Travel to Cape Verde: the Barlavento Islands (2/2)

If there’s one island in Cape Verde that’s a must-see, it’s Santo Antao. The scenery is fabulous and the locals are very welcoming. But it’s only really discovered by walkers!

To get there, you have to pass through the island of Sao Vicente and Mindelo, the pretty birthplace of Césaria Evora. What a pleasure! You have to stay there for a while.

In this article, I tell you about the second part of our trip to Cape Verde.

After discovering Santiago, Brava, and Fogo in the south of the archipelago, as described in the article on the islands of Sotavento, we continue our journey in the islands of Barlavento: São Vicente and, above all, Santo Antao, which will be the highlight of our trip!

If you haven’t already read it, you’ll find all the practical advice you need to organize your independent trip to Cape Verde in a dedicated article.

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Travel route map Barlavento islands

São Vicente: the island of Cesária Evora

To reach São Vicente, we take off from Praia, Cape Verde’s capital on the island of Santiago.

The flight in an ATR72, a small propeller plane, takes 45 minutes to Mindelo airport. The landing is rather bumpy because of the strong winds on the island.

When building our tour, I made sure we would be a Saturday night in Mindelo. It is the birthplace of Cesária Evora and Cape Verde’s cultural and musical capital. and on that day, every week, it’s party time!

Fresco Cesaria Evora Mindelo

Mindelo: “a Saturday night on Earth”

Praia may be a little off-putting, but Mindelo is immediately appealing. It starts with its geographical location on the edge of a magnificent harbor and continues with its colonial atmosphere and artistic life.

View of Mindelo from Monte Verde

Mindelo is a tourist destination with a wide range of accommodations on offer. We choose a small hotel in the historic center: Kira’s boutique hotel. It’s quiet and the welcome is kind.

You can discover the city’s charm simply by wandering around. The colonial-style houses with balconies are quite well preserved.


Kiosk in Mindelo

Casa Cafe Mindelo

In the afternoon, we head for the “Praia da Laginha” beach. A bit like the Cariocas on Copacabana, everyone – families, young and old – meets here at weekends to have fun, show off or socialize. The sand is sparkling white and the sea turquoise. The beach contrasts with the surrounding port and industrial environment. A few overhanging bars, where the local jet set meets up, provide the perfect place to unwind at the end of the day!

Praia da Laginha in Mindelo

Mindelo is first and foremost an active port . Its bay has long made it a favorite stopover for sailors.

Port Mindelo

A few wrecks still visible in the bay give Mindelo a Corto Maltese air.

Mindelo Bay

Saturday nights are when Mindelo really gets going. There are live bands in many bars and restaurants, such as the Casa Café Mindelo where we dined. But the real Mindelo nightlife experience is on the Rua de Libertad d’Africa. Here, Mindelo’s inhabitants gather to dance and sing along with singers covering the most popular Cape Verdean hits. The atmosphere is popular and good-natured, with even the beggars dancing to forget their daily misery. We’re having a great time.

Mindelo is an open-minded city. On our first visit, in 2017, we were able to attend one of the few Gay Pride events in Africa.

Gay Pride 2017 in Mindelo

This time, in 2022, we also have the chance to attend the inauguration of the new cultural center by the Prime Minister. Admission is free, and Fogo wine is served at will! A DJ keeps us all dancing to the beat. It was a short night!

Mindelo Cultural Center

Mindelo Cultural Center
Mindelo Cultural Center

The island of São Vicente: arid and windy

The island is very arid and rugged. It is bordered by magnificent beaches, but not very suitable for bathing either because of the sea currents, which can be dangerous or because of the strong winds. The most beautiful beach is Praia de Sao Pedro, near the airport.

Five years ago, we rented a car for a day to tour the area.

I recommend it because it’s easy: there’s just one circular road!

Sao Pedro Beach

The highlight of a tour of the island is a visit to Monte Verde, the highest point on the island at 744 m. From there, you can enjoy a magnificent view of Mindelo Bay. From here, the view over Mindelo Bay is magnificent.

I also remember that we had lunch in a restaurant lost in the immensity of a plateau, with a very “Bagdad Café” atmosphere! This is the Hambourg restaurant in Porto Calhau.

