Cape Verde…Where life is a « beach »! (Part 1: Santiago)

For many people, white sand beaches, unspoilt sunshine and a cold beverage in hand symbolizes the perfect holidays. I’ve never been one of those people, or at least I’ve been postponing such destinations for ages, choosing different ones as people who know me well know that I’m the “green-landscapes-seeking” kind of traveler. But that was about to change 🙂

Sometime ago, our Moroccan airlines introduced a new connection Casablanca-Praia and frankly I knew very little about this city, all my knowledge was around the fact that it was the capital of Cape Verde;  the country of both Cesaria Evora and the guys we couldn’t beat in football (I had to mention that, I mean really?! Cape Verde?! I bet they’ve just created their Football team when we played against them!) Anyway, for my Q3 trip, I thought: “Cape Verde, why not!” , this is by the way becoming the first thought that pops in my mind in every conversation that involves suitcases or flight tickets!

For those who, like myself, didn’t know much about this country, it’s a tiny horseshoe of nine islands about 500 km from the Senegal coast in West Africa, those islands are: Sal (the sunniest one), Boavista (the cosy one), Santiago (the green one), Sao Vicente (the cultural one), Santo Antao (the mountainous one), Sao Nicolau, Fogo (the volcanic one), Maio & Brava.  As I only had 5 days to spend, I chose to go “island hopping” in between two islands, starting and ending in Santiago since the plane from Morocco landed there, and visiting Boavista for 3 days.

Having checked out some information and stunning pictures online, my notion of finding a very lush group of green islands, as the Portuguese name ‘Verde’ suggests, ( and which is basically my “thing”), had evaporated ( I almost got disappointed but it was kind of too late as I’ve had already bought my flight ticket at that point!), instead I ended up expecting to see some rugged coastline and white sandy beaches everywhere. Well, I wasn’t totally wrong…for both options  🙂

As I mentioned earlier, Praia is located in Santiago; the greenest, the largest island and the land where my journey began. The pace is quite slow in the capital, and there lies the heart of the island’s nightlife with musical events and dances as soon as the sun goes down. While wandering around the city, you could even feel that it was the most African city in the whole country, especially when you visit the huge “Mercado de Sucupira” the most eclectic, diverse (and not so clean) market of the island.

Praia-Plateau
Praia-Plateau

About 3 Km on the north of Praia, is located the historic fort of “Cidade Velha”. Getting there is the easiest thing through the local mini bus, and as a bonus you get to experience the crazy drivers (they’re all crazy!), the endless staring from everyone in the bus and Cesaria Evora’s song “Petit pays” playing over & over again (it’s a nice song though..). The town is also listed as a world heritage site whilst also being the first European settlement in the tropics, where discovering the traumatic and fascinating history of slavery and European colonization is something not to be missed.

IMG_1919
Cidade Velha
The view from the Fort
The view from the Fort

On the other side of the island (about a 2h drive North), lies another face of Santiago: Tarrafal bay! It’s a small town with a beautiful beach in the middle of gorgeous mountains, which reminded me of some parts of Morocco. For me the most memorable part of Tarrafal was not only the beach or the swimming or even the water sports (as all those activities exist in Boavista and I personally get easily bored from beaches …), what I actually loved the most was the national park of “Serra Malagueta”, a wonderful ecotourism park located in the Ribeira Grande region, around 15 minutes from Tarrafal and next to the small town of Assomada. Walking in the middle of the foggy open forest (Pines, Cypresses, Eucalyptus) and across terraced fields on remote paths is the best way to enjoy the region and go beyond the usual “laying on the beach all day” kind of days 🙂

Tarrafal Bay
Tarrafal Bay
Walking the “Serra Malagueta”
Walking the “Serra Malagueta”

The blend of two cultures is always intriguing and Cape Verde is one of the most enchanting I’ve seen so far. Portuguese, African, Caribbean and even Brazilian mingle together into a vivid rainbow of history, arts, architecture and people. Those people who also are the most helpful, welcoming and warm I’ve come across so far. Of course they can be a bit intrusive sometimes , but when you get lost, on the 1st night of your stay at 11pm on your way to the hotel, when the city streets are dark and you start imagining the scenario of the next “criminal minds” episode using what you’ve just read about 2 backpackers killed in Thailand couple of days ago, you could use someone to interfere in your life, call a cab and escort you to your hotel front door, and of course none of this actually really happened 😉

Cheers to the places we yet have to go to!


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