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Cape Verde - Travel and visas
Every non-Cape Verdean visitor needs a visa unless they are married to, or are the offspring of, a Cape Verdean citizen – in which case they need their marriage or birth certificate. If there is a Cape Verdean embassy in your country you can obtain the visa from there. The cost varies from country to country.
In the UK, where there is no embassy, you have options. Whoever books your air tickets in the UK will probably be able to arrange the visa for you, to be picked up at the airport on arrival. (For those on package holidays, the cost of the visa is usually included in the package cost, but do check. You simply have to provide the tour operator with all your details in advance and you will have no delays on arrival in Cape Verde. Note that if you book a flight-only through a tour operator, the cost of the visa will not be included. You will have to join the queue at the arrival airport and obtain and pay for your visa there, as detailed below.)
For independent travellers from the UK who want to get their visa in advance of departure, you can contact the Honorary Consul in London. You need to submit a completed form and other paperwork, plus a fee of £40, to the Consul, Mr Jonathan Lux, and full details can be found on his website. If you need your visa in a hurry, a personal appointment can be made and the visa issued on the spot. A cheaper option for independent travellers is to simply arrive without a visa and just buy one at your arrival airport in Cape Verde. This costs €25, so is usually cheaper than the other options and is a straightforward operation. Note that it is payable in euros, so make sure that you have enough handy to pay for it. You will generally be given a visa for 30 days as this is the norm, but make sure you ask for the length of time you need.
You can extend your visa at the Direção de Emigrantes e Fronteras during your stay (you will need a passport photo, proof of funds, copy of return flight ticket, occasionally a fair degree of persistence, patience and to pay around 2,500$) and it is much easier to do this before your visa expires. They have offices in Praia, Mindelo (notoriously difficult), Sal and Boavista and the local police will direct you to the office. Fines are often levied on departure if you have overstayed, and are around €100. Visas bought in advance are normally also valid for 30 days.
You are not usually required to show proof of a return ticket to purchase a visa on arrival or to arrange a visa in the UK, but some other consulates (such as the one in Italy) will insist on it. All incoming passengers have to complete an embarkation form which is handed out on the plane pre-arrival. The visa form itself is available at the arrival airport. If travelling from Italy, your travel agent or tour operator should arrange your visa for you. Check with them whether it is pre-paid or whether you will need to pay on receipt. If you are travelling independently, try the Cape Verdean embassy for a visa (for address, see contact details below.) Anyone planning to visit Cape Verde from West Africa should if possible get a visa before leaving Europe, as it may add time and complications to get a visa in African capitals. In The Gambia, for example, there is no Cape Verdean representation, so organise a visa before leaving home or fly to Senegal.
Always bear in mind that the airline industry is a fluid one and the services detailed below may change, sometimes from month to month. There are international airports on Sal, Santiago, Boavista and São Vicente. Most international flights land at Sal; however, there is increasing traffic into the other airports. As internal flights are a little unreliable, it can be an advantage to fly to the airport closest to the island of your holiday destination. For example, travellers making for Santo Antão will have a much shorter onward journey if they fly directly to São Vicente, while those heading for Fogo should choose Santiago.
Scheduled airlines flying to Cape Verde include TAP Portugal, the national carrier TACV, Transavia, Bintercanarias, Senegal Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and TAAG Angola. TACV has been subject to an enormous amount of disruption and although its safety record is exemplary it cannot be recommended as an international link, because of its unreliability. You should, however, check whether the situation has improved. Charter flights come and go. Thomson and Thomas Cook (from the UK), TUIfly (from Germany), TUI Nordic (from Scandinavia) and Jetair (from Belgium) are some of those who operate charter flights to Cape Verde from Europe. Direct flights from Europe range from around 6 hours, from the north, to 3 hours from southern countries such as Portugal.
Note that a domestic airpass giving fixed prices on inter-island flights was previously available, but only to tour operators booking international flights to Cape Verde with TACV. It’s worth asking your tour operator in case it is revived.
