São Vicente – The Cultural Island
Life on the very dry island of São Vicente mainly happens in the city of Mindelo, where more than 80% of the approximately 80,000 island residents live.
In terms of its landscape, São Vicente is dominated by the mighty Monte Verde peak (750 metres). Together with the two other mountain ranges (the Madeiral and Fateixa), it defines the appearance of the island. From here, you have a good view of the surrounding countryside and the city of Mindelo. On clear days, you can even see Santo Antão and beyond to the uninhabited islands of Santa Lucia, Branca and Raso. However, unlike the promise of its name, the mountain is not green. It consists of reddish-brown scree. Before the Sahel catastrophe, green beans and corn were grown on its ridges, which probably led to the coining of the name “Green Mountain.” The history of São Vicente is very closely connected with the city harbour of Mindelo. For a long time, Porto Grande was the largest harbour in the Atlantic and therefore the respective economic engine for the entire country. Even today, it’s still very important with its tremendous water depth, even if it’s now less frequented by the international shipping traffic due to the harbours that were built afterwards in Dakar and Las Palmas.
Many beggars and street children now live in slum-like conditions in Mindelo, which can be called a melting pot of the cultures, due to the decline of the harbour economy. Nevertheless, Mindelo has preserved its status as the cultural centre of the Cape Verdean archipelago. Because of the many sailors from around the world who were looking for amusement when they came through town, the city became the birthplace of the many, even internationally famous, music styles of Cape Verde such as morna or coladeira. However, you should not expect to find dreamy bars in which traditional music is spontaneously played every step of the way. As a result of globalisation, pop music has long become a part of the scene. Television with the Brazilian Telenovelas has also done its part in encouraging the city’s young people to stay at home in the evening instead of spending their time playing music in the streets. But well-known artists such Baú still perform in the clubs (such as Café Musique) and (also small) restaurants.
In addition to the harbour in Mindelo, you can also admire the Mercado de Peixe (fish market), the Torre de Belém (replica of the tower with the same name near Lisbon), the bronze busts of Diego Afonso, the shoreline street with its beautiful manors and, a bit further, the Esplanada or city park. In the Praça Nova quarter, an upscale neighbourhood with a plaza of the same name that has some pastel-coloured villas with stucco, the Quiosque Praça Nova with a lovely Art Noveau pavilion invites you to relax. People generally like to go for strolls here. In this quarter, which seems quite European, increasingly more shops and restaurants are opening their doors – Mindelo pulsates.
In the morning, you should visit one of the many classic cafes on the Rua Lisboa, which is now officially called Rua Libertadores d’Africa and, as many people say, is the soul of Mindelo. A market hall and the former governor’s palace in the classical style are located on this street. A visit to the old town, which is situated directly on the ocean and in front of the impressive panorama of the Cara Mountain, is obligatory! This district, which has a very African character with its flying traders, is home to the colonial Nossa Senhora da Luz church on the Praçinha da Igreja and the relatively well-stocked Casa Benefica department store. Further to the south, on the Praça Estrela with a pavilion and a few bars, African traders offer their goods (clothing, shoes and bric-a-brac, as well as fruit and vegetables). There is an Internet café on the Avenida Amílcar Cabral at the Centro Cultural do Mindelo, in which changing exhibitions are also displayed.
In the southwest of the island, windsurfers will find excellent wind conditions on the beach of the quiet little town of São Pedro. Surfers will also get their money’s worth at Sandy Beach. However, no corresponding infrastructure has been created yet. You can also go deep-sea fishing, diving and sailing here. There are even charter offers and skippers available.
The island airport, which has also been internationally certified since January 2010, is also located near São Pedro. However, it doesn’t cause any real noise pollution due to the limited number of take-offs and landings per day.
A beautiful, wind-protected bathing beach (the only one on the island that is safe for children) is situated in the northeast of the island, near the little town of Baía das Gatas. A music festival also takes place here every year in August.
Praia do Norte and de Praia Grande, both of which are very beautiful beaches, are located further to the south. But they are not suitable for swimming due to the heavy surf. Only an area of beach in the southeast of Praia do Norte, Praia da Ceilada/Calhau, offers better swimming conditions. In the town of Calhau, a well-groomed weekend village, you can also hear live music in the restaurants.