Hambourg Restaurant

Porto Calhau

Santo Antão: a walker’s paradise

With only a three-week vacation in Cape Verde, we prefer to return to Santo Antão without lingering in São Vicente. This is the last island on our itinerary. We had already visited it in 2017, but since we liked it so much, we’re choosing it again. The pleasure of travel also means returning to places you’ve already visited. This allows you to see them differently, without having to worry about finding your way around.

What makes Santo Antao so attractive?

Santo Antão is known as a hiker’s paradise. The island is very rugged, and to reach their villages and fields, farmers have built numerous paths, some of them paved. The landscapes are sumptuous, whether arid in the south or verdant in the north.

Santo Antão’s appeal to hikers is that there is something for every taste and level of fitness. Crossing the island over several days is quite a challenge. On the other hand, if you only want to go downhill, it’s possible!

For our stay, we chose four intermediate-level hikes. You can see them on the map created below using Google Earth. But we could have done a lot more!

Another of Santo Antao’s attractions is that it boasts some rather exceptional, charming accommodations. During our stay, we’ll discover three of them: in Chã do Morto, in the Paul Valley, and Cruzinha.

Satellite view Santo Antao

Ferry from Mindelo to Porto Novo

Santo Antao no longer has an airport. The only means of access is by ferry from Mindelo to Porto Novo, south of Santo Antao. Two companies, Armas and CV Interhilas, operate a total of four daily frequencies. This is quite a luxury in Cape Verde! The journey takes just one hour.

We choose the “Armas” ferry. As we climb aboard, we don’t recognize the ramshackle old boat that transported us a few years ago. But it’s the same boat! But his facelift has made him unrecognizable!

Porto Novo, without much charm, is located on the south coast, which is the least interesting part of the island. So we take a cab straight to Chã do Morto, located in an ancient crater. We’ll be doing our first two hikes there.

Ferry Armas in 2017
Ferry Armas in 2022

Hiking to the Plateau del Norte

Our first hike takes us to the Plateau del Norte. An aluguer, a shared cab, drops us off at the start of a beautiful cobbled path that is the hallmark of Cape Verde hiking.

If we walk on them for pleasure, let’s not forget that the trails have above all a utilitarian role for Cape Verdeans, who often have to walk long distances just to get to their homes. In fact, during our walk, we’ll come across farmers busy repairing and maintaining the path.

The Plateau de Norte hike begins with a long, 700 m ascent along a balcony path. Below, we look out over the cultivated fields around Chã do Morto.

Balcony trail

Cha do Morto view

At the halfway point, we come across a spring with a man filling jerry cans that he will bring back with his mules. Water is scarce in Cape Verde, and locals often have to walk a long way to find it. Sobriety, a word that has become topical in Europe in 2022, is an essential component of the Cape Verdean way of life.

Water source in Santo Antao

Finally, we reach the Plateau de Norte, which stretches down to the sea on Santo Antao’s western flank. We continue along a vertiginous cliff that must have been the rim of an ancient volcano’s caldera. We guess at the views more than we see them, as one layer of fog follows another.

Plateau de Norte

Fog on the Plateau de Norte

For lunch, we take a break at a brand-new watchtower inaugurated by the Deputy Prime Minister. It’s hard to imagine how he and his delegation got here! On a mule? On foot?

At last, the descent. 910 m downhill on a splendid stone path. The most beautiful in Cape Verde! Halfway along the route, we pass a young woman who has stopped to breastfeed her baby. What courage! Knowing that it’s in the uphill direction to simply return home from the village.

It’s a pleasure to return to our guesthouse, a little exhausted!

Descent from Plateau de Norte

Hiking from Alta Mira to the sea

Our second hike begins in the village of Chã d’Orgueiro, at the top of the Alto Mira valley, where we’ll descend to the sea. The main attraction of the walk is to see the many terraced plantations that rise above a deep canyon. Once again, we ask ourselves the question: how do Cape Verdeans manage to grow crops in such inaccessible places?

Start of Alta Mira hike

The walk is long but descends on a relatively gentle slope.

Alta Mira Valley

Alta Mira Valley

At last, the sea is revealed! But we don’t have time for a swim, as we have to climb back up on the other side of the valley to the road 200 m higher up.

The sea at the end of the Alta Mira valley

Our aluguer is waiting to take us back to Quinta Cochete, our guesthouse that deserves to be introduced!

Quinta Cochete: an exceptional guest house in Chã do Morto

We stayed at Quinta Cochete for our first two hikes in Santo Antão. We had discovered it on our first trip and fell in love with it. It was built from scratch by a retired Franco-Swiss couple: Jacques and Dominique.

