Tarrafal, Santo Antao Island, Cape Verde
Cape Verde

The Road to Tarrafal on Santo Antão

The Road to Tarrafal on Santo Antão has one of the island’s most spectacular views, and the sunrise over the desert is just unbelievable…

Tarrafal sits on the western shore of Santo Antão, about half a day’s drive across the island from the Paúl Valley. The road to Tarrafal is absolutely spectacular. In the span of six hours, we drove through a lush forest into a stark, dry, rock desert. The change in landscape happened abruptly, as we moved from the misty windward side of the volcano, into the dry, sunny, leeward side.

panorama, Beautiful desert Sunrise, Sunset, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Beautiful sunrise over the horizon of the Tarraffal desert

Halfway across the island, we stopped in the town of Lagoa, where we left our driver who had taken us around the eastern areas of Santo Antão. Here, we boarded a small pick-up truck, one of many that ferried Cape Verdeans and tourist alike around the hamlets along the western coast. A man tried to board our truck under the pretence of hitching a ride, but our driver took us to the police station just around the corner, where a policeman came out, yelling at the man to get off. There were a few other genuine hitch-hikers though, who needed to be dropped off at a mining village a few kilometres down the road. These we picked up.

panorama of rolling volcanic hills in tarrafal desert, Visiting Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Rolling hills of volcanic sand and gravel, which made up the Tarrafal desert

The landscape turned starkly dry and desert-like soon after we exited Lagoa. Soaring, verdant cliffs transitioned into gently rolling hills covered in rough gravel. Our guide, Mar, told us that for a short period of time, the hills turn green after an extended bout of rain. It was hard to believe, but we’d seen them this way on postcards, sold around the island.

sign post at crossroads of highest point in Tarrafal desert, Visiting Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Crossroads at one of the highest points in the Tarrafal desert

We stopped at a crossroads from where we had a view of the peak of Tope de Coroa, the second tallest mountain on Cape Verde after Pico do Fogo, standing at 1,979 metres. Here we got out for a breath of fresh air, and I was shocked at how chilly it was, despite the sun blasting harshly down on everything around us.

pearlescent sunrise, sunset, desert plateau, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Beautiful pearlescent sunrise over the Tarrafal desert

The last few kilometres of road into Tarrafal was nothing more than a rocky dirt track. It was one of the most inaccessible places we’d ever been to, despite it seeming popularity with visitors to Santo Antão. There, we stayed in one of the few guesthouses available, the Vista Tarrafal. It was still in the process of being completed, but we didn’t mind. The staff were very helpful, and the breakfast, which was prepared in the guesthouse’s own kitchen, was delicious.

panorama of the desert plateau of tarrafal, above the clouds, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Clouds rolling below the Tarrafal plateau

Tarrafal is a lovely place to visit after a few days of hiking. Here, we spent our time walking along the beach, taking photos, watching the local team practice a bit of football, and eating lobsters.

Santo Antão Island League, Tarrafal football team, beach football field,
Santo Antão Island League practicing their game on a beach football “field”

We met one of the residents of the village, a Swiss man called Norbert, who had been living on Cape Verde for several years. He was an interesting character and an agriculturalist by trade, and had quite a bit to say about the local produce on Cape Verde. He also knew Stan and Raphäle, who are the French couple that own the lovely Pension Goa on São Vicente, which we were going to stay at.

girl jumping on deserted beach, black volcanic sand, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Happy jump on the black volcanic sand beach of Tarrafal

The best, however, was still yet to come. The sunrise over Tarrafal is not to be missed. You will likely catch it on your way to Porto Novo, for the ferry back to Mindelo, on São Vicente. For this, we had to get up before dawn, navigate our way through breakfast, and around the guesthouse, with only torchlight (there is no electricity available in most places in Tarrafal between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.).

panorama, Sunrise, sunset over the Atlantic, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Sunrise over the Atlantic – the view from Tarrafal

As we were driving up the dirt road, we saw a woman climbing up the slopes in the distance, with a huge bag of clothes balanced upon her head. We speculated that she must have been walking since nightfall, for her to have gotten this far.

 panorama, Pink clouds, sunrise, sunset, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
The crack of dawn, over the Tarrafal desert

As the sun rose, the peaks of of Tarrafal were lit an incredibly rosy pink, as the skies turned golden and blue. It was the most beautiful, and spectacular, sunrise I’d ever seen.

panorama of pink sunrise, sunset, over desert moonscape, Visiting Tarrafal on Santo Antão, Cape Verde
Pink sunrise over Tarrafal’s desert moonscape