São Nicolau – the lost island


São Nicolau is one of the Barlavento (Windward) islands of Cape Verde.

It is located between the islands of Santa Luzia and Sal. Its population is 12,864, with an area of 388 km².

Its economy consists mainly of agriculture as well as fishing and tourism near its beaches. Much of the population is rural. Preguiça Airport is located to the south between Vila da Ribeira Brava and Campo. 



The highest point on the island is Monte Gordo (1,312 m). Other mountains include Monte Bissau in the central part and Pico do Alberto to the east.



 view from the Monte Gordo



São Nicolau is one of the more fertile islands since rain does fall here in the Autumn. Oranges are grown as well as coffee high up on the slopes of Monte Gordo. Maize or sweet corn grows in the valleys.  There is enough greenery for horses and a few live contentedly in the relatively mild climate. Walking is one of the special pass-times of São Nicolau and there is a route that follows the main spine of the island.


















The seas around the island of São Nicolau are rich in tuna, wahoo, blue marlin and swordfish

It also offers wonderful walks along the mountain ridges and horse rides along the mule tracks alleys.

There is a wide variety of attractive tracks in different landscape, from volcanic lava to empty beaches, green valleys and savannah.



Dragoeira tree 


How to get to São Nicolau? 

You can reach the island by ferry from Mindelo or Praia, usually on Wednesdays and Thursdays and sometimes from Sal on Sundays, but only with special permission which is rarely given.

Or you can fly from Sal, Praia or Mindelo.

We advise you to go by plane, unless you are never seasick.


Get more information about the flights and ferry’s: info@cabocontact.com.


Where to stay? 

There are no maior hotels, marinas or pizzerias on the island.

For the time being it is the island for hikers and bikers who love the lonelyness and the cosyness of sleepy little towns and villages. 



As you come from the airport/the ferry boat, you will meet several taxi drivers or ‘Aluguer’ buses that can bring you to your destination. 



The “Surfhouse” receives Surfers and Kitesurfers that wish to find amazing waves or those who are simply interested in visiting the mesmerizing Island of São Nicolau.  

The house has newly installed amenities which include a solar-powered water-heating system, a wind generator, cable TV, etc.

The 4×4 pick-up will provide easy access to some of the best places around the island. 

During your stay, lunch and dinner are included, and so are the rides to and from the hot surf spots.


São Nicolau is also known for Marlin fishing.  You can charter a fishing boat with crew.

The island is ideal for hikers and mountain bikers because its mountains are not quite as high as those on Santo Antão.


You need more info? info@cabocontact.com



São Nicolau isn’t known for its nightlife, but in the capital Ribeira Brava you will find a few simple restaurants and bars, sometimes with live music.


Hospitals and healthcare centers

There is a “centro de saúde” in Tarrafal and a small hospital in Vila da Ribeira Brava.



We had a marvellous meal of fresh fish, chicken ánd lobster in an african-style open air “restaurant” up in the mountains , for €10 p.p.  We found the place by asking our “Aluguer” driver where we could eat.  So: just ask the locals where to go!


The food is always fresh and very well prepared in São Nicolau.  We had this experience in several places in Ribeira Brava and Tarrafal too.



First inhabited in the sixteenth century, it is known for its mountains and for its main town, Ribeira Brava, long the seat of the Cape Verde diocese. Its other town is the ferry and the fishing port of Tarrafal. A famine affected the entire island in the 1940s which lead to emigration, mainly to São Tomé and Príncipe. 


Administrative division

Municipally São Nicolau is divided in two municipalities: Ribeira Brava Municipality and Tarrafal de São Nicolau Municipality. It was originally one municipality: São Nicolau. The split took place in 2005.


Ribeira Brava

Narrow streets are lined with pretty colour-washed houses, with a fine old church and mission school in the town square. Beautifully kept flower gardens and just a few restaurants.















The main fishing harbour and beach of São Nicolau and also the main ferry port are in Tarrafal. The town of Tarrafal is renowned for its beach of black sand, rich in titanium and iodine, and visited by many people in search of relief from rheumatism.

Nearby is the Rocha Escribida or written on rock face with some unclear inscriptions, which may be very ancient, possibly Chinese.





The fishing port of Preguica is on St George Bay, with a fine view of Caldeira, the extinct volcano known as the Cauldron. It is a small place with a population of only a couple of thousand. Many of the native born emigrate to the island Sal for work. 



São Nicolau has a few schools or collegiates (colegio), a few lyceums (middle schools), a gymnasium (secondary schools), churches, beaches, ports, a post office and squares (praças).


Although these islands are considered “developing,” it’s not unusual to find families with cell phones and teenagers listening to iPods. Jobs are few and many Cape Verdeans work in the United States, Italy, Brazil and Portugal to provide for their families.