The hotel star-rating system in Cape Verde is an inflated one, internal to Cape Verde: if coming from Europe or North America, lower your expectations and go with the flow. The term ‘hotel’ implies a place of superior quality, though even this cannot be relied upon. The other terms, pousada, pensão and residencial, are interchangeable. Some establishments use the word casa to demonstrate a family atmosphere. At the bottom of the range there are some very cheap, grubby places that are not intended for tourists. No-one will mention them, they will not be marked, and even the proprietors may discourage you from staying for fear you’ll complain about the conditions. Above this level, accommodation is almost invariably clean, if basic, and en-suite bathrooms are the norm. Rooms can vary enormously in quality within the same hotel. In particular the windows of inner rooms in older buildings in Praia and Mindelo often open only on to a central shaft, which makes them dark and noisy.
In May 2013, a tourist tax equivalent to €2 per person per night was introduced for all guests, up to a maximum often nights. Bear in mind that in response to your telephone or email enquiry, hotels often quote their prices excluding the tax, so do ask when booking, to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
There’s an increasing number of good-quality and luxury hotels in Cape Verde. At the time of writing, there were many on Sal and Boavista, a few on Santiago and São Vicente, one on Santo Antão and one on Fogo. Rooms in most three-star hotels will have hot water, telephone, fan or air conditioning, and often a fridge and television (often just local channels, though, and not always working!). If hot water is important to you (and it may be less so in a hot climate than at home), then it is worth enquiring in advance. Sometimes the availability of hot water varies throughout the day. Air conditioning is sometimes offered as an option, with extra charges levied if you say ‘yes’ – remember, electricity is expensive here. Breakfast is nearly always included in the price. Wi-Fi is becoming very common in hotels and other accommodation, though sometimes it is in public areas only or attracts a charge. Camping is permitted on the beaches, but finding a natural water supply may be difficult.
On Sal, Boavista and Maio there are an increasing number of apartments to rent and a few villas.
On the two great hiking islands, Santo Antão and Fogo, as well as on Maio, local people are increasingly opening up their homes to visitors. In general you sleep in a spare (or hastily vacated) bedroom and are fed your evening meal as well as breakfast the next day. Sometimes local people have built concrete annexes on to their houses to accommodate tourists. A few homestays provide better facilities. The system has several advantages. It allows trekkers to do more ambitious journeys safe in the knowledge that they have places to stay along the way. It brings locals and visitors into closer contact – you experience a taste of the rural lifestyle while they derive entertainment and cash from you. An excellent project on Maio is linking up locals with visitors who want a more authentic accommodation experience.
But rural homestays are not for every visitor. Conditions will be basic: perhaps there will be a room without windows, a very old mattress and some sort of shared washing facility without a huge amount of privacy. Although the price will be lower than that of hotels, it may be higher than you expected it to be. This can be because of the high cost of arranging special food for visitors (for example, some homestay hosts in Santo Antão have to spend a day travelling to town and back to purchase food for their guests). For some visitors, a homestay is the high spot of their trip and even a formative experience in their lives; for others it is a disaster from which they can’t wait to escape. The key is to abandon your tourist-as-consumer mindset and become a tourist-as-anthropologist for the day, accepting what is given and taking an interest in everything you are privileged to witness. You can take comfort from the knowledge that, as you hand over your money, you are directly benefiting the local people.