Santo Antão Island

Santo Antão Island, Mountain view
Santo Antão Mountain view

Santo Antão – The Mountainous Island

Santo Antão – The island of mountains, wind and water. Many names could be given to the second-largest island of Cape Verde. With its greatly contrasting landscape and soil structures, it forms the northwestern border of the island group with a size of 779 square kilometres. Although the south and west area appear desolate and barren, the subtropical climate will surprise you with its rich vegetation. Forests of fir and pine turn the Ribeira green. You will also see date and coconut palms, mango and carob trees, as well as citrus, almond, papaya and orange trees. Maize, pineapples, coffee and manioc are cultivated in the mountains on terraced fields that consist partly of black lava soil and partly of white “pozzolana”. The fragrance of eucalyptus, lavender and even lotus blossoms hangs in the air. Acacia, wild figs and dragon trees line the roads in many places.
The nearly 50,000 inhabitants of the island mainly live in the cities of Porto Novo, Ponta do Sol, Paúl and Ribeira Grande. However, the residents of Santo Antão are a mountain people: Despite all of their Cape Verdean joy in life, they also have something raw and heavy to them. This is where the music style and dance of colá is at home

Ribeira Grande, Santo Antão Island
Ribeira Grande, Santo Antão

In Ribeira Grande, the vivacious capital of Santo Antão that is located in the valley by the same name, you can discover the Nossa Senhora do Rosário church with a praça of the same name, as well as a food market (Mercado Municipal) and a clothing market (north of the city centre). Although few hotels have established themselves here up to now, a lively mood prevails in the winding lanes with little shops and restaurants. If you would like to spend the night here, small guesthouses offer relatively good service. An Internet café can be found on a side street close to the church. 

Porto Novo, the next largest city on Santo Antão, is located in the dry southeast of the island. A dusty wind blows constantly here. You can explore the main street with its former mansions, a little church, markets that have local fish, grogue and fresh goat cheese for sale, shops and – of course — the harbour.

Valley of Paúl, Santo Antão Island
Valley of Paúl, Santo Antão

In order to understand the fascinating contrasts of Santo Antãos, we recommend a ride from Porto Novo to Ribeira Grande on the old road. Start in the dry southeast of the island, drive through the vertically towering rock peaks, then past the pine forest near Cova and Corda and along the narrow mountain ridges to the north coast of the island. After you pass the first little village at Lombo de Figueira, you will come to (the foot of) the Cova de Paúl volcano. Its cauldron is situated at the centre of steep cliffs at 1000 metres above sea level. You will have a breathtaking view of the Ribeira do Paúl and the north coast from here. Through the plain of Lagoa (the village itself is very small), you will see how the landscape already becomes much more barren in the west. On the other hand, the plateaus offer a very beautiful view across the island. When the weather is good, you can even see all the way to Monte Verde on the neighbouring island of São Vicente. You will also find an indescribable panorama view around Corda, whose houses appear to grow out of the mountain. Once you have left Corda behind, the trip becomes exciting: You drive on a street that runs across the ridges of a mountain range. The edge of the road drops almost vertically into the depths on the left and right.

The new road from Porto Novo to Paúl has also been open since the summer of 2009. This is an asphalt street through a rather dull landscape. Unfortunately, all of the aluguers (shared taxis) now drive on this new street and most visitors to the island miss out on the breathtaking views from the old cobblestone road as a result. If you would like to take the more exciting route, just order a taxi that drives from Porto Novo to Ribeira Grande for about 5,000 escudos (approx. 45 euros).

Vila das Pombas, Paúl
Vila das Pombas, Paúl

The district of Pául with the coastal village of Vila das Pombas, from where the Ribeira do Paúl extends to the Cova Crater, is located about 10 kilometres east of Ribeira Grande. The little town of Passagem can be found at 250 metres above sea level in approximately the centre of the valley, which is very craggy is some places. A lovely swimming pool has been built here on several terrace plateaus. A narrow road runs from here in the direction of the ocean after 2 kilometres to the rural lodgings of Aldeia Manga, which consists of a number of straw-covered loam bungalows and a large stone house. These are ideal accommodations for hikers, who can start out on and finish many different hikes from here without needing a car.

About 2 kilometres further up, there is a nice little restaurant with many interesting homemade products at Alfred’s in Cha de João Vaz. The various liqueurs and grogue variations made by the Austrian who has already lived in Pául for more than 25 years. 

Vila das Pombas (Paúl) itself is located on a protected bay in the northeast of Santo Antão. Little houses painted in pastel colours, like the light-blue city hall, line the beach promenade here. Behind them are the sugar cane fields and coconut palms – it will remind you of Cuba. The little church and the blue city hall make Vila das Pombas a dreamy place.

Road from Ribeira Grande to Paúl
Road from Ribeira Grande to Paúl

If you follow the coastal road of Paúl in a northern direction, you will reach the little town of Sinagoga, a former settlement of Jewish immigrants.

In a southern direction, the coastal road runs through the Ribeira da Janela. After you pass a grogue distillery that lies directly on the street, you will reach the lighthouse of Janela, which was built in 1886. If you go towards the valley from Pontinha da Janela, you will reach a freestanding rock with petroglyphs (carved drawings) – the Pedra da Nossa Senhora — after 500 metres.

In the western part of the valley of Ribeira Grande, a worthwhile path runs along the Ribeira Graça to the little town of Chã de Igreja, which is picturesquely surrounded by green in a 50-metre deep, steeply sloping ravine. It’s not unusual for villagers here to decorate their houses, which stand around the village square that has a white church, with all types of flowers.

You can also reach the little village of Chã de Igreja from Ponta do Sol. When you take this equally interesting route of slopes and ravines, you will pass the scenic town of Fontainhas towering on a cliff. Other sights along the way are the authentic fishing villages of Corvo and Forminguinhas, as well as the town of Cruzinha da Graça on a promontory. The tour takes about five hours by foot. The driveable road street ends at Fontainhas, whose houses that appear to grow out of the mountain are surrounded by terraced fields and steep slopes. From here, it takes two more hours to walk to Forminguinhas.

Ponta do Sol, Santo Antão
Ponta do Sol, Santo Antão

If you follow the street from Ribeira Grande in a northwest direction, you will reach what may be the loveliest town of Santo Antãos, Ponta do Sol in the extreme north of the island. Colourful little fishing boats lie on a promontory, which extends into the Atlantic. The city hall on the town centre’s praça, a comparably large colonial building, appears to watch over everything here. The town’s white church with its beautiful gables is also located on the praça. You can find accommodations in hotels and small guesthouses. Restaurants and bars line the streets. Even the drive from Ribeira Grande to Ponta do Sol is an experience: The connecting road runs directly along the cliffs at the ocean.

The best way to explore the west is from Porto Novo. An expanded road leads to Ribeira das Patas, whose valley is bordered in some places by vertically rising cliffs (primarily near Lagedos). The highest elevation of the island, the Tope de Coroa with its elevation of 1980 metres, is located behind a green area in a western direction. It’s not much further from here to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, a green oasis on a sheltered bay. The dirt road from Ponte Sul to the interior of the island is quite adventurous, but you can drive there with the aluguer (shared taxi) or rent an off-road vehicle as a taxi (much more comfortable) directly from Porto Novo. A beautiful black lava beach that stretches for many kilometres awaits you there. The Tarrafal, which is very green due to a nearby spring, is protected against the wind in front of high cliffs. There are overnight accommodations in lovingly constructed natural-stone bungalows in a very beautiful, authentic complex (Mar Tranquilidade), which is run by a German-American couple.