British visitors to Cape Verde are easily the most numerous, but none of the many promises of direct scheduled flights from the UK have materialised. This is perhaps because around 95% of British visitors arrive on package holidays, visiting either Sal or Boavista. The number of charter flights servicing these packages means that the independent traveller may be able to find a ‘flight-only’ deal with, for example, Thomsonfly or Thomas Cook (see below). For scheduled flights via Lisbon, you can try TAP. There are also other, more roundabout ways for the British to get to the archipelago, by taking a low-cost flight to a mainstream European or even North African destination and then travelling by the same or a different airline to the archipelago from there. For the onward flight, such options include ‘starting’ your Cape Verde leg in the Canary Islands (Bintercanarias), in Amsterdam or Paris (both with Transavia) or even in Morocco (Royal Air Maroc). This can sometimes save you up to £200, but may involve long stopovers, sometimes overnight, and will shorten your time on the islands. Alternatively you can fly from any UK airport to Lisbon, Germany or Belgium and pick up an onward scheduled or charter flight to Sal or Boavista.
For Irish residents, although there have been attempts to set up charter flights from Ireland, none are currently functioning. The best connections therefore are usually via Manchester, Birmingham, Gatwick or Lisbon.
To keep an eye out for any new flights and to search for good flight deals, a website such as Skyscanner can be a very useful resource.
By cruise ship
Arriving by sea and watching the Atlantic crags materialise from the ocean is an unusual and uplifting way of reaching the islands. Some ships stay for 48 hours, which is plenty of time in which to get across from Mindelo to see the highlights of Santo Antão. An increasing number of cruises are stopping in Cape Verde, mostly in Mindelo. These include Cunard , P&O, and Celebrity Cruises. Smaller cruise ships, such as the Marco Polo, sometimes go to Fogo. Noble Caledonia are now offering cruises which involve ‘island-hopping’ tours to seven islands in the archipelago.
Cape Verde is becoming better known to yachts on the Atlantic run: numbers are increasing, and it is not uncommon to see 20 boats at anchor in Mindelo harbour, a few at Palmeira on Sal and Sal Rei on Boavista, and one or two more dotting bays around the archipelago. One big draw is that pausing in Cape Verde, rather than the Canaries, can reduce the longest leg of the Atlantic crossing by a week.
There are three good harbours and these are on the best-resourced islands (Sal, São Vicente and Santiago). The other islands all have reasonable anchorages, some of them quite beautiful, but at some the safety or comfort depends on the weather.
Cape Verde is short on spares and repair skills compared with ports in the Azores or the Canaries. Boat repair facilities are limited: the best and only real maintenance and spares point is Mindelo. This has lifts for quite large craft and a tradition of woodworking and boatbuilding. There is a chandlery in the new marina in Mindelo with a lot of high-tech equipment for crossing the Atlantic. Food is expensive because it is imported, and it can sometimes be hard to find fresh meat and vegetables. Water and diesel are available on the jetty in Mindelo, but otherwise it can be a case of making journeys to the tap. Water is scarce on Cape Verde and much of it comes from desalinisation plants. Consumption is high in this warm climate so you need to plan your route with care unless you have a water-maker. You do not need a visa unless you are planning to sleep onshore, or to stay for longer than three months. You must enter and clear at every island you visit. In the island chapters, brief information is given as to anchorages and facilities. However, the approaches to many of the islands are tricky and it is best to consult the excellent Atlantic Islands: Azores, Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands.
The most detailed charts are pre-1975 Portuguese; there are also British Admiralty charts but these have errors, sometimes dangerous ones. The British Admiralty Africa Pilot has lots of useful information about weather, sea conditions and currents. All these can be obtained from Hammick and Heath’s aforementioned guide.
The simplest, most convenient, most comfortable, as well as the most reliable way to travel between the islands, is to fly. Anyone with only two weeks in the archipelago should not consider taking a ferry, though there is no alternative to get to Santo Antão or Brava, neither of which has a functioning airport.
Since the demise a few years ago of their only competitor, Halcyonair, the only practical option for inter-island flights has been the national airline, TACV. But in late 2016, after many rumours and regulatory hiccups, Bintercanarias launched inter-island flights in Cape Verde in competition to TACV. New, logo-ed offices have appeared in the airports in Sal, Praia and São Vicente, and a new website specific to the company’s Cape Verdean inter-island service has been created. It is certainly worth monitoring this site (www.binter.cv) as the company to São Vicente and Praia to São Vicente.
