Santo Antão, the second largest island of the Capeverdean archipelago, is a paradise for hikers and trekkers. Breathtaking views, monumental valleys, houses built in almost vertical valley sides, vertiginous trekking trails... All of this surrounded by still intact nature and an agriculture nourishing entire Cape Verde. The trails are well maintained and often used on a daily basis by locals.
Don't be surprised when a granny carrying a big basket full of vegetables will overtake you on your trek... Most trails connect several villages and are well indicated. In case you get lost, just ask locals mentioning the name of the village that you are heading to. Some of these 8 creole expressions might be very helpful as well.
The number of hikes that you can do on Santo Antão, seems to be infinite. After staying 10 days, we've only seen half of the island and there were still some trails left that we wanted to explore. Here my selection of Santo Antão's most spectacular hikes and trails!
1. Valle de Paúl: Cova - Cidade das Pombas
2. Ponta do Sol - Chã de Igreja
This hike is one of the most popular ones of the island. It goes along the Northeastern coast and passes through villages with no access to paved roads. The views on the valleys and cliffs are some of the most impressive on the island. This hike is medium/difficult. It doesn't have a lot of increase, but it is quite long.
Due to the last raining season, the trail is damaged at some parts. Be prepared that it will be hard to find an aluguer in Chã de Igreja. You may organize your transport in advance or you take one of the taxis from Chã de Igreja back to your hotel. With some fellow hikers that we met on the trail, we got organized and shared the costs of a taxi. Many hikers pass the night in Chã de Igreja.
The trail starts in Ponta do Sol, the most touristy village of Santo Antão and a stronghold of French emigrants. For those who don't want to start their hike with an empty stomach, I recommend Residencial Sintanton Trekking, a hostel specialized on hikers. On its wall, it has a large map with the most popular treks of the island. Staff will be glad to share their valuable hiking knowledge with you.
The path leads you along the graveyard and further on along pigsties. After 1 hour you reach Fontainhas, Cape Verde's most picturesque village. After descending sharp serpentines, you reach Corvo. Here you have a bar if you want to refresh. We continue on the trail to Formiguinhas ("little ants"). On our way we meet cobblestone producers and youngsters accompanied by their fully charged donkeys.
We reach Forminguinhas and it's the perfect place to have lunch. You have the choice between Sonia's and Isabel's bar. Sonia's bar serves lunch (better reserve in advance) and offers very spare rooms as well for those who don't want to continue until Cha de Igreja. Sonia cooks traditional basic Capeverdean food and she is such a friendly lady. We just didn't want to leave!
Calculate 2-3 hours from Formiguinhas to Cha de Igreja. Until Formiguinhas you'll have no rest points until Cruzinha (2 h walk). Make sure to carry enough water or stock up in Formiguinhas.
The trail leads you in sometimes dazzling heights to the Aranhas valley. By now it is abandoned and serves as pasture ground for the herds of the surrounding villages. The house ruins give the landscape a very particular atmosphere. The lush green color of Aranha valley contrasts with the rocky coasts we've been seeing so far.
On the way to Cruzinha, the next village, you'll walk along several beaches. Although a bath seems very tempting, you shouldn't even set a foot on them. The tights and drifts are extremely strong and easily underestimated. Every year tourists become victims of the sea, because they didn't want to renounce on a refreshing bath.
After 1 hour, we reach Cruzinha, a small fishermen village with breathtaking views on the coast and the ocean. Cruzinha has a few accommodation options as well. Just before you reach Cruzinha, drivers will already await you at the end of the trail to offer you their taxi services. Don't hesitate to negotiate in case you don't want to continue walking until Cha de Igreja.
Cha de Igreja is set in a fertile valley and it feels so good to be back among civilization after 6 hours hiking. The center of the village is very well maintained and holds a lot of lovely photo motives. I loved the relaxing atmosphere of this place. From Cha de Igreja we got back by aluguer to Ribeira Grande from ~25€. Don't hesitate to ask the driver to stop during the ride, since the valley of Cha de Igreja holds some spectacular views for you.
3. Ribeira Grande - Fontainhas
Difficulty: Easy - Duration: 3h
Where to Stay: Cantinho da Amizade
Since we were based in Ribeira Grande, we wanted to do a hike which didn't include any public transportation. Ribeira Grande is one of the larger villages of Santo Antão and is a great starting point to discover the island. It's not as touristy as Ponta do Sol, aluguers are easy to catch and the town has several good restaurant options.
