Dramatically situated on the sea, 15km from Praia, Cidade Velha (literally 'Old City') gained Unesco World Heritage status less than a decade ago as the first European settlement in the tropics. Founded in 1462 as Ribeira Grande, the city became wealthy as a station for the transatlantic slave trade. Raids by pirates – including a particularly destructive visit from Sir Francis Drake in 1585 – eventually forced the Portuguese to move shop to Praia.
Remains from its heyday include the ruins of the cathedral, constructed in 1693, and the pelourinho (pillory) on the town square where enslaved captives were chained up and displayed. Most impressive is the town's position between the sea and the mouth of a canyon that, thanks to irrigation, remains green even in the driest months.