fogo. Some people do this hike and climb on their own: it is possible and doable. But having a local guide has many advantages not only in terms of finding best ways to get to the summit, but also learning along the way about local culture, nature, and many other things. My guide (and I can highly recommend him to everyone) was younger brother of yesterday’s “wine guide:” Flavio Montrond. The hike to the top of volcano is not difficult. Taking it slowly and with some breaks, we were at the top in about 4 hours. The views from the trail are quite impressive, especially, after ascending above the level of the clouds.
And then, at the top, you can take a look inside of a crater.
A few more steps, and the view opens towards the other side – in opposite direction from which we came.
And here is part of the hike where the real fun begins. Instead of returning back to caldera the same way, we started run down – better say “jump down” – on this fairly steep side of volcano. The thing is that this slope is covered with the thick layer (two-three feet deep) of soft volcanic ashes. Each jump lands you comfortably in the natural “feather bed.” In about 20 minutes (versus 4 hours of ascend), we were back at the base of volcano. Here is the slope which we just “jumped” down.
One more hour and we were back at Casa Marisa. I was about to say “Good Bye” to Flavio, but he suggested to go to “Casa Ramiro” for a glass of “Manecom.” What is “Casa Ramiro” and what is “Manecom?” Casa Ramiro is a local establishment and a little bit of everything: an informal cultural center where the locals meet, a bar, a shop, a small museum, and, most importantly, a place where men and women get together to play music and sing. What is “Manecom?” It is actually Chã’s best-known wine. Unlike commercially produced “Cha”-labeled wines, Manecom is house-made red wine. Many households make Manecom: both for sale and personal consumption. The sweet and strong in alcohol variety is by far the most popular. We sat with Flavio outside Casa Ramiro, drank Manecom, and talked about living in Cha das Caldeiros.
It was getting dark and Flavio went home, but I stayed at Casa Ramiro a bit longer. First I looked at various artifacts: music instruments used by locally famous musicians, old photos depicting life in Cha das Caldeiras, etc.
And then, one by one, local men came with music instruments and very informal but lovely jam session began.
I came home late, but Marissa, the owner of Casa Marissa, and her young daughter were waiting for me to say “Good night and good bye,” because I was planning to leave early next day.
Next day, I wanted to be in Sao Felipe in the morning, but aluguer wouldn’t go until the mid of the day. Not a big deal. Through my “wine guide,” Eurico Montrond, I found a perfect private ride with local girl named Carla. It turned out that Carla is newly appointed chief wine-maker at another winery situated near Sao Felipe: Vinha Maria Chaves.
Being originally from Fogo, Carla received her professional training in Portugal. She had all chances and options to stay there, but, instead was passionate about making good wine in Cabo Verde. Honestly, “Cha” wines which I tried in caldera were Ok, but nothing special to write home about. I asked Carla to show her winery and she gave a “grand tour.” We also tasted her first (not bottled yet) wines. Hands down, Carla’s wines were the best of all that I tried in Cabo Verde.
I was on Fogo island already five days and wanted to go to the next destination, the island of Brava – the smallest and least visited of all Cabo Verde islands. Problem was that there is no airport on Brava and there was still no word from CV Interilha about when ferry service would resume. But when I woke up next morning, the local tour agency called and informed that the ferry would arrive to Fogo in a few hours and proceed further to Brava: this is how many things function in Cabo Verde. I bought ticket and rushed to the port just in time. The process of “checking-in” luggage looked somewhat suspicious. The passengers simply gave their suitcases or backpacks to the men on several trucks and told them to which island they go. No receipts and no luggage tags.
Then we went through the gates and boarded – hopefully properly repaired – ship.
The weather was perfect and I stayed on the upper deck.
It was time to say “Good Bye” to Fogo – the island of volcanoes, black sand beaches, wine and, most importantly, many good people who helped me to discover Fogo in the best possible way.
Brava Island: Hiking Paradises, Secret Beach, and House with “Million Dollar View”
After about three hours on ferry boat from Fogo, Furna, the main port on Brava island, came into view.
Brava (Portuguese for “brave” or “wild”) is the smallest of all Cabo Verde islands. It has total population of just about 6,000 and the territory of 67 square kilometers / 26 square miles. Cabo Verdians describe Brava as the “greenest” and “most mountainous” island. Most visitors to Cabo Verde don’t even think about traveling to Brava arguing that “there are no beaches there” and “there is nothing to do on Brava.” Both assertions are totally wrong in my view.
