Praia — literally "Beach" in Portuguese — is Cape Verde's capital and busiest city. While it's maybe not comparable to a western metropolis, with a population of only about 130,000 (2010 census), one in four Cape Verdeans call the city home and the city is an important thoroughfare for international visitors to the archipelagic country.
Praia and its suburbs is by far the largest urban area in Cape Verde. The center of the city lies on a plateau (port. Platô) overlooking the bay to the southeast and the airport lies a few kilometers to the northeast. The port is important for the export of agricultural products and seafood, which besides tourism is the most important industry in the country.
Praia is located in the southern end of Santiago Island and has year round good weather. The city is divided into various small unofficial districts, the most important ones being, Platô (city center), Achada Santo Antonio, Palmarejo, Fazenda, Achada Grande, Varzea, Safende, Sucupira (bazaar area), Calbeciera, Terra Branca, Vila Nova, Achadinha, Bairro, Prainha, Monte Vermelho, Achada Mato, Achada Sao Felipe, and other smaller ones. Most part of the city are residential areas, so probably not worth visiting in itself, but worth a half-day exploration if you are passing through to another destination.
The Cape Verdean escudo is denoted "$", the same sign that is used by dollars and pesos around the world. In this article, prices after the "$" signs are in escudos, unless otherwise stated.
Settlements in Praia started in the 1615. Back then the beach was known as Praia de Gamboa and the village below Santa Maria. Its natural harbor was a popular alternative to the one in Cidade Velha (then known as Ribeira Grande) with its high harbor fees. Santa Maria became the capital of the region in 1770, and with this started the growth of the city. Much of the historical old town dates from this time.
The plateau was the focus for development and services at this time. After independence from Portugal in 1975 the city has rapidly grown in all directions, and the population has quadrupled.
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The weather is warm and pleasant around the year. The climate is classified as mild desert, and daytime highs are above +25°C throughout the year. Some rain occurs from August to October, but much less than what's experienced in places with tropical monsoon climate. The rainiest month, August, averages eight rainy days and just under 100 mm of rain.
Praia is served by Nelson Mandela International Airport, around 3 km northeast of downtown. TACV (the national flag carrier) and some European and African airlines fly to various destinations in Europe, Africa, South America and United States. There are also domestic flights, both to Cape Verde's largest airport in Sal (45 mins) and other airports in the country. Flights to Boa Vista take half an hour.
Taxis from the airport to Plateau cost $500. After 18:00 the cost is $800. There is one bus line that serves the airport but it’s better to just take a taxi since there is actually only one or two buses that serves this line.
You can also enter the city through the port. There are ferry boats that have irregular service to and from the islands of Maio, Boavista, Sal and Sao Nicolau, and more regular and scheduled service to and from Sao Vicente and Fogo.
Boat travelers arrive in Porto de Praia. As of 2014, there were regular ferries from Fogo (4 hours) and Brava (just 40 min from Fogo). However, the sea is often rough and will probably make you seasick — flying is much more comfortable. Porto de Praia is also where you will land if you're a cruise passenger.
The city has countless bus stops, and taxis are everywhere waiting for customers.
There are two main bus companies that serve the city, Moura Company and Sol Atlantico. Each route has their own numbers. The main lines are from Safende to Achada Santo Antonio, Vila Nova to Achada Santo Antonio, Calbeceira to Palmarejo, Pensamento to Terra Branca, Achada Grande to Achada Santo Antonio, Sao Felipe to Plateau, Ponta D'Agua to Plateau,Achada Mato to Palmarejo. Most of these lines pass by Plateau (city center), Varzea and Terra Branca, the bus fare is about $35.
When it comes to taxis you should be careful with illegal taxis that sometimes roam around and might rip you off. The normal taxi fare between two furthest points of the city, for example Pensamento to Palmarejo, or Palmarejo to Achada Mato, shouldn’t be more than $1500 during the day or $1800 at night. Taxi drivers usually expect to get a tip, give around $50-$100. Just be careful and always use taxis that have a taximeter, so that they don’t overcharge you.
The lack of an official map makes the city a little hard to navigate, especially since large parts still lack proper street names and house numbers. Fortunately, most streets in the city center and in the more important parts of the city do have names and numbers and most people are friendly and will give you directions. Walking between the different districts is not recommended, especially since most of the city's sidewalks are made out of loose cobblestone that make it difficult to walk. Also keep in mind that this town is full of hills that can be tiring to walk. However, if you want to have a good cardio-workout, try it!
