Cape Verde was a trip we had planned and booked for April 2020, but obviously, it got canceled for force majeure. We were given only a flight credit from Tap (which by the way will never see me again) and patiently waited until we could use it again.
Finally, this month was the time we could re-book our flights. We had planned everything the first time and then always some covid related shit was coming up and would screw everything, so I was losing hope we would make it. You know, even if the stars are aligning and all is set, at the very last minute you can just test positive and all is gone. BUT we were negative and able to fly! When I stepped foot on African soil I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Planning an itinerary
The first trip we had planned to Cape Verde would be shorter and include only 2 islands, Sao Vicente and Santo Antao. In our second attempt though we stretched our vacation to 2 weeks and included 2 islands more. Now I wish we could stay even longer!
Planning an itinerary across the several islands of Cape Verde can be challenging. It is an archipelago with 10 gorgeous islands, all diverse and worth visiting, but connections between the islands can be difficult at times.
Looking at the map you will make all kinds of plans and fantasies about your trip, possibly hopping from one island to the other, only to find out connections between islands happen only twice a week and mainly from Praia, the capital.
So, if you want to see Santiago, São Vicente, Fogo, and Maio, you will find out that ferries to Fogo are only on Fridays (and only from Santiago), ferries to Maio are on Tuesday and Friday, that flights to São Vicente (a bit far away) only on Saturdays again, etc. So you will have to resize your trip and plan it just according to flights/ferries.
Which islands are worth seeing?
Cape Verde is an archipelago with 10 main islands.
As all the 10 islands are all beautiful, it’s worth checking what are the characteristics of each one to decide what suits us better.
Sal and Boavista
Sal and Boavista are the most famous ones, Sal even has direct flights from Europe and seems like a beach paradise. However, we decided not to go to Sal and Boavista because all we read and heard is they are very touristy and resort-like islands. I am not against relax-only vacations and I don’t judge who decides to go to resorts but the whole vibe did not really seem to match our traveling style. Maybe in the future, when we get old and grumpy.
Fogo and Brava
Fogo and Brava are also very worth visiting but we couldn’t go, because of that mess with the ferry schedules I mentioned before. I guess it’s a reason to go back to Cape Verde soon 🙂
How to move around
Between islands, you have 2 options: flights and ferry. Again, schedules are quite limited and in some islands (ex. Santo Antão) you can go only by ferry.
For flights the only airline is Bestfly.com.
I was a bit scared of flying with this Angolan airline because:
- They had just started like a month before we booked
- I am always afraid African airlines do not have the same safety standard as Europe
- Their online presence is near to 0, I found out they existed just on a link on a forum that appeared on the 5th page of my search 🙂
BUT. They were good! As I am writing you can see I am alive and have to say the flight was great, plane felt safe (opinion from my experience of aeronautical engineer) and they were perfectly on time. Also, apparently, our hand luggage limit was 6 kg (we did not even bother checking the rules) and our backpacks were 10 kg each, but they just said “oh it was supposed to be 6 kg” and then checked them in for free.
For ferries, you will have to sell your soul to CV interilhas.
I was a bit scared of those too, mainly because it was in the Atlantic ocean and I knew I would puke forever. Also, they had terrible reviews – people complaining of 10 hours delays kind of reviews.
BUT, It was alright, not as good as the flight but it was doable. The ferry seemed very old, we had 1.5-hour delay on a 2 hours trip and we stopped in front of the port for an hour on a second trip. Also, they tell you to be there 2 hours before departure but they start boarding in the last 5 minutes and this can be frustrating for accelerated and living-in-stress European, but well we are alive.
To move around in the islands, you have taxis and colectivos. Colectivos are those small vans that just depart when they are full, so you may find yourself waiting for an hour or more (as we did in Praia) for other passengers to come.
We visited 4 islands: Santiago, Maio, São Vicente and Santo Antão.
I am happy with the choice we made, in terms of destinations and time allotted to visit them. So if you want to take inspiration and do the same itinerary, feel free.
