São Vicente is one of the nine inhabited islands of Cape Verde. It’s quite small (about a 30-minute drive across) and there aren’t infinite things to do on São Vicente, but I much enjoyed my time there.
The main destination of my Cape Verde trip was Santo Antão, the neighboring island that’s known for it’s spectacular hikes. But since Santo Antão doesn’t have an airport, I flew into Cesária Évora International Airport on São Vicente. From Mindelo, it’s just a 1-hour ferry to Santo Antao.
I think São Vincente and Santo Antao complement each other perfectly. The latter has more green nature and hiking, while São Vincente has more beaches and culture.
Hear live music in Mindelo
The city of Mindelo on São Vincente (population 69,904) is known for its thriving cultural and music scene. Birthplace of famed Cabo Verdean singer Cesária Évora, it’s the place to hear typical music styles from the country including the melancholic Sodade or the upbeat danceable music of Coladeira.
As you walk around the center at night, you’re sure to hear some music coming from restaurants or rooftops. If you’re not sure where to catch a good live performance, ask for some local tips at your accommodation.
A man I met on the street pointed me to a place with some great music, though I sadly forgot to pin it on my map. I also liked Livraria Nho Djunga, which is part bookstore and part bar.
I found Mindelo to be a pleasant and relaxed city. The old center still has some restored colonial era buildings and in many places you’ll see a lot of beautiful street art.
Climb Monte Alto
There are some hikes on São Vincente, including one to the highest peak of Monte Verde. Other backpackers told me this was very exposed and very dry and hot, so I skipped it in favor of other hikes on Santo Antao. (Others told me they liked the hike and the panoramic views at the top of Monte Verde, so it’s possible I missed out.)
However, I did make a quick hike up the Monte Alto, which is a small 126meter peak that gives you some nice views of the city. The path up there is easy to find on the app Maps.me and is just a few blocks from the center of town.
Stay at Simabo’s
If you’re a budget traveler, I highly recommend staying at Simabo’s Backpacker Hostel. Not only will you be staying at a homely hostel in a residential building that’s close to the beach, but you will also support an organization that rescues and takes care of many street dogs in Mindelo. 100% of the hostel’s profits go to this charity.
Most of the dogs live at a separate location, though a few dogs and a cat live in the reception building (not the hostel). Simabo’s is one of the rare true backpacker hostels on Cabo Verde and it’s a great place to chill or talk to other travelers. If you have some time left, it’s also possible to volunteer at the animal clinic.
Take a trip to Calhau
The small coastal settlement of Calhau is on the opposite side of the island to Mindelo and takes about a 30-minute ride by aluguer (shared minivan). But when the aluguer spat me out in this dusty ghost town, I must admit I wondered why I’d come to this isolated place.
At first glance, there’s just one restaurant there, some dirt roads with houses, and an unappealing beach with a rocky swimming hole.
It turned out the real reason to go to Calhau lies 1.5km further north of town. Walk along the main road until you reach Praia Grande, a beautiful and wild beach with views of black volcanic mountains.
There is nothing here so bring your own snacks and drinks. It’s easiest to reach if you have a car, otherwise you may need to wait a while for an aluguer to show up in Calhau town to take you back. The aluguer to Calhau leaves Mindelo from Praça Estrela.
For a beach with more facilities, consider the Praia de Laginha in Mindelo (see below). But if you’re looking for a natural beach, then Praia Grande is a great choice. The waves can be strong, but it’s okay for a quick dip.
I also went to the nearby Baía das Gatas, but didn’t think this was worth recommending (there is not really a beach there). Go with Calhau or maybe São Pedro beach near the airport, which I didn’t go but heard cool things about (other travelers saw some sea turtles there).
Chill at Praia de Laginha
I’m not normally as excited about city beaches, but you know what? Praia de Laginha in Mindelo is really nice! If you just want some beach time without having to go anywhere far, this one will do the trick.
The waters seemed much more brightly cyan-colored than anywhere else, not to mention more swimmable as the bay keeps the larger waves, well… at bay.
Although on your left you’ll be looking at the back of Mindelo’s port, if you can just ignore your peripheral vision you can picture yourself on a picture-perfect beach. On a clear day, you can even see the mountains of Santo Antao in the distance.
There are a couple of restaurants as well as the Kalimba Beach Club, where you can rent sun loungers and grab some cheap drinks. I was having a good time with their grogue caipirinhas, which you can order for just 200 escudos a pop (2 USD / 1.80 EUR). I must say: Cape Verdean grogue actually makes for a better caipirinha than Braziliuan cachaça — more caramelly and less acidic. Shhh, don’t tell any Brazilians I said that.
If you’ve been doing a lot of hiking in Cape Verde, then Praia de Laginha is the perfect spot to rest your feet.
Looking for more things to do in Mindelo? You can find many more tips on this other blog.
Want to see Sao Vicente with an organized tour? You can browse Sao Vicente tours at GetYourGuide.
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