Things to do in Praia, Cape Verde (Cabo Verde). We list attractions and things to know before you go to this West African island nation.
Things To Know Before You Visit Praia, Cape Verde
Cape Verde, also known as Cabo Verde, is an African nation made up of 10 islands and eight islets. Santiago is the largest of the islands and on it is the city of Praia, Cape Verde’s capital. Although some of the other islands offer more touristy attractions, there are still plenty of things to do in Praia. Before we get into specific Praia attractions, however, we wanted to go over a few things we think you should know before you visit Praia.
Where Is Cape Verde?
So first you might be wondering, where is Cape Verde? We actually had never heard of the country so we had to look up where it was when we were first asked to house sit there.
Cape Verde is in the central Atlantic Ocean, roughly 385 miles (620 km) off the western coast of Africa. The closest countries on the African continent are Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania.
How To Get To Cape Verde
The primary way most travelers get to Cape Verde is by plane. Cape Verde has four international airports, include one in Praia. Most flights have a layover in Europe.
Note: Because flights are not very frequent, you might have a very long layover. We flew out of Boston and had a 14-hour layover in Lisbon. On our way back, we had an 11-hour layover in Lisbon. The Lisbon airport is nice, but doesn’t offer much for entertainment or food. Pack snacks!
Do You Need A Visa To Go To Cape Verde?
According to the US State Department, as of February 24, 2020, US citizens entering Cabo Verde for tourism for less than 30 days do not require a tourist visa. We researched and it seems that those traveling from Europe don’t need a visa either, but always do your own research before your trip.
You will need to pay an Airport Security Fee (TSA) and complete a pre-arrival registration form online (it’s suggested to complete it five days before arrival). Registration is done on the EASE website and the fee is 3,400 CVE (about $38).
Best Time To Visit Cape Verde
We were fortunate that our house sit was in November, considered one of the best times to visit Cape Verde. The rainy season in Cape Verde is from August to October, although from what we understand, they are heavy downpours that don’t last long. So really, you can visit Cape Verde any time because it’s warm and sunny all year round. Temperatures tend to average between the 60s and 80s.
What Language Is Spoken In Cape Verde?
Portuguese is the official language of Cape Verde, due to the colonization of the islands by the Portuguese in the mid-1400s. Crioulo is a Portuguese creole language that is also spoken as much as, if not more than, Portuguese. Because tourism is growing on the islands, though, English is also spoken by many in the service industry.
Cash Is King In Cape Verde
Seriously, they only use cash. I think during our whole three weeks there, we only used our debit/credit card two times. Sometimes restaurants and stores did accept credit cards, but they were only for local bank cards.
Normally we recommend getting cash at an ATM when you arrive in-country, versus getting cash ahead of time. However, the one ATM at the airport was out of service so we don’t recommend counting on it. Therefore, for Cape Verde, we definitely recommend having cash before you arrive.
While you’re in Praia, there are very few working ATMs as well. There will always be a line of people waiting to use them, and there are often limits to how much you can take out at one time. Make sure you plan ahead and always be aware of how much cash you have left.
Getting Around Praia
Praia is a very walkable city. If you wear comfortable shoes, you can walk to most places. For further distances, or if you just don’t feel like walking, take a taxi (make sure you discuss the price before getting in). There are no ride-sharing apps currently in use on Cape Verde.
For day trips outside of Praia, you might want to consider renting a car. We used SimplyCar. The rental we got was small, clean, and in great condition. Driving in Praia was also easy to do, and not at all crazy.
The only issue we had was when we returned the car. For some reason, they could not put the deposit back on our card (the one of two times we mentioned earlier). They ended up having to give the deposit back to us in cash, which we were fine with.
Things To Do In Praia
Now that we’ve gotten you prepped for your visit, let’s continue with the best things to do in Praia! Most of these attractions can be found on what is known as “The Plateau,” the historic center of Praia.
Lighthouse Dona Maria Pia
Visiting this iconic structure is one of the top things to do in Praia. Built in 1881, this octagonal lighthouse has been recently renovated and there are plans to add a small museum. Jorge, the lighthouse keeper, is amazing and he will tell you all about the history of the lighthouse and show you around the property. He is very proud, as his family has been caring for the lighthouse for generations. Entrance to the lighthouse is free, but we do suggest leaving a tip.
Museu Etnográfico da Praia
This museum is small but packed with so many great artifacts. It’s located in Praia’s historic center in what was once a historic home. Inside you’ll find items that preserve Cabo Verdean culture. What we found really fascinating is that most of the items were donated by individuals and families in the early 1990s from four Cape Verde islands. On display are items related to basketry, pottery, agriculture, fishing, and other day-to-day items. Entrance to the museum is about $2 per person.
Walk Along Rue 5 de Julho
This pedestrian street, Avenue 5th of July, is a great place to take a leisurely stroll. You’ll pass colorful buildings that house shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to people watch, although it is fairly empty on Sundays.
Palácio da Cultura Ildo Lobo
Another fun and free thing to do in Praia is to visit the cultural center that has an art gallery which is open to the public. There are some offices in the building where people are working, so be respectful as far as noise goes. But really, you’re free to walk around and see the works of local artists. We saw some pretty incredible pieces.
Praça Alexandre Albuquerque
At one end of Avenue 5th of July is Praça Alexandre Albuquerque, a park with a nice fountain and small statue. There are benches to relax and enjoy the afternoon. There are usually vendors walking around and there is also an outdoor café in the park in case you want a snack.
Igreja Nossa Senhora da Graca
On the southeast corner of the park, you’ll find the Catholic church Igreja Nossa Senhora da Graca. Built between 1894 and 1902, it is relatively modest compared to other Catholic churches we’ve visited round the world. It is, however, well maintained and it is very important to locals.
You can’t actually get inside the palace, but it’s a beautiful building that was built in 1894 in the neoclassical style. Originally it was made for the Portuguese governor of Cape Verde, but after Cape Verde gained independence in 1975, it became the presidential palace. As you walk around the building, you will see guards, but they don’t mind you taking photos.
On the south end of the palace grounds is a bronze statue of Diogo Gomes. He was a Portuguese navigator and one of the discoverers of the island of Santiago in 1460. This area also overlooks Gamboa Beach and the area below The Plateau.
Rock Of Praia
One of the top things to do in Praia is to take a picture of what is known as the Rock of Praia. It is just below the southern end of The Plateau. There is a busy road in front of it, but there is a steep sidewalk you can walk along to get your shot.
Quebra Canela Beach
We loved this beach! It was clean and had a very relaxed atmosphere. We saw families playing, teens hanging out, and people exercising. There are some rocks in the water a ways out, so just be cognizant of those. If you get hungry or thirsty, there are a few bars and restaurants at the top of the cliff.
We didn’t get a chance to go there, but Prainha Beach is also a very popular beach in Praia.
Núcleo Museológico da Praia
This museum is a little hard to find, and not really close to much else. With that being said, we’re still glad we visited. There is only one room, but it is filled with items found from shipwrecks off the coast of Cape Verde. There is information in Portuguese, English, and French. It was interesting to find items from all over the world, which shows just how many ships have been in the area over the centuries. We saw coins, jewelry, bottles, and even cannons. The cost is about $1 per person.
Note: In Tripadvisor the museum is labeled as the “Archaeology Museum of Praia” and somewhere else we saw it called the “Shipwreck Museum” but they are all one and the same. Also, when you walk up, if the gate is closed just yell out and someone will open it for you.
Day Trips From Praia
Once you’ve visited these Praia attractions, if you want to venture out a bit more on the island of Santiago, we do have a few recommendations for quick day trips.
Day Trip To Cidade Velha
Cidade Velha, or Old Town, is about 25 minutes west of Praia. It is the oldest settlement in Cape Verde and was the first European colonial outpost in the tropics. Founded in 1462 and originally named Ribeira Grande, it was renamed Cidade Velha in the late 18th century. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some places to visit in Cidade Velha:
- City Center – Central square that highlights the grim history of the slave trade in the area.
- São Felipe Royal Fortification – A reconstructed fort that looks over the city.
- Sé Cathedral Ruins – Ruins of an old cathedral.
- Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário – Church built between 1493 and 1495.
- Rua Banana – The oldest cobbled road in Cape Verde.
Day Trip To Serra Malagueta Natural Park
This beautiful park, made up of the Serra Malagueta mountain range, is just over an hour north of Praia. The park is 774 hectares with many different walking trails. While exploring the park you will see a variety of plants and animals. There are even monkeys in the park, but they tend to stay away when they hear people so they are harder to spot.
Stop by the visitor center to buy your entry ticket, and if you’d like a guide they can coordinate one for you there as well. The center also has a lot of great information about the park and surrounding area. We recommend wearing layers when you visit; because of the higher elevation it is much cooler at the park than in Praia.
Day Trip To Tarrafal
Another great day trip from Praia is to the beach town of Tarrafal. Located on the north end of the island, it takes about an hour and a half to two hours to get there. There are two ways to get there: The newer and smoother road that runs along the center of the island (you’ll pass Serra Malagueta Natural Park), or the older cobblestone road that runs along the eastern shore of the island. We recommend taking the new road up, and then if you have time, taking the old road back to Praia. Although it’s a slower drive because of the cobblestone, the views of the ocean are truly spectacular.
Make sure to pack your swimsuit because Tarrafal Beach is awesome. The town itself also has great restaurants and a few shops. We recommend visiting the town square and also the town church Igreja Santo Amaro. While you’re walking around, be on the lookout for street art. We found quite a few impressive murals.
Final Thoughts On Visiting Praia
House sitting in Cape Verde was an amazing experience and we’re so happy we were able to do it. There were definitely more things to do in Praia than we originally thought. We hope that one day we can return to Cape Verde and visit some of the other islands. Until then, we will look back on our time in Praia with fond memories.