Cabo Verde 2019 - volcanic islands under the spell of the trade winds

Cabo Verde? Why Cabo Verde?

It was a spontaneous decision to fly to Cabo Verde! A planned pilot tour to Svalbard was cancelled and if I was not going to the Arctic the destination should be something very different, sunny, warm, easy to organize and not to big. I like islands, I like volcanos, why not Cabo Verde.....

I did not know much about these islands, but after some research I realized that, as usual, lots of time is needed to cover this area and that each of the islands is very different. I did not want to spent more than three weeks, therefore I had to decide to which of the 10 islands of the archipelago I wanted to go. Finally this was the list:

  • Santiago - for the capital Praia and Cidade Velha an UNESCO world heritage site
  • Fogo - for its volcanic landscape and the architecture in Sao Filipe
  • Sao Vicente - for the town of Mindelo
  • Santo Antao - for its amazing landscape
  • Sal - for the beaches and to get some days off

It was a good selection!

A bit Geography and History

The archipelago is located in the middle of the atlantic a bit south of the Tropic of Cancer. The trade winds define the climate of the islands. Some of the islands never see any precipitation, the more mountainous islands like Santo Antao or Fogo receive a fair amount of rain especially during the rainy season in summer. All islands combined cover an area of about 4.000 km² (London has 1500 km²).

The islands were discovered during the age of discoveries and claimed by Portugal. There was no population and probably not much vegetation either. Due to its geopolitical importance Cabo Verde was developed by Portugal as a trading post half way to its colony Brasil and as a station for south going ships.

In 1975 independence was peacefully achieved.  About 500.000 people have citizenship, about half of them live abroad.

Ilha de Santiago

Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde, is located on Santiago. Then there is the already mentioned Cidade Velha and a beach resort in the far north of the island. These are the reasons why the few tourists are visiting Santiago.

The interior of Santiago is quite pretty, very mountainous and quite green (it was end of the dry season, therefore it was often more yellow...). All the same tourists do not come for landscape.....

Praia is quite nice for one or two days, quite "african" compared to other places, has quite a few hotels of all categories, restaurants and cafes for local cuisine. I do not want to miss the experience, but two days in the city was enough. However it is a good base for exploring the southern half of the island.

One of the attractions are the markets in the city, very colorful, with wonderfull vegetables, fruits and whatever you want to buy....

Plateau is the quarter with most of the governmental buildings and embassies.It is fun to walk through the pedestrian area, hang out in a cafe or restaurant and watch the life in the city. After dawn however life calms down considerably. Plateau is a place for work not so much for going out in the evening/night.

Most of the other quarters are of minor touristic interest, but if you are on weekends in Praia, go to the beaches. They are full of life and it is just nice to sit in a bar, have some food and (soft or not soft) drinks and watch cabo verdean beach life! As I said, good for two days....

Cidade Velha - the least visited world heritage site I ever visited

Cidade Velha was the first european settlement south of the tropic of cancer. I did not expect to much and was pleasantly surprised. Two rows of old houses and the waterfront where renovated, just as the awesome Forte Real de Sao Filipe. Unfortunately one of the old churches was closed for renovation. It is a very small place, but definitly worth while.

Forte Real de Sao Filipe is spectacular. It seems to be completely oversized, if you look down to the small and very simple old town of the village. But is is testimony of the importance of Cabo Verde for Portugal, especially after pirates and raiders like Francis Drake ransacked the colony several times.

We have been two times in Cidade Velha, first late afternoon and a whole morning. I do not think we have seen more than 15 visitors at any time! It must be different if a cruise ship is in the harbour or a bigger guided tour is visiting. It would deserve more visitors....

Ilha do Fogo

I was impressed by Fogo and some more days are recommended (and a reason to come back...). The volcano and the caldera is spectacular (if you like geology...), the main town Sao Filipe is a pleasant and busy town with lots of atmosphere. The old town is still full of life especially during the morning hours when the whole island comes for shopping and to visit the municipality. If you are into wine and coffee you have two more reasons to come to Fogo! And yes you also have some small beaches for swimming and some huge beaches for walking.

The volcano, the Caldera and a recent lava flow

The Pico do Fogo is a Volcano out of the textbook and it is huge. It rises 2.829 m out of the atlantic and the rest of Fogo is basically just the slope of this volcano and its caldera. If you look on a bathymetric map you realize, that the Pico is a huge volcano indeed. It drops to more than -4000 m in less than 50km! In 2014/15 there was the last eruption, which destroyed most of the settlements in the caldera including the traditional vineyards, the only source of income for the people living in the caldera.

It is a bit like the famous janus face. The volcano is beautiful, stops the clouds for precipitation, produces the minerals to fertilize the ground, but sometimes it will destroy everything. I never felt this so deep as in the Caldera, very moving and fascinating!

The vineyards which are covered by lava are gone, but the areas close to the lava flow are recovering. Time will show, whether enough area was spared by the flow to allow the small vintners to survive on the long run.

