Praia is the capital of Cape Verde. Praia, which means “beach” in Portuguese, is also the largest city and most populous in Cape Verde.
Praia is a modern city with several attractions for visitors. The town features a rich mix of Portuguese and African cultures, as seen in its architecture, food, and music.
Where is Praia?
Praia is located on the southern tip of Santiago, the largest island in the Cape Verde archipelago and one of two administrative regions.
Cape Verde is an island country in the central Atlantic Ocean, off the western coast of Africa. More specifically, it’s approximately 570 kilometers (about 354 miles) west of Senegal, a country on the African mainland. The coordinates of Praia are about 14.9333 °N latitude and 23.5133 °W longitude.
History of Praia
Praia’s history is intimately linked with the history of Cape Verde itself. Cape Verde was uninhabited until the Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized the islands in the 15th century. Santiago, where Praia is located, was the first island to be settled.
Praia began as a small settlement in the late 15th or early 16th century. It initially developed as a strategic port of call for maritime travelers and the Atlantic slave trade between Africa, Europe, and the Americas. This trade route led to the growth and prosperity of Praia throughout the 16th to 18th centuries.
The city continued to grow in size and significance, but it officially became the Cape Verde Islands’ capital in the late 18th century. Before that, the capital was Ribeira Grande (now known as Cidade Velha), located further west on Santiago Island.
However, repeated attacks by pirates, including the infamous Sir Francis Drake, led the Portuguese to relocate the capital to Praia in 1770 due to its better defensibility and booming economic activity.
During the colonial period, Praia was the center of Portuguese administration, and after Cape Verde gained independence in 1975, it remained the capital. Over the years, it has developed into the country’s political, economic, and cultural hub.
Features of Praia
Praia embodies a diverse fusion of cultures, which is prominently reflected in its gastronomy, music, and architectural style. This cultural amalgamation permeates the city’s lively festivals and the everyday life of its inhabitants.
Geography and Climate
Praia’s landscape is a mix of beaches, plateaus, and steep hills. It’s located near a small volcanic crater, creating a unique topographical mix of rugged and flat terrains.
Cape Verde, and thus Praia, has a tropical climate. There is a dry season from November to July, and a wet season from August to October, known as “tempo das águas” (time of the waters). Temperatures in Praia typically range from 20 °C (68 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) throughout the year.
The sea moderates the climate, so it is not as hot as it might be on the mainland at the same latitude.
Praia is home to around 130,000 people. The city’s residents are known as Praienses.
Praienses are predominantly Creole, a mix of African and Portuguese ancestry. The official language is Portuguese, but Cape Verdean Creole (Crioulo) is widely spoken daily. The population is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a small but significant protestant community.
Praia is the economic hub of Cape Verde. The city’s economy is primarily service-oriented, with a significant proportion of the city’s population working in public administration, as the city is the country’s administrative center. Other key sectors include commerce, transport, and tourism.
The city also hosts the country’s main seaport and the Nelson Mandela International Airport, serving as a central transportation hub for the islands and connecting Cape Verde with the rest of the world.
Agriculture and fishing, while less prominent within the city, still play a significant role in the surrounding areas.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a growing sector in Cape Verde, and as the capital city, Praia has a role in this development.
Things to Do and Places to See in Praia
1. Tarrafal Beach
Despite its distance of approximately 65 kilometers (roughly 40 miles), equivalent to about a one-and-a-half-hour journey from the city of Praia, a visit to Tarrafal Beach is highly recommended. This proximity makes it an ideal location for a day trip.
Known for its stunning white sands and crystalline, azure waters, Tarrafal Beach is recognized as one of Cape Verde’s most picturesque coastal spots.
Its tranquil and sheltered waters present an excellent opportunity for swimming, while its inviting clarity makes it a perfect snorkeling location. The beach is adorned with palm trees, providing visitors with natural shade and enhancing its paradisiacal ambiance.
2. Explore the Santiago Island
Santiago Island has a lot to offer. You can venture outside of Praia to experience more of the island’s culture, history, and beautiful landscapes. A must-visit is the town of Cidade Velha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was the first European colonial outpost in the tropics.
3. Prainha Beach
This beach is a small, crescent-shaped beach located in a bay near the city center of Praia. It’s one of Praia’s most beautiful beaches, known for its white sands and clear, turquoise waters. Being close to the city, it’s also conveniently accessible, making it a popular choice for locals and tourists.
4. Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace, also known as Palácio Presidencial or Palácio do Plateau, is located in the historic Plateau district of Praia. It serves as the official residence of the President of Cape Verde. This beautiful building is a symbol of the country’s governance and is characterized by its distinctive colonial architecture.
5. São Filipe Royal Fortress (Fortaleza Real de São Filipe)
Situated in Cidade Velha, about 15km from Praia, this 16th-century fortress offers fantastic views over the town and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an important historical site that significantly impacted the island’s defense against pirate attacks.
The primary purpose of the fortress was to protect the city of Ribeira Grande (now known as Cidade Velha), the then capital of Cape Verde, from pirate attacks, which were common during the era.
Inside the fortress, you can find a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Conception.
The fortress was partially destroyed by Sir Francis Drake, the English privateer, during his raid on Ribeira Grande in 1585. The present fortress is a reconstruction.
6. Lighthouse Dona Maria Pia
The lighthouse, built in the late 19th century, is perched on a hill in the southern part of Praia and offers beautiful views over the city and the sea. It’s named after Maria Pia of Savoy, a queen consort of Portugal. The lighthouse still serves its original purpose of guiding ships.
7. Quebra Canela Beach
Quebra Canela is one of Praia’s most popular beaches, especially among the local population. The beach is known for its natural beauty, with its long stretch of sandy shoreline and crystal-clear waters. It offers a picturesque setting for beachgoers and nature lovers. The waters are excellent for swimming and surfing.
Near the beach, there are several restaurants and bars where visitors can enjoy local cuisine and drinks. Quebra Canela is particularly renowned for its stunning sunset views. Visitors can enjoy the breathtaking sight of the sun setting over the ocean, casting vibrant colors across the sky.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Praia, Cape Verde safe for tourists? Generally, Praia is considered safe for tourists.
However, like any city, it has safer areas than others, and it’s always important to take common-sense precautions, especially when moving around at night.
What is the best time to visit Praia?
The best time to visit Praia, and Cape Verde in general, is during the dry season, which runs from November to July.
Do I need a visa to visit Praia?
Visa requirements for Cape Verde depend on your nationality. Many nationals, including those from the EU, UK, USA, and Canada, could obtain a visa on arrival. Before traveling, it’s best to check the current visa regulations with a Cape Verde embassy or your foreign office.
What currency is used in Praia?
The currency of Cape Verde is the Cape Verdean escudo (CVE).
What is there to do in Praia?
There are many things to do in Praia. Visitors can explore the Plateau district with its colonial-era architecture, shop at the vibrant Sucupira Market, or relax on one of the city’s many beaches. Praia also has a vibrant music scene, offering a chance to experience the unique sounds of Cape Verdean music.
What is traditional food like in Praia?
Praia has a rich culinary tradition influenced by its African heritage and historical ties with Portugal. In Praia, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to sample traditional dishes. These include:
• Cachupa: Considered the national dish, cachupa is a slow-cooked stew with corn, beans, cassava, sweet potato, and fish or meat (usually chicken, pork, or sausage).
• Grogue: A strong alcoholic drink made from sugarcane, similar to rum.
• Tuna: commonly caught fish in Cape Verde and is often served grilled.
• Pastel com diablo dentro: Literally meaning “pastry with a devil inside,” a pastry filled with spicy meat or fish.
How can I get around in Praia?
Praia is a relatively small city so it can be explored on foot, particularly the Plateau (the city center). However, for longer distances or to travel outside of the city center, there are several options:
• Taxis: They are plentiful in the city and provide a convenient way to get around. However, agreeing on the fare before starting your journey is a good idea.
• Public Buses: Public bus services connect different parts of the city. They are a cheap but slower option.
• Aluguer: These are shared minibusses or pickup trucks that operate on fixed routes. They are a common form of transport in Cape Verde and offer a more authentic local experience.
• Car Rental: There are several car rental agencies in the city if you prefer to drive yourself.
Whether you’re strolling along the charming streets of the Plateau district, unwinding on the stunning beaches, or exploring the local markets and eateries, there’s something in Praia for everyone.
The city’s warm, welcoming people add to its appeal, making visitors feel at home in this Atlantic island gem. Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, a beachgoer, or just someone looking for a unique travel experience, Praia is a destination that should not be overlooked.