The location, in a former crater, is magical. The decor is worthy of AD . The garden has had time to grow over the last five years and is a pleasure to stroll through. It’s all the more successful given that we’re in a dry tropical zone and water management is particularly delicate.

Finally, at Quinta Cochete, the 20-metre-long swimming corridor is an invitation to swim for sport or relaxation. We’ll enjoy it all the more as we had one full day of rain during our three-day stay. A rare phenomenon in Cape Verde! So while we were wet, we took the opportunity to swim laps instead of hiking.

It’s worth noting that Jacques and Dominique have a real concern for sustainable development. They attach great importance to involving the village and its inhabitants in the success of the guest house.

Quinta Cochete
Lounge Quinta Cochete
Quinta Cochete
Quinta Cochete
View from Quinta Cochete

Paul’s valley

For our second stopover on Santo Antao, we decide to return to the Paul Valley in the east of the island. Entering this valley is like stepping back into another world. The valley is very green with lots of streams and waterfalls. It’s a true oasis on a rather arid island where water is scarce.

Paul's Valley

Aldeia Manga

We’re staying at the Aldeia Manga, a hostel with a few thatched huts set in a huge tropical garden. Once we get over the surprise of entering the room, which we have to share with spiders and tiny centipedes, we feel right at home. The ecolodge lives up to its name!

Aldeia Manga

There’s also a swimming pool, but it looks more like a pond with algae and fish. It is ideal for bathing, as it is naturally purified without chemicals. After a moment’s hesitation, we spend a pleasant moment in the company of small fish who come to give us a peeling.

Aldeia Manga
Cleaning fish
View Aldeia Manga

Hiking in the Paul Valley

We stayed two nights and took a day to explore it on foot. The valley is very steep with many peaks. Terraces are everywhere, with plantations of coffee, banana, guava, sugar cane, and orange trees. It’s a true Garden of Eden.

Paul's Valley
Paul's Valley
Pig farming
Cultivation in the Paul Valley
Hamlet in the Paul Valley
Terraced cultivation Paul valley
Farmers in Paul's valley
Water reserve in the Paul valley

The coastal path from Ponta do Sol to Cruzinha

This will be the last hike of our stay in Cape Verde. It’s the best known and all the agencies offer it. We meet a few tourists, but we’re still a long way from overtourism. But that could happen very quickly. If only the number of tourists doubled along the way, the sense of solitude that makes Santo Antao so charming would disappear.

From the Paul valley, our cab takes us to Ponta do Sol. He then takes our luggage to our hotel in Cruzinha. The logistics are not cheap (€55), but they’re easy to organize.

In Cape Verde, all the cab and aluguer drivers we used proved to be both reliable and friendly. There was no need to haggle, as they always quoted us the right price without trying to rip us off.

Ponta do Sol is a small town and fishing port at the end of the world. This feeling is reinforced by the presence of an airport that has been disused since the 90s. As in Brava, crosswinds have taken their toll on the island’s only airport, which is now only accessible by boat from São Vicente.

Ponta do sol

The superb coastal path starts at the town’s pigsty! It’s 16 km long and on the map, where it follows the sea, it looks flat. Wrong impression! By the time we reach our destination, we’ll have descended and climbed more than 600 m. A real roller-coaster ride that makes for a rather sporty ride. The map posted at the start of the walk clearly indicates this.

Coastal hiking route Santo Antao

3 km from Ponta do Sol, we pass through the photogenic village of Fontainhas, perched on a rocky ridge amidst terraced fields. It’s the image everyone has of Cape Verde.

Terraced cultivation
Terraced cultivation

We continue with the Way of the Cross, which traces the 14 stations of Christ’s Passion. The heat and steepness of the climb are a great way to get into the swing of things! It’s the fourth dimension that 3D films lack.

Way of the Cross

Way of the Cross

After the Way of the Cross, we cross another pretty village: Corvo. We still have to descend and then climb again!


Halfway through the hike, we reach the village of Formiguinhas. To get there, residents have to walk two and a half hours in either direction, as it’s inaccessible by car. That’s the reality for Cape Verdeans!

We’re lucky enough to find a bar that doesn’t look like much, but it’s shady and the view is superb. Beer and coke are more than welcome.

At the same time as us, a Swiss couple arrive in the opposite direction, with whom we had made friends in Quinta Cochete. If we’d wanted to meet up, we wouldn’t have done it any other way! It’s also the pleasure of a destination that’s still not very popular, where you see the same tourists again and again.