The Pico and the neovolcanic area with lavaflows and all the other geological and geographical features are simply amazing. Next time I want to stay some nights up there. It is now possible again as the destroyed accomdations have been rebuildt by now.

Sao Filipe - atmospheric country town with unique colonial architecture

Sao Filipe is a nice place and makes a good base for the small island. The view over the black volcanic beach towards the even smaller island Brava is very pretty. The old colonial town houses are quite unique and some are now used as hotel.

The rest of the island is worthwhile to be explored as well. As I said, the island is nothing but the slopes of the caldera and the Pico. Do not expect developed beaches and the only flat areas are the football fields! The steep slopes are impressive and it is hard to believe, that even these places are farmed! The fertile area is so valuable, that the villages are buildt into the lava flows!

But not all of the landscape is as extreme as this part of the island. Now we come to a traditional and hardly known crop. Fogo was once famous for its coffee and it tastes just great. It is a pity that this small coffee growing area is so little known. Just between 20t and 50t are produced per year in small family owned plantations. If you can get hold of it, taste and buy it! The other crop worth mentioning is wine. Once only the Cha de Caldera was produced, but two new vineyards outside of the Caldera are now in production. We visited one, very modern and it could give much needed options for employment!

Ilha do Sao Vicente

Sao Vicente is dry, very dry. It has some very nice beaches, some even with good hotels or hostals. But the real reason why we went to Sao Vicente is Mindelo. It is hard to understand why a city over 70.000 inhabitants, the second largest in Cabo Verde, exists on an island with nearly no vegetation, hardly any water (it was a bit more wet in the past) and no industry!

Mindelo Bay is the raison d'etre of Mindelo city. It is by far the best natural harbour in the archipelago. In the days of steam ships it was one of the main ports to bunker coal on the way to South America and lots of commerce was taking place as well. I have found this webpage , interesting pictures.... The red-light district was dreaded! With the decline of steam ships, Mindelo lost its importance and its dreaded red-light district, but it is still the best harbour!

Nowadays Mindelo is the inofficial cultural capital of Cabo Verde, has a university, a cruise ship terminal, is starting point to the neighbouring islands, has the best marina and is just fun to visit. Praia gets a bit boring after a day or two, but Mindelo fascinates much, much more!

Good food, good coffee, a very relaxed atmosphere and a wide selection of accomodation! Many reasons to stay a few days in Mindelo and Sao Vicente. But compared to Fogo Sao Vicente has some really nice beaches, some for beach walking, some for kiting and some for bathing. It is not as developed as Sal or Boa Vista, but that is part of the fun!

Ilha do Santo Antao

Santo Antao is a wild island. It is the lushest of all islands and even has some running creeks during the dry season. It is high enough for precipitation and even in April we had some rain and more clouds and fog I was asking for! It is simply an amazing landscape! Due to the regular rain it is the vegetable garden for Mindelo, which is just an hour by ferry. If you know good places you can get amazing food, the best sweet potatos varieties I ever ate (the purple bulbs, next to the carrots....)!

Santo Antao is the island for the hikers and mountain bikers. The traditional network of paths for mules and donkeys is still used by some locals and is now used by an increasing outdoor community. Do not underestimate the dimension of the mountains, the distances and the steepness, it is demanding, but very rewarding if you are into these activities. I hiked only a short track and I liked it a lot.

The relief is extreme, Santo Antao is all about mountains, ridges, valleys, steep slopes, volcanic domes, calderas, but also about wild coasts and few nice beaches!

The northeast of Santo Antao is quite wet and green, the valleys are fertile. Main crop besides vegetables and coffee is sugar cane. It was sugar cane harvest and lots of people have been busy cutting and processing the cane. It is not processed to produce sugar, but all kinds of liquor, from sweet to high voltage grogue.

But not all is about spirits!
After coming from drier islands valleys like Paul or Torre are lush even during the dry season. It is a great area for hiking and it will lead you through very traditional settlements steep up to the often cloudy ridges.

Our base was in Ponta do Sol, the "capital" of hiking on Santo Antao. It is a pleasant village, now growing rapidly, but the waterfront retained its relaxed and lovely atmosphere. You still have the small harbour with the fishing boats, lots of hotels and lovely restaurants. It is definitly a good base, even if it is at the end of the road. If you want to explore the green valleys you need a taxi. The drivers are familiar with hikers and will bring you to the trailheads and will also pick you up again. There are also good guides available, something I would recommend, if you walk the more remote and hard to find tracks, or want to learn more about the islands and inhabitants.

The south and east of the island is much drier, but one still finds green patches even during dry season. An amazing place is the Ribeira das Patas, a bowel shaped valley with the vertical cliffs of the Bordeira de Norte in the background (yes there are several paths through the vertical cliff...), or the oasis like villages of Alta Mira. We did not manage to drive to the west coast and its mountains, but what I have heard it gets drier and drier the more you are downwind of the mountains.

Finally a word about the road network. It is in an amazing good condition. Some of the main roads are asphalt, but most roads are cobblestone (as on most islands of Cabo Verde). The mountain roads are awesome, sometimes nothing for the fainthearted...