Santiago, with Praia as its capital, is the main island, where most of the people live, and has a bit of everything. Everyone said it can be skipped but we spent 2,5 days there and liked it a lot.
Maio is the real beach paradise. We spent the most time there and we loved it. Imagine tons of beaches all for you. When I say only for you I mean it – we were the only ones for kilometers. Add the friendliest people I have EVER met on any of my trips and you will have the perfect place.
São Vicente is the cultural capital of Cabo Verde, full of concerts and events. It also has some beautiful beaches and it was the home of Cesaria Evora.
Santo Antāo is, as they say, the hiker’s paradise, and is among the greenest places I have ever seen. Most landscapes are just surreal!
So here goes the journal.
Day 1 – Santiago
We landed in Praia after a stopover in Lisbon where they had asked for a covid test, a vaccine certificate, a plf for Cabo Verde, a plf for Portugal, a Cape Verdean visa, the marriage certificate of my grandgrandfather, the foot sizes of my friend from school, the blessing of the pope and a slice of my ass.
When we set foot in Cape Verde, just the feeling of the 25 degrees temperature was already worth the 470 euros flights and all the hassle we had to make.
A taxi to Praia was the background of an important moment of this trip: testing if they would understand me in Portuguese. The taxi driver understood me perfectly, I understood him perfectly, my motivation was boosted as, wind in my hair, I felt like a languages goddess. On the very same morning at Lisbon airport they kept replying to me in English, but then I remembered this is something Portuguese people do to show off their language skills. Anyway, for the rest of the trip communication was smooth with everyone! I even started understanding a couple of words in Kriolu, which is their unofficial local language.
We get to Praia, the capital, which for some reason I was imagining as a chaotic city, but it was quite chilled, at least in the area where we stayed (Plateau). As soon as we arrived I broke my glasses, but we found an optic right away that fixed them for 500 escudos (4.5 euro), very efficient. We walked in the center and this lovely pedestrian area where we had our welcome Katxupa at a nice restaurant. I ate the entire thing thinking it was chickpeas when it was actually corn. Such a sophisticated palate. Next to us, there was this popstar I guess because all the girls passing by wanted to have photos with him, we did not find out who he was but we enjoyed the show.
We walked to do the Ethnographic museum (1.80 euro for foreigners), it was basically a room with stuff that is interesting for the Cape Verdean culture.
First impression of the people: everyone is very beautiful, women and men, and friendly. Nobody approaches us as tourists (as you see all the time in Spain, Italy) even if we are the only white people around.
While sipping my first Strela Kriola (beer), I am so happy we are finally here.
Day 2 – Santiago
After going to bed at 6 in the afternoon and waking up at 8 the following morning – we were a bit tired – we go to Sucupira market, a few mins away from our place, to take the colectivo to go to the other part of Santiago island, Tarrafal.
I had read this may take a while, because colectivos only depart when they are full. We are the first to get in, so we wait a little more than an hour to finally depart. During this time, we people watch as everyone is preparing their stands at the market. I notice that women are so strong in Africa that I think the continent would fall apart without them. An average woman in Cape Verde will have:
- a 30 kg basket on her head
- A baby on one arm
- All while with the other hand/arm she would work normally, pay for stuff, build a house, do some boxing, etc.
I say this to Panos while asking if he can open my water bottle “because it’s tooo tooo strong for me“.
So. We start our journey to Tarrafal, our first colectivo experience, we enjoy it and get to Tarrafal almost 2 hours later.
Tarrafal is great, unfortunately the weather is terrible that day but we still get to enjoy a bit of the amazing beach, coconut water directly from the coconut to prove ourselves that we are finally on holiday, many photos, and first bits of sunburnt. Our driver – it’s the colectivo guy from before, the public bus, do not imagine me in a limousine – comes to pick us up and we slowly get back to Praia. In these hours I get to listen to and appreciate all the Cape Verdean hits, I shazam like crazy and create my “Cabo verdeeee” Spotify list that I am now listening to obsessively.
Little before the sunset, we take another taxi (1.80 euro) to get to Quebracanela beach and get a Strela Kriola and eat Buzio, which will prove itself to be a dear friend in many of our following meals.
