Santo Antão is the wildest and greenest island of Cape Verde. You'll love the fantastic mountains of Santo Antão, where towering cliffs hide enchanting villages along adventurous serpentine roads.
Santo Antão is the second largest island of Cape Verde after Santiago and is located in the northwest of the archipelago. On it, seemingly all existing landscapes have come together, from rugged peaks and vertiginous gorges to rocky coasts and sandy beaches, from desert-like lunar landscapes to fertile valleys and tropical diversity.
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Pictures: Santo Antão Island, Cape Verde
Santo Antão is perfect for mountain enthusiasts - full of steep cliffs, dizzying mountain roads, fantastic viewpoints and well-developed hiking trails amidst magnificent scenery. The best example is the breathtaking Ribeira Fonteinhas.
By the way, the hiking trails on Santo Antão are of the finest quality. Since even the locals cover enormous distances on them every day, they are optimally maintained. And please don't get frustrated when a schoolchild in flip-flops walks uphill twice as fast as many a European in his sinfully expensive mountain boots!
Most of the population of Santo Antão now lives in the cities, but has retained in its heart the constancy and melancholy of a typical mountain people. They express their raw melancholy, among other things, in colá, the native folk dance.
Agriculture on Santo Antão
In the south and west, Santo Antão presents itself rather desolate and desert-like, but on the other side of the island there is a tropical climate, which allows an almost lavish vegetation to flourish. Spruces, pines, acacias, baobabs and dragon trees stretch their tops to the sky, as do numerous fruit trees with mangoes, oranges, figs, lemons, papayas, dates and coconuts growing on their branches.
The fertile soil, which is partly pitch-black from the admixed lava, is also used for agriculture despite the low rainfall. And so coffee, pineapple, maize and manioc are cultivated on laboriously laid out terraced fields on the mountain slopes.
Tip: In November/December, after the rainy season, Santo Antão shows its greenest side, densely covered by flowering sugar cane. Incidentally, this is harvested in March and fresh grogue can be tasted shortly afterwards.
Porto Novo is located in the southeast, where the omnipresent wind blows the dust of Africa onto the coast, and is considered the gateway to the island for visitors. After Ribeira Grande, Porto Novo is the second largest town on the island of Santo Antão and was once an important port of Cape Verde.
The lively markets offer freshly caught fish, goat cheese and the traditional Cape Verdean grogue. At the harbour, ferries and fishing boats are constantly coming and going.
The main street is lined with historic stately homes and, as in every town, the obligatory church is a must. The colonial buildings are increasingly being replaced by concrete buildings as Porto Novo grows. Most travellers arrive in Porto Novo and leave immediately, only a few venture out on hikes through the dusty heat on the western plateau.
Adventure Trip from Porto Novo to Ribeira Grande
If you have time and want to experience the contrasts on Santo Antão to the full, you should start the journey from Porto Novo to Ribeira Grande on the old cobblestone road instead of the boring asphalt road. The road, lined with steep rocky cones, leads up to the volcano Cova de Paúl, which stretches its crater almost 1,000 metres above sea level.
Tip: If you want to take this unique route by taxi or shared taxi, you have to point this out to the taxi driver, otherwise you will reach your destination in no time via the asphalt road.
Amidst craggy rocks, a breathtaking panoramic view opens up over the Ribeira do Paúl valley behind and the north coast of Santo Antão. On a clear day, you can even see Monte Verde on the neighbouring island of São Vicente in the distance.
The village of Corda, which seems to grow out of the volcano, nestles on the flanks of the mountain. Once you have passed it, the rest of the way is not for the faint-hearted! The road winds along a ridge that drops almost vertically to the right and left.
Vila das Pombas and Ribeira do Paúl
The coastal village of Vila das Pombas lies in a sheltered bay about 10 kilometres east of Ribeira Grande. With its cosy beach promenade, pastel-coloured houses, small church and sky-blue town hall, the village exudes an enchanting charm that has earned it a place on our list of the top 10 places to visit in Cape Verde.
If you follow the coastal road further north, you will reach Sinagoga, where the Jewish population of Santo Antão once settled.
To the south, the coastal road leads through the lush landscape of the Ribeira da Janela. Besides the dense vegetation, a grogue distillery and the lighthouse of Janela from 1886 await the interested visitor in the Ribeira da Janela. In Portinha da Janela, it is worth taking a short detour about 500m up the valley. There you can discover rock carvings on a free-standing stone.
