At Santiago the history of Cape Verde begins. Contemporary Santiago is the most important and varied island of Cape Verde. A short impression: a varied landscape with beautiful views, the colorful colonial houses, African atmosphere, a lively nightlife and the old town Cidade Velha that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This former city is one of the top sights of Cape Verde. As the most varied island of Cape Verde it offer every visitor something interesting. A must to visit.
Want to know more about Santiago?
On this page you will find the most important information about Santiago. Of course supplemented with our personal favorites. So you do nothave to miss anything. This page is divided into the following topics:
- Praia and Cidade Velha
- Other places on Santiago
- Food & drinks
- Where to stay on Santiago?
- Best time to visit Santiago
- Transportation and getting around
- Frequently asked questions
Santiago is the largest island of Cape Verde. The island was discovered during a voyage around the year 1462 by Antonia da Noli and Diago Gomes. The first settlement soon followed ans was called Ribeira Granda. This was the first European settlement in the tropics. The current capital city Praia is located in the southeast on a large bay.
The landscape is varied with two ancient volcanic mountain ranges in the middle of the island. In the south and east are many banana plantations, while part of western Santiago is desert-like and barren. In the north and southeast you will find the best beaches, both of volcanic black sand and white sand.
Praia and Cidade Velha
Praia is the capital and also the largest city of Cape Verde. You will find in Praia many colorful influences from Africa and Southern Europe. In 1770, Praia officially became the capital and took over the status of Ribreira Grande (Cidade Velha) which was too vulnerable. The city is built on a number of large plateaus with several residential areas next to them. In several places on these plateaus you have a beautiful view of the city and the sea.
Praia is a city where you can experience Cape Verdean life and local culture very well. The old historic center can be found on “the Plateau” . Here you will find, among others, the cathedral of Praia, the presidential palace, the courthouse and several cozy squares. You will also find several nice restaurants, cafes and some great shopping streets. In Praia, there are a number of other fun attractions. For example, visit one of the many small museums such as the Amilcar Cabral museum about the history of West Africa and Cape Verde’s struggle for independence. Or learn more about the many shipwrecks and cargoes found at the Archaeological Museum. West of the the Plateau is the Sucapira market. A large African market where you can discover the real Cape Verdean lifestyle. Fresh produce to handicraft items are sold. The women sell their goods at the market stalls or carry away their purchased products in the traditional way on their heads. The men walk around and have their own trades such as filling up the taxi vans (alugueres). If you want to unwind more, find a beach. At Prainha or Quebra Canela beach, you can sunbathe, swim or have a snack. On weekends, however, these beaches can be very crowded. More background and information about the capital can be found on the page about Praia.
History in Cidade Velha
This is the oldest place in Cape Verde and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is where the history of Cape Verde started. Cidade Velha means old city and used to be the capital (formerly called: Ribeira Grande). The settlement was founded in 1460 by one of the discoverers of the Cape Verde Islands. This is also where the first people of Cape Verde lived. The historic center grew into a trading area and was a central place in the world for the slave trade. Above the settlement is the Sao Felipe fortress. This was built in the 16th century to protect the Portuguese from pirates and other adversaries. The impressive fort with beautiful views of land and sea is open to visitors. The pillory of slaves, cathedral ruins and churches can be seen on the road towards the fort. Cidade Velha is a must see. Located around 10 kilometers from Praia and with good transportation connections (for example, taxi’s or alugures), a visit is easy to plan.
Other places on Santiago
African market in Assomada
Assomoda is located in the middle of the island of Santiago and is the third largest city in Cape Verde. There is no real city atmosphere, Assomada is too small for that. The route from Praia to Assomada is impressive. With a road through the mountains with special rock formations and green valleys you arrive at Assomada. In this valley there is also an impressive kapok tree of 40 meters high and about 500 years old (!). Assomada is known for its large daily market. There are many stalls selling fresh vegetables, fruits and other food items. On Saturdays, the market is the largest. And if you want to taste the real African atmosphere, come to the market especially on Wednesdays.
Relaxing in Tarrafal
About 70 kilometers north of Praia is the lively fishing town of Tarrafal. This is a great place during the week to relax, swim and eat delicious food. The beautiful beach is surrounded by palm trees and provides plenty of shade. It is a favorite place for Santiago locals to refuel on weekends after all the busy work.
Just outside Tarrafal is the former Tarrafal concentration camp. The complex was inspired by the German concentration camps of World War II. The Tarrafal prison camp – also known as camp of slow death – was a penal colony established by Portuguese dictator Salazar. It served to imprison Portuguese revolutionaries of the then colony and independence fighters.
Serra Malagueta National park
Located in the northern mountain range, this national park is one of Cape Verde’s three national parks. The highest mountain in the park is at 1,064 meters. The Serra Malagueta National park has a size of almost 800 hectares where you will find various special and endangered flora and fauna. For example, you can also encounter groups of velvet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) here. This is also the only place in Cape Verde where this monkey species occurs. The Serra Malagueta National Park is an ideal area for hikers. There are several hiking trails for both beginners and advanced hikers.
