The remote seaside town of Tarrafal de Monte Trigo was the one place that surprised me most in Cape Verde.
I almost didn’t go, just because it’s a bit far removed from other places on Santo Antão island. There also wasn’t much information online about Tarrafal, so I wondered if it’d be worth going.
I went anyway, and I loved it so much!
Tarrafal is a gentle place where tourism is delightfully small-scale, though it has enough things there to make for a comfortable stay. There are about half a dozen of guesthouses and about an equal number of restaurants. There are also a surprising number of things to do, not to mention that it has one of the rare few beaches on the island.
I have a real soft spot for laidback places like Tarrafal, where you can simply relax, read a book, or take a dip in the water. I was soon kicking myself for only having one day there, wishing I’d stayed for at least two or three.
The drive to Tarrafal
The small town of Tarrafal (population under 1,000) is located on the west side of Santo Antão. You have to drive about two hours through barely populated desert lands to reach it, which gives the town a kind of end-of-the-world feel.
I have to say that getting to Tarrafal was a bit of an adventure, as the road was still being completed when I visited in February 2020. For the last 10 kilometers or so, I had to drive through dirt tracks, then across the beach via an unpaved road. I almost got stuck a few times, but this made reaching the town all the more rewarding.
By the time you read this, the road might be finished, in which case Tarrafal will be a lot easier to get to.
The drive from Porto Novo to Tarrafal is incredibly scenic, cutting through vast desert landscapes and snaking down along some twisty mountain roads. If you have a car, be sure to take your time to enjoy the views. If you’re taking a taxi or aluguer, be sure to ask the driver to stop for photos.
At the least, be sure to spend a moment at the Miradouro de Campo Redondo [map], where you’ll get a fantastic view from an observation deck.
What to do in Tarrafal
When I arrived at the town, fishermen in colorful boats were coming back to shore, one selling stacks of red snappers under a tree. A flock of children emerged from school pointing at the sky and yelling ‘olhe parapente!’. The town’s resident paraglider had just launched off the cliffs above.
It turned out quite a few foreigners had set up in Tarrafal, introducing various adventure activities there. Besides the paragliding, there are surfing lessons, scuba diving tours, and snorkeling trips. There are many reefs near the town where you can spot all kinds of fishes and sea turtles.
If that isn’t already enough, there is also the Tarrafal to Monte Trigo hike. You start this hike in the town and end up several hours later in the even smaller and more remote town of Monte Trigo. This little hamlet can’t be reached by car, only by foot or by boat.
While I didn’t get the chance to do this hike, you can find all the trail info at Wikiloc. The trail is point-to-point, but you could try catching a ride back with a local fisherman.
The beach in Tarrafal bay is a very scenic one, with a long stretch of volcanic black sand under a big gnarly cliff. It faces the sunset, so you can expect some magical moments as the sun goes down.
I watched the sunset from the black sand beach, as well as from the viewing deck at my guesthouse, while enjoying a few cold Strela beers. Pure travel bliss.
How to get there
As beautiful as Tarrafal is, it can be a bit tricky to get there. In Porto Novo, there is a minivan in front of Restaurante Antilhas (near the ferry terminal) that goes to Tarrafal between 8 and 9 a.m. from Monday to Saturday. The ride costs 700 escudos one way.
This is the day’s only connection. Miss it and you’ll have to rent a private taxi (which costs at least 7000 escudos). Return trips from Tarrafal to Porto Novo leave before 6 am, which is a bit of a pain. There is no public transport on Sundays.
For more flexibility, I decided to rent a car and drive there myself. Do make sure you have a 4-wheel drive in case the cobblestone paved road still isn’t finished.
Where to stay
The most established B&B in town is Mar Tranquilidade. It’s the first guesthouse you’ll pass on the way in. It seemed to have the most ambiance of any accommodation in Tarrafal that I saw, with a shaded garden where there are cozy BBQs many evenings.
I did read some mixed reviews of the rooms, though the most critical notes seem to be from visitors who may have expected more luxury in these rustic cottages. Either way, since the room prices were a bit high for my budget, I opted to stay elsewhere.
I stayed instead at Kaza Ladera, which has some budget-friendly rooms and a fantastic viewing deck looking out over Tarrafal Bay. I loved watching the sunset from here.
Vista Tarrafal is another option that other travelers recommended to me. I had dinner at its adjacent restaurant, which was very yummy.
Important: there are no ATM’s in Tarrafal. Bring cash!
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