Hikes with Caribbean flair
Vila das Pombas is considered the gateway to the rugged and vegetated valley "Ribeira do Paúl" in the district of the same name.
Behind Vila das Pombas, the wild and romantic valley extends to the crater of Coya do Paúl. Coconut palms and sugar cane plantations create an atmosphere like in the Caribbean. Around its centre, the Ribeira do Paúl is home to the enchanting nest of Passagem. Visitors appreciate the village for its beautiful terraced swimming pool in an absolutely gorgeous setting.
About 2 kilometres from Passagem is Aldeia Manga. The guesthouse, which consists of a stone house and several mud-brick buildings, is the optimal starting point for hikes in the surrounding area.
Alfred's restaurant is recommended for hungry hikers and especially for German-speaking travellers. The nice restaurant of the native Austrian is located about 2 kilometres above the Aldeia Manga in Cha de João Vaz and provides its guests with home-made products. Especially his excellent liqueurs and grogue variations are worth a taste.
The capital of Sao Antão is located in the valley of the same name, Ribeira Grande, in the north-east of the island. The inhabitants of the capital, who have hardly been developed for tourism, spread a lively atmosphere in the winding alleys and stairways of Ribeira Grande.
The bank, post office, main offices and a variety of pubs attract many locals to Ribeira Grande. The few hotels are complemented by smaller guesthouses that offer good service and hospitality.
The centre of Ribeira Grande is the Praça with the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário, a massive church with a comparatively tiny bell tower. Nearby is an internet café and the Mercado Municipal, a city market selling mainly food. In the north of Ribeira Grande there is a separate textile market.
Chã de Igreja and Ribeira Fonteinhas
In the west of the valley of Ribeira Grande, in a gorge about 50m deep, lies the enchanting settlement of Chã de Igreja. In the village square there is a pretty snow-white church. The central square is surrounded by nice houses, which are often decorated by their inhabitants with magnificent floral decorations.
The route from Chã de Igreja to Ponta do Sol is absolutely breathtaking. Along steep slopes and rugged ravines, you reach the village of Fontainhas, which seems to grow out of the steep mountain flanks. You can get here by car, but on foot the hike takes about three hours.
At Fonteinhas at the latest, however, the vehicle is no longer needed and you can set off on another two-hour hike to the coast. On foot, you pass the unspoilt fishing villages of Corvo and Forminguinhas and finally reach Cruzinha da Graça, which juts picturesquely into the sea on a headland.
Ponta do Sol
If you follow the road through the Ribeira Fonteinhas to the northwest, you will reach Ponta do Sol at the northernmost tip of the island. Ponta do Sol is often called the most beautiful place on Santo Antão. Colourful fishing boats are moored on the idyllic headland, restaurants and bars entice visitors with their delicious smells, and hotels and small guesthouses gladly welcome guests.
The centre here is also the village square with a white church, dominated by the magnificent colonial building of the town hall. The Presidential Villa in Ponta do Sol, the second residence of the President of Cape Verde, with its fantastic garden, is also magnificent.
On the way to the west coast of Santo Antão
Also from Porto Novo, a road leads to the Ribeira das Patas in the centre of the island. It impresses above all with its cliffs that rise vertically into the sky. The road continues west to Tope de Coroa, Santo Antão's highest mountain at 1980 metres.
On this route, which is a bit bumpy after Ponte Sul and best travelled by off-road vehicle, the next destination is the town of Tarrafal de Monte Trigo on the west coast of the island (not to be confused with Tarrafal in the north of Santiago Island or on São Nicolau).
Tarrafal de Monte Trigo
After the arduous journey, Tarrafal de Monte Trigo is a wonderful oasis of peace and relaxation. The pitch-black lava beach in the sheltered bay of Tarrafal de Monte Trigo stretches for several kilometres and is considered the most beautiful beach in Santo Antão. Behind Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, huge rock cliffs rise into the azure sky.
Those who want to spend the night in this idyllic oasis are welcomed by the "Mar Tranquilidade", a nice natural stone complex. The bungalows are maintained by Susi and Frank, a German-American couple. They once came to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo by sailboat and never wanted to leave. Somehow understandable.