A part of this hike is done on the asphalted road connecting Ribeira Grande to Ponta do Sol. The views on the rocky coast and the valleys are tremendous. Before reaching Ponta do Sol (1h30 from Ribeira Grande), you'll pass along a poor settlement of tile makers. As we were approaching, kids run to us, asking for pencils.
Unfortunately we didn't have some, but I promised myself to get some at the next village. That's how I ended up buying 20 pencils in Ponta do Sol and handed them out on our way home to Ribeira Grande. I've never seen happier kids and we'd hear their jolly shouting even after leaving the settlement. Since then we always carried pencils in our backpack. In many more villages that we hiked through, kids approached us asking for pencils.
For those who want to recover bit in Ponta do Sol, I recommend Residencial Sinanton Trekking. Using the same trail as at the beginning of the hike from Ponta do Sol to Chã de Igreja, the path goes along the graveyard. After 1h30 you reach Fontainhas. Due to its unique setting in the mountains above a fertile valley, Fontainhas is a very popular postcard motive. For many it's Cape Verde's most picturesque village. And if you want to visit only 1 village of Santo Antão, then Fontainhas. It's just impressive how the houses are enthroning on the giant cliff. During rain season, the waterfalls make the setting even more dramatic.
We loved to soak up its particularly calm atmosphere. The colourful house fronts, people working on their fields in breathtaking heights, now and then a cock crow and the distant sound of the waves...
The best place to forget about time is Bar Tchú. The owner makes this a uniquely welcoming place. With his big smile, you'll feel at home from the moment you step in. Tchú usually serves one daily menu made by ingredients of the surrounding gardens. I also recommend his self-made fruit juices. Every other ingredient that doesn't grow in the fertile valley, he gets it from Ribeira Grande. Consequently several days a week, he walks all the way to Ribeira Grande to get the beers and cokes he serves in his bar. At (too) cheap prices. With a heavy heart, we say goodbye to Tchú and hike back home the same way we came from Ribeira Grande.
4. Corda - Coculi
Difficulty: Difficult - Duration: 6-7h
Where to Stay: Hotel Paul Mar
We choose this trail upon the recommendation of a Swiss hiker, we met in our hostel. Although this is a very tough one, we never regretted our choice to hike from Corda to Coculi. The views on unsettled valleys and the blue ocean as background will leave you speechless for several moments. The trail leads you through villages that are not used to see tourists. On the fields, you'll see the authentic Capeverdean life of Santo Antão.
Get an aluguer to Corda (departing from Ribeira Grande). The trail starts at the school of Corda whose inhabitants will be glad to show you the direction. Following the trail, you'll walk along the fields of intensive terrace cultivation and small wooden huts. You'll see plenty of guayaba, papaya and bread fruit trees.
Following the beaten track, you'll be all of a sudden in front of a gorgeous panorama view of a lush green valley. The trail goes along a wall and it's definitely nothing for those who are afraid of hights. Soon you'll catch sight of Coculi, down in the valley. But it is still a very long and steel way down. The path descends in sharp serpentines and after 2-3 hours, we finally reach a first village: Figueiral.
This place is full of sugar cane and papaya trees. It's definitely one of the remotest places we've been so far. There's just one little shop selling water and fruit juices.
We are impressed by the terrace cultivation and how people are not afraid to cultivate their fields or carry heavy baskets in dizzying heights. Finally we get on a paved road again! Here we met a 82-year old lady who tells us that in her youth she did the trail to Corda (ascending!) in 1-2 hours.We needed 3-4 hours to descend! In her flip-flops, she overtook us laughing out loud...
It's getting strenuous, but luckily we meet a lot of people during our hike. Capeverdeans use to greet everybody (Tud drett?). When we finally reach Coculi, surrounded by a myriad of palm trees, we're starving.
The city has good infrastructures (hospitals, super markets etc.) We have a delicious lunch/dinner at one of the only restaurants in town. In those places, you usually can't choose from a menu card. You'll eat the "Prato do Dia" (Daily Menu) or nothing. From Coculi, you'll get back to Ribeira Grande by aluguer or by foot.
Corda - Coculi was definitely one of the longest hikes we had, but also one of those that marked us the most: remote village, sharp serpentines, plenty of fruit trees... Simply mind-blowing!
