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Located in the Cape Verde archipelago, Sao Nicolau (Portuguese for St Nicholas) is an island measuring a little over 6 miles by 3 miles, nestled between the islands of São Vicente and Sal.
Flights from the UK to Cape Verde only commenced approximately four years ago, prior to which the bulk of tourism had been from Portugal (who previously colonised the islands) and Italy. However, direct flights are still not available to all the islands and UK visitors will need to land at the main airport on neighbouring Sal and transfer to Sao Nicolau via ferry – for which less experienced travellers may need to go in search of sturdy sea legs - or an internal flight. All visitors to Cape Verde need a visa, usually available via a travel agent or tour operator.
Tourism is still emerging in Sao Nicolau and whilst this may mean a limited number of hotels and amenities, it also means that the island is very much unspoilt and retains its natural charm and beauty. As with many of the Cape Verde islands, Sao Nicolau is mountainous and bears the marks of previous volcanic activity. Hikers and walkers are particularly attracted to the area, as the spectacular rugged scenery combines with an abundance of native wildlife to create stunning walks and treks.
Monte Gordo, located in the Monte Gordo Natural Park, is the island's highest peak, as well as the scene of previous volcanic activity and gives glorious views of the uninhabited islands of Raso and Branco from its peak. Although uninhabited, many visitors choose to make the two hour boat trip from the port of Tarrafal to the islands of Raso and Branco, where it is possible to see one of the world's rarest birds, the Cape Verdean Lark. Monte Gordo Natural Park also gives nature enthusiasts the opportunity to see the protected Dragoeiro tree (often referred to as the Dragon Tree), which can only be found on the island and in certain parts of the Canary Islands.
Sao Nicolau's main town is Vila de Ribeira Brava, located in a valley and taking its name from the local river. The town is steeped in history, with many colonial buildings reflecting the island's Portuguese heritage and is also the island's main municipality, although you will find the range of amenities here somewhat limited.
For a journey with far reaching and incomparable views, take the 20 mile road trip from Riberia Brava across to the harbour town of Tarrafal. The beach here is made of dark volcanic sand, rumoured to have mysterious healing powers due to its high levels of titanium and iodine. Those seeking a more traditional white sand beach may want to journey a little further along the coastline to Baixo Rocha, where you will find just such a bay, nestled beneath a huge rockface. Tarrafal itself is predominantly a fishing village. Fishing trips are very popular with visitors in this area, as they offer a chance to land Blue Marlin, which are in abundance off the island's shores.
Nightlife is very limited on such a small island and revolves mainly around local restaurants and hotels. As befits an island, the emphasis in most restaurants is on locally caught seafood and traditional dishes, often with a Portuguese or African flavour. The unofficial national dish across Cape Verde is the 'cachupa' – a meat and vegetable stew, flavoured with bay leaves and garlic, which is a feature on many local menus. Exotic fruit deserts are also aplenty, with coconut, mango and papaya growing readily across the islands. Grogue, made from locally grown sugar cane, is the most widely available alcoholic drink and well worth sampling. Many places offer variations on the original with the addition of fruit flavours.
Sao Nicolau is a good all year round resort, with temperatures ranging between 20 and 30 degrees. August and September are the rainy season, although temperatures can remain high in this period. Weather aside, February is an ideal time to visit, as this month heralds the São Nicolau carnival, when the island really comes to life, with three days of Brazilian-style parades and partying in Vila da Ribeira Brava.
Travelling around the island is best done either on foot or via local 'aluguers' (taxis). Car hire is available but the road systems are still in their infancy and you will need a 4x4 or jeep to negotiate most places. For those who wish to venture a little further, inter island travel is possible, with internal flights and ferries operating across all of Cape Verde. Should Sao Nicolau prove a little too quiet, neighbouring Sal, Santiago and Boa Vista can offer more in the way of traditional tourist attractions, with bustling and vibrant townships and market places, many with a distinct African feel, to restaurants, bars and nightlife.