Praia, Cape Verde

The capital of the Cape Verde archipelago, Praia on Santiago Island might be in African in body, but it is European in soul. In fact, when the Portuguese colonised the islands in the 15th century they found no human inhabitants. Thus Cape Verdeans have evolved with a highly unique blend of European and African ancestry, conversing in a sing-song language of Creole, African dialect and Portuguese. The islands only gained independence in 1975 (after a 15-year war), so Portuguese influence is rife and to some, relatively recent.

At almost 300 miles off the coast of mainland west Africa, the remoteness of the islands has allowed the archipelago’s natural wildlife to flourish. Naturalists consider Cape Verde as a mini Galapagos, with many endemic species. That, along with astounding landscapes, warm climate and clear waters is reason enough to visit. Add the liveliest market in all of the islands and you’ll soon fall in love with Praia’s shabby grandeur.

Originally named Praia de Santa Maria when it was first settled in 1615, the city is nation’s capital. The city is built on a plateau near the beach Santa Maria beach, the town centre still has monuments that attest to its rich history. Due to Santiago’s location between Africa, the soon-to-be-discovered America and Europe, Praia became a slave central for merchants returning to Europe. Buildings built for the dubious trade are still visible – including those with balconies overlooking the square where owners would negotiate the price of human property.

tour 1 Exploring the Mountainous region of Praia

This excursion looks really not worth doing. Non descript fillers!

Enjoy a diverse selection of Praia's wonderful features, from the country's first dam, to its agricultural heritage, to a botanic garden and a scenic mountain settlement. Depart the pier and head east towards Archada Fazenda after leaving Praia.

Your first stop on this full day tour is Barragem de Polao, a brick dam located in the eastern part of Santiago Island, completed in July 2006. It impounds the stream Ribeira Seca, being the islands largest river. The reservoir, used for irrigation, stretches between the villages of Polao and Levada. The island has a dry climate with occasional torrential downpours. After a brief stop at the dam, continue on towards Assomada, which since 1912, has been the seat of the municipality of Santa Catarina, which comprises of the central western part and much of the interior of the island of Santiago. Visit the local market and take in the fresh produce, vibrant colors along with bustling market noises and smells, all of which adds to the experience of visiting this wonderful local market, that offers veggies, fish, wood, meat and more.

Drive to the farming area and make a stop at a farm and meet with the farmer or one of his farm hands to learn more about what they farm and the process involved. Make a photo stop at Picos, also known as Achada Igreja, surrounded by mountains and lies about 4km north of the highest peak of the island of Santiago, Pico de Antonia. The tour continues to the community of Sao Jorge, with a visit to the small botanical garden "Jardim Botanico" Grandvaux Barbosa. The garden offers a variety of indigenous plants and is located in Sao Jorge dos Orgaos. The scenery outside the garden, mountains, forest and the gorges are quite breathtaking. Enjoy a fine local lunch a few km's beyond Sao Jorge, at the small settlement (population just over 1,000) in the central part of the island of Santiago, Rui Vaz, (810-meter elevation). After a traditional local set menu delicious lunch (I assume here) , depart Rui Vaz and travel back down through the mountainous landscape, a few hours' drive on narrow, windy roads, with gorgeous scenery to the Praia cruise pier.

tour 2 Praia Plateau & Cidade-Velha

Probably the best of the tours

Spend time in the old town of Praia (the Platuea) and then discover the first Cape Verdean settlement, Cidade Velha. Depart for this half-day morning via coach from the Praia cruise pier, travel 15 minutes to the Praia city center, called Plateau. Praia is considered the biggest and most African island of the archipelago. Let yourself be carried away by the contrast of history, complimented with a modern atmosphere. From the Plateau, take a short walk, over mostly cobblestone streets, taking in the sights of the Plateau, en route to the Ethnographic Museum. While in Praia, visit the Ethnographic (History) Museum, ocated inside a historic colonial style Portuguese building. The museum allows you to step back in time and imagine how life was for the early settlers.

Leave Praia and travel along the coast from Praia towards Cidade Velha, stopping first for a visit to the well-preserved Fort of Sao Felipe at the top of the hill, which offers amazing views overlooking the bay, with its far-reaching views out to sea. Continue by tour bus, down the hill to Cidade Velha. Formerly known as Ribeira Grande, Cidade Velha, in the late 18th century, was the first European colonial outpost in the tropics. Located in the south of the island of Santiago, the town features some of the original street layout, impressive remains, including 2 churches, a royal fortress and Pillory Square with its ornate 16th century marble pillar. Rich in history and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, "Cidade Velha", the former capital, was once the center of the slave trade. Take an easy walk through the picturesque narrow streets, with its beautiful stone homes, and feel the remnants of the first Portuguese settlers. Enjoy a coffee break near the seaside and a traditional dance performance 'Batuco', before the scenic panoramic driving back to Praia and to the cruise pier.

tour 3 Praia Plateau Walking

Looks a weak tour

Enjoy this fantastic walking tour featuring Praia's highlights, such as Plateau, the old town, Sucupira Market, the Praia Ethnographic Museum and a scenic viewpoint at the Palace of the President. Transfer 15 minutes to Praia city center, called Plateau, where you begin your walking tour.

Praia, the most cosmopolitan Cape Verdean city, is also known as the traditional city of the island. While Praia was named the capital in the 18th century in large part due to its well-located port, today it is the epic entre of the Cape Verdean economy. As you stroll through the streets of this lively capital visit the markets and the life of the friendly Cape Verdeans. On this 2.5-hour walking tour, take in in the sights of Praia, including monuments, government buildings, a Catholic church and important Historical sites in the city center. Leave the city center and head down a few flights of stairs to the intense "Sucupira" open air market. This vibrant place teems with colorful fabric & clothing/household goods, fine local food samplings and lots of locals milling about and shopping. Stop for a coffee break at one of the little bars surrounding the market. Head to the Palace of the President and viewpoint looking out to the harbor. With the sounds of this lively city behind us, we head back to the cruise pier in a coaster bus.

On to Porto Novo

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