Santo Antão is the second largest island of Cape Verde and the most mountainous. The landscape of Santo Antão is possibly the most spectacular of all the Cape Verde Islands. A stunning, extensive mountain range, with altitudes exceeding 1500m in places, divides the island into two sections, one to the north and the other to the south. It is perfect for hiking and a dream for photographers and nature lovers.
The usual way to reach the island is by ferry from the port of Mindelo, located on the island of São Vicente. The ferry passage takes barely an hour. It is a bracing voyage and an exciting prelude to the magnificent first sighting of Santo Antão.
On docking, a veritable cornucopia of life avalanches onto the jetty. A noisy, hustle-bustle of people and belongings in search of relatives, friends or transport. The first contact on the island is with the small port town of Porto Novo where the ferry docks.
Here you can take a local aluguer with driver for the unmissable drive over Santo Antão’s rugged spine to Ribeira Grande in the north. Arguably one of the great road journeys of the world, the route is miraculous. Built from volcanic stones, hand-hewn then individually laid to create a 26km long mosaic, this grey ribbon-like road twists and turns over volcanic ridges and across deep gorges.
So great is the climb that the scenery, flora and even climate change. From arid coastal desert to cool misty hillsides, draped in eucalyptus and pine forests, with breathtaking views in every direction.
Ribeira Grande is a peaceful town with colonial houses, founded in the 16th century. It serves as a base for visitors to the island to go out walking and trekking. From here it is a 15 minute drive to Ponta do Sol at the extreme north of the island. This is a colourful fishing town which is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. The city hall in the town centre, a beautiful colonial building, looks out over the main square. The are numerous restaurants and bars, with a small lively harbour.
The tropical vegetation in the valleys offers a sharp contrast to that of the rugged coastline, which is as a result of the diverse micro-climates on this island.
The coastal road runs through the Ribeira da Janela. Head towards the valley from Pontinha da Janela to reach a freestanding rock of historical interest, the Pedra da Nossa Senhora. The inscriptions on this rock are significant, dating back to the 15th century, and question whether the Portuguese actually discovered the Cape Verde Islands.
Be sure not to leave the island without tasting the grogue, the famous Cape Verdian rum made from the sugar cane grown on the island.