Brava was discovered in 1462 by the Portuguese explorer Diogo Afonso, but few people lived there until 1680. This was the year when Brava received many refugees from Fogo after its volcano erupted and covered the island with ash. Frequent pirate attacks forced the population to move to the interior of the island, where the capital town of Nova Sintra was founded around 1700.
The nicest place to stay on Brava is Fajã de Agua which is a small harbor village on the west coast. Backed by the steep mountains and wide open towards the ocean, Faja de Agua has very appealing vibes of being secluded, but, at the same time, spacious and welcoming. This was my first glimpse of Faja de Agua when I arrived by taxi from Furna.
Essentially, the whole village is stretched along one road which parallels the ocean. Each day I walked this road and enjoyed the calm and peace of Faja de Agua.
A few accommodations are available for tourists in Faja de Agua. My ultimate choice was “Kaza di Zaza” (www.kazadizaza.com) – a place which describes itself as “the Capeverdean dream of Dutchmen Erick Mulder.” Eric, a professional boat builder from the Netherlands, settled on Brava about 15 years ago.
Eventually, he created a compound consisting of three houses: all built on the slope of the mountain and one above another. Here is the picture of the entire Kaza di Zaza: the main white two-story house, smaller yellow bungalow up and to the left, and, finally a very simple hut up and to the right. All three places are available for visitors.
The main house has a shady adjacent terrace with tables and benches.
My choice of accommodations, however, was very simple upper hut.
It has a light bulb, but no running water or power outlets. There is, however, a small outside kitchen with propane stove and an outside solar heated shower. Water supply comes from a huge cistern under the house.
This shack was perfect choice for me: always fresh ocean breeze, quietness, and – most importantly – truly “million dollar view” both at night and day.
Faja de Agua has one “official tourist attraction:” piscina natural Faja de Agua. It is a natural swimming pool in the southern end of the village which is formed by the rocks and stones separating pool from the ocean. When the waves are high, they splash over the edges of the pool and splatter powerfully all over. Swimming there is a lot of fun.
Knowing my love for swimming, Eric told me that there is a much better place than piscina natural: a hidden and well protected (from waves and currents) black sand beach called Porto de Portete. The beach is to the south of Faja de Agua and is accessible via trail along the coast. It takes about 40 minutes to get there and the first “landmark” along the road to the beach is former Brava’s airport. The Esperadinha Airport was inaugurated in 1992 but closed twelve years later because of persisting and dangerously strong winds.
The runway is still in a very good shape, but presently only donkeys seem to be interested to take off from it.
Past airport, the next reference point for the trail is this building with quite impressive grafiti. Go there: the trail continues on the building’s right side.
After about 30 more minutes of hiking and some “ups” and “downs,” you will turn around the corner and see deep incised bay.
Most of the beach is covered with large pebbles, but at the very far end there is a spot with perfect black sand. And this was the place where I went each day for sunbathing and swimming.
As to the cleanliness and transparency of water….simply look at this picture:
Faja de Agua has couple of cafes with decent food, but no real shops. Hence, one day I boarded aluguer and went to New Sintra, the capital of Brava. The town is located at the altitude of about 500 meters and it is usually much cooler in New Sintra than in Faja de Agua. Predictably, New Sintra also gets more fog and rain than the coastal parts of the island. There are a few minor tourist attractions in New Sintra (including house-museum of Eugénio Tavares, a famous Cape Verdean writer), but I simply enjoyed walking around: the town is actually quite pleasant with many old colonial houses and cobblestone streets.
The main square of New Sintra is called Praça Eugénio Tavares. It has a small park, a music pavilion, a post office, a bank, a pharmacy and the City Hall. On the right side of the square, there is Igreja do Nazareno the largest Protestant denomination in Cabo Verde and the second in size religious group after the Roman Catholics.
For people who enjoy hiking, Brava should definitely be on the list of “must visit” places. Lush vegetation, mountainous landscapes, abundance of old abandoned villages, and the absence of any natural dangers make this island a real hiker’s paradise. There are many trails, routes and destinations which vary in duration and difficulty. But if you limit yourself to just ONE hike on Brava, choose this one. First take aluguer to the mountainous village Nossa Senhora do Monte and find there an old Catholic church of the same name: Nossa Senhora do Monte.
From there, a well visible trail begins which eventually will bring you back to the coast and Faja de Agua.
The first portion of the hike descends very gradually and offers good views of the interior of the island.
Then the trail begins to descend more steeply, but it is still very comfortable and easy to walk. Eventually, ocean comes into the view far and down.
