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Santiago is the largest island in the Cape Verde archipelago, its main resort of Praia housing the island's international airport, constructed less than five years ago. Flights from the UK take approximately seven hours, although you may find that you cannot fly direct and will have to transfer either via Portugal or into the neighbouring Cape Verde island of Sal.
The island's capital city of Praia has a distinctly African feel to it, with bustling streets and crowded markets which although colourful and vibrant, may not instantly appeal to all, particularly those who come in search of a relaxing beach holiday. As you may expect from an island, there are no shortage of beaches and coastal inlets, but you will find the vast majority have black volcanic sands and rock. There are yellow sand beaches located at Tarrafal and Sao Francisco but both are quite difficult to reach. Car hire is available but roads can be uneven and extremely basic, particularly off the beaten track, so a 4x4 is advisable. Many may find it simpler and more comfortable to travel with an organised excursion or a local, knowledgeable guide. Most tourist hotels offer regular trips.
Across the island you will find a great deal that is of historical interest. Approximately 10 miles from the capital of Praia is Cidade Velha, the original capital of the Cape Verde islands when it was colonised by the Portuguese – the first ever European settlement on African land. Amongst its historical monuments and museum, Cidade Velha houses a grand cathedral and the magnificent S. Filipe fortress, dating back to the 15th century, from which there are panoramic views over the city. Merchant ships docked at Santiago for over 200 years, including those steered by Captain Cook and Sir Francis Drake. Charles Darwin also stopped at the island to collect several specimens whilst travelling to the Pacific. The wrecks of Portuguese ships, downed by Sir Francis Drake in the 16th century, are still accessible to divers off the island's coast.
Santiago is greener and more fertile than many of the other Cape Verde islands, making it good for farming - banana, maize and papaya crops are all in evidence. The centre of the island is particularly mountainous and is excellent terrain for walking and hiking. There are two mountain ranges, Rui Vaz and Pico d'Antónia. Group excursions (which are advisable) are organised on a daily basis, taking climbers, via a well organised trail of pathways, up as high as 4000ft. The highest point on the island is Pico d'Antonia which commands some breathtaking and panoramic views across the whole of Santiago.
As with any island destination, watersports are always in plentiful supply. With clear, calm waters surrounding Santiago, the area is a haven for divers and snorkellers, who can marvel at the marine life or explore the wrecks of numerous ships – many of which still contain the remains of the treasures and cargos they were originally carrying.
When the day is done, Santiago offers a varied and lively range of nightlife, much of which is influenced by the island's Portuguese and African heritage. There are a good number of hotels, offering nightly entertainment, together with local bars and restaurants. Unsurprisingly, the emphasis on all local menus is the seafood, caught daily, as well as Creole and Portuguese inspired dishes.
Temperatures on Santiago can reach as high as 35 degrees throughout the high season, from around June to September. December to March brings cooler weather but still an average of 20 degrees, making this a good all year round holiday destination.
Many of the islands that make up Cape Verde are mountainous, providing some spectacular scenery. Inter-island travel is wholly possible, if sometimes a little erratic. There is an internal carrier operating flights between islands and also a series of inter-island ferries, although these tend to be more cargo ships than pleasure cruisers and their frequency and level of comfort can vary considerably. For those that do venture a little further, there is peaceful Maio or for the more intrepid, a trip to Fogo which can include an expedition up a live volcano!
Visitors to Cape Verde will need a visa, which can normally be obtained through your travel agent. Flights from the UK to Cape Verde only commenced approximately four years ago, prior to which the bulk of tourism had been from Portugal and Italy, but English is now widely spoken across the resort. However, unlike some other European resorts, credit cards are not widely accepted (particularly Mastercard) and you will need to carry cash or travellers cheques.