Day 3 – Santiago/Maio
During all these holidays we wake up every day at 6, you will think because we wanna enjoy our days at the most, but the truth is that we just never adapt to the timezone and we keep waking up at Spanish time, which comes in handy because we NEVER wake up at 6. We take a colectivo to go to Cidade Velha, around 20-30 minutes away from Praia. The place is beautiful, we are the only tourists (this will be consistent throughout the 2 weeks), we climb up a castle, get back down, and have breakfast with a Tosta Mista and a burnt coffee in the sun.
Our driver (this time is an actual taxi) takes us, brings us to take our luggage in Praia and then all the way to the port, as we have a ferry for Praia.
We get to the port wayyyy too early so we need to wait there forever, but we find a small bar to drink our Kriolas in the shadow while we wait. Where are we going?
This will be our second island, and it’s an island nobody goes to but we decide to visit it because we are cool. We actually end up staying the longest there.
After some delay on the ferry, we get to Maio.
Day 4 – Maio
We start our day in Maio with a rollercoaster of emotions as seems the tickets to come back from Maio are finished, even if we do not see many people there and there were not many people on the ferry when we got there. We take some time to accept the idea of staying forever in Maio. I call the ferry company and they confirm yes the tickets are really over. As I try to imagine myself living the rest of my life there we go to a local agency that says try again now, the system was down “as they were changing the ferry”. Not sure what it meant, but I manage to buy the return tickets for 5 days later.
We go to Porto Ingles, the beach of the port, with its turquoise waters and we decide to walk further to see the other beach (which does not even have a name, you see how much Maio is frequented) behind the port. As we are trying to go past an abandoned building we meet a girl from Praia that is holidaying there and we decide to go together and maybe check out the salt flats.
We are walking in this amazing landscape of salt flats when something seems wrong. Our feet start getting down in the salt/sand/whatever and we are falling down in what seems to be coal tar. We try to get out of the “quicksand” but it’s hard! Panos loses his shoe, we are all covered in this coal tar, running out as we think the earth will swallow us (ok maybe this was a bit dramatical). We manage to get out of this and walk forever to get to the sea (apparently we were going in the opposite direction) where we wash ourselves and our stuff. We say goodbye to our friend, that probably at this time is wearied to death of our white shit.
Day 5 – Maio
Maio is amazing and also our hotel with infinity pool (probably the only infinity pool we’ll see in our life). We start our day by going to this other beach, Ponta Preta, where we spend half a day there completely alone. We do not really swim in the sea there because it’s open ocean, tides are strong and especially because we are alone, so if something happens we’d just die there. If you ask around, they will tell you which beaches are dangerous and which ones are safe to swim, but the only beach where we really swam was Porto Ingles because the waves are ok, it’s near the port so there is some small boat and you have the feeling that if you are in trouble you can get help because there are people around. Maybe I was being extremely cautious or maybe I’m just getting old, who knows.
Day 6 – Maio
This is our best day in Maio.
After proudly rejecting the offer because we were looking for a locally owned place where to rent a quad or a moto, we regretfully go back on our own to this Italian sleazy guy who was expensively renting out quads, as it’s the only place in the island. He gives us a map that is much appreciated since an interesting thing about Maio is that nothing of it shows up on google maps: beach names, restaurants, all is either wrong or not updated or just not existing.
We start off in Vila do Maio and our first stop is Morro, a sleepy village where a grandpa keeps asking why are we there and if we need something. We appreciate the colorful houses and the chilled vibes, that will continue in our second stop (and in the rest of our trip), Calheta. We are fascinated by the mountains of shells and the bunch of small pigs running around, we take some photos and everyone smiles at us.
We pass by Morrinho (same as above) to continue to the dunes, which I absolutely love. We see probably 1 car in the entire day, it’s all the time just the 2 of us, except when we go to the villages and they all come to greet us just to make sure we are fine. We have a little Strela Kriola stop at a bar in Cascabulho, where we see the only car of this day, driven by Italians dressed like Indiana Jones that speak Italian to the bar owner because why not. We then continue to Praia Gonçalo, Santo Antonio, Pedro Vaz, and the beaches around that area, like Praiona, which we struggle to find but it’s lovely.
