What makes Cabo Verde a unique country to travel to?
The Republic of Cabo Verde is a developing country that consists of nine inhabited and several uninhabited volcanic islands off the western coast of Africa. Most islands (Santiago, São Vicente, Santo Antão, São Nicolau, Fogo, and Brava) are rugged and mountainous; three (Sal, Maio, and Boa Vista) are flat, desert islands with vast white sand beaches. Praia, the capital and largest city (with a population of 140,000), is on the island of Santiago. Cabo Verde’s major shipping port and second-largest city, Mindelo (population 75,000), is on the island of São Vicente. Two languages are spoken widely in Cabo Verde: Portuguese (the official language, spoken by many but not all Cabo Verdeans) and Cabo Verdean Crioulo (a mixture of Portuguese and African languages). While the tourist industry brings an ever-growing number of visitors, tourist facilities on most of the islands remain limited. Sal and Boa Vista islands, however, each have a well-developed tourism infrastructure and extensive nonstop charter flight connections to various European airports.
Cabo Verde enjoys a stable, democratic parliamentary government, with a popularly elected president and a unicameral national assembly (of 72 members), as well as a prime minister who leads the majority party in parliament and heads the government. At present, the presidency and parliament are controlled by rival political parties. The judicial system consists of the national supreme court in Praia and municipal courts throughout the islands.
Petty crime and burglary are common in Cabo Verde, especially in marketplaces, and at festivals, street fairs, and public gatherings. Criminals do not necessarily target U.S. citizens, but rather anyone perceived to be affluent, regardless of nationality. Often, the perpetrators of petty theft and pickpocketing are gangs of street children, so visitors should avoid groups of children who appear to have no adult supervision. Muggings occur often, particularly at night and in more isolated areas, and increasingly involve violence. The perpetrators are predominantly males between the ages of 14 and 25 operating in groups of two or more to attack their victims. Due to inadequate lighting in many public areas, often caused by rolling power cuts in urban neighborhoods, you should be especially vigilant after dark, carry a small flashlight to illuminate your path, never go out alone, keep vehicle doors and windows locked, and avoid isolated places.
National police statistics that show a decrease in crime in general in Cabo Verde conflict with a public perception that crime is actually growing, particularly in the cities of Praia and Mindelo. This perception has been fueled by intense media coverage, and a marked uptick in violent (often drug-related) robberies, physical assaults, and murders. Over the past two years, there have been several murders and attempted murders, including some on the tourist islands of Sal and Boa Vista, although none have involved U.S. citizens.
The Embassy emphasizes the particular dangers of using hillside stairways connecting neighborhoods in Praia and many other Cabo Verdean cities and towns. These stairways, although offering convenient shortcuts through hilly terrain, have been scenes of some of the most notorious assaults in recent months, even in broad daylight with many people present. The Embassy strongly advises against using these any time of day.
As reported in the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, domestic violence against women is widespread in Cabo Verde. Although the Cabo Verdean national assembly adopted a law criminalizing gender-based violence in July 2010, implementing legislation remains a work in progress.
Counterfeit and pirated goods, although widely available in street markets in Praia, Mindelo, and elsewhere, are nevertheless illegal in both Cabo Verde and the United States. U.S. citizens who buy these goods are punishable under Cabo Verdean law.
While you are traveling in Cabo Verde, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you engage in these activities. Buying pirated goods, engaging in sexual conduct with children, and using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country are crimes prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Cabo Verde, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
People that violate Cabo Verdean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Cabo Verde are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Arrest notifications in the host country: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Cabo Verde are limited, and, despite an extensive network of local pharmacies, some medications are in short supply or otherwise unavailable. The country’s largest hospitals (all public) are in Praia and Mindelo, but smaller public health centers and private medical clinics, of variable quality in both personnel and equipment, are located throughout the country. The islands of Brava and Santo Antão do not have airports, so air evacuation from them in the event of a medical emergency is impossible.
Malaria exists in Cabo Verde but is mainly limited to the island of Santiago. Nationwide, malaria is far less prevalent than in mainland African countries with approximately 20-40 cases occurring annually, almost always among recent West African migrants who contracted the illness before arriving on the islands. Although many expatriates do not believe there is a need for malaria prophylaxis, it is important to be aware that there is an elevated risk of contracting the disease from July to December, especially during the rainy season (August-October).
