Cape Verde’s sunny climes might belie its melancholy history, but capital city Praia is a cosmopolitan hub that is not only the economic heart of the island nation, but also a rich cultural mecca. Lying some 570 kilometres off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde spans an archipelago of ten islands. Praia lies on the southern coast of Santiago island and is made up of a series of valleys and plateaus.
Economically, the island nation has had just as many ups and downs. The slave trade ensured prosperity for a period, but tough economic times since have ensured that the number of Cape Verdeans living abroad, as well as their descendants, currently exceeds the population of Cape Verde itself. The island today, however, enjoys political stability and a thriving services industry.
Getting there and away
Praia has an international airport located about 3km northeast of the city centre. From here, local airlines fly to various destinations in Europe, Africa, South America and United States. Taxis from the airport to the centre of Praia and buses are available from the airport into the city, but services are infrequent. Praia is also accessible through the port, and ferry boat services are available to and from the islands of Maio, Boavista, Sal and Sao Nicolau with more regular services to and from Sao Vicente and Fogo islands.
Taxis are readily available and are of a good standard. However, make sure to agree to the fare beforehand. The normal taxi fare shouldn’t be more 1500 escudos in daytime and 1800 escudos at night. Taxi drivers also usually expect to get a tip so give around 50 escudos to 100 escudos. The most inexpensive way of getting around is taking the aluguers that are easily identified and drive around the town. The city also has a good bus system. Most of the bus lines pass by Plateau (city centre) and the bus fare is about 35 escudos.
Where to stay
One of the best known hotels in Praia is the Pestana Trópico which is ten minutes from the centre of the city and only 5km from the airport. It is located close to the historical centre and boasts gorgeous ocean views. The aging Oásis Atlântico Praiamar receives mixed reviews but is worth it for the sea view alone. A good business option is the Hotel Holanda, which is located in the urban quarter of Achada Santo António, where the United Nations and the EU have their offices.
While not yet a global gastronomical capital, Praia has the potential to become a great dining destination: an influx of immigrants, abundant supplies of fish and meat, and bigger incomes thanks to a growing economy. During your stay, enjoy the local, Portuguese and international delicacies at Pestana Tropico’s Alex, considered to be one of the best on Santiago. Another option is Kebra Cabana, situated on the busiest beach in Praia. If you’re feeling adventurous, it is also worth searching for Santinho’s, which is not on the map.
History and culture
The Cape Verde archipelago was discovered by Italian and Portuguese navigators around 1456. In 1462, the Portuguese established a permanent settlement. As such, the city of Praia is characterised by European-style colonial architecture and streets with paved sidewalks and gardens. The slave trade defined the 16th century, and still shapes the music of today. Cape Verde music incorporates Portuguese, Caribbean, African, and Brazilian influences; singer Cesaria Evora is Cape Verde’s best-known export, her songs defining the morna style.
In the city
In the city, visit the Praia town hall, the Praia Cathedral and the Palácio da Justiça for beautiful examples of colonial architecture. Other landmarks include Albuquerque Square, the Presidential Palace and the Monumento de Diogo Gomes; the Portuguese navigator who discovered the island of Santiago. The Cidade Velha (Old City) was the first city built by the Europeans on the islands. It also the location of the oldest colonial church in the world, constructed in 1495, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009.
Cape Verde’s many music styles and dancing mania are very much on display in Praia’s many bars and discos. The Tabu bar close to the harbour has an open-air disco, while the Zero Horas bar (close to the airport) also has a dance area under the open sky. The Quebra Coco (located below the Praia Mar Restaurant) is another favourite for locals. Dolce Vita, in the quarter of Achada de Santo António, is directly on the ocean.
Shopping in Cape Verde for day to day items can be expensive as most produce is imported, but the colourful markets are not to be missed. Here you can find typical Cape Verdean products; basket-weaving and cloth-weaving play a very important role in the islands’ handicraft heritage, as does clay. It is used to make pots and kitchen utensils, as well as figures depicting everyday routines. The local wine and coffee beans also make excellent souvenirs.
Out of the city
Cape Verde is famous for its wind sports. Hit one of the many spectacular beaches on the islands of Santiago or Boavista for a lesson in wind surfing or wave sailing. Cape Verde is also a bird-watching paradise; the archipelago’s isolation has resulted in it having a number of endemic species, particularly birds and reptiles. Hiking is another pleasant option. The island of Fogo is one massive volcano, which last erupted in 1995. Fit travellers can climb Mount Fogo; it takes around five hours each way but it’s advisable to take a guide.
The people are a mixture of African and European with approximately 70% of the population being of mixed race. The official language of the islands is Portuguese, which is used in most written communication, including newspapers; however Creole tends to be used in conversation and it’s this you’ll hear being used on a day to day basis. Creole is based on African languages but with additions from several European languages. Even this can differ from island to island. More recently, English has been taught as a foreign language in schools.
One last thing
Cape Verde’s climate is milder than that of the African mainland because the surrounding sea moderates temperatures on the islands. Average daily high temperatures range from 23 °C in January to 29 °C in September.