On the way back we go to Ribeira don João, an awe-inspiring beach where we finally stop for 1-2 hours in the shadow because Panos starts complaining that we got sunburnt (he was actually right but I will never admit it). We made the best choice as the landscape is stunning.
Our final stop is the village of Barreiro, where again everybody comes to greet us and is just happy we are there. I wish Europeans would be like this.
Day 7 – still Maio
We keep enjoying Vila do Maio and its vibes and lovely people. Chacha chicken becomes our favorite place and Chacha, this lovely grandma becomes our grandma. She makes us promise that wherever we will go we will talk about her chicken to people.
On Cape Verdean food, especially Maio: expect to eat fresh fish or some chicken, with carrot, sweet potatoes, and rice as a side dish. That is all. There is absolutely no other food. We still loved it and will miss Chacha dearly.
Day 8 – Leaving Maio
This is our last day in Maio. Panos obliges me to stay under the sun umbrella because at this point I am totally black, we get our caipirinhas at Porto Ingles beach where I also get to swim a bit.
Life is great, but we have to leave. A ferry takes us in the evening back to Praia, where we sleep a few hours and take an early flight the next day to São Vicente.
Day 9 – São Vicente/Santo Antão
I was expecting São Vicente to be an ugly place for some reason, but I can see already from the plane window that Mindelo, its capital, is as colorful and gorgeous as the other islands. We spend a few hours there where I have to admit that the vibes are not the same as Maio, probably because there are “some” tourists (compared to the 0 tourists of the other islands) we see some beggers and generally fewer smiles. We go to the market, I get my hiking shoes repaired in 5 mins (thanks shoemaker, otherwise I would need to hike in flipflops) and we leave our bags at Casa Cafe Mindelo – for free, thanks Casa Mindelo – until we go take another ferry to Santo Antão.
After going way too early to take this ferry as well (I have been doing this for the entire trip but do not seem to learn the lesson) we meet Maika, a cavaquinho player, who wants to celebrate the new pacemaker he got in Portugal and makes us promise that we go to Ponta do Sol to play some music with him. It’s useless saying that I cannot play music, as he says we can still sing and dance. The funny story is that we actually try to find him later in Ponta do Sol but in vain.
We arrive in Santo Antão and we jump into a colectivo, we are so tired that we sleep for the entire time, when I wake up an hour later I see the landscapes I have many times seen in the photos and I’m astonished.
Our hostel in Vila das Pombas is quite cute but run by an Italian (again). We go for a walk and appreciate the village life and the huge cliffs. In our room, we have this big window overlooking the sea and we get to sleep to the sound of the waves.
Day 10 – Santo Antão
On one side we get to sleep with the sound of the waves, on the other side we get woken up every damn day by this bloody rooster right next to us that starts singing at fucking 3 am and stops only after 7. After a few hours, I seriously consider going outside to find the damn asshole and strangle it. When I see it in the street during the day, I threaten him that I will eat it with potatoes and rice but the motherfucker does not seem intimidated at all.
So. We wake up – forcedly – and take a taxi (Helder, I have his number if you need it) to go to Vale de Paul, one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen. It takes an hour, and we stay on the outside of the car to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings. Once there, we start an amazing hike that will bring us back to our place in Vila das Pombas.
The hike is ALL downhill, but after 6 hours of steep downhill and your legs suffering, you wish you would have some uphills too. We stop a thousand times to take photos and one time to have a little lunch in a village. The whole valley is surreal. We get home happy and tired.
Day 11 – Santo Antão
For the following day, we had originally planned another hike: from Ponta do Sol until Cruzinha. We are feeling still tired so we think we will do just a part of it (the first hour, from Ponta do sol until Fontainhas). We take 2 colectivos to go to Ponta do Sol and from there we go walking to Fontainhas. Landscapes are as good as the day before.
