Volcanic Activity in Cape Verde: Hiking at the Edge of the World

cape verde islands volcano in africa

Pico de Fogo Volacano, the active volcano in the Cape Verde Islands.

Where is Cape Verde?

Blipped into existence by volcanic activity off the coast of West Africa, there is an island chain so ethereal that when I arrived I thought I had stepped forth onto the forgotten land of Atlantis. Strewn with tropical forests, rocky volcanic wastelands, and black sand beaches, it was a West African country developmentally far ahead of many of its continental cousins, with people who swing their hips to the beat of an unheard drum on the street and are so beautiful they must have been created by the meeting of mermaids and adventurers long ago. The streets are clean, the rum flows freely, and the party is always around the next corner. All you have to do is follow the music.

Cape Verde, the archipelago island country of West Africa, has something for everyone, but I wanted to challenge myself, dare to do what I hadn't before, feel the heat and smell the smoke… so with spirits high and water bottles in hand my three friends and I headed to the island of Fogo to hike the active volcano, Pico de Fogo, located in the small town of Chã de Caldeiras.

Hiking the Volcano in Africa

cape verde islands volcano in africaMy three travel companions and I stared up at the looming figure, dark and foreboding in the early shadows of dawn. The day before, we had taken an inter-island flight from the main island of Santiago to the island of Fogo, known for its active volcano and black sand beaches. The entire landscape was black and rocky, and rivers of lava hardened from the last eruption gave the eerie impression that they eternally flowed even though the last eruption had been almost 20 years ago in 1995.

As we started up the cracked and black rubble incline of the volcano, I could only hope I had enough water and enough trust in our local guide to get us safely to the crater at the volcano's summit, 2,000 meters above the village. We stopped every so often and perched like vultures on the bizarre rock formations. As the sun finally came over the horizon and blazed along the cliff faces remaining from the eruption in 1951, it seemed that we had left earth and entered another dimension. I had never seen a landscape like it. I imagine it might look similar to the cratered and barren surface of Mars.

Cape Verde and the Volcano

When we finally reached the top, my calves ached and a light layer of soot covered my entire body. I wrinkled my nose at the pungent smell assaulting my nostrils and threw an accusatory look at one of my friends.
"It wasn't me!" she said defensively. "It's the sulfur from the volcano you're smelling."
Sure enough, when I peered over the edge and into the crater, the walls were smoking and the sides were coated with a thick green substance that must have been sulfuric residue. I cape verde islands volcano in africaturned to stare down at the village of Chã das Caldeiras and into the distant fields where I could just make out the residents going to work.

Fogo is famous for their volcano wine, called Chã after the village. The people of Chã das Caldeiras process the wine from the grapes grown uniquely from the fertile soil within the larger and older volcanic crater shaped from the 1951 eruption. About half a mile from the village, a great fog billowed out and obscured the view of the ocean and land beyond the volcano. The abrupt end to the mist made it seem that if you walked in that direction you would fall off the edge of the world.

"Skiing" the Cape Verde Islands

When it was finally time to go back, I turned around and started carefully picking my way through the scattered chunks of lava rock that led back down the steep decline of the volcano.

"Not that way!" said our guide, shaking his head. And with that he leapt off to the side of the trail and into a route that would sink a person ankle deep in black shards of pebble-sized rocks. Instead of sinking though, our guide jumped and slid his way down as if he were skiing.

Here goes nothing! I thought, and zipped after him. My friends were wary of the reckless way I bounded down the side of a volcano so steep it could have passed for at least a blue at a ski resort. In a much slower fashion, they followed me back until we reached the village again.

cape verde islands volcano in africa

Cape Verde Islands

Fogo is only one of the ten islands that make up the Cape Verdean archipelago. I would go back to this beautiful and diverse country if given the chance, if only to discover the riches and unique topography of each of the other islands in turn. With its turquoise waters, distinct and vibrant landscapes, and a rhythm that never stops, Cape Verde can expect a return visit from me in the near future, as soon as the Atlantic wind changes and blows me back to her shores.

Whitney's Helpful Information
Inter-Island Travel Options: Fast Ferry – cheap, approx. $40 one way between Santiago and Fogo
TACV Flights – faster, approx. $75 one way between Santiago and Fogo

Getting Around São Felipe: (the city you should base out of for hiking the volcano)
Best Hotel: OlaMar Hotel, approx. $50 per 2 person room
Best Restaurant: Leila, delicious food priced right and not touristy

Local Good Stuff to Know…
Food………Kachupa Wine…………Chã
Money…Escudos, 80= 1USD Language……Creole, Portuguese

Written by Whitney Jenkins

Whitney JenkinsWhitney Jenkins, raised a country girl on her family's cattle ranch in Nebraska, has always had a taste for adventure. After graduating from Creighton University with a degree in creative writing, she joined the Peace Corps. Now she lives in Senegal and works with local farmers propagating fruit tree orchards as a way to make her local community more sustainable. Whitney's talents include singing with her mouth closed, disturbingly accurate impersonations of Jay Leno, and finding the magic in every place she goes, including Cape Verde.