Exploring Tourism in Cape Verde
Cape Verde
icon Worldwideicon
Places to Visit Details

São Nicolau

São Nicolau, Cape Verde

São Nicolau Island

The island of São Nicolau is situated to the south-east of São Vicente and transports the traveler to meet the cultural heritage of the archipelago, singular landscapes and a flora which is dotted with hundred-year-old dragon-trees. São Nicolau is also an island which is nostalgic of Cesária Évora, who tells the odyssey of the natives who emigrated went on the ‘long journey’ to São Tomé.

The landscape of São Nicolau is mountainous and very varied. The principal urban centre is Ribeira Brava or Stanxa, which was named after the impetuous torrents down the valley at the time of the rains.

In the narrow streets, alleys and squares of the town the unmistakable colonial architecture is maintained, a sign of identity in the path of history. The Igreja Matriz or Parish Church and the old or cathedral are buildings which should not be overlooked by the visitor. The same is for the Seminary-High School of S. José. From this institution, the first important secondary school of Cape Verde and the Western Coast of Africa, great personages of the brilliant culture of Cape Verde have been educated.

To the west, in the surroundings of the town, we can find the area of Cachaço which is often swathed in mist. When this is not so one can see the delicious landscape over Ribeira Brava. On a clear day it is possible to observe the whole archipelago of Cape Verde from São Nicolau, from the top of Monte Gordo, the highest point of the island, thanks to its position relative to the other islands.

At the Porto da Preguiça (port)we can see the Forte do Príncipe Real (fort) built there to not only serve as protection in relation to the enemies of the Portuguese Empire, but also to give homage to Pedro Álvares Cabral who passed through on his voyage which resulted in the discovery of Brazil.

Travelling to the north-east and not far from Ribeira Brava we come across Fajã, birthplace of the great writer Baltazar Lopes da Silva.

It is a place which stands out for its agricultural potential, visible in the plantations which cover the landscape, and by the imposing dragon-trees, rare and ancient which are typical of the Macronésia islands and which are on the red list of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as a threatened species, but which are abundant on this island. More than one hundred examples may be found here.

If the visitor detours to the south he will find the beach town of Tarrafal. It is principally a fishing town made famous by its beaches (do Francês and da Luz) with medicinal sands rich in titanium and iodine. This place is recommended to alleviate illnesses of the bone and the joints, and is visited for this reason.

The inhabitants of the area of Tarrafal live mainly off fishing and the tuna-canning industry. These are activities which cause a good community dynamic, and this is considered the best fish canning factory in all of Cape Verde...

Fishing is therefore one of the principal occupations of São Nicolau. The island is known for its rich seas and sought after as a means of subsistence and also for sport. From all over the world lovers of fishing arrive to catch the blue marlin and the swordfish, frequent species in these waters, principally from May to October.

On the road between Tarrafal and Ribeira da Prata, on from Barril Beach, it is worth stopping at vale Praia Branca, a genteel township overlooking the beach of the same name. This is where São João is copiously celebrated, with parades and drums. Just as the traditional jumping over the bonfire, giving mystery to the traditional coladeira dance, in which the pair come together and bump in a suggestive gesture of courtship, in harmony with the increase in temperature as the summer begins. There is no lack of the unforgettable cachupada, or fish stew, wetted with grogue, considered by many to be the best in Cape Verde.

To the north is Ribeira da Prata. It is worthwhile going so far, principally because here are the Rotcha Scribida drawings, which although are now only sedimentary deposits encrusted in the rocks, give an aura of mystery that tradition has left behind, but above all for the superb landscape and the local inhabitants we found who are really friendly.

From Ribeira da Prata you can go up to Fragata at the foot of Monte Gordo. This is a special place to see the sea to the north and Fajã de Baixo to the south. The way up, which takes more than an hour, takes us to idyllic scenes worthy of the gods. When we arrive, we cross the frontier of return to other times. Times which remind us of the legends of ancestors told to children in little stories.

Monte Gordo, 1,312 metres high, gives us an excellent walk. The path takes us through conifers and eucalyptus, under which varied flora grows, giving this area the designation of a Nature Park. We arrive at the crater, 500 metros below the top, where Coffee is grown in the interior. The summit is dry and bare, which allows us to see all the islands of the archipelago o days of good visibility.

Another trip not to be missed on the island is Juncalinho. On the north-east coast of the island, after Belém and Figueira do Coxo, there is a splendid natural pool with greenish waters, which contrasts with the aridness of this part of the island. It has the shape of the ‘handle of pre-historic hatchet’... The building of the previous Orfanato das Irmãs do Amor de Deus (orphanage) is awaiting reconstruction to hold the projected Museum of Sacred Art.

As in all the country, S. Nicolau does not fall behind in the importance of its gastronomy. There is a dish which takes its name, the modje de São Niclau, or modje de capóde”or even the modje de Manel Antóne. It is a delicious kid stew, which can be enjoyed in the few restaurants of Ribeira Brava or Tarrafal.

Also music is present in S. Nicolau at all moments of life on the island. Here what stands out is a type which, like contra-dança, came from Europe: the mazurca. Everyone knows how to dance it, with its jumping rhythm, played on the violin.

Check out more Places to Visit