Searching For Winter Sun: Cape Verde Islands
As I write this I am sitting in the Cape Verdian Boa Vista Island airport waiting for my flight back to the UK. It is an outdoor airport and so my sister and I are taking the last opportunity in the glorious sunshine to top up our tans from a week of all inclusive R&R without the children. I am feeling quite relaxed, revitalised and sunkissed...
Our Winter Sun Destination Wish List:
We wanted guaranteed winter sun, not too long a flight to get there as we only had a week, and at a sensible price. All inclusive would be ideal. This was our week away without our babies and husbands - sister time, what a luxury - we had to make the most of it!
We looked at the Caribbean, the Canary and Cape Verde Islands. The prices for places in the Caribbean, e.g. Jamaica, had at least doubled since my sister went in 2013. We obsessively stalked the weather for the Canary Islands, but it just felt a bit more sun tan risky....! So that led us to look closely at the Cape Verde Islands, specifically Boa Vista.
Cape Verde Islands:
There are 10 Cape Verde Islands off the West Coast of Africa. I had never heard of it before we embarked upon our research (despite being well travelled). So I was a touch relieved to find that most people haven't either! Cape Verde is about a 6 hour flight from London and we found is pretty much guaranteed winter sun. And only a 1 hour time difference from the UK, 2 hours from Paris.
Cape Verde's heat really was glorious in late January; a lovely dry heat that we could sunbathe in without needing to dip in the pool every 10 minutes. The forecast temperatures were about mid 20's degrees - but really felt warmer than that. Even when the weather App said it was going to be cloudy, we could count the clouds visible on one hand! It did vary between being windy and breezy every day. We had read about this online but it wasn't really an issue...in fact it was mostly pleasant (but could make it a little deceptive as to how hot the sun was).
Which Hotel on Boa Vista, Cape Verde?
This was a tussle, but after extensive (probably slightly obsessive) research online, we finally settled on the 5* Rui Touareg as a package deal which we easily booked through Thomsons. We booked this months ago, but several fellow holiday makers had booked very last minute too. The price for our holiday, in January 2017, for flights, transfers and all inclusive food and drink for a week was £730.00 each. Plus a little irritating hidden extra cost (£26) with Thomson, when checking in on line, to change our pre-allocated seats so we could sit together.
The other hotel contender was the 5* Riu Karamboa, which was right next to the airport (other people we chatted to said was very lovely and with calmer sea...) but really there is little between them. We were swayed by the Touareg being newer, and the recent additions of an Italian restaurant and Infinity Pool. There is also an Adults Only section of the Riu Touareg hotel (no kids, mini bar in room and an exclusive la carte restaurant you could visit once). For us, we didn't think warranted the extra cost, even with the cheaper option of upgrading when we checked in. We didn't regret this, particularly as the infinity pool area was quieter, but I am sure it is nice in school holiday times particularly.
The transfer to the Riu Touareg was about a half an hour coach trip, partially on an unmade cobbled road so a bit of a bone shaker. Some trip adviser reviewers had a real grumble about this (and other grumbles which when we read them now really baffle us!!) - it really wasn't that bad, a bit of an adventure (and I can even get a little coach sick!)
Riu Touareg Hotel 5*, boa vista island, Cape Verde:
This is a vast all inclusive resort, resembling a large sandcastle in design. It is labelled as 5* but, whilst very good, I would say it felt more like 4*, which also seemed appropriate for the price. We found it to be very clean (inside and out), beautifully maintained and landscaped. All of the hotel staff were polite and respectful. This was very different to the usual type of holiday I go on with my husband; usually seeking culture, activities and adventure. However this hotel ticked all the boxes for a reasonably priced restful winter sun break. (And we did squeeze in some culture - see below for more about our excursion). There are friendly unobtrusive cats around the resort, all looking healthy and cared for.
The bedroom and bathroom we had were spacious, well maintained and kept very clean. We were lucky to be upgraded, as we had not booked a balcony room. The beds were also particularly comfortable and the black out curtains were very effective. There was a fan and air conditioning in the room as well.
Pools, Beach, Spa & Shops:
There are several pools within the hotel. The main pool, with bar, hosted some entertainment through the day and was close to the snack bar. It was inevitably busy and noisier, but nothing close to rowdy. There were various activities taking place throughout the day/week, like aqua aerobics, beach volley ball, Pilates, dancing, and painting. These were advertised and encouraged, but not in a pushy way. This was refreshing.
People did put towels out to reserve sun beds early, but when we were looking for a spot each day at about 9.30am we had no trouble finding one we were happy with. The new infinity pool was very nice, and quieter without music playing and mostly adults using it. We really liked the sunbeds in the water, a lovely touch. There were a few nice young families there, but the toddlers were not intrusive/loud. There were accessible bars and toilets close to all pools.
The golden beach is clean and unspoilt, and the sea is a pretty blue - the stuff of postcards. The hotel opens straight onto the beach which has attractive areas with beds and natural wicker sun shades set up, although on windier days the sand can be a bit irritating. The whole week we were there the red flag was up advising against going into the sea. The dramatic waves looked like they would knock a grown man from his feet. But the hotel did have various water sports on offer so I assume at other times of the year these were available.
