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Cape Verde - Heath and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.
Cape Verde does not suffer from many of the diseases that are a menace in mainland Africa. There is a limited incidence of malaria and dengue fever – and polio, diphtheria and measles have successfully been combated. With increased immigration from West Africa, there have been incidences of yellow fever being brought in to Cape Verde and hepatitis A and B. Food-borne diseases, from diarrhoea to cholera, are common though, and for the tourist, accidents are a threat.
Cape Verde’s tourism is developing faster than its infrastructure. The islands have a good number of doctors, trained overseas, and there are hospitals on São Vicente and Santiago, and private medical clinics on Sal and São Vicente. However, bear in mind that if you are taken seriously ill elsewhere, the correct treatment may be hard to find as facilities on the less-developed islands are more limited.
Don’t travel without comprehensive medical travel insurance that will fly you home or to another country in an emergency. Cape Verde does not have an operating hyperbaric chamber, so divers should take out proper diving insurance, which will include being flown at low altitude to Europe for treatment for the bends.
Sensible preparation will go a long way to ensuring your trip goes smoothly. Particularly for first-time visitors to the African continent, this includes a visit to a travel clinic to discuss matters such as vaccinations and malaria prevention.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on ISTM. For other journey preparation information, consult Travel Health Pro (UK) or CDC (US). Information about various medications may be found on Net Doctor. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
The vast majority of Cape Verdeans you will meet will be scrupulously honest and crime should be no more of a problem than if you were still at home.
Although Cape Verde remains a peaceful and safe place with a very low incidence of crime, theft has increased as a direct consequence of tourism. Sensible precautions should of course be taken, but in this respect Cape Verde is no different from anywhere else in the world: carelessness and lack of common sense can bring crime upon visitors – though that does not of course lessen the culpability of the perpetrators.
Theft is most common in Mindelo and Praia, as well as at isolated spots on Sal. In Mindelo, tourists can occasionally fall victim to gangs of bag-snatchers, and aggressive begging and pickpocketing are not uncommon, occurring mostly on the waterfront and on the Amílcar Cabral Square (children may follow you until you retreat into a hotel, asking for money but also trying to take it from your pocket).
In Praia the speciality theft venue is Sucupira Market, a crowded place and a pickpocket’s paradise, but people have had valuables such as laptops snatched from other places in the city. Be particularly careful if using your prized computer in the town squares, where Wi-Fi is often free. In Sal it is Buracona, on the west coast, where the theme is to hide behind a rock and break into cars once their drivers have gone for a walk.
In Boavista, in isolated spots, there is an increasing amount of violent crime against tourists. Other islands remain virtually crime-free, at least with respect to tourists. In the less populous islands, where everyone knows everyone, the perpetrators are also likely to be known to the police and the locals: this is a massive deterrent in itself. In recent years, Cape Verde has had to start to grapple with drug-related crime. Drugs are entering the country as drug-smuggling routes change and it is also said that tourism has increased the problem. A third cause is the US’s deportation of criminals with Cape Verdean ancestry back to Cape Verde.
Follow the usual rules. Carry a purse in an inside pocket; when paying, don’t open a purse stacked with cash. Keep valuables hidden in money belts, or leave them in the hotel safe where possible. If you are a victim, make a fuss so that people come to your aid. Carrying a whistle on a loose, breakable cord around your neck is also worth considering. Also, it is irresponsible not to report any incident of crime or attempted crime to the police, who are striving to fi ght crime (also, if you are to claim on your travel insurance you must have a police report).
To sum up, the vast majority of Cape Verdeans you will meet will be scrupulously honest and crime should be no more of a problem than if you were still at home. As a visitor, you are slightly more vulnerable to being targeted by the tiny minority of people with a criminal propensity – a minority which can be found anywhere in the world.
Some of the joys in Cape Verde are the cobbled paths in the mountains, making some walks easier both underfoot and navigationally than they might appear. Nevertheless there are hazards. Dehydration and sunstroke are two: shade is sparse and, on some islands, non-existent, while water sources are scarce. Another is falls: where the paths are not cobbled they can be shingly, with small loose stones, and it is easy to tumble on the way down. The west of Santo Antão has its own special dangers born of remoteness. Take the usual precautions: strong boots, several litres of water per person, sun protection, a map, and a message left at your hotel about where you’ve gone.
