Stunning beaches, green mountains and the interesting mix of African and Portuguese culture. Cabo Verde is not a trendy travel destination and that’s why it’s so special. Santiago is the biggest islands in Cape Verde, it’s also where the old and the new capital is located. If you want to get a taste of the country, this is the place you should start your trip, even if you only have one day there. To help you plan your 24 hours itinerary we listed the top attractions and things to do in Santiago, Cape Verde.
Cape Verde is an archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean, on the northwest coast of Africa. Together with Madeira and Savage Islands [belonging to Portugal], they constitute the Macaronesia, which means “fortunate islands”. This name quickly gives an idea of what we can expect and it really does not disappoint.
The archipelago is located about 450 km from Senegal, the westernmost point of continental Africa. Santiago was the first island reached by the Portuguese and it’s the largest of the ten that comprise the archipelago. This island was the last of the three that I had the opportunity to visit and it was the one I enjoyed the most. I already had visited Sal and Boavista, which are by far the most tourist ones and, therefore, in my view, a little less interesting.
Things to do in Santiago, Cape Verde
If you can stay only one day on the island of Santiago, my recommendation is to explore the city of Praia and the Old Town, where the Portuguese touched the soil of Cape Verde for the first time.
Places to visit in Santiago during the morning
Start by going to the Sucupira Market, which is a strategic point in Praia city. In one of the sides of the market, you will spot huge white vans, the extremely popular Hiaces (Toyotas Hiace). These are the collective taxis that move around the island and that everyone uses.
Look for a Hiace that goes to the Old City and hop in, the price is around 200 escudos (2€). If the wagon is full, it will head [more or less] directly to its destination, otherwise, it will complete the laps necessary around the city of Praia until it is full. You can also catch a cab, the route is not that long, but catching a Hiace with locals is a unique experience and one of the local things to do in Cape Verde. During the Hiace journey, the driver stops as necessary to meet the requests of the occupants, so sit back and relax, the pressure to meet timetables is inexistent and this makes everything worthy.
The Old Town appears down there, next to the water, after a tight corner. This site is the birthplace of Cape Verde, where the Portuguese arrived with their ships, centuries ago. The Hiace will leave you in Largo do Pelourinho, where today we can still find the homonymous structure. It’s the central point of the Old Town, quite close is the 1st street urbanized by the Portuguese in sub-Saharan Africa, called Rua Banana. This street is not that long and deserves to be visited, due to its history, houses and also because it is the access to Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário. This religious temple is the oldest in the country.
Then visit the ruins of Sé Cathedral and slightly above you have Forte Real de São Filipe, catch a cab or ask for pedestrian access. You will love the view that you get during the ascent, and also the challenge to climb stairs of different sizes and shapes along this uneven path.
By this time, you will probably want to have a lunch break, so go back to the place where you started the visit, Largo do Pelourinho. Get closer to the sea and pick a restaurant. Sit back and enjoy the view. The peacefulness is outstanding.
What to do in Santiago during the afternoon
Catch that Hiace again, toward the center of Praia city. Ask to stop at Sucupira Market, your place of departure in the morning. Visit the market and walk by the stalls of fruit, clothing, textiles, toys, bread, and cakes. Even animals are sold there. What I liked the most was the colors of the local clothing, all of them are sold there, as well as the fruit and vegetables available.
From the market, head to Plateau, the oldest neighborhood in Praia. This area is different from the rest of the island’s capital. The main point of the neighborhood is Praça Alexandre Albuquerque, located in the heart of several businesses, institutional and religious buildings. The streets are extremely busy [especially on weekends], many locals come down to buy and sell something or address any issue they have.
The colonial buildings are beautiful, lots of them have been restored. This neighborhood is also known as Chinatown, given the number of Chinese traders that have settled there. And among all the cool things to do in Santiago a visit to the local market in Plateau area is a must.
Look for the Presidential Palace, and near it, there is a viewpoint with beautiful views. Since the Plateau is located, as the name foretells, on a plateau, from there you can admire the black sand beach and the port. Walk down to the sea and go for a relaxed stroll by the seashore. Pass by the Maria Pia lighthouse and discover the islander of Santa Maria, which is very close. Keep walking until you reach the beach Quebra Canela and climb up to the place where Cruz do Papa is, a huge cross that is on the top, and from where we have an outstanding view.
As a farewell, walk down again to the beach level and visit the wood café next to the beach. It has live music at the end of the day, on Sundays you’re lucky [if you like it as much as I do] because it’s reggae. Say goodbye to Santiago with a glass in your hand, good music, and a beautiful sunset ahead of you.
If you can stay for dinner, you should go back to the Plateau and look for Quintal da Música, the famous open-air restaurant where you can find daily music outdoors. The Cape Verdean music has an immense soul, I like it a lot, particularly the mornas.
Where to stay in Santiago, Cabo Verde
After dinner and might one stay the night, as it’s easy to fall in love with Santiago and Cabo Verbe relaxing vibe. So if you need to spend the night there here are our recommendations of where to stay in Santiago, Cabo Verde – best hotels for any type of travelers and budget.
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She travels independently and already went to more than 40 countries. She loves to meet the culture, the habits and the ways of living of the locals. Morocco, India, and Cambodia are among her favorite places. You can check her blog Wandering Life and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.