Are you discovering Cape Verde’s cultural capital on a budget? Take a look at the best free things to do in Mindelo
1. Strolling the streets
What better way to discover Mindelo than by wandering its streets? You can follow in the footsteps of Cesária Évora in Rua Lisboa and the surrounding areas, admire vibrant 19th-century buildings with Portuguese and British architectural influences, or marvel at the impressive array of street art.
Take a walk in the city center at the end of the day to enjoy traditional music coming from the streets, bars, and restaurants, or from squares like Praça Dom Luís.
2. Relaxing in the squares
Mindelo, the heart of São Vicente, is full of squares where you can enjoy the cool shade provided by the trees. It’s a chance to take the time to sit down and read for a while, or simply to soak up in the real neighborhood life in all its simplicity and authenticity.
Praça Nova, renamed Praça Amílcar Cabral after independence (although “Praça Nova” remains the most common name), is especially welcoming with its gigantic trees and many benches.
This is a particularly active square. Day and night, you will always find natives here: old-timers organizing reenactments, young girls rehearsing choreography, families whose young children are happily playing with feathers recently found, or even a pack of dogs begging for your attention.
3. Immersing yourself in the hustle and bustle of the market
The colonial building that houses the Mercado Municipal indoor market, a model of Portuguese architecture, is always cool thanks to an ingenious ventilation system. You can enjoy the gallery’s bird’s-eye view of the stalls.
Here you’ll find all sorts of local food and craft products, including seasonal fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, salted pork, tobacco (rolled in the shape of a snake), woven straw hats, African games such as the awalé, and many other treasures.
With the fish market just a stone’s throw away, it’s tempting to drop in, if only to check that the vivacity of the market women is on a par with that of the women at the municipal market.
4. Enjoying Laginha Beach
Sometimes, it’s nice just to put your feet up while basking in the sun’s golden rays, staring at the ocean. Laginha is undoubtedly the most pleasant and popular beach in São Vicente, to swim or just to relax.
It is located close to the city center, and the lack of a current makes the area perfect for swimming. You can enjoy the view of the small isle of Djeu, the island of Santo Antão in the background, or Monte Cara, which translates to “Face Mountain”. You will figure out what it means just by looking at it.
5. Snorkeling to discover the richness of the marine population
From Laginha beach or any of the other beaches all around the island of São Vicente (Baía das Gatas, São Pedro, Praia Grande, etc..), you can go snorkeling on your own. All it takes is your own equipment and a bit of experience. You will discover a lot of different underwater species. Some bays are rather choppy, so remember to be careful.
Every Sunday morning in Laginha beach, a Coral Cove underwater trail, Trilha subaquática Enseada de Coral is organised. It’s a 350-metre trail with 16 underwater panels, each containing educational information about marine life. Beyond the panels, you will encounter several endemic fishes, corals, and molluscs. Equipment will be lent to you: a mask, tube, fins, and even a wetsuit if you wish.
And if you are lucky enough, you might even meet a turtle !
6. Discovering Mindelo Cultural Center
Inside the old customs house, you’re likely to come across a performance. Music rehearsals, theatre, yoga, choral singing, and visual arts are held with the doors open.
The rooms are dressed in art with the cyclical exhibitions or, very rarely, with the house collection. In addition, a grand piano is available to anyone who wants to share their music: the soul of the Kriola people.
The Mindelo Cultural Centre also has a bookshop, a craft shop and a pleasant patio for those who like to enjoy the weather and the sweet routine of the city’s main cultural centre.
7. Volunteering in São Vicente
Help the local cats and dogs
You can spend half a day with Simabo and walk dogs from the shelter, while the lovely and devoted staff feeds them, cleans the kennels and gives them any medication they may need. Give the dogs (and the cats) all your love and cuddles, talk to them and they’ll pay you back a thousand times !
Assist in the preservation of local marine life
Guide the turtles to safety
Do you know that only 1 on 1000 turtles survive to adulthood ? You could spend 1 night on the beach with Biosfera (among other associations) and help monitoring during the turtle nest season. This will give the eggs and baby turtles a few extra chances of not being eaten by crabs, dogs or birds.
Study the shark population
Or, you could join the shark team to help them find and catch sharks: identifying them, taking stock of species, and sometimes discovering new ones. How exciting!
Contribute to environmental awareness
Simili is another association in São Vicente, based in Salamansa. Its objective is to empower women and communities and raise awareness about the abandonment of fishing nets and ropes and regarding marine pollution. You can help them in different ways : spending 1/2 day with them and cleaning the beaches or meet them on different events and buy their products.
8. Learning Kizomba
Kizomba originated in Angola and has influenced the musical culture of Cape Verde. Cape Verdean Kizomba and Zouk are often danced to in São Vicente’s many music bars and discotheques. Did you know that live music and dance are vital elements of Cape Verdean culture? Most locals dance, sing or play a musical instrument.
Would you like to learn this dance and join in the dancers at your next disco party? Every Sunday from 8.30pm, in Parque Nhô Roque (next to Nautilus restaurant), you can attend an open-air Kizomba class with local people.
9. Working out on the beach
Mindelo’s ever-bustling beach doubles as a training ground: not only do swimming enthusiasts make their daily trips back and forth along its 500 metres or so, but it also acts as a bit of an open-air multi-sports gymnasium. Some people come here to play football, while the early risers stop off after their daily walk into town to do some weight training.
Joining these early birds in the morning to soak up the peaceful atmosphere of the still numb town of Mindelo, filling up on good humor in their company and enjoying an omelette-cachupa, the local breakfast, is to experience a privileged moment.
10. Watching the sunset from different spots
From the beach or from a higher vantage point, there is always a great place to enjoy the sunset over Mindelo bay, and discover magical landscapes entirely different from those experienced during the day.
From Laginha, a certain magic can be found during sunset. The warm water from which you can enjoy the spectacle, the sun disappearing behind Mount Cara (or between Mount Cara and Santo Antão, depending on the season) and setting the sky ablaze, all this takes a simple sunset to another level.
You can choose to reach a higher spot before the end of the day, while stepping back into Mindelo’s history at the same time. Two places are particularly interesting :
- Fortim d’El Rei, behind you from Laginha, was built in 1852 to defend the Bay of Porto Grande and the town of Mindelo. It stands as the oldest construction in the city.
- João Ribeiro, on the right from Laginha, with its old cannons pointing out to sea, bearing witness to the presence of one of the city’s forts built during the 19th century.
Stay just a bit longer after the sunset, while it’s turning dark, to see the lights over the Mindelo port and the whole city. You may even get the chance to see a shooting star, and wish for another wonderful day in Cape Verde.