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Fogo Island Guide

The island of Fogo is a large conical volcano which rises out from the sea, its peak breaking through the clouds almost 3,000 metres above sea level. Pico de Fogo is a formidable sight, towering above the archipelago’s other mountains like a beacon on the horizon and matched only by the views from its summit, which can be climbed only by those with sufficient energy levels.

Fogo, which lies between Brava and Santiago in the southerly Sotavento islands, got its name - meaning ‘fire’ in Portuguese - after it erupted in the 16th century. The last eruption happened in 1995, when lava fountains are said to have spurted 400 metres into the sky. Miraculously no-one was injured.

The island is becoming increasingly popular with tourists looking for something a little out of the ordinary for their holiday. The beaches, which are black from the volcanic lava, may not be as stunning as those on other Cape Verde islands but the landscape throughout is quite stunning and a hike up to the top of Pico de Fogo makes for a highly memorable trip. What’s more, the island produces its very own delicious and highly potent wine from grapes grown inside the volcano’s crater which serves as the perfect cooler after such a strenuous climb.

A volcanic history

Fogo was amongst the first islands to be discovered by Portuguese explorers on May 1st 1460. Initially it was called São Filipe, but was renamed after its volcano erupted in the 1680s.

Its early history was very much linked to the neighbouring island of Santiago, which was the first to be settled. Herdsmen came to Fogo with their cattle, and found a land that was rich and fertile, thanks to the lava composites from the volcano. They started to grow crops, such as cotton, coffee and grapes, and by 1580 the island had acquired a population of around 2,000.

However, Fogo remained fairly isolated, with much of its agricultural produce being taken by boat to Santiago from where it was then sold on to passing trade ships. As a result, it lacked the riches of its more prosperous neighbour and instead became known as a place to where convicts were sent.

The island became known as Fogo shortly after 1680 when its volcano erupted for the first time in its inhabited history. Much of its fertile land was ruined and many people fled the island through fear - and loss of livelihood. The fire from the volcano’s summit roared for years to follow, and was used by ships to help them navigate. It erupted again almost a century later, in 1785, forcing more of its inhabitants to flee. Many left to become crew on the American whaling ships that stopped to pick up supplies from the Cape Verde islands.

Since 1785, the volcano has erupted a total of seven times, each occasion spurting lava from inside the old crater. The eruptions happened in 1799, 1847, 1852, 1857, 1951 and lastly in 1995. Each eruption has left cones in the crater floor which is how the volcano’s main settlement - Cha das Calderas - or Plain of Craters - earned its name.

The eruption in 1995 covered most of the small village of Boca Fonte, and the roofs of its houses can still be seen today, poking through the clumps of lava.

Its industrious population have not been deterred by the most recent eruption, and most islanders returned to their homes within the crater when the lava flow had ceased. They now welcome visitors to the area, and the volcano is very much the focal point of tourism on Fogo.

An airport was built near the main town of São Filipe in the 1990s, and later this year, a one-off international flight is planned to land there from Beja, in Portugal, to mark the twinning of the two towns. The island is undergoing an extensive development programme including the construction of a new harbour and a ring road, much of which is funded by Germany.

A volcanic - yet tropical - paradise

The high altitude of Fogo, coupled with the rich and fertile volcanic soil, means that the island is mostly verdant and lush, with copious crops growing there. Famous for its coffee and grapes, there are also endless plantations of mangoes, apples and bananas that flourish in the highlands of Cha das Caldeiras.

Amongst the highlights of the island, which is 476 square kilometres and home to a population of around 38,000, are:

São Filipe - the island’s capital city and Cape Verde’s fourth largest city. Located on the west coast of Fogo, it is a charming city full of remnants of its colonial past. Here, amongst cobbled streets and brightly painted squares you will find many fine examples of the ‘Sobrado’ architecture brought to the island by the Portuguese. These colonial houses were all built on two storeys, around a shady courtyard off which there were staff quarters and working rooms. From the city you can reach a number of black sandy beaches such as Ponta da Salina and Porto de Vale de Cavaleiros, three kilometres north of São Filipe.

Las Salinas - a tiny fishing port near to which there are a number of natural swimming pools carved out of the black volcanic rocks by the sea.

Salina de Sao Jorge - another small village to the north of São Filipe where there are some magical natural swimming pools and deserted beaches.

Cha das Caldeiras - a village situated inside a huge crater of the volcano. Lying at 1700 metres, it has the appearance of a lunar landscape where everything seems to be black - the land, the houses and the sand. Ironically, the people that live here are the least dark of all the Cape Verde population, with many of the Cha das Caldeiras population having blond hair and blue eyes. They are said to be the descendants of Duc de Montrand, a Frenchman who settled on Fogo in 1872 and introduced the first vines. He also laid the road from Sao Felipe to the crater, sank wells and was involved in introducing medicinal herbs. Vines are still grown in the area, and the village has its own Wine Producing Cooperative Society which is interesting to visit. From here, treks can be taken to other craters higher up, and to the famous Pico de Fogo.

Cova Figueroa - on the eastern side of the island, is a quaint little town with pretty colourful houses. On the terraces surrounding this town you will see wild figs growing.

Getting to Fogo

There are daily flights from Praia to Fogo‘s airport at São Filipe, as well as regular flights to and from São Vicente and Sal. There are also ferries between Praia, Brava and Fogo, which have historically run twice a week. However a new faster service began this year, which operates daily.

Development and the future

The Cape Verdean government is working hard to develop its country as a popular tourist destination and Fogo is very much in its sights as an island worthy of investment. Promotion of tourism on Fogo, specifically focused on its volcano, is one of its principal aims.

To this end investment in the island’s infrastructure is currently being sought. The Saudi Development Fund and the Arab Bank for Economic Development of Africa (BADEA) recently announced that they were together planning to fund part of the construction of a ring road on the island. The road, which is around 80 kilometres long, and expected to cost US$36.13 million, will be 60 per cent funded by the two institutions while the Cape Verdean government will fund the remaining 40 per cent.

A major micro solar and wind power generation project is also underway, to be completed in 2013. Meanwhile, Germany has been involved in a development project to improve and guarantee a supply of drinking water to the population of Fogo.


The principal activity on Fogo is walking, and many visitors come from across the globe to hike up its volcano.


From Cha das Caldeiras, keen hikers can climb to the top of the volcano - Pico de Fogo, which lies at 2829 metres. The climb takes about two and a half to three hours, and is not for the faint hearted! Walkers must be accompanied by guides.


In the village of Cha das Caldeiras it is possible to rent horses and to explore the volcano on horseback.
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