Flights with TACV cost from €30 per single journey for a short hop (from Sal to Boavista, for example) to more than double that for longer flights. Journeys take between 20 minutes and 50 minutes. Baggage allowance in economy class for internal flights is 20kg, hand luggage is limited to a stingy 5kg. Bintercanarias allow you 6kg of hand luggage and their flight prices are comparable on the routes they service.
If you are on a very tight schedule or know exactly what you want to do, it is better to book internal flights before you go. If you leave it until you arrive you may not get the flight of your choice although there may be other options if you are flexible. At certain times of the year (festivals or times when emigrants arrive for their holidays), fl ights get very busy – it may therefore be worth checking with a local travel agent. Flights are generally cheaper the further ahead you book and there are sometimes promotional fares.
TACV flies to all the islands except Santo Antão and Brava and its flights are orientated around three hubs. From Sal you can get directly or indirectly to São Vicente, São Nicolau, Boavista and Santiago. From Santiago you can get directly to Fogo, Sal, Maio and São Vicente; from São Vicente you can get directly to Sal and Santiago. Popular routes might have two or three flights per day, whereas the flight to Maio is currently every two days. Flights can fill quickly, especially through the summer, so early booking is essential. Th ere is nothing more nerve-wracking than being stuck on a remote island with an international flight looming in Sal and a TACV employee advising you to turn up on standby every day for the next week.
Cabo Verde Express operates charter day trips, in general from Sal and Boavista to Fogo. Unless you are planning to charter a whole plane (!), you will need to sign on to a group tour via one of the operators, who advertise everywhere in Sal. You can book a flight-only option if there is availability but this is only possible at the last minute.
These are not the Greek islands; we are in the middle of rough Atlantic waters with great distances between many centres. To reach airport-less Brava or Santo Antão, you have to take a ferry. For other inter-island journeys, ferry trips are difficult to recommend on grounds of comfort and even safety.
If you are hyper-adventurous, or even reckless, ferries do operate between many of the islands, although journey times on potentially rough seas are long and schedules are not always strictly adhered to, so it is essential to double-check the sailing times listed throughout the guide. This website keeps reasonably abreast of the ferry situations. In 2008, two ferries sank and before that, two newly introduced catamarans were withdrawn because they couldn’t cope with the rough seas. In 2015, there was a tragic ferry sinking off Fogo, with 11 lives lost. Single journeys cost between €8 and €40, depending on the distance. You are unlikely to find a ferry too full to take you, except at Christmas time, but boats can be delayed for days and journeys are long (up to 14 hours!). The services between Fogo and Brava, and between Mindelo on São Vicente and Porto Novo on Santo Antão, however, are more reliable and enjoy a much shorter journey-time, around 40 minutes and 1 hour respectively.
Cabo Verde Fast Ferry (CV Fast Ferry started operations in 2011 with an initial route linking the southerly islands of Santiago, Fogo and Brava. The long-promised arrival of a second ferry has eventually materialised, but one or other vessel seems to be constantly under repair. These custom-built ferries are more modern and comfortable than the others and have improved the reliability of interisland travel. Single fares are around €14 between Fogo and Brava, and €35 between Santiago and Fogo. Their Facebook page also contains updates (cvfastferry). Always book in advance, as ferries do not sell tickets on board, and take your passport to the office when booking.
There is a national propensity towards seasickness, and it is advisable to keep your bags slightly off the floor and keep an eye on the passengers immediately beside you if you want to escape the consequences. Take food and drink and something warm to wear, particularly for night crossings. Your heavy luggage will usually be stowed, so keep your valuables in your hand luggage.
By cargo boat
There are sometimes a few cargo boats travelling between the islands, and the ferry ticket offices sell a few passenger tickets on these for reduced prices – typically about two-thirds of the full price.
By yacht and catamaran
There are day trips from Sal to Boavista in various different craft. There are also yachts available for charter between the islands.
