Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The island of Fogo - created by God's own hands

If you are visiting Cape Verde, most likely you are headed for a sun and sand vacation on Sal or Boa Vista. That's where more than 80% of all tourists go in Cape Verde. Well let me tell you something - if you don't get off your lounge chair and explore the other islands, you would be missing out on some of the most beautiful locations in the archipelago.

First a warning. You won't find 5-star hotels on the other islands beyond Sal and Boa Vista. But what you will find is a stimulating experience unlike many of the things you might experience in other vacation destinations.

Fogo is a small island of about 55,000 people within the Cape Verde archipelago. What makes it unique is that it is literally and entirely, a volcano jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean. People essentially live all around the base and sides of this volcano, with a few daring souls living within the crater itself!

It is the highest mountain in the Cape Verde islands and the third highest peak among islands in the Atlantic. The goal of your trip here is to get to the top of the volcano to a little village called Chã das Caldeiras. And you can do that via car (hire a guide to take you there, or you can drive up yourself). The view from up there is spectacular. Especially since you are looking straight into the ocean below. It's a magical journey.

Chã das Caldeiras
Once you get into the crater of the volcano, in a little village of Chã das Caldeira, the first things you'll notice are the volcanic rocks all around. The place looks barren. But amazingly, you will also see the fruits that grow here in stark contrast to their surroundings. The best wines on the islands comes from the grapes grown here - be sure to do a little wine tasting.

If you have the time and the desire, you can then climb up the peak of the cone that sits within the crater. But you should be as fit as a fiddle as this will take several additional hours to complete. You can read about one reporter's journey (the article covers all the islands including his experience climbing up the cone). The article appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, "Verde Vibes". There was also another great article - "Hiking Cape Verde's Mount Pico".

Igreja Catolica, São Filipe
Besides a visit to the volcano's crater at Chã, you'll also enjoy the town of São Filipe. It's one of the prettiest cities in all of Cape Verde. Be sure to visit the Museu de São Felipe and the Igreja Catolica (Catholic Church).

Right behind the church and near the wall overlooking the ocean below, you will find a bakery that serves hot, fresh-baked break every day. Have it with butter. Simply delicious! They use an old-fashioned earthen oven. You can find the bakery with your nose, or just look for the small building with the smoke coming out of it. If you must, use your GPS and go to these coordinates: 14.53.595N, 24.30.057W.

Everywhere you go in Fogo will almost always involve either an uphill or downhill journey. Some of the climbs were so steep, I resorted to taking a taxi at times. LOL. But it's part of the charm of the place.

Ocean-view Poolside at the Xaguate Hotel
In São Filipe, I stayed at a little "pensão" (bed & breakfast) called Open Sky. It is so intimate that the owner of the pensão will personally serve you breakfast in the rooftop restaurant. There are other more upscale options as well. One example is the Xaguate Hotel, a boutique hotel with beautiful suites including bathrooms. Check out the large, clean pool area as well, it has one of the best ocean views of any hotel in Fogo.

I you have the opportunity, try to reach Mosteiros, a quaint coastal town on the opposite side of the volcano from São Filipe. The best thing in Mosteiros is the fresh food at a restaurant called Chão de Cafe (15.02.067N, 24,19.596W). You drive around the base of the volcano in a semi circle to get from São Filipe to Mosteiros. You complete the full circle all the way back to São Filipe if you just keep on driving. The entire journey provides spectacular photo opportunities.

You have to take one of the inter-island TACV flights from Santiago to get to Fogo. I know with all the earlier talk about steep inclines, you're probably wondering if the plane lands uphill or downhill. Well, I guess there is at least one flat spot on the island because the airplane lands on a level runway. LOL.

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