Cape Verde is probably best known to tourists as a package holiday destination with sandy beaches a tropical climate and reasonably priced resorts. However, if you are looking for challenging treks in an uncrowded destination, then the mountainous trails of São Nicolau, Cape Verde, offers wild walks for keen hikers.
Beyond the beaches, however, several of the islands though have a growing international reputation for trekking and spectacular scenery.
The quiet island of São Nicolau offers remote hiking through mist-covered mountain slopes, pine forests and volcanic landscapes. Despite the excellent trekking opportunities here, the island is still relatively untouched by tourism.
Cape Verde Meetup Trekking Festival
One of the best ways to navigate and enjoy the strenuous trails is by attending the Cape Verde Meetup Trekking Festival and hiking with fellow enthusiasts.
This annual hiking festival is held every November and is an innovative tourism project, designed to promote the São Nicolau’s potential for trekking development. The trekking trails across São Nicolau are maintained by passionate volunteers. They create routes and signage that connect pine forests, rural villages, rich biodiversity hotspots and picturesque coastal paths into an island network.
These comprehensive trails feature changing elevations, dramatic cliff drop paths, shifting ground and a small degree of mild peril, as you scramble up loose rock.
Attending the Cape Verde Trekking Festival allows visitors the opportunity to meet up with other hiking fans, discover impressive trails and take part in cultural and recreational activities on the island of São Nicolau.
There are several hiking trails that you can choose to walk as part of the festival. The hikes are fully guided by local certified and expert guides who will lead you confidently through a varied network of trails.
The hiking trails
The main hiking route in São Nicolau is almost 70 km long and is divided into five sectors, each having different hiking distances and difficulty. The trails cover a diverse range of scenery and villages including the charming town of Ribeira Brava, the overwhelmingly green Fajã Valley and the lava carved plains around Mount Bissau.
Monte Gordo National Park
One of the more challenging trails goes through the Monte Gordo national park. This protected area is home to Monte Gordo, a 1,312-metre high mountain that is volcanic in its origin. It is also the highest point on São Nicolau.
This particular trail his sector starts in Cachaço, located at the entrance of the Monte Gordo Natural Park. This trail takes you through remote and abandoned villages, down steep cobbled paths and past an ocean backdrop.
It’s a comprehensive and striking trail with an accumulated climb of 684m and a cumulative descent of 1166m with Terra da Morna, Praia Branca marking the end of the sector.
Ultimately, it’s the tranquil mountain vista view that makes the arduous trek through this Monte Gordo national park trek worth every laboured step.
As you walk this strenuous trail and stop to catch your breath, take a moment to appreciate the surroundings. Cast your weary eyes over the fields with low crops, ancient dragon trees, small villages and abandoned stone churches.
Walking this particular trail, I was struck by the remoteness of the national park. The stillness is occasionally broken by a donkey bell or the sound of immaculately dressed, local children laughing, making their way to school down the twisting paths.
If you are used to hiking in overcrowded destinations, filled with selfie-taking tourists, this is a welcome departure from the more popular day treks. I certainly enjoyed the tranquillity of the trails and the uninterrupted connection to nature.
São Nicolau activities
The hiking festival programme also includes a range of cultural and recreational activities.
Immerse yourself in Cabo Verde culture by learning to dance ‘the morna’ with locals, visiting fishing villages and find yourself swaying at music performances.
You will also have the chance to visit picturesque locations on the island such as the impressive Carbeirinho rock formation and the Juncalinho natural basalt tidal pool, where you can swim in crystal clear waters as the waves break dramatically over the rocks.
Who is the hiking festival for?
Hiking around São Nicolau requires a sense of adventure and an affinity for remote trekking. These are challenging trails that should not be attempted without a professional guide. It is so easy to put a foot wrong here and wander off into the wilderness.
During one of the more demanding routes, I managed to sprain my knee and had to hobble down the downward sloping paths of a dormant volcano.
Luckily, I was able to be seen by the ‘local healer’ upon my return. He managed to fix me up enough [using burning cups I might add], to get me back out on the trails the next day. No matter, hiking in São Nicolau is the perfect place for outdoor lovers to experience trekking in an untouched destination.
FLY: TAP flight: Lisbon to Praia (Santiago, Cabo Verde)
FESTIVAL PACKAGE: Book a hiking festival package for 2020 through One Foot Abroad, prices start from 490 GBP Sharing. The package includes all transfers, 9 nights in local accommodation, a range of lunch and dinners, and local certified and expert guides for the festival walks.