The chances are great that you will meet on the trail plenty of donkeys: they are calm, “peaceful,” and harmless.
After about one-and-half hour of descend, this fully abandoned village will come into the view: the trail continues along right side of the village.
One more hour and you are back in Faja de Agua, and the trail ends right next to Kaza di Zaza. Turn around and look at the mountains form which you just came.
I stayed on Brava four nights and could have stayed longer. In fact, Eric told me about certain German fellow who comes each year and spends on the island couple of weeks. But I had already in mind next destination on Cabo Verde. Ferry boat came again to Furna, and Eric called a “taxi” for me. It was an aluguer, but just for one passenger – me. The driver spoke perfect English, and it turned out that he lived and worked many years in Massachusetts and even acquired US passport. But he did not like fast pace of life in America and returned to slow and easy living on Brava.
Instead of taking major highway connecting Faja de Agua, New Sintra and Furna, he has chosen some old narrow and steep roads. This shortcut saved us time and also offered great panoramic view of Furna.
A few more minutes and I was at the harbor of Furna.
And then I was on the boat heading to next destination: first, back to capital Praia and then, next day, to the island of Maio,
Maio: lost in Time Beach Island
Sea coasts, islands and unspoiled beaches are my favorite types of natural settings. However, two Caboverdian islands which are most known for beaches – Sal and Boavista – have already become very commercial and attract thousands of package-vacation tourists. Luckily, one more island of Cabo Verde has outstanding beaches: Maio. And unlike Sal and Boavista, Maio feels like a lost in time island with local residents and fishermen going leisurely about their business and a smattering of ex-pats living there.
After about two hours on ferry boat from Praia, the island came into view and I knew instantly that this is my type of place.
Maio is 24 km / 15 miles long and 16 km / 10 miles wide. Of about 7,000 total population, almost half lives in capital Porto Ingles also known as Villa de Maio. The island receives a lot of sunshine and little rain, but this comes for a price. Due to persisting drought, in the 20th century, many inhabitants emigrated from Maio. At the same time, some smart people from Western Europe and America discovered this small speck of land with perfect weather, easy going life, and hospitable locals and moved to live here. One of these expats was my AirBnB host, Alessandro. An acclaimed architect from Italy with experience of living and working worldwide, he came to Maio for vacations ten years ago and essentially never left since then. His professional skills found good demand on Maio, and Alessandro designed here a number of commercial objects and private houses. Of course, he also built for himself a three-story villa. Alessandro offers some rooms on AirBnB and this was my choice for staying on Maio. My room was on the upper floor with the view of ocean, harbor and beach.
The lower level of the house is occupied by spacious living room with furniture and artifacts from around the globe.
The staircase to the second and third floors is designed in a such way that it leaves like a hole in the middle of the house. Alessandro mentioned that his plan is to plant a tree on the lower level which would grow through this hole to second-third floors.
My favorite part of the house was furnished roof-top deck – the place where I spent most evenings sipping wine, having dinner and reading.
The house is in a walking distance from the harbor, but Alessandro offered to meet me with car to help with luggage. The surprise was that I was not the only one whom Alessandro was expecting on the ferry. His wife Indira and newly born daughter Pietra Giovanna came on the same boat.
Indira was born and grew up in a remote village on Santiago island. She studied and worked hard for her family’s small business: an inter-island fish trade. I do not know how good Indira was as a business woman, but I can confess that she is an outstanding gourmet chef. One night, Alessandro invited me to join family for a dinner. The local dishes created by Indira were presented in the most elegant way.
Before exploring beaches of Maio, I walked around its capital, Porto Ingles/Vila do Maio. It does not have the same colonial-style elegance as Sao Felipe on Fogo, but it is a very pleasant town. An open-air public gym is built right on the seafront.
A nicely restored Catholic Church, Nossa Senhora da Luz, is in the middle of the town.
From the steps of the church, you can get a panoramic view of the town with ocean in background.
Now was time to explore the beaches, and it was a very easy task. Indeed, two by far the best beaches are right in Porto Ingles. One was in the front of Alessandro’s home and next to harbor. It has fine sand and very calm waters.
Another excellent option – especially for someone who looks for entirely deserted beach – is Ponta Preta. It is just couple kilometers south of Porto Ingles. I loaned bicycle from Alessandro and was at Ponta Preta in about 20 minutes. Bottom line: living in Porto Ingles/Vila do Maio and “living on the beach” is pretty much the same.
