Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How safe is Cape Verde for visitors, tourists and retirees?

Let's face it. Anyone who travels to a strange new place, where ever it happens to be, has a natural tendency to feel some degree of discomfort when it comes to their personal safety. After all, you hardly know much about unfamiliar new places except for what you may have heard before getting there.

Cape Verde is a very safe country for visitors and tourists. Despite anything you may have heard to the contrary, the facts indicate that you are pretty safe here compared to other places. Let's take a look at some of the indicators and studies.

According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2010, an independent evaluator of African nations, Cape Verde ranks #3 of 53 African countries in terms of Safety and Rule of Law. And within that category of evaluation, it ranked 3rd in measures of Personal Safety including crime statistics. Only Mauritius and the Seychelles were safer.

In 2007, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime conducted a study on crime and corruption in Cape Verde. While the data is clearly a few years old, it does put the issue in perspective. What they found was that, "Most of the crimes experienced by the population are conventional property crimes, not necessarily involving the use of violence." Furthermore, they found that, "On average, citizens of the urban areas of S. Vicente and Santiago run the same risk of becoming a victim of robbery as the citizens of other African cities."

In other words, the larger population centers of Praia (Santiago) and Mindelo (Sao Vicente) are where crime levels are highest. Yet, most of the crime is petty theft and robbery.

Speaking from personal experience, as I've lived in both cities, I've had my car broken into a few times and my apartment broken into twice. And I know of several local and foreign residents who have also had their homes broken into. But I realized that neither I nor my friends had taken even the simplest basic precautions to deter such theft.

That's the key - take all the normal, common sense precautions you would anywhere to avoid becoming a victim of petty theft or robbery.

If you decide to live in Cape Verde for an extended period, or if you decide to make a retirement home here, you should make sure your home or apartment is secure. Thus, you should make sure sliding doors and windows have protection in place to defeat the sliding mechanism. Your ground floor doors and windows should be fortified with metal bars to discourage thieves. Your car should not have any valuables visible within and should preferably have an automatic alarm. And one of the things that could be very useful in solving a theft is to install cameras that record movement - with today's technology these cameras are cheap and small enough to hide away in an inconspicuous place. But the best protection is to hire a security guard to keep an eye on your home (or several homes so you can split the cost). The cost of a guard is only about 80-100 euro per month.

Here are a few tips that you may want to keep in mind whenever you visit a new place, even if its the next town over from where you live:

  • Never walk around alone at night in an unfamiliar area - you would be inviting unnecessary trouble and may be an easy target for a mugger. Take a taxi. If you want to walk around and explore at night, travel in groups; there is strength in numbers. Muggers tend to travel in groups of two or three at night.
  • Women should absolutely not walk around alone at night as they tend to attract unsolicited attention from obnoxious males, or worse, muggers.
  • Never flash large amounts of money around as this would mark you as a target - not for violence, but for pick-pockets or scam artists who may try to talk you out of the money they know you are carrying.
  • Do not leave your valuables unattended or out of your sight; they are likely to be stolen when you're not looking.
  • Leave your valuables in the hotel safe only if you are able to program in your own personal locking code. If it can be opened with a key, it is possible that someone else has a copy. Take a picture of your valuables to document them for insurance purposes or to make a claim with the hotel.
  • Keep valuables that cannot be stored in a hotel safe locked away inside of your luggage during your hotel stay while you are out of your room.
  • Do not leave anything, not even items of nominal value, inside an unattended parked car. There are too many incidents where windows are smashed and trivial items are stolen to be resold. Plus you may be held liable for damage to a rental car if you did not purchase optional insurance.
  • When moving around in crowded areas, be constantly aware of your surroundings. Do not become overly distracted or taken off your guard by unusual activity, for example, someone bumping into you or asking you odd questions (e.g., asking directions of an obvious tourist.)
  • Do not fall for confidence tricks or scams. If a stranger approaches you with a very credible story that requires you to part with any money, no matter how small you think the amount may be, you are probably being scammed. For example, someone who approaches you may know the hotel you are staying at because they may have seen you enter or leave the hotel premises. Simply because they know this fact, doesn't mean they are affiliated in any way with the hotel. If you have any doubts, ask for identification (Bilhete Identidade) and KEEP their ID in your possession until you have confirmed whatever story you are being told. If they refuse to provide ID, have nothing to do with them.
  • Do not pack your valuables in your luggage when travelling by air. Items like cameras, jewelery or other articles that may contain cherished memories or that may hold sentimental value, should always be kept in your carry on hand bags. Forget theft - what if the airline simply loses your luggage or drops it causing damage!

For a brief vacation, Cape Verde is no less safe than any other small mostly rural, tropical island destination. Just take the precautions for your personal safety and the safety of your property that you would in any unfamiliar location. And most of all, enjoy yourself and everything that Cape Verde has to offer!

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