Cape Verde’s largest ‘gateway’ island with its international airport is home to the capital Praia – distinctly African, noisy, crowded and bustling in the the city centre with its African markets.
Cidade Velha lies a short distance from Praia, once the illustrious Portuguese capital of Cape Verde, with a grand cathedral and a magnificent fort. The history of the island is continued in the village with its carefully prepared museum. Cidade Velha’s fortunes were built on the slave trade between African, Americans and Europeans.
For over 200 years merchant galleons visited Santiago to barter and buy manpower imported from West Africa. Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake and Vasco de Gama also docked in Cidade on their voyages of discovery. Archaeologists are currently exploring a 14th century Jesuit college, further evidence of Cidade’s rich history and historical importance.
A circular tour of the island can be completed in a day, although two is recommended to take everything in. The island has a mountainous interior with two large mountain chains, the highest point being Pico d’Antonia at 1392m. The centre of Santiago is fertile and farming is evident, bananas, papaya and maize thrive here. There are also some excellent botanical gardens and a bustling African market in Assomada, the central island city.
On the north coast the pretty fishing village of Tarrafal is well worth a visit. Here the villagers crowd around fishing boats, bartering for the best of the catch – one senses little has changed for centuries. Call at the former concentration camp known as ‘Campo da morte lenta’ (slow death camp) to some; ‘Aldeia da morte’ (death village) to others. It brings back a stark feeling of the former colonial regime. A visit tells it’s own story.