As usual, I spent a lot of time scouring reviews and reading up on this destination well before my holiday.
Desperate for some winter sun, Cape Verde seemed like an ideal choice from the UK, not quite long haul but plenty of hot sunshine, apparently.
Funny how two people can go to the exact same place, experience the same things and come away with opposing points of view on how good or bad it was.
This time I thought I’d do a post comparing my experiences with some of the feedback left by tourists over various online travel review sites/forums.
1. Rumour has it, Cape Verde is very windy in the winter months!
This is truer than I had imagined. It can get super windy and many drinks (even in glasses) were blown over. Gusts of wind can be pretty strong so hold onto your hats and drinks, especially when you’re on the beach. On a more positive note, the weather makes it ideal for kite flying, and surfing which are popular Sal.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still hot during the day, despite the wind.
Locals told us that from around May to November the wind subsides and temperatures are extremely hot – too hot for many transient tourism workers, who pack up and go back to their home countries and return in the cooler winter months.
2. Rumour has it, getting through the airport is a long and chaotic process!
Well, coming into Sal was a breeze really, ‘no stress’, but chaos kicked in on the way home. It may all sound funny now, but at the time – not really!
The airport is currently undergoing extensive renovations which are set to look great once finished, and some parts of the current space is out of use due to works; in its present state the airport is very small and over crowded in the departures area, with very few seats.
Automatic doors leading customers in and out of the departure lounge would stop working at random, leaving passengers baffled and trying to prise the doors open from both sides . (Imagine missing your flight because the automatic doors refused to open !!) Thankfully they were a bit like London tube trains and opened with a bit of force.
Our flight was delayed but no information came up on the departure screens until it was nearly an hour late (and even then there was no acknowledgement of the delay); then they decided to switch the boarding gate, just to add to the confusion and frustration – again without any announcement or communication. We then queued at the gate and waited for what felt like another 30 mins while staff at the gates continued to ‘not tell anyone what was going on’ and fuss amongst themselves and their computers.
Once boarding passes were eventually checked, the entire plane’s worth of passengers (myself included) were led outside amidst loud plane engines and left to stand out there for another 20 mins or so, outdoors in the baking sun. Again, no communication.
Following this, we were then instructed to make a 10 min walk across the hot tarmac to board our plane (it was the furthest plane away from the departure gates – while passengers for planes closer to the departure gates were driven to their planes in an airport bus – go figure!).
There was no sign or word from a TUI rep throughout any of this ordeal.
3. Rumour has it, the food in Cape Verde isn’t great!
The food is not terrible, I’m not sure what people were expecting. You can get pretty much whatever food you want, there are plenty of eateries in Santa Maria catering to all different tourist tastes and fish is a popular choice given the amount of fishing that takes place in Sal.
Above is Cape Verde’s traditional dish, which I tried in Espargos during an island tour of Sal, but failed to finish as it was a very large serving – it’s a bit like a soup/broth with a mix of different meat and veg, it tasted nice.
Back in the hotel – food was in abundance with something for everyone, as you would expect in a big all inclusive, to be fair. Perhaps some hotel food is better than others.
4. Rumour has it, hotel staff (across many of the Sal resorts) are rude and seemingly poorly trained in customer service!
On the whole the staff were very polite, I did not experience any significant rudeness. You will usually get the odd bad apple in any hotel but I have no complaints really. One particular member of staff seemed to have a very laid back attitude to things, as though life was one big joke, not to be taken ‘too seriously’ – even when reception staff had checked the wrong people into the wrong rooms, put the wrong number of people in the wrong rooms and then almost sent the wrong luggage to the wrong rooms (bear in mind the rooms were on second floor levels with no lifts and across more than one block within a huge resort)….despite several attempts to point out and explain their errors they still didn’t get it right on their databases.
It is true that some of the staff do not speak much English, and this may account for ‘misinterpreted’ poor service when communication is a little strained.
5. Rumour has it, rain is very rare in Cape Verde!
Well it didn’t rain once while I was there and locals confirmed that rain is certainly a very rare thing here; this is also evident from the dry arid landscapes, with very little vegetation.
A lot of the presentation grass lawns (in hotels and the botanical gardens etc, are flown in from other countries).
6. Rumour has it, Cape Verde is the new caribbean!
Well firstly, Cape Verde does’t present as a caribbean equivalent – it doesn’t have the same atmosphere at all, instead it is more of a dessert land, barren and vast with some huge wide beaches that are dominated by surfers. Cape Verde is beautiful in its own unique way with a ‘wild wild west’ landscape coupled with white beaches.
The beach in Santa Maria is the prettiest and most popular for swimming – the water looks more tropical blue than the waters along the hotel strip.
7. Rumour has it, Cape Verde doesn’t really have its own unique culture!
Maybe people think this because it doesn’t seem to fit into a nice little box. Cape Verde is very mixed in terms of language, heritage, skin complexions and the majority of the population are younger (20s/30s) apparently.
For me my first cultural impressions were:
- The people are a little more laid back – which is often the case in hotter climates, the sun relaxes and slows you down
- The ‘no stress’ tagline sums up an attitude to life, easy going/relaxed/friendly/agreeable
- Water sports and surf culture is a big deal and the must-have for children is a surf board, not a scooter (child scooters are still the rage in the UK)!
- Local people love the water and beach life
- People live a simple life, and are very grateful for your custom – people are relatively low income. One of the hotel bar staff said she earns 300 euro per month, and that living with extended families is the only way for many to survive/progress financially
- The people are visually, a very diverse mix of races, including european and african and american which has influenced the creole culture of the native population.
- Church is central to family life
- Vibrant bright and colourful is the way
- Poverty is visible in terms of corrigated shanty towns vs concrete houses
8. Rumour has it, you’ll get cold in the evenings and need a jumper, despite high temperatures during the day!
This is an understatement in Feb/March. Make sure you take warm jumpers/coat for the evening. Tights and boots will not feel wrong in the evening wind. I found myself ordering hot chocolate while watching evening hotel shows because it was so cold. Make sure you at least have some sort of thick wrap to throw over your shoulders.
Bikini by day, jumper by night, many people were wearing their coats.
I had been looking forward to sitting out on my balcony late into the night enjoying the warmth and exotic noises, gazing up at the starry sky while sipping something icy cold – but nope. This did not happen, my sliding doors were securely shut every night with the heating on (yes heating) at night.
9. Rumour has it, there’s not much to do in Cape Verde!
Depends how you look at it.
If you want to immerse yourself in very non-pretentious, authentic, rustic local life at its simplest, then you won’t tire of Cape Verde (as long as you prise yourself away from the hotels). You won’t get the thrills of Las Vegas (though I did spot a casino on the way into town).
- There are a few good island tours – if you go by quad bike or four by four, prepare to be windswept and dusty – go for the mini bus/coach option if you want shelter
- Again, you will be in heaven for water sports and kite flying in the winter months
- Beach bums will also be in heaven – beaches are wide and vast so no fighting over a sunbathing spot
- The main town of Santa Maria and its beach are buzzing with colour/local people/fishermen/women/boats/divers/surfers/beach life/restaurants and souvenir shopping
Rumour has it, you’d better not forget any essentials when you’re packing as prices are through the roof over there (e.g. €9 for shower gel)!
The rumours were true in the hotel shop at least. €8 for shower gel below.