Next day, I explored eastern part of Maio. I wrote already about excellent goat cheese which is traditionally made on Fogo island. This tradition, however, was also adopted by the residents of other islands: at least, on Maio. A small cheese factory exists in a picturesque coastal village, Ribeira Dom Joao, about 10 km east of Port Ingles. Called Queijaria de Ribeira Dom Joao, it is run by a single person, a lady named Rosalinda. There were no aluguers going to Ribeira Dom Joao until late afternoon, but I simply hitchhiked there (hitchhiking works quite well in Cabo Verde). Finding Rosalinda and her small factory was easy, and in no time I was sitting at the table and sampling her cheeses.
After purchasing a sufficient supply of cheeses, I continued hitchhiking along the east coast of Maio: not looking for anything in particular, but simply exploring scenery and small settlements. All villages were quite attractive: their inhabitants painted houses in various bright colors. Here is couple of pictures from my last stop, the village called Alcatraz.
Maio is small: it can be circumnavigated by car couple of hours. Yet, there is one particular area of the island which can be reached on feet only and which deserves at least one full day of exploration. It is protected sand dunes zone on northern coast and near village of Morrinho which is situated about 15 km / 10 miles north of Vila do Maio / Porto Inglez. The road to Morrinho is made of cobblestones and it is fairly comfortable for the ride on the bicycle.
When I arrived to Morrinho, the village felt remarkably empty. Only a few donkeys were roaming the main square and near the church.
I was not sure where to go from there and how to find the trail to dunes, but then I noted in the distance a huge cross and walked to it.
Very close to the cross, there were couple of posters with description of the dunes and various hiking trails to explore the area.
My time was limited and I opted for the shortest option – a straight hike through the dunes and to the ocean.
In about 40 minutes, I came to a group of palm trees.
The trail almost disappeared, but then I saw ocean in the distance. About 15 more minutes and I was on another perfect and absolutely deserted beach.
I picked up at a restaurant in Villa do Maio and brought with me scrumptious lunch: some mollusks cooked in spicy sauce with sweet potatoes and plantains.
After meal and nice “siesta” nap, I headed back to Morrinho and then to Villa do Maio. On the wall of some house close to Alessandro’s home, I saw this inscription.
This was my last day and evening on Maio, and I thought that these words captured perfectly the nature of this small island and people who live here.
Santiago: Living in a Small Fishing Village
Santiago is the largest island of Cabo Verde. Of 300,000 residents, half live in the national capital, Praia. Santiago was also the first of the islands to be settled: the oldest town, Ribeira Grande, was founded in 1462. Today, it is called Cidade Velha and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Santiago is mountainous and the most forested island of Cape Verde: 38% of its area is forest. The interior and the east coast have hot tropical climate and are densely forested, the south and southwest are in the rain shadow and occupied by more arid uplands, the west coast is rugged and less populated than the rest of the island.
For visitors, Santiago offers a bit of everything: bustling street markets (Sukupira being most known), frequent cultural (especially, musical) events, decent beaches, good options for hiking and two national parks: Serra do Pico de Antónia and Serra Malagueta.
My time was limited and – instead of exploring different parts of the island – I decided to find some interesting place and use it as a base for day-trips and adventures. For two reasons, fishing village of Ribeira da Prata on the north-west coast attracted my attention.
First, it was very close to the town of Tarrafal which is known for good beaches and is well connected by frequent alluguers with capital Praia (it takes about two hours from Praia to Tarrafal). But second and most important, I found in this village a quite interesting AirBnB offer. A young French couple, Fabrice and Elodie, moved to live there, bought land, and built castle-like tower-home overseeing the ocean.
The room for visitors is on the top floor. It is a very simple room, but with bathroom, hot shower, and also an outside terrace with incredible view. Sleeping there, under constant sound of the ocean’s waves was perfect.
The second floor of the house is a “social space” and well equipped kitchen.
Outside there is a small garden.
Fast forward, I was very happy staying three nights at Fabrice and Elodie’s place: both because of accommodations and genuine “welcome” spirit of my hosts (if you decide to stay with them, here is an email: email@example.com). As it turned out, on the day of my arrival, there was some church festival in the village. This was perfect occasion to explore social scene and meet local residents.
This small festival was also a good opportunity to buy super-cheap and grilled right on the street various fresh seafood. Clearly, there was no doubt about freshness of sea products in the fishing village.
Eventually, I got slightly tired from the “crowds and sounds” and went on a short (about 20 min) hike to see and use Piscina Natural de Cuba. It is a natural swimming pool formed by the rocks right next to the ocean.