A bike can be a good way of getting around both Praia and the island itself. The problem is that bike rentals are sparse, so if you're looking forward to a bike vacation, you may need to bring your own.
By rental car
Rental cars can be found mainly at the airport, but with the boom of tourism some downtown locations have opened as well. Rates are around $4500 per day including tax and insurance. Usually the first 100km are included in the price too, after this it's $0.10 for each additional kilometer.
- CVRent (Prainha district), ☎ +238 2611112.
- Europcar, Avenida Cândido dos Reis, ☎ +238 618484. Additionally a rental store at Hotel Pestana Trópico.
A large part of the sights are located at the plateau. The old city wall complete with the old cannons protected it from attackers arriving by sea. The governmental district is in the southern part of town.
- Praia town hall (Antiga Câmara Municipal). Built in neoclassicist style with a square central tower, the town hall is one of the finest examples of colonial architecture around. It's still in use. When the doors are open, make sure to have a look inside. There's even some information on the building's history available for visitors.
- Praia Cathedral (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça). The city's cathedral was constructed in 1902 in classicist style.
- Supreme Court (Palácio da Justiça). The supreme court is a pretty building at the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque. It may be possible to visit it on the inside too.
- Presidential Palace (Palácio Presidencial). Built in the late 19th century as the residence of the Portuguese governor, nowadays it is the presidential palace. It has lately been renovated with financial help from China. Other governmental buildings are located nearby.
- Palácio da Assembleia (Assemblada Nacional). The national assembly of Cape Verde.
- Praça Alexandre Albuquerque. A square in the central old town. Albuquerque was a governor who was passionate about card playing; therefore, each of the four corners of the square is marked by a suit.
Museums and culture
- Museu Etnográfico. Located in a historic building in the old town, this museum presents the history of the Cape Verdean people through objects of everyday life.
- Fundação Amílcar Cabral. Cultural centre dedicated to the revolutionary leader Amílcar Cabral (1924-73). Notable for its murals.
In addition, the markets listed below in the Buy section are worth visiting for the experience.
Geography and viewpoints
- Praia de Gamboa. Gamboa beach, which gave the city its name. However, it's not suitable for swimming.
- Ilhéu de Santa Maria. A small island just outside the harbour. Formerly people with leprosy were quarantined on the island; currently Chinese businessmen are planning to set up a casino here.
- Cruz do Papa. A large cross; from where it stands, there's also a nice view over Quebra Canela beach.
- Diogo Gomes monument. A monument dedicated to Diogo Gomes, the explorer of the islands. It is located at the south of the plateau, and there are great views from there to Praia do Gamboa and Ilhéu de Santa Maria.
Cape Verdeans like to party, and there are many events throughout the year. The largest of them is the carnival, taking place in the beginning of the year as elsewhere in the Catholic world. With its procession and dances it is not too dissimilar to the Brazilian version, but here the processions aren't strictly arranged by samba schools but rather a spontaneous and informal event where everyone can partake.
Other religious festivals (for example honoring a saint) are also reminiscent of the carnival, starting with a mass and continuing as a street festival.
Reportedly having some of the best waves in the world, Praia is a good destination for surfing and water skiing. If you are a beginner, hotels often have courses in these activities. If you want to relax instead, head to some of the beaches in and around Praia. Praia de Quebra Canela is probably the most popular among locals and visitors alike. Other beaches are Praia de Prainha, Praia da Gamboa (not suitable for swimming) and Praia Negra.
There are several markets in Praia. Even if you don't intend to buy anything, it's worth a visit if you want to experience a real African market. A great souvenir to bring home is one of the patterned, colorful cloths made in the countryside.
- Mercado Municipal (Mercado Central), Avenida Amílcar Cabral. Food and artisanal objects for sale from the early morning on. It's a vibrant, colorful place worth visiting for every traveler, except that it's not a good place if you suffer from claustrophobia, as it can get pretty crammed here. Also, watch out for pickpockets.
- Sovaco de Cobra. Down-to-earth restaurant popular among locals.
- Café Cachito, Praça Albuquerque, ☎ +238 2 619278-9 915740. The oldest bar in town, located right at the main square.
- Cybercafé Sofia, ☎ +238 2 617546. A great place to eat local food and watch the world go by. Popular among expats and the local chess playing community.
