Rice terraces, fresh figs, papayas, devastating ravines and sugar cane swaying like spurs in the wind. The landscape of the island of Santo Antão in Cape Verde differs so much from the much more popular SAL charter island that it is difficult to understand that it is in the same country. Instead, huge hotel complexes and sun loungers are replaced by spiky green mountains and spectacular lava beaches. An island that does not find many people, and that is precisely why the effort to reach it is worth it.
>> The trip to Cape Varde was completed at the end of November 2019 <
Getting to Santo Antão takes some time
Arriving in Santo Antão means for us a flight from Stockholm to SAL (Ving, direct flight, 2000 sek round trip), an overnight stay in the city of Esparog in SAL (400 sek / double room and breakfast), a domestic SAL flight to the island of Sao Vicente (Binter Cabo Verde, 45 min, 1800 sec round trip), and then a ferry from São Vicente to Santo Antão (1 hour, ticket purchased at the port, 160 sec round trip).
But as soon as we leave the Porto Novo marina and head into the countryside with the wind blowing our hair, every hour of travel is worth it. We are sitting on the platform of the van that will take us in the last hour to the accommodation in Páuldalen. The road winds along the Atlantic Ocean on one side and sand-colored rocky clumps on the other. Every now and then we pass through a small town with facades of colorful houses and exotic fruits piled up in small shops.
Santo Antão is still very touristy due to its inaccessibility. The mountainous landscape makes the island devoid of sandy beaches like, for example, the SAL charter island. On the other hand, it is a paradise for those who want to walk through unbeatable landscapes. Or: for those who just want to spend a little more time with themselves.
Overlooking the Paul Valley: Casa das Ilhas – accommodation in Santo Antão
house of the islands is the name of the bright yellow accommodation we booked (3-500 sek / double room). It is nestled a little up in the pompous valley of Pául. Here you live among clouds of clouds and a forest of fluffy sugar cane. The path does not go to the accommodation, but it is a very steep hike that is applied every time you go up or down.
Every day it is possible to reserve for the homemade dinner (100 sec) together with other guests in the accommodation. If you prefer to live with your own watch of food and sleep, there is the Chez Hujo hotel, which is located next to the road. Serves a good omelette, freshly squeezed mango juice, and useful wifi. I even manage to hold a Zoom conference with Berghs course participants early one morning.
Hiking in Santo Antão # 1: The Paul Valley
We do two full-day hikes in Santo Antão, the first in the beautiful Paul Valley. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to reproduce exactly how we walked, the director gives us a map drawn by herself that seems extremely logical when she explains it, but totally elusive once we are on the road.
Figs and bunches of papaya hang from the trees, sometimes a house of mud and straw, sometimes a pig with its young chained to a palm tree. The rice fields undulate along the slopes and below, among the emerald green massifs, the Atlantic gleams. Tufts of clouds like cotton candy travel at breakneck speed, sometimes under our feet, sometimes in a purple hue.
The views are so magnificent that it almost feels difficult to breathe. I take a deep breath to, as it were, save as much as possible in the lungs, the blood, the memory, the soul, but somewhere along the way I realize that it is not possible and that is when the indicated exhalation arrives. What to do with everything beautiful? I’d rather swallow it all and save myself forever.
The hike is easy because you are constantly following a trampled path or stairs. But it always goes downhill or uphill. That is why I recommend appropriate shoes, at least not sandals. As I was stingy in booking the plane ticket with Ving and did not pay an extra 300 sek for checked luggage, I have traveled to Cape Verde for a week with only 6 kg of carry-on luggage (promise a separate post about packing). Instead of a pair of walking shoes, I have prioritized my MacBook at 1.7kg and traveled in sneakers. In fact, it works unexpectedly well even for walks. But like I said: you need at least one pair of real shoes.
The weather in Santo Antão is perfect for hiking. In Páuldalen it is around 22 degrees because there are almost always clouds there, while the next day it is around 26-28 degrees and the bright sun when we walk along the coast. The temperature of the water is approximately the same as that of the air, 23-25 degrees. And the best. Apparently, temperatures in Cape Verde should be roughly the same year-round.
“Casa de Sandra” we say if we get lost and then a friendly local appears behind some sugar cane plant and points us in the right direction. Sandra lives in a town made up of a few houses clinging to the crest of a massif. There he sells coffee and soft drinks to anyone who can climb the mountain. The view consists of a 360 degree view with green mountains and valleys throughout infinity.
After Sandra we pass another house where you can buy soft drinks, and after that is the “Ivones house”, which is the landmark before arriving.
Hiking in Santo Antão # 2: From Cruzinha to Ponta do Sol
The second day we decided to walk by the sea. The director helps us to book a taxi that takes us from Pául to the town of Cruzinha (1 hour, 400 seconds). The road is an adventure in itself and in the end the scenery is so fantastic that I can’t help but ask the driver to stop so I can photograph the view. In fact, I never think I’ve seen such a view before with so many wrinkled and pointed mountains encrusted in a gleaming green velvet suit.
All the roads in Santo Antão are built with cobblestones. Millions of square stones placed by people by hand. It’s impressive, but I can’t help but wonder if it also has something to do with the slave trade that the Portuguese carried out on the islands for a long time.
The walk thus begins in Cruzinha and continues across the Atlantic to the city of Ponta do Sol. A total of “only” fifteen kilometers to walk, but those who are misled by the word “coastal walk” will bitterly regret it. The road is everything else flat. It goes almost continuously, either uphill or steeply downhill. The first stop arrives early and is probably the only place during the hike where you can actually go down into the water. It is the Praia d’Aranhas beach that offers great waves and warm sand to rest.
In Coca Cola and ByN Formiguinhas
The first town we pass after Cruzinha is Formiguinhas. Luckily it’s because the water has run out for a long time, it’s sunny and the shade is around twenty-eight degrees. A shed with the BAR sign serves refreshments and I order a long-awaited cold Coke.
An old woman at a table at a distance examines us closely. She is noticeably upset that I, the woman at the party, carry the backpack (we take turns carrying). Anger grows when I order a drink that is only half as large, and when I also take my wallet out of my backpack to pay, then the spit of his Cape Verdean is so insulting that we dare not stand still. But, even though his anger was not justified, I still feel a bit confident that there, in the small town by the edge of the Atlantic, a town that can only be reached on foot or by donkey, there is an old woman and she fights for gender equality in her own way. There too. She too.
The road winds up and down with the Atlantic Ocean and rugged cliffs on one side and the mountain wall on the other. It is incredibly beautiful and incredibly remote. We know a few hikers, but not many. Sometimes a local passes by, often almost trotting with heavy bags, boxes or cups on his head. Their condition must be in line with that of an elite athlete, I see sweaty as they bounce off a steep hill.
Fontainhas is a small town high above sea level, on a cliff that hangs over a ravine. It doesn’t seem like it takes much for you to dive into the gap. If it hadn’t been because the sun was starting to set so slowly and we wanted to get there before dark, I definitely would have stayed in Fontainhas for a while. I had a coffee. I played a game of chess in the shade of the papaya with the guys.
The city of Ponta do Sol
Just in time for sunset, we reached the final destination Ponta do Sol. A city where charter flights used to take place, but now the island’s only airport, Agostinho Neto airport, is abandoned and runners use the runways to train . The city consists of small alleys and some large hotels. The sale of fish takes place next to the beach and the few tourists in the city begin to gather in the outdoor cafes along the promenade. Seafood risotto and cold white wine at Caleta restaurant end the days on the island. Thinking like so many times before, I have to come back here.
Most spectacular walks: