If you follow me on social media, you will know that I spent a week in Sal Island after exam season. I’ve had an influx of questions since then regarding how I managed to afford it, my budget, and apps used – amongst other things.
I promised those people a post detailing everything, so here it is. Albeit, a little late.
I have a general strategy regarding vacations. Since I am a student, I do have limits in terms of when I can travel. My academic calendar is a little weird. My exams are in January so I can’t risk any big trips during the Christmas holidays, I never know whether I’m going to have resits (which typically start around mid-August) so I can’t really travel then either. Technically, I’m not supposed to travel during the Easter holidays either, although, if you see me posting from the airport in a couple of days, don’t act surprised. I’m also on a student budget – as in only working part time, with mostly shitty pay.
My situation means that planning ahead is key. And when I say ahead, I literally mean months in advance. My university’s annual academic calendar is my best friend. Every year, I check it out around June, it allows me to plan when my holidays are, when I can risk travel, and when I absolutely have to be home to study.
I may have gone to Cabo Verde in January, but my flight had been booked since June. After checking the academic calendar and realizing I had a week off after exams, I figured it would be the perfect time to travel somewhere long-distance (perks of low season).
I used my favorite app, Skyscanner, input the dates I wanted to travel and set the destination to Everywhere. My budget for the flight was in the €200-€300 range, and Cabo Verde caught my eye. It was an (almost) direct flight to Sal Island – our departure flight landed in Boa Vista first – with Brussels Airlines, and it was completely within my budget. I booked immediately. Small tip if you use a fare comparison website/app, once you’ve found what you’re looking for, I recommend booking through the airline website directly.
At first, I planned to travel alone, but once I told my friends, one of my girls was down to come with me. This honestly helped with accommodation as it cut my costs in half. Once again, we booked ahead.
By mid-July, we had found a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Santa Maria. It was seemed clean, spacious enough, and it was beach-side (seriously, it was like a one minute walk, if that). Airbnb split the cost in half, so we had to pay half on booking, and the rest a couple of weeks before our departure.
I paid my half back in July, my friend paid the rest in January. (I’ve included the link to the apartment we stayed in, just in case.)
If you are an EU citizen, visas to Cabo Verde can be done online or upon arrival. They cost roughly €25 and I would highly recommend you do it online by yourself as:
- Once we got to the airport, a lot of the people who had their visas organized via their travel agency were required to go back and stand in the “Visa On Arrival” queue where they then had to pay again as their agencies had majorly fucked up in one way or another.
- The “Visa on Arrival” queue is fucking LONG.
Because my passport is hella green, I had to go through the whole visa process via the Cabo Verde embassy a couple of months before. The visa process is pretty easy, they don’t ask for your pay slips etc. The only relatively annoying thing is, for administrative purposes, you are required to procure an International Vaccination Certificate.
An International Vaccination Certificate is required for travelers departing for countries at risk of yellow fever transmission. Although Cabo Verde is not considered to be a country at risk, its neighbors are. (Note: you do not have to go through this process if you apply for an online visa or get one on arrival.) The cost of the Yellow Fever vaccination, as well as having my Tetanus updated, came to about €40. The visa application fee was €45 and, because I mailed it in, I had to pay for the aller-retour which came to about €15.
I sent my visa application off on a Wednesday, it had arrived at the Embassy by Friday and I received my passport in the mail the Friday after that.
The number one pro of booking in advance meant that I had my flight and accommodation sorted months before my trip, giving me six months to put my spending money together. This is pretty key if you’re on a student budget as it allows you to put a little money aside for your trip every month whilst still managing to enjoy your life.
My budget for Cabo Verde wasn’t anything extreme, I did some research in advance to check average prices, I knew that my money would mostly be spent on food (duh) and a couple of activities. I do believe in saying ‘right, this is how much I’m going to take with me and it has to last me the entire trip‘ as it allows you to reign it in a little. My budget wasn’t anything crazy; €300.
I took €200 in cash and withdrew the rest when I needed it. I did end up withdrawing €50 extra just in case and obviously, I spent the fuck out of it. As a whole, I found that it was pretty easy to stick to my budget even though we ate out 2-3 times everyday.
Things to Do
In terms of activities, we only participated in two activities in our week there; an hour long horse ride along the beach, and diving. The most expensive of the two obviously being the diving.
I personally would not recommend the horse ride, nor the company (Tud Sab) who organized it. It was relatively cheap (€25 if I remember correctly), and I was wholly unimpressed with the woman who managed our booking.
We initially contacted her through Whatsapp to book and everything was fine, when we passed by the agency to pay she tried to add another hour to our initial booking by insinuating that my messages weren’t clear.
When I refused, her entire demeanor changed, she took our money and told us to come back 15 minutes prior to our booking (we paid in the morning for an afternoon ride), and essentially sent us off without explaining anything further. When we came back in the afternoon, she ignored us the entire time we were there until the horses arrived – and we were there a solid 20 minutes.
Not only did I not appreciate her uppity demeanor, I wasn’t comfortable with the treatment of the horses and I think I’m going to stay away from riding animals in tourist destinations in the future.
The diving experience, however, was amazing. We went to the Santa Maria Dive Center where the employees were super kind and helpful. When we told them we were first-timers, the girl who worked the front desk took a good 20 minutes of her time explaining everything to us and answering all of our questions.
We paid €68 in total for equipment, an hour long dive & transport to Murdeira Bay. The instructors were brilliant & it was amazing (it was even worth the panicked phone calls from my mum pre- and post-dive). I cannot even begin to describe the magic of being able to breathe underwater and I left that afternoon with the full intention of becoming a PADI certified open water diver (the Pisces jumped out).
While the official exchange rate is €1 = 110CVE (January 2019), most establishments (bars, restaurants, etc) use €1 = 100CVE and allow you to pay directly in Euros.
Things worth noting:
- You cannot pay in any other foreign currency other than the Euro.
- If you try to exchange your money into CVE from anything other than Euro, there is an additional charge.
- There are cash points everywhere that allow you to withdraw CVE directly. I used my Visa card (they accept Maestro & Mastercard too). An additional 200CVE was charged to my account, which I personally felt was fine, but it’s worth mentioning.
- Although most establishments use the €1 = 100CVE rate, if you want to participate in any activities/excursions, expect to be charged the official rate.
Overall, I spent approximately €1000 on the entire trip which, seems like a lot now that I think about it, but the fact that I raised the money for it over a long period of time meant that I didn’t feel the burning hole in my pocket at all.
And considering that, in the past, I’ve spent around that much in makeup and food alone, over a shorter period of time, only to spend months crying about it later – I would rather my money go on travel. I never regret getting on an airplane, and I never regret exploring a new country.
I would definitely say that Cabo Verde isn’t for everyone, especially Sal Island. It’s very touristy. But I knew I would be absolutely finished post-exams, I wasn’t up for walking hours daily or traveling to different cities/areas, I just wanted the sun & the sea and that’s exactly what I got. It was worth every penny.