- Restaurante Punto D'Incontro, Avenida Cidade de Lisboa, ☎ +238 2 617090, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Italian and Cape Verdean cuisine.
- Restaurante Panorama, Rua Serpa Pinto, ☎ +238 2 614100, fax: 2 613076, e-mail: email@example.com. Located downtown in the Hotel Felicidade. Open all day. Their buffet is popular with businesspeople.
- Restaurante Flor de Liz, Rua 5 de Julho 43, ☎ +238 2 612598. Cap Verdean cuisine, wide menu and large servings.
- Churrasqueira Dragoeira, Achada S.Antonio, ☎ +238 2 623335. Famous for its bbq chicken, this is also a good restaurant to meet locals.
- Restaurante Marisqueira Rosita, Hotel América (Largo da Europa, Porta Nº 09, Achada S. Antonio), ☎ +238 2 38 2622888, fax: 2 621432, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10-23. $500-2200.
- Churrasqueira Benfica, Achada S.Antonio, ☎ +238 2 622195. Brazilian-style barbecue restaurant.
- Restaurante Nova Luar, Terra Branca, ☎ +238 2 614009.
- Beramar Grill, Chã D’Areia, ☎ +238 2 612826. Specializing in fish, famous for tuna and bacalao on white wine.
- Restaurante Gamboa, Cha D'Areia, ☎ +238 2 611115, e-mail: info@email@example.com. African cuisine and large servings. They also have a nice selection of local wines. Friendly service.
- O Poeta, Achada de Santo António, ☎ +238 2 613800, fax: 2 611603, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Next to the Portuguese embassy with a good view of the city, O Poeta is popular among the upper class and tourists. House specialty is barbecued squid with vegetables and cheese.
- Restaurante Avis, Rua 5 de Julho, ☎ +238 2 613079, e-mail: email@example.com. Reportedly good food right in downtown, but the service is slow as usual in Cape Verde. Occasionally live music.
You won't find an abundance of nightspots in Praia.
- Flampa. Nightspot open on Fridays, not far from Bomba H.
- Quintal da Música, Av. Amílcar Cabral 70-A. Located on the plateau, here you can hear national and traditional music.
- Cockpit, Achada Grande..
- Residencial Rosymar Inn, 16 Rua Tenente Valadim (known as Rua Madragoa) Praia, Santiago, ☎ +238 2616345, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 01:00, check-out: 11:00. Newly renovated bed & breakfast located in the heart of the city of Praia, known as Plateau, near the Presidential Palace. Friendly staff, very clean and quiet rooms. Breakfast included. €30-50.
- Residencial Paraíso, Rua Serpa Pinto 73, ☎ +238 2 613539. B&B in the Plateau district. Free Wi-Fi. rates from €41.
- Hotel América, Largo Europa, Achada St Antonio, ☎ +238 262 1431, e-mail: email@example.com. In Praiha, south of the centre of town near the beaches. sgl 4500$ dbl 5500$ suite 7200$ including breakfast.
- Perola Hotel, Cha de Areia, Praia, Santiago 129A. Wi-Fi available in the common areas, laundry service, private parking. rates from €56.
- Residencial Praia Maria, 30 Rua 5 de Julho (In a quiet area near the main market). Check-out: 12:00. This three star hotel is a bit past its prime, but is bright and clean. Sgl 4200-6000$, dbl 5200-7000$, triple 6500-8000$ includes breakfast.
- Hotel Santa Maria, Rua Serpa Pinto, 35, ☎ +238 2 61 4337, fax: 261 8572. Has a panoramic terrace with good views. sgl 4500$, dbl 5600$.
Praia's high-end options are located south of the main town in the area of Prainha.
- Pestana Trópico, Caixa Postal 413 Cidade da Praia Cabo Verde, ☎ +238 2614200, fax: +238 2615225, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10min to centre of the Praia. 5km from the airport. Comfortable rooms with free Wi-Fi. The hotel also has a pool, fitness center and private parking. rates from €113.
- Oásis Atlântico Praiamar, Prainha, Cidade da Praia, Ilha de Santiago, ☎ +238 261 3777 / 261 4153, fax: +238 261 2972, e-mail: email@example.com. Decrepit infrastructure, outrageously overpriced. Rooms have kingsize beds and are equipped with cable tv, minibar and hairdryer. rates from €100.
