Fogo – The Volcanic Island
Fogo means fire. And this name reveals the true nature of the island in the Sotavento with its approximately 40,000 inhabitants: a volcano. Rising up to 2,829 metres, the volcanic mountain of Pico de Fogo dominates the island’s landscape as the highest elevation of Cape Verde. You can enjoy a beautiful view of Pico from the old craters located to the west that surround the mountain in a semicircle and form the caldeira (gigantic crater) with a diameter of 9 kilometres. With its diameter of 500 metres, the main crater of the volcano achieves a depth of 180 metres. Even today, it still spews sulphur vapour through hot fumaroles in an impressive spectacle of nature. Due to the high mountains on Fogo and the corresponding formation of clouds, the island tends to be damp. As a result, many different types of useful plants thrive on the terraced fields. On 1 May, the inhabitants celebrate the discovery of Fogo with the Festas do São Filipe and its horse races.
The best way to start the climb to Pico de Fogo is from the little town of Chã das Caldeiras. The path takes about six hours from here – after all, there is a 1000-metre difference in elevation to climb. Good footwear is absolutely necessary due to sections of the route that are steep and others that pass through fine scree (volcanic ash).
The largest city of the island, São Filipe, is located to the west of Fogo. With about 20,000 inhabitants, it’s the fourth-largest city of Cape Verde after Praia, Mindelo and Assomada. This is also the site of the island airport, which is served solely by domestic flights and only offers connections from and to the other islands as a result. On kilometres of coastline with black lava beach, the picturesque little city rises about 100 metres above the high, steep coast. The Alto San Pedro, a long plaza, separates the lower city (Vila Baixo) from the upper city (Vila Riba). You can take a taxi from the marketplace, which is hustling and bustling every morning, to the volcano crater. The lower city is the site of Praça 7 do Decembro with the city hall and the magnificent town houses (sobrados) of the once rich families. Somewhat below this plaza, the Nossa Senhora de Conceição church with its beautiful light-blue painted facades and little colourful houses are situated on a little pracinha.
You can reach the beach from the city by taking the stairs. In any case, we recommend the southern section of the beach, which can be reached via the stairs on the left because it’s much cleaner than the beach directly beneath the city.
However, you should go to other beaches (Ponta da Salina) for swimming since the currents can be treacherous; swimming can also become dangerous here, especially during a swell. Otherwise, we recommended the Porto de Vale de Cavaleiros beach, which is located three kilometres to the north of the city.
Leaving São Felipe in a northerly direction, you will come to São Jorge and Las Salinas by following the east coast. Two ring roads represent the island’s network of streets. One route runs at an elevation of about 300 metres above the ocean. Except for the little turquoise-coloured houses at the centre of town, São Jorge makes a rather deserted impression. But you should be sure to drive to Ponta da Salina, an ocean swimming pool surrounded by cliffs with a natural rock gateway that reveals a view of the ocean and offers the most beautiful opportunity for swimming on Fogo.
When returning to São Filipe, be sure to drive on the higher road with its very interesting views of the landscape. You will see volcanoes directly on the ocean, colonial manors and much more.
The south and east of the island offers the town of Cova Figueira with its colourfully painted little houses. You can experience an agriculture idyll on the route from Cova Figueira to São Felipe. In this unspoiled area, you will see volcanic cones and wild figs. Once you reach the little town of Mãe Joana, you can finally enjoy a very stunning view of the surrounding volcanoes.
It’s also worthwhile to drive in the direction of Mosteiros from Cova Figueira. Now that the airport has closed, this turned into a dreamy village situated directly on the ocean. The drive takes you along a steep rock face that is 500 metres above sea level. After driving through the green landscape, you will pass by fruit trees in the town of Tinteira with its dark houses built of lava rocks.
In the very north, you can get to know what is possibly the most traditional lifestyle on Fogo in the village of Ribeira Ilhéu with its little antiquated workshops.