Santo Antão is the second biggest of the Cape Verde islands.
Santo Antao is a surprising island. When you land at the ferry port it appears to be dusty and sandy like many of the other islands but in half an hour you can be driving up steep, windy roads and suddenly find yourself in pine forest and skimming the edge of a volcano! Much of the island is unexplored, but the best part to head for is the north east corner where there is great hiking. In Ponto do Sol you can scuba dive, hike or rock climb in a very picturesque setting. Accommodation is inexpensive and would suit all budgets. Santo Antao is the most northern and the most western island of the archipelago, with the area of 779 km², maximum length of 43 km and maximum width of 24 km. The highest point is Topo de Coroa, 1,979 m high.
Visiting Santo Antão can offer many different experiences, moods, views, types of landscapes and different climates; even the dialects the people speak and the way they live vary somewhat---almost like “island hopping”, except that you can spare yourselves the time, costs, and stress, not to mention CO² emissions, of extra inland flights. An alternative (or complement) to the “north east corner” of Santo Antão, is Tarrafal de Monte Trigo in the southwestern part of the island. Although the number of hikes may not be as large as in the northeast, there is still great hiking, usually starting right in front of your door---for example along the coast to the next village, Monte Trigo (and back by fishing boat); or to the waterfall; and others....it is a good starting point to reach the highest mountain, the Tope de Coroa, taking the morning aluguer for a short stretch and then hiking.
But there is much more to do than hiking---if you are interested in swimming, this is the right place to come to. Tarrafal has the largest, most pristine, and only really swimmable beach on the island. Whereas in other parts of the island it may be possible to swim on a few days of the year, in Tarrafal it is only impossible to swim on a few days of the year, the rest of the time it is possible. The reason for this is that Tarrafal is sheltered from the northeast trades winds that blow most of the time, making other parts on the island very windy and their beaches subject to rough waves which make swimming dangerous or impossible. Snorkeling, scuba diving, boat rides and fishing are also possible. Tarrafal has more sunny days than many parts of the island. It is therefore not quite as green as some parts where rain and clouds are more frequent, although being a true oasis and receiving water all year round from springs, it is still quite green in the valley. This “microclimate” sets it apart from the rest of the island---it means, for example, that it is also a great place to relax, just “hang out”, and you can dine outside comfortably virtually every evening with no need for windbreakers and jackets. Many travelers choose to visit both “sides” of the island---aside from Ponta do Sol there are destinations like Valley of Paúl, Chã de Igreja and others. If you choose to do this, plan some days (or more!) in each part, as going back and forth in one day is too far and takes too much time.
You cannot get to Santo Antão by plane. There used to be an airport near Ponto do Sol, but now it's abandoned. You must fly to São Vicente (Cesaria Evora Airport at São Pedro, VXE), take a taxi to the ferry harbor in Mindelo (about 15-20 minutes, about 1200 CVE) and a ferry to Santo Antão. Depending on times of flights and ferries as well as what you want to see and how much traveling you want to do in one day, and how many days you have on your trip, you might consider spending a night (or more?) in São Vicente.
There is a ferry connection from the island São Vicente. The trip from Mindelo to Porto Novo takes about 1 hour with the ferry. As of March 2020, the Inter-ilhas goes 3 times a day, at 7:00, 11:00 and 15:00 from São Vicente (Mindelo) to Santo Antão (Porto Novo); and at 9.00, 13:00 and 17:00 from Santo Antão (Porto Novo) to São Vicente (Mindelo).
By "aluguer" or "collectivo" (collective taxi)Edit
This traditional type of public transportation is alive and well all over Santo Antão. These mini-busses or 4x4 pickups can be found when you arrive with the ferry or in any of the towns and villages, going to any location on the island, sometimes with changes in another town. Sometimes the name of the destination is written on the car, sometimes you have to ask. Then get in and wait, because they only leave when they are full---by cape verdian standards, and that can mean very full! They carry goods as well as passengers and often do errands on the way, so you have to be patient. But it is an interesting, authentic experience, environmentally friendlier than a rental car, and by far the least expensive option---for example 700 escudos/6.36€ per person from the ferry to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo.
By "taxi" or "frete"Edit
If you want to be more flexible, comfortable, faster, make breaks along the way, etc., but don't feel like sitting behind the wheel yourself, or don't need the car once you get where you're going, this is a good option. These are not the blue taxis you see waiting at the ferry landing, but other cars, usually sturdier and often 4x4 with an "aluguer" sign on the top. (aluguer actually means "to rent"). Often it is the same car as the collective taxi, but under other conditions---you "rent" the whole car + driver to any destination you choose, for as many people + baggage as you want and can fit in. It will end up being less expensive than a rental car if you want to get where you are going and then walk or hike and not drive around every day. You can ask the aluguer drivers when you arrive with the ferry, and if they can't do this, they may be able to direct you to someone who can---it is usually a profitable and welcome change for the drivers, instead of waiting for customers.
You can also use a "taxi/frete" as an excursion, to see more of the island on the way to your hotel, or just to spend a day seeing the island. You can fit quite a few people in the car for the same price, so it may be a nice idea to share with other travelers. Ask people you meet on the ferry, or while traveling, or at your hotel. The people from your accommodations can also help to find others to share, and can organize a "taxi" for you, either to arrive or to leave or as an excursion around the island.
Costs (approx.) Porto Novo to Paúl - 4000 escudos; Porto Novo to Tarrafal - 7000 escudos; Excursions: 8000 - 120000 escudos ---for the whole car, about 4-8 people, depending on model of car.
You could rent a car in Porto Novo for 50-60 euro per day. For some places, like Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, if you plan to stay more than 1 or 2 nights (due to the long trip to get there, and the number of things to see and do, at least 3 days recommended) it doesn't make much sense to rent a car, as the road ends there, any place else you go will be by foot or by fishing boat, until you return to Porto Novo. The rental car will sit there gathering dust and cost more per day than your room.
- Farol de Boi (Farol Fontes Pereira de Mela), Pontinha de Janela. The biggest and the oldest lighthouse of Cape Verde. Built 1886, now abandoned.
- Statue of Santo Antonio, Vila das Pombas.
- Cova (between Porto Novo and Ribeira Grande). A valley in a crater of an extinct volcano
Hiking, swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, trekking.
The best beach is in Tarrafal de Monte Trigo.
- 1 MarTranquilidade, Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, ☏ , ✉ info@MarTranquilidade.com. Thatched roofed stone cottages, on the beach. Cozy rooms with terraces and balconies providing ocean and mountain views. Meals---breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the terrace to house guests, but people from outside are welcome to eat by previous reservation --- an hour or so ahead may be enough, or ask the day before.; The dinner buffet at 7:00 p.m. offers variety and quantity to satisfy almost all preferences and appetites; the "Sundowner"(cocktail) is included, served on the beach terrace from about 5:30 until dinnertime, so don't come too late.