No not Cape Town. I'm recommending Cape Verde, the "Jewel of West Africa"
When it comes to travel destinations that start with "Cape", the first destination that most Singaporeans think of is likely South Africa's Cape Town. And no surprises here; just like how the first country that starts with "D" that comes to mind is Denmark (instead of say Djibouti).
But as amazing as Cape Town is, it's becoming somewhat common and touristy in my book. So today, after having visiting 16 African countries, I'm going to be recommending a way more exotic destination in the far West of Africa;
Behold, the Island Nation of Cape Verde.
"The Girl" strolling about the streets of Rue Banana, in Cape Verde's former capital, Cidade Velha
Climate: Generally warm with almost no rain.
Cultural Background: Colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th Century (similar to Mozambique)
Stability/Safety: Considered as the most stable democracy in Africa with one of the highest standards of living in the African Continent. Yes, it's safe.
Geography: West Africa (see map below), made up of 10 islands.
VISA Requirements: Visa on Arrival.
Average Meal Cost: Under 1 Euro (local market), as low as 3 Euros (tourist restaurant)
Where is Cape Verde?/How To Get There?
As you would have guessed, Singaporeans don't make up the tourists numbers in Cape Verde. Tourists tend to be either Portuguese or Spanish, and smattering of Europeans looking to exchange the cold European winter for sunny Cape Verde.
The only direct flights are from Lisbon, Portugal (and sometimes Casablanca, Morocco). So if you're in Portugal for a vacation (which also happens to be an amazing country to visit), you might want to stop over at Cape Verde for a taste of West Africa (instead of the typical South).
And for the more adventurous readers; no, there are no longer flights to/from Dakar, Senegal (as of 2018). I explored that option.
Your best bet is still Lisbon. Air-tickets cost between S$400- S$700 from Lisbon depending on which particular island you wish to fly into. The most reliable airline that gets you here is TAP Air Portugal. Cape Verde's national carrier is a mess, so I wouldn't recommend it.
Cape Verde is made up of 10 islands, each with something to offer. The more popular islands are Sal and Boa Vista, courtesy of their white sand beaches and sky blue waters. The island of Fogo is also relatively popular for volcano trekking.
"The Girl" and I visited the island of Santiago, the country's largest island and also the home of both its capital cities (past and present). In terms of beauty, Santiago comes no where close to either Sal or Boa Vista.
However, Santiago does offer a diverse experience, and is some sort like a mix of the other 9 islands. There are good enough beaches, mountains for trekking, and as you would expect (having both former and current capitals), a feel of the country's African/Portuguese heritage.
What is there to do?
So, let's move on to what there is to do and lets see if Cape Verde is worth your time and $$. "The Girl" and I spent 4 days on Santiago island, hence this post is mostly referenced with this particular island (Santiago) in mind.
1. Enjoy Beautiful Beaches
Tarrafal Beach, Santiago Island, Cape Verde
While the beaches on Santiago island aren't beautiful like those in Boa Vista or Sal, they are still pretty decent. Even though we hit the beach on a cloudy day, the water at Tarrafal beach was still relatively blue.
For the equivalent of 5 Euros, you could hire a small fishing boat out for a sail!
The sky was almost completely overcast with clouds when were there. But still, we had a good time.
Image Credit: www.beachsoccer.com
We only visited Santiago for 4 days, but here's how the waters of Sal (the "tourist island") look like. Now you know why Cape Verde is popular with Portuguese tourists. Yes, you won't get beaches of this standard in Lisbon (great city nonetheless).
2. Explore Villages & Soak Up The Culture
The beautiful old street of Rue Banana in the former capital of Cidade Velha
The prevalent mix Portuguese/African culture we could experience was why we chose to visit Santiago island. We arranged for a local driver to bring us to the country's old capital of Cidade Velha,Cape Verde's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We had the car to ourselves for half a day for just 30 Euros. Imagine how cheap that would be if we had traveled in a group of 4.
Here, in Cidade Velha, we wandered around the stone-cobbled streets, checking out the old houses and chatted with the locals (the few who spoke English) on what life was like in Cape Verde.
Where locals hone their soccer skills in the village.
Apparently, many Cape Verdeans dream of going to Portugal for work in hope of seeking a better life.
For most of these locals however, getting a VISA is almost impossible because they have to convince Portuguese embassy officials that they aren't going to Portugal as a way to "escape" Cape Verde to seek their fortunes in Europe. Many don't even bother to try anymore as the embassy will just "swallow" their "deposit" and reject them there after.
There are actually many jobs available in Cape Verde, but many young locals are concerned about "image" and don't want to work in jobs like construction because it isn't cool. They would rather not find a job until they can find the "right job".
It's kind of interesting to see the symptoms which plague Singapore are also found in poorer economies like Cape Verde.
Trying out the local transport
Being Singaporeans, we are lucky enough to afford traveling in comfort if we wish to. For "The Girl" and I though, we thought we'd try out how its like getting around the country like a local just for a day; and let's just say it wasn't comfortable.
