(mudar para Portugues) Our visitor to Cape Verde should start in Praia, the capital. Many flights connect the city now. The airport – now called Aeroporto Internacional da Praia Nelson Mandela – is slowly taking over the hub function of Sal’s Amilcar Cabral airport, which has a long and colourfull history. If you can afford it, travel in style and arrive with the country’s own TACV in their own Business or Fragata Class.
For Praia and the rest of Santiago Island one should take at least 4 or 5 days. The city of 150.000 is developing fast and – though many Capeverdeans from other islands hate to admit it – it’s the place where most things are happening and being decided.
Slowly the historic Plato district is being tidied up and older buildings are being restored. New shops and cafe’s appear along the pedestrian-only central streets. Praia boasts a couple of excellent international hotels, like the Praia Mar and Tropico, which cater to most business travellers. Of the two, the Praia Mar is best suited for the more casual and relaxed visitor or tourist.
An excellent business option is the suites only Praia Guesthouse, opposite the Tropico. A good (brandnew and spotlessly clean) general option is the three-star Hotel Vista on Achada de Santo Antonio heights, the city’s main business district. But Praia awaits a small hotel boom. A new hotel is being planned between the lighthouse and the Praiamar, while the latter’s owners, Oasis Atlantico, are planning a new five-star hotel hearby. A Hilton has also been announced and there are several smaller and local developments in the pipeline.
Another option is to stay in Cidade Velha, the first European town founded ever in Africa, just 15 minutes outside Praia (rent-a-car required). This town is developing into Praia’s gold coast, slowly becoming a high class suburb. Cidade Velha now has a main trump card: the Limeira Hotel, set in paradisical tropical gardens.
Spend at least one day exploring Cidade Velha, climb up to the fortaleza on the ridge and inspect the churches and convent down in the gorge. Don’t forget to wander through the gorge a bit towards the interior of the island. Spend another day on the Plato in downtown Praia, visiting the Casa de Cultura, the Pão Quente bakery, the town square, the Harmonia music store and relax at the Sofia internet cafe.
A couple of small museums have been founded in the capital, among which a small archeological one with objects collected from the many shipwrecks found around the archipelago. Even though modest in character, they deserve attention and support. If you have the guts, plunge into the hustle and bustle of the Sucupira market, just off the Plato. And don’t forget to lunch or dine at the historic Poeta restaurant, albeit for the view and not so much for the food. At night you can dine at the Quintal da Musica (on the Plato) and enjoy some live music.
Howadays there are plenty of good restaurant options in the capital. For instance try the Pescador restaurant at Praia Guesthouse (a Portuguese fish restaurant) or Aviz on the Plato. Both have stylish modern interiors. On the Achada de Santo Antonio heights, the Peixe na Grelha fish restaurant is a must. In posh Prainha district (roughly speaking the area between Tropico and Praiamar hotels) there is also the Mediteraneo. By the way both hotels mentioned have good eateries as well.
Slowly Praia’s waterfront is developing onto a more attractive part of town, with new plants and trees being planted along the main coastal road. New beach clubs and restaurants have appeared, like the Quebra Cabana, the K (pronounce Kappa), the Ipanema Rodizio and, high on Cruz da Papa (on one of te Achada’s access roads), the Nice Kroula, offering nice views.
A rented car will give you freedom to explore the interior of Santiago. Head out in the direction of Assomada on the brandnew highway. A must see place and a good location to have lunch is the Rui Vaz hotel and restarant, set spectacularly high on a mountain. Drive up there on it’s winding access road.
There are many other spots to stop along the way to Assomada and enjoy great views. The mountains of Santiago’s interior have some mystery about them. A first time visitor will be thrilled and feel as if he is entering a lost continent.
A nice visit along the way is the national agricultural research centre INIDA and the nearby Botanical Gardens, at São Jõao dos Orgãos.
After passing through the central market town of Assomada head further towards Tarrafal. First the road climbs up a mountain range, where wild monkeys reign in barren gorges. Then the road descends again towards Tarrafal, past the former prison where Portugal sent its political prisoners from all over its empire before the 1974 revolution. Then you enter Tarrafal, set on a splendid bay with beaches, a couple of small hotels and restaurants.
You can spend the night in Tarrafal, but it is also possible to drive around the island in one day and return to Praia before dark. Of course you don’t want to drive back the way you came, so our visitor should follow the coast road to Santa Cruz, passing remnants of the villages of the onetime seclusive rabelados, descendants of runaway slaves.
Back in Praia you can enjoy a good dinner and pack your bags for the next day. Our visitor will embark on part 2 of our Grand Tour of Cape Verde: a visit to Sao Vicente.