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Santo Antão Island Guide

Santo Antão Island Guide
Santo Antão is for many the most stunning island of the Cape Verde archipelago: a land of dramatic scenery which is so spectacular it is said to take your breath away. The views from the mountain range which divides what is the second largest of the islands are amongst the most beautiful in the world.

The island, which is the most easterly of the Barvalento isles, is made up entirely of volcanic material which vulcanologists are earnestly watching. Since 1999 the water temperature of the sea off the north coast of the island has been rising, which some believe may indicate the risk of a new eruption in the area.

Measuring a maximum 24km wide and 43km long, Santo Antão is a rectangular mass of pine forests, sheer cliffs and verdant lush valleys, making it the ideal destination for those travellers who are keen to head into the hills for some first class walking. The highest point of the island is Topo de Coroa, the summit of which climbs to 1,979 metres.

An agricultural history

Santo Antão was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Diogo Afonso on January 17th 1462. However, it was not until the mid 16th century that it was inhabited by a series of ‘tenants’ who leased the island from the Portuguese Crown. In the 1600s the island was given to the Count of Santa Cruz, whose family tried to mortgage it to the English in 1732 when a wayward son got into trouble.

The Portuguese quickly reclaimed Santo Antão back, and in the same year, the principal settlement of Ribeira Grande achieved ‘town’ status.

It was during this time that communities from other inhabited Cape Verde islands came to realise how green and fertile Santo Antão was. They arrived and marvelled in awe at Santo Antão and began to grow crops such as sugar cane, sweet potatoes, bananas, coconuts and mangos. Very quickly the island became one of the archipelago’s most successful agricultural centres.

In the mid 19th century, Santo Antão’s prosperity was recognised and the island was made the capital of the Barvalento. This accolade was taken away again a century later when it was passed to São Vicente.

On more than one occasion the volcanic island of Santo Antão has been referred to as a cross between Morocco and the Himalayas, with its impressive mountain peaks, lush forests and fertile valleys. The island is becoming increasingly popular as a walking holiday destination, and it’s easy to see why. But Santo Antão has many other strings to its bow, the highlights of which include:

Ribeira Grande - the capital town of Santo Antão and where a large number of the population of 50,000 now live. It is located in the a valley which has the same name. The town is a vibrant place which is set around winding colourful lanes, now lined with shops and restaurants.

Santo Antão Island Guide
Porto Novo - the island’s second largest town located in the south east of the island. The town used to be an important port and the relics of its prosperity can still be seen in its former mansions. Visitors are recommended to take a trip along the old road from Porto Novo to Ribeira Grande, which crosses some of the most stunning scenery imaginable. Amongst the most memorable vistas are:

Breathtaking views of the Ribeira do Paúl and the north coast from the Cova de Paúl volcano, at 1,000 metres.

Panoramic views towards Monte Verde on the neighbouring island of São Vicente from the village of Lagoa.

Picturesque views of the village of Corda, where the houses look like they are growing out of the mountain.

Tarrafal de Monte Trigo - a picturesque harbour town which sits next to an extensive black sandy beach at the end of a stunning lush valley.

Passagem - a little town about 10km east of Ribeira Grande which lies at 250 metres above sea level. Here there is a lovely swimming pool built on several terraced plateaus.

Vila das Pombas - located on a protected bay in the northeast of Santo Antão. Little houses painted in pastel colours line the beach promenade here. Behind them are the sugar cane fields and coconut palms.

Chã de Igreja - a small town in the western part of the Ribeira Grande valley which is picturesquely surrounded by greenery in a 50 metre deep, steeply sloping ravine. It’s not unusual for villagers here to decorate their houses, which stand around the village square that has a white church, with all types of flowers.
Fontainhas - A mesmerizing site: a town which has been built on the edge of a cliff, whose houses appear again to grow out of the mountains.

Ponto do Sol - a delightful town to the north-west of Ribeira Grande, in the extreme north of the island. Here colourful fishing boats lie on a promontory, which extends into the Atlantic. The Cape Verde’s current president has his second residence in Ponta do Sol, a true testament to its abundant charms.

How to get to Santo Antão

There are currently plans to build a new domestic airport on Santo Antão, but currently the only way to reach the island is to take a ferry from Mindelo, on São Vicente. The journey takes about 40 minutes, and ferries do the trip twice daily.

Development and the future

The Cape Verde government has great plans for Santo Antão, which is seen as an island with an enormous amount of potential especially in the sector of activity-based tourism.

A new airport to be built near Porto Novo is currently being planned, which according to the Minister of Infrastructures and Transportation Manuel Inocêncio Sousa “demonstrates the government’s acknowledgement of Santo Antão’s potential within the context of national development.” The airport project will cost around 10 million euros, and is being financed by the Portuguese government.

A “Santo Antão Tourism & Business Guide” has also been produced to promote the island’s business, commercial, industrial and agricultural interests. The main purpose of the guide, available on the internet, is to serve as a tool for the creation of business opportunities in Santo Antão’s economic, social and tourist development process.

Areas of the island have already benefited from development programmes such as Porto Novo, which is the focus of a 400 million escudos project to develop the urban area of Curraletes, to the west of the town. The works, which include the building of social facilities, telephone utilities and roads, but also better sanitation, water and electricity services, began in 2009.

Porto Novo also received a boost when the Four Star Resort Hotel Santo Antão opened its doors on its waterfront. The hotel is one of the first of a number of luxury developments to spring up on the island.

Foreign investors see great potential in Santo Antão and developments such as Vista Oceano Residence, overlooking the harbour at Ponta do Sol, are attracting interest from foreigners looking for a second home as well as rental investments. Although new in the emerging Cape Verde rental market, experts predict a huge surge in demand for quality rental accommodation on the island, both long and short term.


Santo Antão has developed a name for itself as a destination for serious walking. It is also popular with nature lovers who come to the island to marvel at the flora and fauna.


Walking holidays on Santo Antão mainly centre on well organised trails around the colonial town of Ribiera Grande, where local guides take treks through the breathtaking scenery that includes desert, tropical valleys, terraced fields, sugar, coffee and banana plantations, rugged coastlines and striking mountain ridges rising to nearly 5000 feet.

For those adventurers who would rather walk alone, there are a number of detailed hiking tracks which are numbered and correspond to a guide-book that is available online.


Many of the trails can also be done by mountain bike. There are a number of holiday companies that organise mountain bike rides, providing all the necessary equipment.


The island boasts around 50 canyoning routes, and canyoning enthusiasts claim it to be one of the most exciting undiscovered destinations for their sport in the world. ‘Wet’ canyons with waterfalls tend to be found in the east of the island, around the Paul valley, whilst the dry canyons are found near Lagedos. Experienced guides are available and recommended for all canyon expeditions.


There is a dive school on the north east coast from where a number of excellent dive sites can be accessed. There are around 20 sites, ranging from depths of eight to 30 metres, where you will be able to spot rare fish, stunning corals and a wreck from 1919.


The coastline is very picturesque but rough seas and strong winds have worn away much of the northern coast. As a result, the island is not famed for its long golden beaches, but there are a number of wonderful places from which to swim on the south coast. For example, the beach at Praia Formosa is a particularly beautiful spot.

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