Have you always fancied climbing a volcano, but never got around doing it? Then you should go to the island of Fogo and climb Pico do Fogo in Cape Verde.
There are many volcanoes on the Cape Verdean archipelago, but none is as iconic (and steep) as the Pico Grande, which is how the Chã das Caldeiras locals refer to it. If it’s a tad too high, then nearby Pico Pequeno, may be more within your reach. I did both last month when I returned to Cape Verde for another research trip – this time to check out all the walks on the islands of Santiago, Fogo and Brava.
In this blog, I’ll only focus on Pico Grande. Sitting on the right-hand side of the plane on our flight from Santiago to Fogo, we already had some awesome views of the near-vertical mountain that we were going to climb. I had already climbed it in 2016, when it was considered safe to climb it again after its eruption in November 2014. At the time there was only one hotel in the Chã das Calderas crater, Casa Marisa II, quickly rebuilt (on the hot lava), as the original didn’t survive the hot lava. Ironically they had decided to build the new one right on the lava, which is why up till now, the floors in the rooms are still too hot to walk on without any footwear.
My guide Carlos took me to the top (I met up with him again), but unfortunately, I had a bad fever the night before and didn’t feel well at all. I’m still not too sure how I did and where I go the energy from though. Maybe it was the sulfurous smell near the top, temporarily lifted my spirits and spurred me on – all I remember is that the descent was fast and that I was back in my bed again in no time.
Four years later and I am back again. Things had moved on and the resilient crater people were re-building their houses again, some on the rooftop of their old houses, others right on the lava that had been levelled out. It’s a slow process, as there isn’t a lot of heavy building equipment on the island and lots of it is still done manually. But most importantly, they were only able to build again once the lava had been cooled down completely. The old road too had been destroyed by the lava flows and the new road from the crater rim down to the villages of Portela and Bangaeira was officially opened in July 2019.
This time I stayed in Portela for three nights and climbed the Pico again on the second day. We set off early in the morning at 06:30 (some people leave earlier) after a quick breakfast and followed the dirt road to road to the start of the climb, negotiating lava flows, ash fields and small dry riverbeds, until you get to a ridge. Here you can see people slowly making their way up the zig-zag path. By the time we reached what looks like a big wall, the sun had come out on our left-hand side and well below us, we could see the clouds entering caldera from the east, where the caldera opens to the sea. The last push is the hardest, as you may have to use your hands to get around a few boulders and rocky outcrop – walking poles are highly recommended.
We reached the rim after 3 hours, and decided to scramble to the ultimate top, which aided by iron cables (a bit like a Via Ferrata) gets you to the most breath-taking panoramic views of the Pico de Fogo crater, but also the Chã das Caldeiras. Warning – only if you’re sure-footed, have a good head for heights and have strong arms, should you be doing this last section!
The way down can be a bit tricky as you again may need your hands to balance yourself when you go down the rocky path – the loose gravel too can be slippery at times. But after less than 30 minutes, you traverse left to a very steep lava field, covered in fine ash and this is where the fun starts. Unlike some of the scree running in the UK, this is more like coming down a steep slope of very fine rock. Yes, you have to cover up your face (a buff is always handy) and your boots will fill up, but boy is it fun! You can take it easy and slowly zig-zag your way down, or you can run by lifting your legs high, taking big strides and more or less slide straight down. Descending a nearly 3000m mountain has never been that easy.
Altogether the climb can take between four to seven hours, depending on your fitness and how confident you are on the descent. I can guarantee you that once you’re back at your casa or even when you fly out (sit on the left-hand side), you can proudly say that you have climbed one of the world’s steepest volcanoes.
What do you think? Fancy a challenge on different terrain or want to have a go at the smaller Pico Pequeno nearby, then contact Susanne on 01768 721040 to arrange your Cape Verde walking holiday. Have a look at the following holidays Best of Cape Verde walking holiday or our Highlights of Cape Verde for some inspiration. We can tailor-make a trip to suit your walking abilities and travel requirements.