When we get to Fontaihas we have our usual Strela Kriola in the local bar and the usual grandpa comes and talks to us. He asks where are we from and when I say Panos is Greek he makes the usual face of people that do not know where Greece is (we see this a lot) and then… starts speaking in Greek. A perfect Greek. For like an hour. While I start laughing immediately, Panos is in shock for the first minute. We have a lovely chat with Ignacio (this is his name) he is so happy he gets to speak Greek after…20 years. He tells us a thousand stories of when he was working in Greece. By this time, it’s like 2 o clock and it is quite clear that we won’t continue the hiking further but then, maybe the beer helps, with a glance at each other, we realize we actually wanna do the hike until Cruzinha.
On the internet we had read that from where we were until Cruzinha it would take 5-6 hours, we ask locals and they say 4.5 to 5 hours… it’s like 14.30 and the sun goes down completely at 19, so we are really on the edge. We decide to go anyway. Do you know how long did we take to do the entire hike?
3.2 hours! Apparently, we are not as slow as I think. At some point, I think we were kinda running and the day after we could barely move, but the hike was absolutely fantastic. It was a mix of uphill, downhill, flat on the coastline with rugged cliffs and a magnificent ocean.
We got to Cruzinha and called our friend Helder who came to pick us up again (no colectivos in Cruzinha) and we went back to our hostel happy and paralyzed.
Day 12 – Santo Antão
It is true what they say, Santo Antão is a hiker paradise. It is a big island, with a lot of pretty villages, mountainous, mostly unexplored, and home to a lot of hiking trails. If you look for information they say you need a week there but actually, the amazing hikes you wanna do are just 2, the ones we did. Of course, if you wanna explore more there is a lot of other stuff but if you want to try the best hiking experiences in Santo Antão, what we did is more than enough.
On our last day, hiking is not even an option, since we have trouble going down the stairs and pain all over our bodies. We soon become the fun of other people in the hostel because we cannot really move and are seemingly funny to watch. Regardless, we decide to go see a bit of Ponta do Sol and Ribeira Grande. They are both very cute and easily connected with colectivos. We look for Maica, the guy with the cavaquinho, we ask around a bit and they do know him but probably his shop is closed as we don’t see him.
On our last evening, we have dinner at Casa Maracuja, a nice restaurant that has fresh juices and other things other than our beloved peixe and frango (fish and chicken).
Day 13 – São Vicente
We have an early ferry back to São Vicente, and while packing I realize I forgot my bag in the restaurant we had dinner yesterday (luckily my passport and phone were not in it). It’s 7 in the morning, the restaurant is not open, but the colectivo we take (remember that the colectivo is a public bus, not a taxi) agrees to bring me to this restaurant to see if anyone is there. No luck, the restaurant is closed, so we go to the port that is 1 hour away.
As we are boarding the ferry, I call the restaurant and they confirm they just found my bag. There is virtually no way to recover the bag unless I decide to stay longer in Santo Antão, but I am literally on the ferry to the other island so I decide to leave it.
Now – you won’t believe it because this is something that would NEVER happen in Europe, but I got my bag, on the other island, on the same day. For free.
The restaurant gave the bag to my hostel, which stopped a colectivo that was going to the port. The driver of this colectivo took my bag, went to the port, and asked someone that was boarding the next ferry (Arian, praised be) to bring this bag to me in São Vicente. All these people did not even have my number, all the restaurant asked me was a photo of me to show to the person that would look for me in the port.
I will be forever in love with the Cape Verdean people.
So. This is our last day in Sao Vicente before we fly out to Lisbon the next morning, and I try to make the most of it. We go to Praia da Laginha with its turquoise water, we eat an evergreen Buzio on the beach, we buy some souvenirs and we get overbooked by the hotel we booked, so they relocate us to a boutique hotel that is 3 times the price of our reservation (for free). I love overbookings.
We do not want to leave the country without listening to some live music, so we go to a club next to our place with live concerts and I absolutely love it. I was already an enthusiast of Funana, Morna, and all the Cape Verdean music way before going but now even more. It was the best farewell to the country, which will surely see me again very very soon.