Santiago Cape Verde is the largest island in the archipelago and in the south of country. Santiago is Portuguese for ‘Saint James’ and it is home to half the nation’s population and to the capital city of Praia. The beaches of Santiago are varied and include beautiful white sand such as in the lovely town of Tarrafal in the north of the island; the intriguing black beaches at places such as Ribeira da Prata, just 6km south of Tarrafal; or the little pebbly cove at Cidade Velha.
Two jagged mountain ranges dominate the centre of the island. Driving from the south to the north of the island you pass through impressive scenery. The mountain scenery provides plenty of photographic opportunities. The highest mountain peak is Pico d’Antónia, which reaches an impressive 1,394m (4,573ft) and is situated in the Serra Malagueta National Park. Winding cobbled roads lead to hidden villages and rough tracks afford plenty of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. Ornithologists will be in their element as most of the species endemic to Cape Verde can be found on Santiago.
The old capital of Cidade Velha is a UNESCO world heritage site and worth a visit. Cidade Velha was the first city that was built by Europeans in West Africa. Forte Real de São Filipe, the main slave trading point between Europe, Africa and America, provides an interesting insight into the island’s past. It is a lovely village on the coast, and attracts visitors who visit the fort, the churches and ‘pelourinho’ a pillory dating from the 16th Century, that was used to punish slaves,
Praia is a busy African town, but with a clear Mediterranean flavour. Old colonial buildings line the main square on Plateau. Plateau, in the centre of the city is also where you will find the Presidential Palace and the Palace of Justice. Colourful, bustling markets, shops, chic cafés and quality restaurants can also be enjoyed and are dotted around the town. The pedestrian zone in Plateau has been smartened up recently and is a pleasant area to visit. If you want to take in the African heart of the country, Santiago Cape Verde should be on your list. Praia is also a transport hub with good links to all the islands in the Cape Verde archipelago.
The second largest town on the island is Assomada. On Wednesday and Saturday there is an African market, which attracts a lot of visitors and locals. At this market you can buy anything from animals such as chickens to items of furniture. In June/July there is a festival called Tabanka, which commemorates the liberation of slaves.
Santiago has a bit of everything that you will find in Cape Verde. The busy city of Praia, the lovely beaches, small towns and villages and majestic mountains.