Outside of Praia and Mindelo (where city buses operate), hiace minibuses and open trucks with seating in the back (Hiluxes) constitute the public transport. They are recognisable by the sign ‘aluguer’ and on most islands that is what they are called, though on Santiago the preferred term is hiace (pronounced ‘yazz’). They are typical African transport, often overloaded with people, chickens and packages and trundling along to the sound of happy-go-lucky tinkling music.
Generally, alugueres converge at a point in a town or village which anyone can point out to you; often they drive around picking up passengers and few leave town before they are full. You shout (‘para!’ which means ‘stop!’) when you want to get off and you pay after disembarking. Alugueres can be flagged down anywhere along the roads. In Cape Verde, unusually for West Africa, many of these vehicles are in good condition and consequently most of their drivers are careful and reasonably slow.
The great disadvantage for visitors can be the timings of the alugueres. Often they seem to leave outlying villages at 05.00 or 06.00 to take people to town, much to the bewilderment of the visitor. They then leave town for the outlying villages between 11.00 and mid afternoon. Time and time again tourists pile into the 11.00 aluguer only to find they have no way of getting back to town in the evening without chartering a vehicle at ten times the price.
The term ‘taxi’ refers both to the cars with meters and taxi signs, found in towns, and to hiaces that have been chartered by an individual. Chartering costs about ten times the public fare and you may be forced to do it if you want to go somewhere at a different time of day from everyone else. Sometimes the fares for a charter can be bargained down and occasionally an opportunist will try to diddle you, but generally charter prices are fixed – they’re just comparatively high. Drivers in general love to be chartered by a tourist so watch out when they tell you there is no more public transport that day – hang around to check and insist that you want to travel colectivo, but also accept the possibility that they might actually be telling the truth! Tourists often get together to share a chartered minibus. Note that taxis after dark attract a premium of around 25%.
Cars are likely to pick you up, except in Santiago. Offer the price of the aluguer fare if it seems appropriate, or ask if the journey is free (buleia). In remote areas there may be no traffic all day. However, women travelling on their own should always exercise caution when attempting to hitchhike.
By car rental
This is possible through local chain firms on São Vicente, Sal and Santiago and there are tiny firms on some of the other islands. International firms have opened on Sal and Santiago. For contact details see the relevant island chapters. Book several days ahead if you can and don’t expect things to run smoothly – for example, the wrong car might arrive several hours late with no price reduction offered for the inconvenience. Car maintenance standards do not match those you might find in western Europe or North America.
If driving, be on the lookout for speed bumps, which are often poorly marked, wandering dogs, sleeping dogs, meandering goats, careless cows and clueless chickens. Seatbelts are compulsory, though no-one wears them. Your travel insurance may be invalid if you choose not to. The same applies to drink-driving. More than two small beers and you are at risk. Police roadside checks are far from rare.
Another dilemma is whether to pick up hitchhikers. As transport on the islands is a communal activity, you may feel guilty whizzing past locals who are looking for a lift. If you wish to help them, again be aware that your hire-car insurance or travel insurance may not cover you fully if passengers are injured while you are at the wheel.
Keen cyclists do take their bicycles to the archipelago and return having had a good time. Bicycles can be transported between the islands on the larger TACV 46-seater planes. You pay by weight, just as with other baggage, so carriage is free if it falls within your luggage allowance. Bicycles may also be hired on Sal, Boavista, Maio and Santo Antão.
However, there are several caveats about cycling in Cape Verde. Firstly, many of the roads are cobbled, causing ceaseless, tiring vibrations to the hands and sensitive areas, unless you have a bike with good suspension. Pot-holes can also be a problem. Secondly, the bulk of roads in Cape Verde are utterly devoid of shade and the constant sunshine can be exhausting. Th irdly, some of the most interesting islands have many stretches that are too steep for cycling – in particular, much of Santo Antão and many roads in Fogo. Fourthly, people trying to take their own bike to the islands have run into problems both with bike damage and with the aircraft unexpectedly refusing to take the bike. Fifthly, the islands are full of dogs. And finally, you are unlikely to find any bike spares easily.