Exploring Tourism in Cape Verde
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Santiago Island

Santiago Island, Cape Verde


An island of mixed fortunes. It is the largest island in the archipelago. It has the highest population with over half the population living in the capital, Praia.

The landscape varies from one area to another with some mountains, white sandy beaches, forestation and agriculture to gravelly landscapes devoid of any greenery. An African and European mix of people and culture.

Santiago previously Sao Tiago (St.James) was discovered and first settled on in 1462 by Antonio de Noli and Diogo Gomes together with a small number of other people from the Algarve, Portugal. Whilst other islands concentrated on trading in salt, Santiago which some locals still refer to as Cape Verde flourished. The island initially traded in slaves and was used to resupply ships.

It was the area of Ribeira Grande now known as Cidade Velha that became the main settlement for trading. Later, Portuguese ships stopped at Ribeira on their way to Brazil and India. At that time it was reported that the valleys had groves growing various fruits.

After a French raid in 1712 which robbed the Cidade Velha of its wealth the settlement started its demise and interest was being shown in Praia becoming the capital. The town of Assomada has recently been granted the rank of Cidade.


Santiago is the largest island of Cape Verde, with an area of 991 square kilometres (383 square miles). It is 54.9 km long and 28.8 km wide. The island is mountainous, although slightly flatter in the southeast. The interior and the east coast are seasonally, and somewhat sporadically, hot tropical in climate and forested, whereas the south and southwest occupy the central uplands’ arid rain shadow. The tallest summit is Pico de Antonia with 1,392 m (4,567 ft)barely west of Picos, in the centre of the island. The second is Serra Malagueta between Assomada and Tarrafal in the north. Other mountain ranges include Órgãos in the municipality of Sao Lourenco dos Orgaos and Monte Das Vacas near Praia.

The Cape Verde islands are very naturally degraded. Due to their proximity to the Sahara, most are dry, but on those with high mountains and farther away from the continent, by orography (relief precipitation), the humidity is much higher, giving small upland rainforest habitats, but strongly affected by human presence. Northeastern slopes of high mountains receive heavy rain several times most years. Much of the altitude is sufficient for a mild climate and subject-to-seasonal-drought but typically moist soil. Some islands, as on Santiago, have vegetation-clad (cloud forest) where the dense moisture condenses and soaks the plants, and soil.

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