Santiago is the largest island of Cape Verde.
More than half the population live on Santiago, which explains why the capital city, Praia, is typically African; vibrant , noisy and full of life.
The island is steeped in history, Cidade Velha being the oldest settlement which lies a short distance from Praia.
Cidade da Ribeira Grande de Santiago (previously called Cidade Velha), was once the illustrious Portuguese capital of Cape Verde. It has a grand cathedral and the city is overlooked by a magnificent fortress, Fortaleza Real de São Felipe.
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.
In 2009 Cidade Velha became a UNESCO World heritage site. The little houses of Banana road, which were typical of Portugal architecture, were rebuilt true to the originals as part of a UNESCO project. A visitor centre has recently been opened.
A circular tour of the island can be completed in a day, although longer is needed to truly appreciate Santiago’s beauty. 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 gets a sense of timelessness.
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.