Santiago is kind of an all-rounder offering you different activities from hiking, over swimming to exploring the culture of Cabo Verde. Explore more about the history of the country, visit a village of rebels, and learn more about how Cabo Verde was used for the slave trade. Here are six tips on what to do on Santiago if you want to save some money but still have a good time.
If you are visiting Cabo Verde’s main island Santiago, you will fast recognise that food and activities are in general more expensive since most products are imported from Portugal. Here are six perfect activities for you if you are also travelling on a budget.
Number One: Visit the local markets
If you visit Santiago, you should make sure to visit some of the famous markets around. One food market called Mercado Municipal for fruits and vegetables but also fish is directly in the city centre of the capital Praia on the plateau of the city. If you follow down the stairs you come directly to a second even bigger market called Mercado de Sucupira. From here are also starting the colectivos (minibuses used as public transport, read more in my blog post General tips for your vacation on Cabo Verde) to go around the island.
Mercado de Sucupeira is a market where you can buy all kinds of clothes but also shoes, jewellery, accessories and other different items. The market is also used by locals for shopping. Here I bought some pretty hair bands. Locals sell self-made clothes in traditional colours and fabrics. Most of them bring their sewing machines to fix the sizes in case a garment is not fitting you. The prices are really reasonable. I paid 150-200 CVE (1.36-1.80 €/ 1.50-2 US$) for a hair band and on a market in Sao Vicente 1,000 CVE (9 €/ 10 US$) for a homemade shirt plus 200 CVE (1.80 €/ 2 US$) extra to change it to my perfect fit. The market also sells homemade meals in front of the market. I paid 200 CVE (1.80 €/ 2 US$) for a whole meal. You can eat no were else in Praia cheaper than here.
Also, the other towns on the islands have their own markets. There is another big market in the second biggest city of Santiago called Assomada you can visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you are in Assomada make sure to also visit the Poilon Tree, the oldest tree in Africa.
Number Two: Visit Cidade Velha
Cidade Velha is the old town and former capital of Cabo Verde. The town was formerly called Ribeira Grande and was also renamed again to Ribeira Grande de Santiago in 2005. But all locals know and most of them also still use the old name Cidade Velha. It became the first settlement on the islands of Cabo Verde in 1462, founded by Antonio da Noli. Cabo Verde was actually a former uninhabited island. But with the discovery by Portugal, Cabo Verde was used for the slave trade marking the dark history of further colonial power of Europe. Most slaves were brought from Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone to Brazil and the Caribbean. Therefore nowadays the inhabitants of Cabo Verde are the descendants of Europeans and Africans – both influenced the Creole culture of Cabe Verde.
The historical centrum of Cidade Velha became part of the UNESCO world heritage in 2009. The town is full of history and culture. The Rua da Banana has nice traditional houses to gaze at and at the end of the street an old renovated church which is the oldest in Africa. There is also a fortress you can visit, which recalls the ancient history of the town being used for slavery. Cidade Velha is located next to the ocean and has a rocky stone beach.
Number Three: Go swimming in Cuba
Cuba is one of Santiago’s must-visits where you can swim in natural pools. Natural pools are little lagoons which are separated from the ocean. Cuba offers little water pools of stone with stone and sandy ground and different depths. It is close to Ribeira das Pratas (next to Tarrafal). You can reach it by hiking down to Ribeira Principal.
The pools of Cuba fill with fresh water from the ocean when the waves get a bit higher. On these days you should obviously also not swim in the pools since the strong waves can press you against the walls or under water. There is no entrance fee for the natural pools.
Number Four: Go hiking in Serra Malagueta
Serra Malagueta is a huge natural preserve in the heart of Santiago. Here you can have different kinds of hikes, like following a loop road but also a one-way path ending at the East and North-West coast.
The national park is located on a volcanic mountain range. The peak of Serra Malagueta is with 1,064 metres (3,490 feet) the second highest on the island (the highest is Pico da Antónia with 1,394 metres or 4,573 feet). If the sky is really clear you can see the neighbouring islands Fogo and Maio at the horizon. The park was founded in February 2005 and has a size of 774 hectares (1,912 acres).
Cabo Verde’s landscape can be really dry. If you want to hike in green you should come right after the rainy season to Cabo Verde, which is during September. You can find 124 different kinds of plants and around 19 different birds.
You can find a collection of hiking tours with the official app of Cabo Verde. Hiking in Cabo Verde is in general save, there are no dangerous animals anyway on the islands. You should just make sure to go with enough time, during day time and if possible bring others with you. You could also think about booking a hiking tour.
Tip: In the 1940s the mountains of Serra Malagueta were a hiding spot for the Rabelados, a group of non-violent rebels who flew from the Portuguese colonial ruler. The community of Rabelados are still living in this area. You can take a Colectivo from Calheta to find Espinho Branco to visit a little village and learn more about their traditions and culture. They also offer their own art exhibition.
Number Five: Visit the beaches in Tarrafal
The nicest beaches on Santiago are probably in Tarrafal in the North-West of the island. Here you can choose between white or black sand beaches and enjoy perfect sunsets.
You will find the black beach in Reibeira das Pratas which is nearby Tarrafal. The beach is usually deserted because it is a bit harder to find by tourists. So if you are lucky you will have (almost) the whole beach to yourself. When I went to visit the beach there was only one other couple there. If you are lucky you can even see the neighbouring island Fogo from the shore.
As I mentioned, the beach is a bit hidden from the road. There is a path, you have to follow which goes between coconut and palm trees. The beach is at the end of it. There is also a self-made sign saying ‘beach’. My host in Praia told me it is even allowed to set up a camp there which sounds pretty perfect in the combination of being in the West and having the whole horizon with the possibility of beautiful sunsets right in front of you.
The more famous white beach is directly in Tarrafal – here for sure, you won’t be alone. At this beach, you can also rent a boat or try jet ski.
But also Praia has some nice beaches you can visit. A bit hard to reach but famous for its turtles is São Francisco. Here turtles lay eggs if it is in the season. There are also some beaches closer to the city where you can go swimming as the little beach Prainha or the bigger one Praia da Gamboa.
Number Six: Enjoy the Street Art around Praia
Especially the two districts Achada Grande Frente and Terra Branca in the capital Praia offer a lot of different street art you can explore for free. Achada Grande Frente shows a long underwater scene and musicians. The art of Terra Branca is more diverse diving into the culture of the country. But you can also find more street art around the whole island like in Tarrafal. Read more about my favourite street art on Cabo Verde in my blog post Best Street Art spots on Cabo Verde.
❗️ One last extra tip
Enjoy the live music everywhere around the island. Especially in the capital Praia, there are a lot of nice spots to have dinner and listen to some music – there are several types from traditional to modern world music. Not really low budget but still worth a mention is 5tal da Música, a restaurant that offers different music and dances every night. Since it is a place where tour guides love to bring tourists you should make a reservation first.
But also if you do not want to spend too much money on food, crabbing some snacks and drinks and walking around the main streets of Praia will also entertain you for sure.
You have read the blog post Santiago on a budget – Top 6 activities on My Travel Journal-Blog.