We chose Cape Verde for some winter sun (4-11 December 2013) as an alternative to Egypt and Dubai, and because it was somewhere we had never been that was receiving good reviews from friends and colleagues. We chose Sal due to the research we did on the web that seemed to indicate that Sal had 'more going on', however this proved to be relatively speaking as Cape Verde appears to be extremely quiet throughout!
The flight with Thomson (the only main UK tour operator flying to Cape Verde at the time of writing) was a little over 6 hours. Transfers from the airport to pretty much anywhere on Sal only take around 15 minutes, the airport being central and the island being tiny! The Melia Tortuga is a moderately large hotel in terms of area, but is nicely spread out across many smaller buildings and only has two storeys, which makes it feel comfortable and roomy. We were in one of the many suites, which was huge - two double bedrooms, large lounge, nice sized bathroom and full kitchen. The suite had two flat-panel TVs, and individual air con (no extra charge) in each room. This will be a welcome addition for people who find it difficult to sleep with an air con unit running in the same room - the main unit in the lounge kept the temperature nice and low throughout the suite, provided the bedroom door was left slightly open, hence no need to run the smaller unit in the room.
The staff in the hotel were without exception extremely friendly and helpful, and were clearly committed to delivering excellent service. At the welcome meeting the three senior managers of the hotel (General, Food & Beverage, and Entertainment) introduced themselves and made it clear that they were available should anyone need them. This was a nice touch, and they were indeed highly visible throughout the entire holiday, chatting to guests and appearing to be constantly checking standards of service.
The Cape Verde climate was ideal for us, high 20's all week, and very consistent - cool enough to sit out in the sun all day if you so wished, but also hot enough to stay pleasantly warm throughout the evening. There are two main pools at the hotel, a quieter pool nearer the main hotel reception and a larger, louder pool more centrally located with a bar, music, and the hotel's animation team organising pool games etc. We stuck to the quiet pool on this occasion as we were looking for a quiet, relaxing stay; the absence of a bar wasn't really an issue as we were close to the bars at reception, and there were always sufficient sunbeds. The hotel is right on the beach, however as other reviewers have noted it is not really suitable for swimming for most people due to the size and strength of the waves. Great for surfing however, with many surfers making use of the 6-8 foot breakers further down the coast! ...we were content to watch and take photos from the beach. Plenty of sunbeds on the beach also, but seemed a little windy.
Having experienced many all-inclusive buffets over the years, we felt that the food at the Melia Tortuga was really at the higher end of the scale. Plenty of choice with several meat and fish dishes, plus vegetarian options, and everything served in smaller serving trays that were replaced more often, meaning the food felt fresher and dried-out a lot less - something other hotels could learn from. In addition to the main Spices buffet restaurant there are three other a la carte restaurants which you can use as many times as you like at no additional cost. The Aqua restaurant (evenings only) has a mediterranean theme based on tapas with only two options, meat or fish. The food was well cooked but we stuck to the buffet for the remainder of the holiday simply due to the choice available. The O Grille restaurant by the beach was great for lunch, serving a variety of salads and freshly grilled kebabs, steaks, and fish. Can't really comment on the other restaurant (located by the main pool) as we didn't visit, but this is also available for lunch and dinner, hence it's fair to say there are food choices to suit most tastes.
One point worth making is that the food hygiene here is great, far better than what you would expect from Egypt for example (just to compare with another potential winter sun destination). All the kitchen staff wore hair nets, latex gloves etc., and looking into the kitchen you could see that it was spotlessly clean. This gave us the confidence to eat plenty of salads etc., ie the hand-prepared stuff that you would normally avoid in places like Egypt, and our holiday was completely illness-free; we also heard no reports of any illness from the numerous other guests we spoke to. We had even stopped using our alcohol hand gel after a couple of days (another essential for Egypt). Overall cleanliness was a BIG plus for this hotel.
In addition to the small pool bar and the small bar at the O Grille restaurant on the seafront, the hotel has two other bars, the main one just off reception which regularly had a piano playing or other low-key music, making it a nice place to spend a quiet (ish) evening should you want one. The Late Bar is a smaller bar, open to 2am, that serves regular drinks and cocktails (which were pretty good). Seating in here isn't the best however, with an odd assortment of tables and sofas, and limited availability; that said, this bar never seemed to be particularly busy; maybe we weren't there late enough!
Entertainment came in the form of both professional acts and the in-house entertainment team, and took place in the main patio seating area just outside of reception. An hour-long 'mini disco' for kids would start the evening from 8.30pm, with the in-house team doing a fantastic job, then the main entertainment would follow for a further hour/hour and a half, always finishing before 11pm. The quality and variety of the acts was pretty good, with the standout being the 'African Night' consisting of professional drummers, singers, dancers, and fire-eaters - superb.
Insects - on the plus side there are very few wasps (we travel to the Greek islands a lot and had come to accept wasps as a fact of life) however Cape Verde is a tropical country and hence has mosquitos. There is no malaria risk here, however if you don't wear repellent you will likely get bitten. This is mainly a problem in the evenings, or sometimes on cloudy days, but provided you carefully apply a strong repellent you should be ok. We also used a plug-in liquid repellent in the room and didn't see any mozzies inside at all. There is a fair amount of vegetation around the pool areas too, and we found a few floating around these areas on occasion, again especially on cloudy days, so consider wearing repellent during the day also.
Sal is a very quiet island, still undergoing a lot of development. There are further hotels going up nearby (including a Hilton) but we weren't disturbed by any construction noise at any point during our stay. The hotel operates a free regular shuttle bus to/from Santa Maria town centre, but we never made use of this - during a 4x4 tour of the island (provided by Thomson - one of the limited number of trips that is definitely worth doing) we noticed the amount of hassle people were getting from street sellers, and decided this simply wasn't for us. They were all polite enough and not particularly pushy, but being approached at every corner wasn't ideal for a leisurely stroll around town. There are a few bars and a few nice places to eat, but not much else. Suspect it will be a lot better in a few years' time as the area is developed.
Overall this is an excellent hotel, run by staff and management who are clearly committed to first-class service. The accommodation, facilities, food, drinks, and standards of cleanliness are also excellent. We have already decided that we will at some point return to this hotel, possibly same time next year!
It is also encouraging to note that the hotel management appears to take the time to review TripAdvisor entries, and with that in mind we would like to offer a few suggestions that could improve this superb hotel even further:
- WiFi range is not great, and did not extend into our room or certain areas of the bars, which was a little annoying at times. Please consider installing stronger transmitters or add some signal repeaters to extend the network's range.
- The seating in the Late Bar could be improved by adding more seats to accommodate smaller groups/couples. Also sofas would be preferable to the tall, thin, wobbly-looking bar stools (especially after a few drinks!)
- Consider a limited table service during the day at the top quiet pool, as there is no nearby bar.
...but this is nit-picking really, just thought we should add some constructive criticism to balance the review a little. In summary great people, great hotel, good value. Hope this doesn't change!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.