Welcome to Santiago Island! The largest island of Cape Verde. With an area of 990 km2, at a rate of 55 km long and 29 km wide, it is probably the most diverse island in terms of its landscape.
In addition to its vast size, the Island of Santiago has a population of more than 290,000 inhabitants . Almost 50% of the total of Cape Verde Islands . The country’s capital, Praia, is also located on the Island of Santiago.
In it, you can find beaches of fine sand, mighty mountains and dry steppe areas, as well as fertile valleys and plateaus.
If the Island of Santiago in Cape Verde is one of your options, here you will discover everything you need to know about it!
Holidays in Santiago Cape Verde
Being the largest island in the archipelago, it is an island rich in history that at the same time functions as the main inter-island transportation hub for the entire country. Green valleys and plush plantations meet rugged mountains and bustling African cities, offering visitors another face of Cape Verde’s impressive diversity .
One of its main characteristics is its diversity in terms of landscapes. There is a great contrast between the vegetation and the mild and humid climate of the higher regions, with that of the lower ones, since they are very dry and arid.
Although Isla Santiago is the largest island in the country, and the one with the most population (almost 50%), the truth is that in terms of tourism it is very far from the two main islands ; Sal and Boa Vista. Although as we will see later, it also has its special appeal.
BEFORE TRAVELLING! Remember to hire the Best Travel Insurance for Cape Verde. Click here to find it!
Main Cities of Santiago Cape Verde
With almost 50% of the country’s total inhabitants, Santiago Island has the largest and most populated cities in Cape Verde. It is undoubtedly the economic and political engine of the Republic of Cape Verde . And proof of this is Praia, the capital of the island, and also of the country.
If you are thinking of staying or simply visiting Santiago Island, it will be good for you to know more about its main cities:
With just over 130,000 inhabitants , Praia is the largest and most populous city in all of Cape Verde. It is the governmental and economic epicenter of the country.
It has the characteristics of a “big” city, due to how noisy and hectic its daily life is. Although Praia is less tourist oriented, it has some interesting attractions for tourists; its old town is full of beautiful colonial houses, and has a large number of markets and symbolic buildings. It also has a very varied offer of nightlife areas , although not all of them are focused on tourists.
The best beaches in the city are Praia Prainha and Quebra Canela, which are close to the Prainha neighborhood . Praia da Gamboa, which is not recommended for swimming, is the site of a popular music festival on the island of Santiago.
Being a tourist, it is really difficult to get to know the ins and outs of Praia, so we recommend taking a tour with professional guides to really explore every corner of the capital. If you want to do it in Spanish, for us this is undoubtedly the best of all:
👉 Read our Travel Guide about Praia 🏨
“Ciudad Velha” , belongs to the municipality of Ribeira Grande. It was included in the list of World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in July 2009. The city is dominated by a mighty fortress, the Fortaleza Real de São Felipe, which serves as a reminder of the Portuguese colonial rulers.
As a curiosity, the municipality of Ribeira Grande was once the center of the international slave trade. Fortunately, this kind of thing has already passed to a better life…
To the north of Santiago, Tarrafal is located . A pretty little bay with palm trees sheltered from the wind, which is ideal for swimming. You can see the boats arrive at the small fishing port. Once a week, there is a market on the church square, and you can also visit an old baroque church. The surrounding mountains will invite you to try a good walk.
👉 Read our Travel Guide about Tarrafa 🏨
Where to Stay on Santiago Cape Verde
Whether it is because you are going to spend your entire vacation on Santiago Island Cape Verde, or because you have simply decided to visit the island for one or several days , you will need a place to sleep.
Santiago Island is best experienced as part of a multicentric vacation. That is, arriving from another Cape Verde island simply to visit it. It can be easily reached with an internal flight.
Although the Island of Santiago Cape Verde is not so focused on tourism, you have plenty of accommodation options . Especially in its capital, Praia. As usual, it is usual to take advantage of the stay on this island to visit the great city of Praia, we are going to try to recommend the best hotels there are. Hopefully it helps you!
Flights to Santiago Cape Verde
Opened in 2005, the only International Airport on the Island of Santiago is located in Praia, and is named after a great African historical figure: Nelson Mandela.
With more than 40 international flights a day, it is a great option to fly to Cape Verde. Although as we always say it will depend on your country or city of departure. Here we provide you with what we consider to be the best options to fly to Santiago Island!