Like other parts of Africa, transportation is a big problem. There is a lot of pointless waiting as drivers try to cram as many people into one van as possible. It's hot and the vans are stuffy, but still a fun experience in its own right.
But only if you do it once or twice!
Notice the colors on the buildings. They are bright and refreshing, and very "South American" Netflix's Narcos kind of feel.
Mozambique had the same "South American vibe" but this was more prevalent in Cape Verde.
Look at the bright colors! We are in the former capital of Cidade Velha!
Cape Verde is as Un-Africa as Africa can get. I know, what I just said doesn't make sense but that's how it is here.
It's just like when you visit Morocco, which is part of North Africa but feels more like "French Africa" and doesn't fit the typical "African Stereotype" you see in the movies.
3. Trek The Valley's and Mountains
While the volcano on Fogo (one of Cape Verde's 10 islands) probably offers a better trekking experience, there are enough valleys and mountain on Santiago island to satisfy any trekkers appetite. Views are awesome, trekking paths are pretty well marked, and trails are simple enough.
You don't have to be an experienced trekker to enjoy any of the stunning mountain views. Don't want to trek? Sure, hire a private car, that'll get you the same views without breaking a sweat.
4. Simply Try Something Different. The Country is Diverse!
The main lighthouse on Santiago, Farol da Ponta Preta
Traveling is about opening up oneself to experiencing different things rather than getting a selfie snapped at the Eiffel Tower.
Despite Cape Verde being our 16th African country, there were still things we could be amazed about and go "wow". If you've never been to Africa before, or the only part you've visited is South Africa (or Egypt), you'll find Cape Verde a different world altogether.
Africa isn't simply about animals or Safari's. And no, the weather isn't hot all of the time (it is in Cape Verde though).
So, here's what else we saw in Cape Verde's Santiago.
Most people in Cape Verde are Roman Catholics, I would never have guessed that.
Somada is the center of Santiago island. Travelers going across the island stop at Somada for a change of bus.
This is the city of Praia, the modern capital of Cape Verde. Looks like the setting of those films featuring South American drug lords doesn't it?
Have You Read: Planning to go on an African Safari?... Wait!... Don't Book Without Reading This First...(Part I)
Forte Real de São Filipe, the first fortress built in Cape Verde
Tarrafal Beach, one of the better beaches in Santiago island. It doesn't look that great, but the water is still blue despite it being a cloudy day! Imagine how blue the water must be on a good day!
Africa??? I Don't Want To Sleep In A Hut!!!
One of the many misconceptions Singaporeans have about vacationing in Africa is that living conditions are really bad and 5 Star hotels are few in between.
The stereotypical form of African accommodation is a Safari Camp, or in some cases, simply a dump with cockroaches running about in the rooms.
Not exactly true as you can see. If you're willing to pay, living conditions can be pretty good. Oh, and it didn't cost that much anyway, say 90 Euros a night? That's alright for one of the best hotels in the country, Hotel VIP Praia.
It's sunbathing time!
Making the most of the facilities since we're paying for luxury accommodation :)
Our hotel had its own shopping mall (likely the only real mall on the island), and we even got a discount at the movies when we showed our hotel card.
So yeah, while you won't get Hermes or Rolex boutiques here Cape Verde, it isn't exactly a slum, or dump.
Where/What Do I Eat??? I Want "Normal Food"!!
One of the restaurants 3 minutes from our hotel.
Among the many battles in their head Singaporeans usually face when contemplating a trip to the African continent, food (apart from "danger" and "clean toilets") might be the biggest battle of them all.
"What do Africans eat? I don't think I'd like the food." (without first knowing what they eat)
"Nah, I'd rather go to Europe, at least I know I can find pasta or a steak."
So anyway, corn and beans are the staples of Cape Verdean cuisine; with rice and fried potatoes, chicken, pork, and fish (it's an Island) almost as popular for those who can afford it.
A traditional Cape Verdean meal is Cachupa, a stew consisting of maize, onions, green bananas, manioc, sweet potatoes, squash and yams. Like many other African countries, they too have their own local beer, Strela Beer.
If I were completely honest, I didn't really like Cachupa and some of their other local dishes (not everything on vacation is amazing). Still, rice tasted almost like those back in Singapore, and fried potatoes taste like fried potatoes everywhere, so I got by just fine.
And yes, the typical European cuisine is available as well, at dirt cheap prices. In my picture of the menu above, my plate of Cabonara cost the equivalent of just 3.5 Euros. Will food be an issue for Singaporeans in Cape Verde? I think not.
Yes, I know, and I'm under no illusions any Singaporean (except us) would bother flying all the way to Cape Verde for a vacation; this post isn't likely to change that.
However, Singaporeans I think, are still open to visiting Portugal (though it isn't top of their list. It should).
So guys, when you do visit Portugal, cut out say 3 - 4 days at least and catch a flight to one of the 10 islands that make up this magnificent nation of Cape Verde.
You don't have to specifically "aim to visit" Africa. Keep your vacation still "generally European" if you wish, but give yourself a small taste of another culture; it (Cape Verde) isn't that far way (from Portugal).
We're sure you'll love it!