The spa was beautifully done. And the whirlpool bath was open and overlooked the beach and sea. It was a particularly nice spot. Unfortunately the whirlpool was not a "hot tub" as it wasn't hot, and this would have been a lovely addition from about 5pm, when the sun had cooled, to prolong the late afternoon relaxing. I cannot comment on the treatments quality as we didn't have a pamper. But, there were many options on the menu with relatively sensible/usual spa prices.
There is a little row of shops around the main restaurant/entertainment area, adjacent to the lobby. They sell sun creams and other toiletries, souvenirs, toys, clothes (I treated myself to a really rather nice new bikini) and haribo! They are on the pricey side, but not prohibitively so. There is also a hairdressers and beauticians.
Restaurants - all inclusive:
There were 4 themed restaurants available to all hotel guests for dinner, as well as the buffet: Cape Verdian, Italian, Asian and a Grill. They were all a buffet set-up, save for the main course in the Cape Verdian one, which was table service (mmmmm my octopus stew was yum!). I found the grill to be disappointing, not being vastly different to the options in the buffet, but the other 3 were much better. A let down of the restaurants is the hotel's booking system. You have to book them exactly 3 days in advance; no more, no less. So in a one week holiday you can't plan to alternate buffet and restaurant throughout the week. On the first few mornings of your holiday you had to be up early and at reception to book if you wanted to try them all. I feel this system could be improved upon by the hotel.
Overall the food quality is very good, with great variety and volume. Of course this last point is rather determinable by you...we very much made the most of it! Food is accessible at all times of the day. Buffet wise, the breakfasts were our favourite meal, including for us cooked, continental and a couple of crepes for pudding!! But there was so much more too. Buffet lunch and dinner were much the same as each other, but with plenty of option to suit all palates, adult and child alike. Where meats/fish were said to have been grilled, they were actually fried on a hot plate with oil, and meats tending on the well cooked side. However, the overall variety was impressive, fish particularly. The tomatoes absolutely deserve a mention on their own - delicious! Food was constantly replenished, and the staff were reasonably attentive in getting drinks and responding to requests (given the scale and turn over of guests in the restaurant).
The diet will well and truly start when we are home!
Drinks were accessible at every turn, in bars, restaurants, and also some self service areas. The spirits available were local (better quality than I expected), the wine was surprisingly nice and the cocktails were not amazing but fine/enjoyable. We particularly liked the rum fruit punches throughout the day. We can't comment on the beer/lager, other than to note there was some!
This was taking place every evening, it usually started quite late, and to be frank (save for 20 minutes of an x-factor type Karaoke competition, because one man had an outstanding opera voice) we didn't partake. There was a big stage and lots of fun efforts seemed to be made. But we were chatting or reading and drinking cocktails more peacefully after dinner, or eating ice cream from the buffet in the room whilst watching a movie or programme on Fox (the one English non news channel!!)....or having an early night! There is a nightclub too... we didn't go. The resort crowd generally wasn't young and rowdy so it's difficult to guess how busy or good this would have been.
On the island it is fair to say that there is not loads to do. There are a few exploring/culture tours through Thomson, and another company called Giggling Gekko's Adventures was recommended. You can also go on quad bike and electric fat bike tours. We chose the half day Thomson Capital Sights excursion for the mid point of our holiday, because we wanted to see the country we had visited. It was a difficult choice though as the North and South Island tours also sounded great, taking in the ship wreck and caves and beautiful beaches. We were swayed by the chance to visit a local school, and it was worth it.
On the Thomson Capital Sight's tour we visited Sal Re, via a cafe stop for a typical Cape Verdian breakfast (delicious) whilst enjoying some local music. We had a walking tour through the capital city, visiting the Catholic Church, sampled some other local delicacies and spirits (the strong "grog", of which really only the honey infused one was enjoyable!), the harbour, laundry area, and a bit of souvenir shopping at the end (which when unaccompanied became a bit more hassled than was enjoyable). The school visit really was a highlight though, uplifting and sobering at the same time. And the guide we had gave us lots of interesting insights into the composition, poverty and some political struggles of the island, simmering beneath the local's "no stress" catch phrase. Tourism is key here, aside from a bit of fishing, on an otherwise barren and rocky island, it is the main employer.
If you visit Cape Verde during turtle season (June to October) then you can see them nesting and babies hatching. We will be very jealous - this sounded amazing.
What about for families?
Would I go back with my young family? Yes. The heat is perfect for managing children, and there is a contained kids pool and playground area. There were high chairs in all of the restaurants and a few child related essentials for sale in the shops should you get caught short. There weren't that many children the week we were there, but I suspect the guest composition may really alter in the coming weeks with February half term. I didn't look at the relevant activities, so it would be worth looking into to ensure older children wouldn't be bored.
As an aside, I am normally eaten alive by bitey bugs on holiday. I have yummy blood! But neither of us were bitten once, and didn't use any bug spray at all. A real bonus for a hot island location. BUT, the area is in a "Zika virus" risk zone, so if you are planning on, are or may soon hope to be pregnant....take advice from your doctor/travel clinic before booking.
I am now on the plane home. Being a mum, if you work or not, can be weathering and selfless. Giving yourself a true holiday from it all, wherever you go, is priceless and I cannot recommend it enough. That said, I think this holiday has been remarkably good value for money for what it was. I feel lighter (although physically I am not!)
And why not try Cape Verde!
p.s. Click HERE for the most up to date UK Travel advice for Cape Verde.