Santiago is an island of Cape Verde.
- 1 Praia is the capital of Cape Verde.
- 2 Cidade Velha is the former capital.
- 3 Tarrafal has one of the most accessible swimming sand beach on the island and a collection of hotels plus access to adventure nearby adventure sports.
Calheta is on the east coast of the island of Santiago. It is the capital of São Miguel district. On the road going north, one can find spectacular cliffs falling into the ocean as well as great views of the highest peaks of Serra Malagueta.
Santiago has an international airport in Praia which is also a domestic hub. One should strongly consider buying the evisa online in advance. The airport queues can be long if you want to buy a visa upon arrival.
The port has some connections by boat to other islands, but the schedules change constantly. It is best to ask a hotel on your destination island for the current schedule before choosing this option. Being stuck in Praia waiting for a boat is not particularly inexpensive.
Most of the buses ("aluguer") leave from the bottom of the steps that lead from Parque 5 de Julho to the Old Town in Plato. If you repeat your destination loudly, many of the drivers will shuffle you towards the correct bus. The touts did not try to charge any money either in March 2019, but the "central minibus station" seems to attract a seedier part of the population for the informal market nearby. Also of note, the minibuses often have destinations in decals on their sides (Cidade Velha or Assomada or Tarrafal). These black decals are not necessarily related to the route they want to take, which means it is necessary to ask clearly before taking one.
For the beautiful east coast road (Tarrafal to Achada Fazenda), it was not easy to find a direct aluguer from Praia or from Tarrafal in March 2019. In both instances, the drivers wanted passengers for Achada Fazenda or Calheta to go to Assomada and change, which means missing the best natural part between Calheta and Tarrafal.
The island is mostly comprised of precipitous mountains, which make for exciting roads and grand views. The historical and cultural sights are concentrated in Praia with some notable ruins in Cidade Velha and the former dictatorial prison in Tarrafal.
The island is dry and dusty with only a few narrow green gorges breaking up the yellow and red scenery. The cliffs on the east coast are spectacular, and the black beaches on the west coast make for good walking and picnicking. The very hospitable population makes travel pleasant, and there is almost always a cold water or grog to be had on any route.
The local culture is friendly, fascinating, and West African. Santiago provides a good mix of beautiful nature in the north and center, modern West Africa in Praia, and historical colonial sights in Cidade Velha.
Santiago is not really a place to go for a resort experience or a typical beach vacation such as one finds in the nearby Canaries or as advertised for Boa Vista island.
Cachupa is the national dish and is a distant relative of Portuguese feijoada, and it can be ordered at a lot of places. Canjo is a type of chicken and rice stew but this dish is harder to find.
Papaya and banana are readily available on the island and of good quality.
As with most other former Portuguese colonies, the pastel is an important morning tradition in the cities. There are many bakeries making pastel de nata (sweet cream), pastel con peixe (savory fish), pastel de carne (beef/pork mixture), pastel de frango (chicken), and others.
Grog ("Grogu/Grogo") is the national drink, usually served 75-100ml straight, but there also appears to be a local dark rum. In English there is a difference between grog and white rum, but this appears not to be the case in Portuguese. Many flavored "grogs" are also available on the island.
Cold beer is generally inexpensive and plentiful, although some bars are funny about leaving with the glass bottles. In a country with ample roadside rubbish, the bar owners appear to be fanatic recyclers.
International beverages such as whisky are available in bars, but the prices are 5-10 times higher than grog and rum.
The roads are in relatively good condition, and the petty crime does not appear to be common. With that said, there are no street lights in general, which makes nighttime travel precarious. It would be wise to consult a local before heading out after dark, even in Praia.
Consult the Praia page for updated flight information.
There are boats in theory to every island, but the schedules are not reliable. Maio is the closest island with supposedly daily passage available. In March 2019, there were offerings in travel agencias to take regular boats to Ilha do Fogo and Ilha Brava. It is unclear how consistently those run, but it may be interesting to consult the travel agencies for charters to see if there enough people to take a faster boat.