Being the capital and biggest city of the country, Praia has a higher crime rate than most parts of the country. Most crimes involve petty thievery and these are mostly focused on residents and not on tourists, although there have been a few cases which have involved tourists. So though Praia in general is still a very safe city, be careful not to flaunt any expensive jewelry or gadgets like iPhones and such. Cape Verde in the past few years has seen an increase of petty crimes which are done mostly by groups of young people, so avoid groups of young men especially at night.
Praia is also badly lit at night, so be careful in places that might not have street lights and are somewhat isolated, and always travel in pairs or larger groups for safety. However, if anything does occur there are police stations in various parts of the city and a general hospital in the city center.
- Hospital - 130
- Fire brigade – 131
- Police – 132
- Polícia Judiciária – 800 11 34
There's one hospital in the city:
There are also five community health centers.
Embassies & Consulates
- Angola, Achada Santo António, ☎ +238 2 62 32 35 / 262 32 36 / 15 53 / 261 82 90, fax: 262 32 34, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Belgium, Rua Tenente Valadim, ☎ +238 2 61 23 33, fax: 261 23 33, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Brazil, Avenida da Prainha, Chã D’Areia nº 2, ☎ +238 2 61 56 07 / 08, fax: 261 56 09, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- China, Achada Santo António, ☎ +238 2 62 30 29 / 262 30 28 " 262 55 30 / 34 43, fax: 261 40 34, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Cuba, Prainha, ☎ +238 2 61 94 08 / 261 46 44 / 27 06 / 46 00 / 22 58, fax: 261 75 27 / 32 70, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ecuador, Rua da Babilónia, Prainha, e-mail: email@example.com.
- France, ☎ +238 2 61 55 89 / 261 55 91, fax: 261 55 90, e-mail: fransula@cvtelecom.
- Greece, C.P. 578, Plateau, Praia, Cape Verde, ☎ +238 2 38-261-5980, fax: 238-261-5981, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Italy, ☎ +238 2 61 93 43 / 261 91 71, fax: 261 93 43, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Netherlands, Rua Tenente Valadim, ☎ +238 2 61 23 33, fax: 261 99 35.
- Norway, Tira-chapéu, ☎ +238 2 61 54 08 / 262 75 55 / 232 27 18 / 232 34 64, fax: 262 78 74, 231 89 19, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pakistan, Av. Andrade Corvo, 15, 2º andar, Plateau, ☎ +238 2 60 85 25, fax: 261 30 00, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Russia, Av. OUA, nº 9, Achada Santo António, ☎ +238 2 62 27 39 / 262 27 40, fax: 262 27 38, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Senegal, Plateau, ☎ +238 2 61 56 21, fax: 261 28 38 / 261 13 55, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Spain, Av. OUA 21 R/c, Achada Santo António, ☎ +238 2 38 262 32 07, fax: 238 262 32 05.
- Sweden, Av. Andrade Corvo, nº 17, 2º, Plateau, ☎ +238 2 60 85 25, fax: 261 30 00.
- United Kingdom, Dakar, Senegal, ☎ +221 33 823 26. There is no British Embassy in Cape Verde. The British Embassy Dakar, Senegal is responsible for delivering consular assistance to British nationals in Cape Verde. If you’re in Cape Verde and you need urgent consular assistance, you should contact the British Embassy Dakar.
- United States, Rua Abilio Macedo 6, ☎ +238 2 38-260-8900, fax: 238-261-1355, e-mail: PraiaConsular@state.gov.
- CTT Cabo Verde, Rua Cesário Lacerda, ☎ +238 2 611049, fax: +238 2 611575, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main office of CTT, Cape Verde's mail.
There are a couple of Internet cafes in Praia:
- Cidade Velha, the historic capital, is an easy half-day or day trip and something not to be missed if you're interested in history. It's among the oldest European-founded cities in Subsaharan Africa, some of the ruins and buildings indeed date from the 1460s when the archipelago was explored and colonized. Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário is the oldest colonial church in the world.
- The National Botanical Garden in São Jorge dos Órgãos, Ribeirão Galinha district. Hundreds of plants, both endemic ones and from elsewhere.
- Serra da Malagueta - an mountain of 1064m above the sea level and a natural reserve. It features a diverse flora and fauna and a characteristic climate.
- Tarrafal - A village with one of the nicest sand beaches in all of the country. Here you can also see the Museum of Resistance, which functioned as a jail for people resisting the Portuguese colonial government from 1936 until the 1970s.