5. Ribeira Grande - Xoxo
Difficulty: Easy - Duration: 3 hours
Where to Stay: Kasa Xoxo
If you're looking for a short hike with great views in a short distance from Ribeira Grande, then Xoxo village might be the right one for you. Although my main reason for this hike was the funny name of the village. By aluguer we got to Xoxo. It's set in the slope and the trail through the village takes about 1-2h until you're on the top.
Xoxo preserved its authentic charm and again, I was impressed by the elder ladies who carried their heavy baskets on their head. Or children carrying gas bottles. Obviously, the people of Santo Antão are used to steep hillsides. Whereas we foreigners are just watching them out of breath.
From the top of Xoxo village you'll have an amazing view on the valley of Ribeira Grande. The trail goes further upwards, but we decided that we'd rather go back. Our feet were just hurting too much from our previous hikes... On the way back, on the right, just after leaving Xoxo, you'll be close to a gorgeous waterfall. If you walk for half an hour more, you'll be in front of a lovely tiny restaurant whose terrace has a stunning view on the mountains surrounding Xoxo.**
Again, there are no menu options, you'll just have one "prato do dia", daily menu. It was incredibly delicious and cheap. And again, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the people of Santo Antao. In case you want to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings of Xoxo for a longer time, I recommend a stay in the lovely country house Kasa Xoxo.
From the centre of Xoxo, it's still about 1 hour to get back to Ribeira Grande. Which we did by hitch-hiking. Our feet just were hurting too much.
**EDIT: The Waterfall of Xoxo might be dried out during the dry season. As an alternative you can swim in the natural swimming pools on front of Restaurant Melicia. Many thanks, Samer and his blog for the update.
6. Ribeira Grande - Sinagoga
Difficulty: Easy - Duration 2 hours
Where to stay: Casa das Ilhas
Santo Antão is not particularly known for its beaches. Tides are very strong and waves often very high. You'll basically be always surrounded by the sea, but you can't swim in it. Despite hot temperatures. The greater was my joy, when I heard about the natural swimming pools in Sinagoga.
As usual, you get there by aluguer or you can walk along the road connecting Cidade das Pombas with Ribeira Grande. In Sinagoga you have a few bars and a little shop (mercearia in creole), where you can stock up on water and snacks.
The name of the village come from a Jewish community that got ex-pulsed from Portugal and found a new home in Santo Antão. Nowadays you can still see the impressive ruins of the synagogue. After the Jewish community extinguished, the building was used as a sanatorium to help leprosy patients. Despite the macabre historical background, the ruins are a great photo motive.
The natural swimming pools are a bit hard to find. When you come from Ribeira Grande, you'll turn left after a huge rock, following the sign "Beach Bar", before you even enter the village. If you can't find the path, ask the locals, they'll be happy to help you out.
The path leads you down towards the ruins of the synagogue and the swimming pools. If you continue on the same path, you'll get on a large beach which is very popular among (experienced!) surfers. Be careful! Here as well the tides are very strong and will just swallow you.
That is why we just got into the water until our hips and contented ourselves by watching the surfers. Nevertheless the views on the cliffs are impressive and sunset was just amazing. In all, Sinagoga is the perfect place for a "take-it-easy" day.
Extra: Beach Time in Tarrafal
Tarrafal lies in the South-Eastern part of Santo Antão island. It's much flatter and it boasts some of the best beaches on the island. If not the only ones. The beaches in Tarrafal area are the only ones that can be used without any worries. But still here, be aware, the Atlantic Ocean is very powerful.
The beaches of Tarrafal have black sand and are several hundred meters long. It's magical indeed.
The route from Porto Novo to Tarrafal takes approximately two hours; first on an asphalt road, then on a cobbled road and finally taking a dirt track – the most beautiful part of the route, where one can admire a breathtaking landscape.
Along the road you'll probably meet some shepherds with their goat herds. Thanks to abundant spring water, a large variety of fruits and vegetables can be produced: mango, banana, papaya, bread-fruit, sugar cane, yam, manioc, maize, beans...
It is a perfect place for trekking, swimming, snorkelling, fishing and unwind.
If you are looking for a nice place to stay for a longer period I can recommend the eco-friendly resort Kasa Xoxo.
Have you visited Santo Antão? Can you recommend any hikes? I'd love to read about them in the comment form...
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