How to get from Santiago Island Airport to my Hotel?
Like practically 99% of tourists who visit Isla de Santiago, we imagine that you will go directly to Praia. Nelson Mandela International Airport is only 3 km from the capital , so the journey is quite fast. There are 24-hour taxi services, so you won’t have any problem getting around with them (if anything, you’ll have to wait for them to be free). The price should not be more than €10-13 .
There is also the option of taking a bus, but the truth is that for more specific movements, the taxi is a more efficient option.
If you want to rent a car to move freely around the island, here we leave you the best car rental option in Santiago Island!
Things to do in Santiago Cape Verde
First of all, we want to emphasize that most tourists who visit the Island of Santiago do so for a few days. I mean that they have traveled from another Cape Verde island with the aim of spending a day or two in Santiago. For us it is surely the best option, too. If you are going to spend a week on vacation in Cape Verde, people usually choose Isla de Sal or Boa Vista as their main destination, and then take a day or two to visit Santiago.
That yes, although we do not recommend spending a whole week in Isla de Santiago, it does not mean that I do not have real plans to make . Here we leave you some of them!
Visit the small museums of Praia
The city of Praia is full of really interesting little museums . Obviously they are not “super” museums like the ones we are used to, but it is highly recommended to see some of them.
If you are interested in African history , full of revolutions and independence, you should visit the Amilcar Cabral Museum-Sala , which has a central location and is easily visible due to the graffiti outside its building.
Come to the Bay of Tarrafal
The beaches of Praia are not as impressive as those of other islands. For this reason, we recommend visiting the bay of Tarrafal , which is full of palm trees and has impressive views. There you can swim freely.
Visit the Municipality of Ribeira Grande
Visit the Municipality of Ribeira Grande Included in the list of World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO , you can find a majestic fortress, and truly incredible views . Once there, do not forget to approach the Cidade Velha.
Hiking along the Island of Santiago
Hiking is a very popular activity in Santiago Cape Verde, as the changing landscapes are very impressive . Embarking on a guided walk is the best way to experience the island. You will be able to walk among dense mango and coconut trees, witness a spectacular waterfall, and explore the rugged mountains of the interior of the island. You can also choose to hike up to the largest and most spectacular tree in Cape Verde , which is believed to be around 800 years old.
Enjoy a Party Night in Praia
Being the largest city in Cape Verde, Praia has a great offer of nightlife . It is the city with the most bars and clubs in the country, so the party is guaranteed! Of course, before leaving, make sure you know the place you are going to, since Praia is a city that has a higher crime rate than other islands.
Where to eat on the Island of Santiago Cape Verde?
The Island of Santiago is perfect to explore the gastronomy of Cape Verde . In Praia, you will have a huge offer of restaurants to try the typical Cape Verdean dishes.
Although being the capital the prices are a little more expensive, eating in restaurants does not entail a very high expense. It’s worth doing!
LIVE MUSIC! If you stay for dinner, we recommend the Quintal da Musica. A famous open-air restaurant where you will find live music every day.
How to move around the Island Cape Verde?
Even if Santiago Cape Verde’s public transport doesn’t work badly, you will have to take it with a little patience . In any case, although they are far from ” German punctuality “, it is a means widely used by tourists who want to move around the Island of Santiago Cape Verde.
The most used transports are the Bus and the Taxi. It is best that you ask your hotel for the schedule and routes of all the buses so that you can organize yourself as well as possible. You also have the option of renting a car for a few days. It is the most comfortable and easiest option to move around the island.
Frequently Asked Questions about Santiago Cape Verde Island
About 50% of the total population of Cape Verde lives on the Island of Santiago. That is, about 290,000 inhabitants.
The capital is Praia, which in turn is the capital of the Republic of Cape Verde. It is estimated that it has about 140,000 inhabitants. Practically half of those on the island.
The Island of Santaigo is not a very touristic island. Rather it is the economic and political center of the country. We recommend visiting Santiago, and especially Praia, but only for a few days. It is better to stay on another island in Cape Verde, and get to Santiago by ferry or internal flight.
Being the most populated island, and with the largest cities in the country, it is probably the most insecure island in Cape Verde. Try to take precautions on your nights out, and be well informed before going out.