Even the highest altitudes are farmed as long as you can build terraces. The forest around the peaks however is not "natural". It was planted many generations ago for timber and firewood production. Part of it is now a Parque Natural.

Overall we had to little time for Santo Antoa, 2 out of 5 days had been foggy with rain and there are so many valleys and villages to explore! Highly recommended!

Ilha do Sal

Santo Antao is about hiking - Sal is about beaches. Sal has magnificent beaches and I have to admit, that I enjoyed the short stay on Sal a lot. Sal is, just as Boa Vista, an island for the sun loving and sun bathing crowd! There are charter flights, huge hotels (quite nice!) and all the standard infrastructure you can expect in such resorts. As the trade wind is blowing and blowing it also starts to attract lots of kite surfers as well.

Sal is flat! The hinterland is, to be honest, of not much interest, its the beaches, why you should visit Sal. However do not expect a Cabo Verde experience as on the other islands I mentioned. It is very watered down! If you are looking for sun in our winter, go there, but combine it with Fogo or Santo Antao or whatever island to allow you to dive not only into water but also into the "normal" Cabo Verde!

After the amazing fresh food on Santo Antao and Mindelo, it was a hard landing on Sal. Most restaurants serve burgers or italian pizza/pasta and sometimes local fish/seafood.Tourists seem to expect such a selection! We always tried to get local fish/seafood on the other islands and sometimes local meat and Cachupa. On Sal the seafood itself was among the best we had, but the vegetables had been of the "cheap frozen vegtable mix" type. The green islands hardly produce enough green stuff for themselves, therefore the rest of the islands have to rely on imports! Cabo Verde is far far away and before irrigation started a generation ago famine happened regularly!

Sal means salt and before tourism started salt production was the only business on Sal. Some of the salinas can be visited one has a pond open for "swimming". It is a fun experience.

Recommendations and links

We liked Cabo Verde a lot and I guess it will not be the last time to visit this archipelago. If you got interested I include some names and links, which we can recommend:

  • Our tour guide in Santo Antao was Osvaldo, if you need one, send him a message, very knowledgeable and reliable!
  • Car rental on Fogo is limited, but finally we found Jose Nilda da Veiga (no webpage, but email in digital yellow pages). Renting was easy with little paperwork. Intercidades was out of cars, but looked reliable as well
  • Casas do Sol on Fogo was a good choice. Nice location, simple self catering if you want and good views as well
  • Guided tour through a vineyard on Fogo (not in the caldera)  - Vinha Maria Chaves
  • Our taxi driver on Sao Vicente/Mindelo was Elton Lima, reliable, good car, check him out on facebook!
  • If you are on Santo Antao visit Babilonia for food, hard to find, but go for it! It is a must!
  • A bit luxury and great atmosphere on Sal? Consider the Odjo d'Agua. Not cheap but very pleasant!
  • It is hard to recommend anything in Praia, lots of options, but book a table in the upmarket Quintal da Musica. It is no tourist trap, even if you find lots of tourists there. Fancy a drink on a beach in Praia? Go to Prainha, Linha D'Agua. Lots of fun!
  • Mindelo - Cafe Mindelo, Club Nautico, La Pergola, to name just a few of the nice options

The final word

Cabo Verde is recommended, no doubt about it!

But what comes next? End of May I will visit the NP Hainich in Thueringia for a couple of days. End of June the next big thing will come - Kyrgyzstan. I never was in central asia and I am already excited and very curious.

In the office lots of files want to be developed, some lenses are serviced right now and need a thorough test afterwards. The next fairs are on the horizon as well. If you are in southern Germany in August, visit us at the Naturfototage in Fürstenfeld. We have a booth at the travel fair and I will showcase some of my work in a small exhibition.

The next fair however will be Photo + Adventure in Duisburg (08. to 09.06). Juergen will be there to answer your questions!

What else?

 a bit PR in german.
Unsere Falkland/Südgeorgienreise 2020 nimmt endlich Gestalt an. In ein paar Tagen wird die Ausschreibung zur Verfügung stehen.

Wirklich besonders ist auch die Grönland im Winter Tour, sicher etwas für Abenteuerlustige und Kälte sollte man auch mögen, aber es wird sicher ein besonderes Erlebnis! Demnächst stelle ich noch ein paar Videos online, die die faszinierende Winterwelt von Uummannaq zeigen.

Paaluk, unser Guide in Uummannaq, gab mir die Erlaubnis, seine Videos zu nutzen. Hier ist ein schöner Zusammenschnitt, einfach klicken!

Und wer das Fotografieren lernen will (Grundkenntnisse werden aber vorausgesezt) für den sind die Azoren das richtige!

Einfach auf die Kacheln klicken und/oder uns auf den Messen besuchen!


Our new workshops are now scheduled and we have new destinations. Especially exciting is the Greenland during winter expedition, something very special! And if you are interested to enjoy me (even) more as an instructor, the Azores are the right choice and it is even warm on the Azores!

Check out my workshop pages for my next workshops.


Munich May 2019