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Santo Antão is the green paradise of Cape Verde, whose rugged mountain landscapes and picturesque little villages charm with their beauty time and time again. Both tourists and Cape Verdeans always answer “Santo Antão” when asked what is the most beautiful island in Cape Verde. I guess it has to be true then, especially after we saw this ourselves in October 2022 during our own trip to Sao Vicente.
HIKER’S GREEN PARADISE
Santo Antão is located in the northern part of Cape Verde and its green mountains offer a true hiker’s paradise. You don’t go to Santo Antão for a beach vacation, but to enjoy nature, outdoor activities, fresh air and nature’s own tropical swimming pools. Santo Antão is the second largest island in all of Cape Verde and its highest peaks are Topo de Coroa (1,979 m) and Pico da Cruz (1,585 m).
Due to its challenging terrain, the island no longer has its own airport and the nearest airport is on the island of Sao Vicente, from where you can take a ferry to Santo Antão. The ferry ride takes a little less than an hour, and on the way you can enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the sea views. After spending a few days in Sao Vicente, we caught the morning ferry to Santo Antão and for me this was the first ferry trip in Cape Verde, so we spent the whole trip on deck in the morning sun. I was expecting to see dolphins and turtles, but they didn’t hit our route this time.
PORTO NOVO – THE HARBOUR CITY OF THE ISLAND
Porto Novo is the harbour city of the island and the core of all services, if you can say that on this island. All ships arrive here and so did ours. Outside the port, there are a lot of local island tour providers waiting, from which you can either grab your own right away or rent your own car from one of the Porto Novo’s car rental companies. We did neither, because we hopped on an aluguer, (minibus), and headed to the other side of the island towards Ribeira Grande, where our first accommodation was located. Our trip went through the most beautiful mountain and coastal landscapes of the whole island and this was only 4 euros per person.
We stayed at the small apartment hotel called La Menor* in the Ribeira Grande valley. The accommodation was comfortable and our apartment was a penthouse with a large roof terrace. For a small additional fee, the lodge served a really rich and delicious breakfast according to your wishes, as well as a laundry service. Upon separate request, the lodge’s restaurant also prepares dinner for hungry adventurers, and since the island is not a place for night owls, this dinner really came in handy a couple of times.
Ribeira Grande also offers a number of services, from restaurants to small boutiques, and from here it’s easy to grab an aluguer and explore the island’s other villages and natural attractions. Santo Antão is not a place for international card payments, so prepare enough local currency in cash for your trip. Escudos can be easily obtained from every machine on the Cape Verde islands with your own card, but in Santo Antão there are limited machines only in the bigger villages.
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PONTA DO SOL – THE NORTHERNMOST VILLAGE
Ponta do Sol is located 4km from Ribeira Grande and is the northernmost village on the island. Ponta do Sol was once only a small fishing village, but in the 1880s the place began to be developed and more residential buildings were built.
Fontainhas is a popular attraction and definitely a place worth experiencing. Fontainhas is a beautiful little village in the middle of steep mountains in a valley leading down to the sea, just 2km from Ponta do Sol. Fontainhas is a bit similar to Tenerife’s Masca valley, but in my opinion Fontainhas is even more beautiful.
LOMBO DE SANTA
This place is not mentioned anywhere when searching for information about the best must see places on the island. We also managed to visit here only because my husband’s friend is from here and happened to be on the island visiting his home exactly at the same time as our trip. Lombo de Santa is a tiny village in the middle of the mountains, where there are no tourists and the local houses are small farmhouses on the slopes of the mountain. We sat admiring the scenery next to the road, ate fruit straight from the trees in our yard and just enjoyed the silence. This place stuck in my mind as one of my favorite places on the whole island, in all its simplicity and untouchedness.
VALE DO PAÚL
Paul is definitely the most beautiful place on the whole island. Whereas in Porto Novo the hot sun is scorching and you can lie on the dark sandy beaches of the island, in Ribeira Grande and Ponta do Sol the sun also shines from time to time and the villages mainly serve as resting places while exploring nature, the tropical environment of the Paul Valley is like its own world.
In Paul Valley, the climate is more humid and the valley bursts with greenery and tropical fruit trees more than any other place on the island. Paul valley is a popular attraction and place to stay for many travelers precisely for these reasons, and the valley’s several natural swimming pools are like a wet and wonderful cherry on top of this tropical cake. In Paul, you can find a variety of accommodation from luxury to budget, as well as good restaurants, and my favorite restaurant is definitely Casa Maracuja, where you can definitely find something for every taste without being disappointed.
Xoxo is also like the Paul valley, a tropically green and nice area, where you should definitely visit and enjoy your daily swim by taking a dip either in a flowing river or in a nice natural swimming pool.
HIKING IN SANTO ANTãO
There are plenty of different hiking trails on the island, each of which is worth exploring. The difficulty level of the routes varies, and you certainly won’t have time to do them all during one vacation trip. Popular routes include, for example, Cova de Paúl – Vale do Paúl, Ribeira Grande – Ponta do Sol – Fontainhas, Chã da Igreja route, Corda – Coculi. We traveled most of the sights, viewpoints and most wonderful routes with a private rental car, but the Paúl’s route was a must-do for us as well and this route I can definetely recommend from personal experience.
Our day of hiking the Paúl route happened to be rainy and humid, so the view of the crater (Cova) and the valley to our was totally covered in clouds, and the wet cobbles on the steep route didn’t really help me with my fear of high places, while my local husband just casually trudged down the winding serpentine route with only flip flops on his feet. Maybe next time we can enjoy the view with the sun.
I also recommend exploring many other routes and even just aimlessly driving and going from one place to another. I will never forget the feeling when we drove up the Corda road so far up high that the cloud covers remained below and the sun was shining from a clear sky above, with nature flowing green and untouched in front of us. The landscape above the clouds reminded me of the eternal Finnish summer.
LOCAL TREATS FOR SOUVENIER
Cape Verde is known for its local drink grogue, which is a strong alcoholic drink made from sugar cane in Santo Antão. In Santo Antão, you should definitely visit the grogue factory and grab a bottle or two of this strong treat, as well as my personal favorite, Ponche, which is a slightly sweeter local drink.
In Santo Antão, the people are friendly and hospitable, and here you should bravely visit, for example, the local farms to ask for products to buy. Many times the farmers are happy to sell some of their products to interesting visitors. We grabbed for ourselves goat cheese, goat milk, corn, different fruits straight from the trees and many other delights for both snacks and souvenirs. The island is a world of its own, offering a local atmosphere, untouched nature, wonderful scenery and affordable prices. Santo Antão is a perfect counterbalance to Sal’s flat sandy terrain and even though Sal’s beaches are the home of this beach girl, Santo Antão’s greenery is always tempting to relax again and again.
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Have you already travelled to Santo Antao? Or are you planning a trip to Cape Verde in the near future? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below! 🙂
<3: Tiina Johanna
*Photos: Tiina Johanna, blogger
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