Cape Verde: Discover the largest island of Santiago

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The island of Santiago, remains surprisingly less popular among tourists compared to its neighboring islands, Sal and Boa Vista. However, this hidden gem has a lot to offer, boasting beautiful natural areas, charming towns, stunning beaches, and a rich cultural and historical heritage. In Santiago you feel an authentic African atmosphere, thanks to its less touristy image. So if you seek a delightful blend of beach relaxation, cultural exploration, and immersion in nature, the versatile island of Santiago might be the perfect destination for you. Here are some valuable tips to make your tour of Santiago a trip you will never forget.

Hiking in Serra Malagueta

One of the most breathtaking hikes on this island is the Serra Malagueta trail, which offers stunning panoramic views. Interestingly, Serra Malagueta translates to "chili pepper mountains" in the local language, though we couldn't tell you why.

The trail is conveniently located near Tarrafal, and you can easily arrange a guided hike at the hotel where you stay. During our hike, we were invited by a local family in the mountains to savor a traditional dish of couscous with vegetables.

To reach Parque Natural Serra Malagueta, the easiest option is to travel from Tarrafal. While there might be closer starting points, they are not typically recommended for overnight stays on Santiago. In Tarrafal, head to the square where the aluguers (shared taxis) gather, located in front of the municipal market. Ask for Serra Malagueta, and you will be directed to the appropriate aluguer. We traveled in an open-bed pickup truck with benches, commonly a Toyota Hilux, offering shaded seating in the back.

The driver is familiar with the stop for visiting the park, so just make it clear when boarding. The cost per person for the aluguer is 200 escudos.

Inside the park, there is a visitor's center situated on the right side of the road if you're coming from Tarrafal. Once inside, you can find a map displaying various hiking routes. This map can be purchased for 100 escudos. Additionally, at the visitor's center, you will pay an entrance fee of 200 escudos per person, contributing to the park's maintenance.

Tip: Throughout the day, you'll need cash for all expenses, including transportation and entrance fees. Make sure to have small bills as obtaining change can be challenging in Cape Verde.

The visitor center usually recommends a specific route, the purple Eixo Oriental trail. The clerk at the office can help you locate it. This trail follows the road, providing stunning views at every turn. Even if you're not an avid hiker, the vistas alone make it worthwhile to explore.

Relaxing Beach Vibes in Tarrafal

Tarrafal provides an ideal setting to unwind and rejuvenate after your active exploration of Santiago. The town exudes a genuine beach atmosphere, making it the perfect place to recover from your adventures.

Picture by Booking.com

Tarrafal also serves as an excellent base for short trips, such as visiting the market in Assomada. We spent our final days here, specifically at an amazing hotel, and found it difficult to leave this lovely coastal town.

Where to stay

Having had the pleasure of experiencing King Fisher Village firsthand, we can confidently say that it is a remarkable destination that surpasses expectations. From the moment we arrived, we were captivated by the sheer beauty of the surroundings.

The commitment to sustainability is evident in every detail, from the eco-friendly architecture seamlessly blending with nature to the innovative conservation practices in place.

The villas and apartments exude elegance while maintaining a deep connection to Cape Verdean heritage. Exploring the vibrant gardens and witnessing the local wildlife was a true delight.

The authentic experiences offered, from savoring locally sourced cuisine to supporting local artisans, provided a genuine connection to the community. King Fisher Village is a sanctuary where luxury and sustainability intertwine harmoniously.

Immerse Yourself in Culture in Cidade Velha

From Praia, it's easy to reach the historic town known as "Cidade Velha" (meaning "old city") by taking an aluguer. Cidade Velha holds great significance as it marks the beginning of the slave trade in the 15th century, intertwining Cape Verdean and Portuguese history.

A visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must while on Santiago. Explore the impressive slave pole (pelourinho) on the main square, Fort Real de São Felipe, and stroll through Rua da Banana, the oldest street in Cape Verde. For a delightful meal, try the cozy restaurant called "Batuku."

Explore Santiago's Market

The extensive and vibrant market on Santiago is a bustling hub of activity, where people from all corners of the island converge on Wednesdays and Saturdays for their weekly shopping. Regular aluguers run from Tarrafal to the market. Simply walk to the parking lots and let the drivers know you want to go to Assomada. On market days, they will already be familiar with your destination.

Assomada, the previously deserted village had transformed into a lively town with a sprawling market extending beyond the market hall. It is a vivid display of life and colors.

The Giant Tree at Boa Entrada

While traveling from South to North Santiago, we encountered the island's largest tree, an enormous kapok tree. It is an extraordinary sight. During our taxi ride from Assomada to Tarrafal, we arranged with the driver to make a stop at this tree. He happily obliged and even took some photos himself.

Picture by Wikipedia

Locally known as Poilão de Boa Entrada, the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) stands approximately 60 meters tall (196 ft), with a trunk circumference of 28(!) meters (91 ft). This type of tree is primarily found in South America, making its presence in the heart of Santiago all the more remarkable. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the exact reason for its existence on the island, but it is certainly worth visiting when you're in Assomada.

Best time to visit

Cape Verde is an excellent destination to visit all year round. However if we are to designate a period as the best travel time for Cape Verde, then we suggest to go from November until the end of June.

From the end of July to the end of October there is a period when the Barlavento Islands (including Santiago, Sal and Boa Vista) can sometimes experience some rain. In addition, between mid-August and the end of September there is a very small chance of a tropical cyclone. Click here for more climate details.

This article was last updated on May 31, 2023.