Things to do in Praia
Praia, the capital of Cape Verde and the biggest city of the island of Santiago, is a vibrant city with approximately 130.000 people. And while this might sound “little” the entire country has a total population of a bit over half of a million! It is somewhat tricky to find information online about what to do in Praia, Cape Verde, as the city (and as a result the entire island) is usually either totally skipped in favour of the most famous Sal and Boa Vista, or Praia airport is used as a stopover towards other islands. This is sad as Praia is the ideal introduction for Cabo Verde, its social and economic centre and full of historic remnants hidden in every corner.
For me, Praia was the place I celebrated my 34th birthday and Santiago the first island we visited in Cape Verde- or Cabo Verde as the official name is. Travelling to Cabo Verde had been a dream of mine for over 12 years and it always seemed impossible and far from being real… But here we are! Let’s talk about what to do and what any Praia itinerary should include!
Wander at the oldest settlement
Some basics about the landscape:
Praia is built on a plateau, hence the name of its most central neighbourhood.. Plateau, actually the oldest settlement of the city! Here one can find the local market, banks, small cafes and ice cream places, little parks where locals hang out, restaurants, convenience stores and some shops. Smaller than expected for a capital city but big enough to spend some hours in here.
Visit the tiny museums
Most of the museums are located in/around Plateau too. As a relatively poor country of course we can’t expect big museums but the little ones that can be found here are really representative of the (quite short) history of the nation. If you are interested in the history behind the West African revolutions and independence you need to visit the Sala-Museu Amilcar Cabral which is centrally located and easily spotted by the graffiti outside its building.
There is also an ethnography museum (centrally located as well) and an archaeological museum which is a bit off the way and you really need to look for that. Hidden behind the Academia de Artes/ Cesaria Evora it has a metallic door and it doesn’t look like a museum – unless you spot their sign, a bit of adventure! It is basically a museum about the shipwrecks and their findings around the islands of Santiago, Maio and Boa Vista; I found it spot on!
Spend some time in the surrounding beaches
Most tourists just visit Plateau during the day but prefer to stay around the beaches (if they decide to spend time here at all). The beaches from Plateau towards the port are not suitable for swimming (See photo below) but on the other side there are smaller or bigger sandy bays. Of course around these there are hotels, embassies and other facilities built for tourists, however, the beaches are still free and open for everyone to enjoy! Fingers crossed they will remain like that!
Exercise with locals!
The people here make good use of the open spaces. We stumbled upon locals doing yoga all together, swimming, practicing capoeira, doing cardio/ push ups, running… pretty much everything! Don’t feel shy, join the club! Or, if you just bring a football in the beach, there will be many people around you willing to play soon after- take the chance!
Since we are talking about “exercises” I may warn you : even if you don’t join any locals’ activities you will be forced to do your cardio! Praia has many hills so you will find yourself going up and down- and the maps do not help much either! But you don’t really need to take taxis -unless you are fading due to the heat of course!
How safe is Praia?
This is a good question. We noticed that most of Cabo Verdeans, we talked with, from other islands consider Praia unsafe and there are indeed some incidents supporting this hunch. Walking in between the districts is not recommended as there are many dead ends streets, lots of stairs, not proper infrastructure, inaccurate maps etc. What we did? We walked almost everywhere (yes in between the districts too!) , even at night- some tiny cobbled streets did seem unfriendly but we didn’t face any problems. We encountered with just two beggars (way fewer than the beggars we saw in Sal for example) and mainly friendly locals during our 4-day stay in the island! I don’t recommend you to walk around after dark especially as a solo female traveller though just because.. better safe than sorry. However, I have been in places where I felt unsafe/ uncomfortable so I wouldn’t “label” Praia as dangerous at all, if you use the normal precautions and be aware of your surroundings. Also, don’t forget that learning few words / phrases in Portuguese (the official language) can help you in the long run.
Where to stay in Praia
How to get to Praia
How many days to spend in Praia? Or.. should I skip Praia?