Hiking trails in the mountains of Santo Antão © Presse750/Dreamstime
Females can travel a lot on their own in Cape Verde and never feel threatened, although they might regularly feel mildly irritated. Cape Verdean men will flirt outrageously, as they do with their own Cape Verdean womenfolk. If you’re older there’s less attention but always a few die-hard admirers hoping to become toy boys. The casual mention of a husband back in town makes most men lose interest pretty swiftly. However, if you reveal that you are childless – whether married, with a partner or single – you will attract huge sympathy, mystification and interest. You will have plenty of offers from potential fathers. If you go to a man’s home, or invite him back to your place, he will expect to have sex even if you tell him it is not on the agenda. Many local men will carry preconceptions that foreign female visitors are available and willing. Women who stay for a long time in one place – for example volunteers – can have more serious problems.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender travellers
With respect to LGBT travellers, Cape Verde is generally regarded as one of the most tolerant of African countries. Sexual activity between those of the same gender has been legal since 2004. Occasional displays of prejudice can occur anywhere in the world, including Cape Verde, but reports from LGBT visitors to the country indicate that there are no particular concerns. Sal and Boavista islands are perhaps particularly well attuned. Cape Verdeans are very tactile in their everyday exchanges, but as with heterosexual behaviour, over-the-top physical displays of same-sex affection are not always welcomed by everyone.
Increasing numbers of older people are holidaying in Cape Verde, and it poses no particular problems for them. There are a few caveats, though. The elderly may find the undulations of steep islands a little hard – there are one or two hotels that can be accessed only by foot up steep paths and you should check when booking. Make sure you understand about the distribution of medical facilities: if you keel over anywhere other than Sal, Santiago or São Vicente it will be a ferry journey or a plane ride to the nearest full-service hospital. Most sights are accessible by car, but do bear in mind, if you are in need of a fairly sedentary holiday, that there are not many cultural ‘sights’ to go and see – just a tiny sprinkling of museums. Travel insurance can be purchased in the UK from Age UK or Free Spirit, neither of which has an upper age limit
Travelling with children
Cape Verde is increasingly attractive to families as beach tourism develops. Choose your hotel carefully though: some hotels are built in front of stretches of water in which it is not safe to bathe. Some of the resort hotels on Sal have dedicated children’s facilities, such as playground, swimming pool and even activities, but outside of the all-inclusive complexes there are few ready-made, children-orientated facilities. Many hotels are not near the water and the beaches have no shade. If a beach holiday was not what you had in mind, it’s perhaps best only to take children if they are old enough to enjoy activities such as windsurfing or hiking – or be content with bobbing around in the hotel pool.
Travelling with a disability
As far as we know there are no operators running specialised trips to Cape Verde for travellers with a disability. It would be best to contact a specialist who really knows the islands you want to visit, knows the hoteliers personally and is interested in your quest: they can take the time to craft a journey for you. A good one, if you are visiting several islands, is Cape Verde Travel.
The local minibuses are generally very crowded and hard to climb into. There are plenty of taxis in the capitals (Mindelo and Praia). In other towns the taxis may take the form of minibuses or 4x4s which may be even harder to get into. For journeys by car, discomfort is reduced by the fact that there are no great distances to cover anywhere in Cape Verde but most of the roads are cobbled, which can be bumpy. Some, non-cobbled, non-tarred roads can be pot-holed and uncomfortable (eg: off the principal roads in Santiago, crossing the deserts in Boavista). It is best to take advice beforehand.
Because many trails, particularly in Santo Antão, are cobbled almost all the way, it is just conceivable that a tailored wheelchair could travel on them. One person who achieved this is Jean François Porret and his account of his experience, with some inspiring photographs, available online.
Travel insurance for those with medical conditions can be purchased in the UK from Free Spirit. Most insurance companies will insure disabled travellers, but it is essential that they are made fully aware of your disability.
Although the vast majority of people will only want to help you, it is worth remembering that, as a traveller with a disability, you are more vulnerable. Stay aware of who is around you and where your bags are, especially in Mindelo and Praia.
For further information, see the government website.