Then we set off again. The breeze and clouds soften the heat nicely. The ocean views are breathtaking.

Santo Antao coastal path

We cross the hamlet of Zaranhas, abandoned for lack of water. A way of reminding us that Cape Verde is not a land of milk and honey and that living conditions are harsh.

Towards the abandoned hamlet

Abandoned hamlet

The Palmeira da Cruz

After our long hike, we reach our hotel just beyond Cruzinha.

Palmeira da Cruz is our third, and final, accommodation on Santo Antao island. It was created from scratch by a Belgian couple who fell in love with Cape Verde. In August 2022, it was still under construction and we are the first customers to be able to enjoy the splendid infinity pool.

Palmeira da Cruz

Our hut is luxurious and the lodge’s setting, with imposing cliffs in the distance, is extraordinary. Dany and Guy are very attentive hosts. In the evening, we dine in their company while they tell us the story of how they built their ecolodge. A nugget in the making!

The small fishing port of Cruzinha

The hotel is close to Cruzinha. The atmosphere is authentic and not at all touristy.

Port of Cruzinha

On our last day, we take a stroll through the village and enjoy lunch in a small restaurant. The meal, consisting of a Cachupa (a kind of stew, a true national dish) for me and spaghetti with seafood for my partner, is simple and good. However, we have to wait an hour for service!

We should have ordered before going for a walk and then come back for lunch. Indeed, in these small village restaurants, nothing is prepared in advance. After three weeks in Cape Verde, we’d already forgotten about it!


Cruzinha is very quiet. It doesn’t take long to do the trick.

Small coves tempt us to go for a swim, but the sea seems too rough and dangerous. We return for a final rest at Palmeira da Cruz.


Port of Cruzinha

End of our stay on Santa Antao, but already a desire to return!

Our stay on Santo Antao was our second visit to the island and we are delighted to have returned.

In eight days, we could only hike a small part of the island’s trails.

We could, for example, have returned to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, a pleasant little fishing village with a magnificent beach that we visited in 2017. At the time, one had to take a bad track. Since then, a superb paved road has been built.

We had gone on a nice boat trip with some fishermen.

Tarrafal de Monte Trigo

Fisherman in Tarrafale de Monte Trigo

The weather also prevented us from going to the center of the island to Pico da Cruz at 1585 m. From there we could have done some great hiking. That’s for another time!

Crossing route to Santo Antao

If you only have one island to visit in Cape Verde, Santo Antao is certainly the one to choose.

The scenery is sumptuous, the hikes fabulous and the people friendly. Last but not least, the range of accommodation on offer is vast and of high quality. The three accommodations we selected were charming and of high quality.

One last point: we were told during our last stay that the Cape Verdean government has great ambitions to develop tourism in Santo Antao. The island is a jewel, but fragile, and will never be able to accommodate the hordes of tourists like Ilha do Sal or Boa Vista. Let’s hope Cape Verde realizes this.

Palmeira da Cruz sunset

A long journey back to France

After three weeks of discovering Cape Verde, we go back to France. But it’s not a direct route and takes two full days. In the morning, our cab driver picks us up in Palmeira da Cruz to take us to the port of Porto Novo.

We take the eastern coastal road from Ribeira Grande. It is spectacular, with beautiful cliffs plunging into the sea.

To Ribeira da Grande

East coast of Santo Antao

Then it’s back on the boat for a night’s sleep in Mindelo.

Back to France with TAP Air Portugal

The next day, we take off with TAP Air Portugal via Lisbon.

But that day, due to weather conditions, we had to make a technical stopover at Ilho do Sal. Indeed, the runway at Cesaria Evora airport is too short to take off with a full tank of kerosene for a direct flight to Lisbon.

So we arrive two hours late in Lisbon. Fortunately, we had planned a comfortable connection of almost four hours. We stayed zen!

This is not the case for other tourists sitting next to us on the plane. Their agency had chosen a route for them with a connection of just one hour. As a result, we sensed they were under stress, not knowing how they were going to continue their journey to Paris. We would later learn that they had to wait for over an hour at an Air Portugal counter to be offered a re-routing on the next day’s flight and a night in a hotel on the outskirts of Lisbon without their luggage!

Hence my advice is to avoid, as far as possible, short, stressful connections.

Air Portugal



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