Santiago (Portuguese for ‘Saint James’) is the largest island in Cape Verde. It is home to half the nation’s population and to the capital city of Praia. The beaches of Santiago are varied and include beautiful white sand such as in the lovely town of Tarrafal in the north; the intriguing black beaches at places such as Ribeira da Prata, just 6km south of Tarrafal; or the little pebbly cove at Cidade Velha. Two jagged volcanic mountain ranges tower over the centre of the island. Driving from one end of the island to the other provides impressive scenery together with plenty of photographic opportunities.
The highest mountain peak is Pico d’Antónia, which reaches an impressive 1,394m (4,573ft) and is situated in the Serra Malagueta National Park. Cobbled roads wind their way to hidden villages and tracks afford plenty of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking.
A day trip to the old capital of Cidade Velha (a UNESCO world heritage site) and Forte Real de São Filipe, the main slave trading point between Europe, Africa and America, provides an interesting insight into the island’s past. Ornithologists will be in their element as most of the species endemic to Cape Verde can be found on this island. Praia is also a transport hub with good links to all the islands in the Cape Verde archipelago.
Praia is a bustling African town with a clear Mediterranean flavour. Old colonial buildings line the main square on Plateau, where you will find the Presidential Palace and the Palace of Justice. Bustling markets, shops, chic cafés and quality restaurants can also be enjoyed and are dotted around the town. The pedestrian zone in Plateau has been smartened up recently and is a pleasant area to visit. If you want to take in the African heart of the country, Santiago Cape Verde should be on your list.