Parque Natural da Serra de Pico da Antonia
Mount Pico da Antonia is the highest mountain on the island of Santiago. The surrounding area is a protected natural area where you can do excellent hiking. You can also climb this highest mountain, do so with a guide. The hike is not difficult but intensive with a duration of about 7 hours (return). From the top of Pico da Antonia you can have a good view of the island of Fogo.
Food and drinks
For a fun night out, Santiago is the place to be. Most restaurants, cafes and other entertainment venues can be found in the capital Praia. On weekends you can also enjoy live music in many restaurants.
In the colorful Plateau district you will find many cafes and concert halls. You will also find some nice bars where you can taste the local Grogue. Restaurant / café Quintal da Musica is one of the most famous restaurants in the Cape Verde Islands. Especially known for its music offerings from famous Cape Verdean artists. You come here to eat and enjoy the music (and dancing). If you want to enjoy the nice views of the city, go to Panorama restaurant. This restaurant is located on the roof and here you always have something to see. Other good choices in the Plateau district are restaurant Avis, Flor de Liz and Beramar.
In other neighborhoods, you can also find some great eateries and cafes. Restaurant Fogo ‘d Afrika (1.5 kilometers from the Plateau) offers you a Cape Verdean atmosphere, music on weekends and good food. Plaza Park, restaurant O Poeta and Nice Kriola are also venues that are well regarded locally.
Where to stay on Santiago?
There a lots of hotels, hostels and accommodations in Praia. It certainly will not be difficult to find something here. Staying elsewhere on the island is also quite possible. Good accommodation options can also be found, for example, near the old capital Cidade Velha, Assomada, Tarrafal, near the Parque Natural da Serra de Pico da Antonia, Celheta de Sao Miguel and Pedra Badjeo.
Based on price, location and amenities, the following three accommodations in Praia are recommended. The hotel Pestana Tropical is among the best places to stay. It is located at the sea with a pool in the capital Praia. For example, a nice mid-range hotel is Praia Maria. It is located in the central Plateau district, this hotel is very atmospheric. If you have a smaller budget then you can consider staying at Hotel Eurolines.
Best time to visit Santiago
Santiago is diverse island compared with the other islands of the archipelago. Besides its a bustling capital, it has diverse landscapes. You can visit the island just fine all year round. There is a subtropical climate on Santiago. It does not rain very much, only about 20 days a year and mainly in August, September and October. The temperature on Santiago is fine with an average maximum temperature around 25 – 29 degrees Celsius. Inland in the mountains it will be a bit cooler and on the coast a bit warmer. Around the holidays it can be a bit more difficult to find accommodation. Many Cape Verdeans living outside the archipelago then come to visit family. If you want to know more about the best travel time in Cape Verde, check out the extensive page with more information.
Transportation and getting around
There are connections to Santiago International Airport (RAI) from various places around the world. These include from Boston (United States), Gran Canaria (Canary Islands), Paris, Amsterdam and several other European cities. Alternatively, arrive at Santiago via a domestic flight from another Cape Verdean island such as Sal, Sao Vicente, Fogo and Maio. For all current flight information, view the page with airline tickets. The Praia International Airport has money facilities such as a bank, ATM and some restaurants. A taxi from the airport to the capital Praia costs about 10 euros.
The public transportation network on Santiago is good. There is an extensive bus network in the capital, Praia and the cost of a ride within the city is low. Public transportation outside the capital uses mostly alugures (small local buses). They run at fixed times and throughout the day. The vans run a fixed route from south to north and visa versa. The central route runs from Praia through Assomada to Tarrafal. On this route, at major intersections you can change to another alugure that will take you to the west or east of the island. In Praia, alugures leave at the large bus station west of the Plateau. Tip: board an alugure that is already fairly full. This is because the vans only leave when they are well occupied.
Renting a car is another alternative in terms of transportation. There are plenty of car rental companies of the known companies present. Furthermore, there are also plenty of taxi’s that will transport you around town for a few euros.
From the capital Praia there is a ferry connection to several islands. You can easily get to the neighboring islands of Fogo, Brava and Maio by ferry. Do count on a considerably long crossing of at least a few hours and uncertainty in terms of departure times. The ferries leave from the north of the port. If you come to Santiago by (sailing) boat, there are several places to moor or anchor. Praia has a harbor with reasonable facilities. Other places where several boats anchor are at Tarrafal and Ribeira da Barca.
Frequently asked questions
The Plateau is the center of Praia and where you can find a large number of attractions. From old colonial houses, tomuseums to the African market. And it is at only a few minutes’ walk from each other.
You can visit the capital Praia in a day or two. For a better experience, you can stay here longer. If you want to see more of Santiago, most travelers take a few days for this. Many travelers visit Santiago for a few days and then travel on to another island.
Yes, a visit to the most important and largest island of the archipelago cannot be missing from your visit to Cape Verde. It is an island with variety. On Santiago you will find the real African atmosphere. On Santiago you can get lost in the Cape Verdean culture and enjoy the fine atmosphere, restaurants and Cape Verdean music and nature.