Speaking of swimming and sunbathing, there is also an excellent black sand beach in Ribeira da Prata, but I did not know about it until the next morning. The next day, Fabrice pointed to some mountain behind the village and explained that there is a good hiking trail there and a view from the top. As it turned out, I misunderstood his directions and attempted to “storm” an entirely different summit. This one was for real mountain climbers and I never made it to the very top.
But even from the place where I stopped the view of Ribeira da Prata was perfect and with my castle-tower-home clearly visible at the far end of the village.
Also, from this vantage point, I discovered a huge crescent black sand beach right next to Ribeira da Prata.
I was dead tired after this hike, but upon return home Elodie told me that there is a national batuku festival this evening in Tarrafal. Batuku is a blend of popular oral tradition and a women’s dance and song. It is accompanied by various instruments, but the drums always play a key role. I took the taxi to Tarrafal (about 5 Euro) and immersed myself for the rest of the evening in this both social and music experience.
The next day, Fabrice invited me to join him, Elodie, and their young daughter on a hike to his – surprise! – ancestral village. Fabrice grew up in France, but his parents were originally from Cabo Verde, from some now abandoned mountain village a few kilometers inland from Ribeira da Prata. In fact, Fabrice explained, he still owns some land and houses in this village and has a dream to restore them and convert into ecological bungalows for tourists. Needless to say that Fabrice knew perfectly all trails, and in about 30 minutes of walking we were already surrounded by the beautiful mountains.
Elodie was carrying on her back their child (not an easy job on mountainous trails), and, at certain point we left her to rest and wait for us.
A few more kilometers and we were in Fabrice’s parental village. It was fun to explore abandoned houses and listen to Fabrice’s stories about realities of life here in the past.
We walked back to Ribeira da Prata, and – amazingly – on the to the ocean the landscapes looked even more captivating and attractive.
When we were already close to the home, near the road, I noted some elderly women who were digging sand and stones. Fabrice explained that it has been traditionally female’s job to gather natural construction materials which will be used later by men to build the houses. We stopped and Fabrice talked with one of the women.
It was my last day with Fabrice and Elodie and time to say “Good bye!” to them. But I was not sad, because I knew very well that I will be back.
I had one more day on Santiago, and the plan was to see one of its natural parks: Parque Natural de Serra Malagueta. It is situated in the middle of the island and the entrance to the park is conveniently located on a major highway connecting Tarrafal and Praia. The park is not huge by American standards (about 800 hectares), but it has an impressive diversity of landscapes, flora, and fauna (it is especially known for a variety of birds). Further, a couple of traditional villages are inside of the park: hence, visit there was a good possibility to combine hiking, nature, and learning about local life. I hired a guide at park’s office (about 40 Euro for 4 hours) and we took off. It was an easy hike, because the trail descends slowly from the top into the canyon where most of the park is.
We saw some colorful birds.
And then we were at the bottom and continued hiking along the canyon.
The last portion of the hike was through a couple of villages and I was glad that I hired the guide. He told a good number of stories about local traditions, agriculture, homes, and generally life here.
I could have stayed the last night in Praia, but there was a much better option. Close to the Parque Natural de Serra Malagueta and right next to the highway to Praia, there is an excellent small hotel. It is called “Cote de France” and is run by a French lady named Magali.
If you want to stay on Santiago in European-level boutique hotel, look no further: Cote de France is your ultimate (and very inexpensive) choice. The hotel does not have a website, but it can be found on booking.com. Or, simply send Magali email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The hotel is located between towns of Fundura and Assomada, but any alluguer would stop by or pick up you directly from the hotel. I liked lush vegetation surrounding the hotel and simple but very comfortable rooms.
And the outside furnished deck of the hotel offered an excellent panoramic view of the island.
Another “bestselling” point of Cote de France is hotel’s fine restaurant. Three course dinner costs 10 Euro, and the cooks will prepare a meal tailored to your personal preferences.
My flight next day was in the afternoon. The ride from Cote de France to Praia would take only about one hour, and I was thinking about how to spend the remaining time. Magali gave me an excellent tip. She said that the best beach on Santiago, Praia de Sao Francisco, is just a few kilometers away from the airport. Further, although the beach is connected by a good road to both airport and Praia, few people normally go there. In Praia, I found a taxi driver who took me to Sao Francisco beach and then picked up in time to go to airport. And these were my final hours of a perfect trip to Cabo Verde.
Big THANKS goes to the small island nation of Cabo Verde and its welcoming people for three weeks of fun, sun and adventures.
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