In 2009, Cabo Verde experienced its first-ever epidemic of dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness, the spread of which was facilitated by an unusually heavy rainy season. Unlike malaria, no prophylaxis exists against dengue fever. Ultimately, 21,000 cases were reported, affecting all nine inhabited islands, with six fatalities nationwide. Since then, the number of dengue cases has dropped drastically. In 2010, the Cabo Verdean government received notification of 405 cases, 16 of which were confirmed by a laboratory. No deaths were reported. At least two cases were reported in 2011, with no confirmed deaths. As of August 2013, there was only one case of dengue reported by state television, although with the rainy season ahead, travelers should exercise vigilance. Even with the reduced risk of dengue as a public health threat in Cabo Verde, travelers are advised to minimize exposure to both dengue and malaria by taking precautions against mosquito bites, which are most common at dawn and dusk, particularly from July to December. Like malaria, no vaccine exists for dengue, so travelers in Cabo Verde who exhibit symptoms as described on the CDC’s dengue fact sheet should immediately seek medical attention. Depending on how long you are in Cabo Verde, symptoms may not present themselves until after you return to the United States. Since medical professionals in the United States often do not test patients for either illness, make sure you tell the doctor evaluating your symptoms that you have recently been in a country where both malaria and dengue fever exists.
If you need a doctor in Cabo Verde, a list of medical providers and hospitals is available on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Praia.
Safety and Security
Visitors traveling to Cabo Verde who wish to participate in water sports, swimming, boating, and fishing should exercise extreme caution since the tides and currents around the islands are very strong. Several small fishing boats have been lost at sea in recent years, an inter-island ferry sank in 2009, and drownings occur each year on the beaches in Praia.
Cabo Verde, similar to Hawaii, is an archipelago of volcanic islands. Although volcanoes on most of the islands are now inactive, seismologists still consider the entire island of Fogo to be an active volcano; its last eruption occurred in 1995. Future eruptions remain a threat, as do earth tremors throughout the islands, especially on Fogo, Brava, and Santo Antão, and beneath the ocean channels that separate them. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
National parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011 and municipal elections in 2012, including campaign rallies and demonstrations, were peaceful. However, the Embassy advises you to avoid crowds at local festivals, cultural events, and similar settings to reduce the risk of pick-pockets or involvement in disturbances caused by the widespread consumption of alcohol.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Cabo Verde, or any foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Cabo Verde is provided for general reference only, and may not apply in a particular location or circumstance.
Cabo Verde has an extensive road system. Asphalt roads previously were relatively uncommon, except for airport connector roads. However, on the islands of Santiago, Sal, and São Vicente, many urban and rural roads are now asphalt. On the other islands (Fogo, Brava, Maio, São Nicolau, and Boa Vista), some roads are still narrow, winding, and mostly cobblestone, though an increasing number of roads are asphalt. Although a clear improvement in terms of the country’s overall transportation infrastructure, the new asphalt roads often lack speed bumps and as a result enable a degree of reckless, high-speed driving previously unseen in Cabo Verde. During the rainy season, cobblestone roads are especially slippery, and mud and rockslides are common on roads that cut through mountains.
Houses are often located adjacent to roadways, and drivers must be on the lookout for pedestrians, especially children, as well as herds of livestock. Roads and streets are often unlit, so driving at night is hazardous. Most accidents result from aggressive driving, excessive speed, passing in blind curves, and/or on inclines or declines in the rain. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a problem in Cabo Verde. The peak times for drunk drivers are on Sundays and at night, but one can encounter them at any time. Also, extreme caution toward both pedestrians and other drivers should be exercised after celebrations, festivals, and open-air concerts as well as during holiday periods, such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Carnival.
Full-service gas stations (no self-service) are available and quite modern, often with their own convenience stores. Taxis and buses generally offer clean, dependable service on all islands. Bus service in Praia is inexpensive, and most buses are fairly new. Intra-island service usually consists of minivans (typically a Toyota Hiace) or converted pickup trucks that have benches along the edges of the pickup bed. However, intra-island service can be dangerous because some drivers overload their vehicles, exceed the speed limit, or drive after drinking alcohol. Before entering any vehicle, riders should pay close attention to the appearance and behavior of the driver.
In Cabo Verde, traffic moves on the right side of the road, as in the United States. At intersections, the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way, but at roundabouts (traffic circles), cars inside the circle have the right-of-way. Under Cabo Verdean law, seat belts must be worn at all times by the driver as well as the person in the front passenger seat. Children under 12 must sit in the back seat. Motorcyclists must wear crash helmets and use headlights at all times. Bicycling is common in Praia and in some other areas. The use of helmets, gloves, and /or other protective gear while bicycling is more widespread than in mainland African countries but not governed by local laws/regulations and not at all universal. Pedestrian striped crosswalks are common in Praia, Mindelo, and other large cities/towns, and are widely used and heeded by motorists.