São Vicente is neither known as a bathing nor a hiking island, its focus is clearly on cultural diversity. Nevertheless, Monte Verde offers breathtaking views over the island and one or the other beach can also be found.
The island of São Vicente lies in the northwest of Cape Verde. Plagued by drought, it hardly reveals a patch of green between volcanic mountains and light-coloured dunes.
Due to its natural deep-sea harbour, São Vicente is a fascinating melting pot of peoples from all over the world. Probably the most European island of Cape Verde, with magnificent colonial buildings, it is often referred to as the "cultural capital" of the archipelago.
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80% of São Vicente's population lives in Mindelo, the island's capital. This metropolis is where the life of the island takes place and where life on the island originated, so to speak. The lively little town is on our list of the top 10 sights of Cape Verde.
Over the centuries, seafarers brought their art and culture with them and left some of it in Mindelo. As a result, the city is often called the cultural capital of Cape Verde. The well-known musical styles Morna and Coladeira originated here. Unfortunately, pop music has now also found its way to São Vicente and traditional folk music is no longer played on every corner.
However, there is still always live music in cafés and restaurants. The musical performances called "Noite Caboverdeana" usually start between 8 and 9 pm and take place in various restaurants. Who is playing where and when is announced on notices and signs. The better the music and the better the food, the sooner a table has to be reserved.
Port of Mindelo
The port of Mindelo, the Porto Grande, is a natural harbour and is located at an underwater crater. Due to its unusual depth, it was the largest port in the Atlantic for a long time and drove the economy on São Vicente. It is still one of the most important Atlantic ports today, along with Dakar and Las Palmas, due to its great depth.
Of course, at such an internationally important port, the most diverse peoples dock, and so Mindelo is a veritable melting pot of cultures from all over the world.
Port promenade Avenida da República
The waterfront street Avenida da República at the port of Mindelo is lined with palm trees and magnificent 19th century merchant houses. At its end is the Esplanada, Mindelo's city park, which invites you to take a stroll. Women sell fruit and vegetables on the street and in the market hall, most of which is imported fresh from the neighbouring island of Santo Antão.
On the Avenida da República you will find colourful hustle and bustle in the Mercado de Peixe, Mindelo's fish market from 1928, where fresh fish are weighed, cut up, scaled, neatly lined up and then sold amid loud haggling. Right next to it is the Torre de Belém. A replica of the tower of the same name in Lisbon, it exudes a touch of Portuguese flair. Since 1937, the concrete block has served as the harbour master's office.
Avenida da República leads directly into Avenida Amilcar Cabral. Culture lovers will be interested in the Centro Cultural do Mindelo in the former customs house, where changing exhibitions are shown. There is also an internet café and a bookshop. Mindelo's tourist information office is located on Praça Gonçalvo Gones.
In the morning, a breakfast coffee is recommended in one of the traditional cafés on Rua Lisboa, which branches off directly from the waterfront road. Rua Lisboa is also called "Soul of Mindelo", but is actually called "Rua Libertadores d'Africa". This is where you can supposedly hear the heart of the city beating. From the Biblioteca Municipal, the first mayor's office built in 1858, it leads directly to the Palácio Presidencial, a classicist two-storey building.
Old Town Quarter
Also worth a visit is the old town quarter of Mindelo, which is bordered by Avenida da República and Rua Lisboa. It lies directly between the Atlantic Ocean and the towering Monte Cara. The most important sights are on Rua da Luz.
For example, the Paços do Concelho town hall. It dates back to 1873 and was planned when Mindelo was still to become the capital of Cape Verde. Right after it, the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Luz, completed in 1863, is enthroned on the Praçinha da Igreja. Diagonally behind the town hall is the Mercado Municipal.
In the very African old town, especially on Praça Estrela with its numerous bars, flying traders offer African clothes, shoes, handicrafts, kitsch and fruit and vegetables. More food and other things for daily use can be found in the well-stocked shop Casa Benefica.
Avenida 5 de Julho branches off from Rua Lisboa. Lined with banks, offices and the Hotel Mindelo, it leads directly to Praça Nova, the city's most important square. The new building of the British Telegraph Company and the Centro Nacional de Artesanto, significant as a historic radio building, stand on the beautifully landscaped green space. Every evening, Mindelo's young people meet at Praça Nova to see and be seen, to stroll and to socialise.
Noble quarter Praça Nova
On your city walk through Mindelo, you should not miss the posh Praça Nova district. Magnificent villas in pleasant pastel colours line the streets here. The best way to enjoy the picturesque ambience is to take a break in the pretty Art Nouveau pavilion at Quiosque Praça. Looking around, you feel more like you're in Europe than on an African island state, and new shops and eateries are popping up all the time.
Beaches on São Vicente
Holidaymakers don't come to São Vicente for a swim. The beaches may seem romantic, but the waves of the Atlantic are usually too wild and the currents too treacherous for swimmers. However, long walks on the beach with the roar of the sea as a backdrop are of course just as appealing.
São Pedro Beach
The relaxed village of São Pedro in the southwest of the island is known for its attractive sandy beach. Although it is close to the island's airport, the infrequent take-offs and landings hardly disturb it. Sailors, windsurfers and surfers enjoy the excellent conditions and divers and deep-sea fishermen also have their bases here.
Apart from that, however, there is no infrastructure at all at São Pedro beach. You have to bring your own food, shade and sunbeds. To the west of the beach, you can take the one-hour walk to the Dona Ana Maria lighthouse.
Due to the high waves, São Pedro beach is not really suitable for swimming and definitely not for children.
Baía das Gatas (Cat Shark Bay)
The perfect family beach is in Baía das Gatas on the east coast of São Vicente. The bay is sheltered from the wind and attracts with calm seas and crystal-clear water. During the week there is almost nothing going on here, at the weekend the guests come from Mindelo.
There is excellent dining on the beach and in the village. Around the full moon in August, Baía das Gatas is the scene of a music festival. People party and dance until the early hours of the morning.
Praia do Norte and the Praia Grande
South of Baía das Gatas there are two more beautiful beaches, Praia do Norte and Praia Grande, which are also only suitable as bathing beaches in very small sections due to the heavy surf.
At Praia do Norte lies the village of Calhau, where you can dine to lively live music in the restaurants, especially at weekends. By the way, the beach section at Calhau is not quite as dangerous as the rest of Praia do Norte.
Mountain World on São Vicente
Even from the ferry, one notices the towering Monte Verde ("green mountain"), with the two mountain ranges Madeiral and Fateixa on its flanks. However, the 750m high ruler of the island is anything but green, but on the contrary consists of brown-grey scree.
Ascent of Monte Verde
Monte Verde can be climbed and rewards the hike with a fantastic panoramic view of the island. The drive leads through the suburbs of Mindelo towards Baía das Gatas. About 4km after Mindelo, the path to the summit branches off to the right.
The numerous serpentines up to the high plateau with antenna and transmission masts can also be driven by car. On a clear day, not only the Ilhas Desertas, the uninhabited islands of Cape Verde Santa Lucia, Branca and Raso are visible, but also the neighbouring island Santo Antão.