São Nicolau hides its secrets well. First impressions are of a desolate and barren island, but hidden among the three ridges that dominate all views are lush green valleys and soaring peaks that rise up to Mt Gordo (1312m), the island's highest peak.
Near the mouth of the fertile Fajã Valley lies Ribeira Brava, the island's capital. Long Cabo Verde's religious centre, it was built inland to protect its treasures from pirates. Its narrow, hillside streets and tiled roofs are reminiscent of 17th-century Portugal. Ribeira Brava's Carnival celebration in February or March is second only to Mindelo's.