Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting around in Cape Verde

One area that many tourists have questions about when visiting any destination is how to travel around within the country or city being visited. In Cape Verde, the transportation industry is quite developed. The infrastructure is in place for road, air and sea travel. You'll find that the conditions vary by island given population sizes and state of development of each of the nine inhabited islands.

Car Rentals
Roadways are increasingly being paved. Over 25% of the roads are paved and the unpaved roads are not places you would have imagined anyone driving on anyway. So driving yourself around is very doable. However, car rentals are relatively expensive at around €45-80/day depending on the type of vehicle you rent. There are quite a few choices for car-rental agencies and you'll even find a few in the airports on your arrival.

Don't expect turn-by-turn GPS! LOL. In fact, you'll promptly and often get lost even with detailed maps because none of the streets have street-signs although the streets all have names. I've often wondered what is the point of naming a street if no-one can actually see the name? And if you're the adventurous type and want a good laugh ... just stop and ask a resident for directions! It's not that Cape Verdean's are not a friendly lot, but you simply will not get there.

Be aware that Cape Verdeans love their cars. So don't smack into anyone! And watch out for the guys who will offer to wash your car at every turn.

I would strongly advise that you not drive at night if you don't know the roads really well. If you decide to rent, please be safe.

Public Transportation

On the more populated islands and the tourist meccas like Santiago, São Vicente, Fogo, Sal and Boa Vista, it is easy to hail a cab for about €1-2 for short trips. In Santiago and São Vicente, you can take the bus for about €0.30. Be warned, the taxi drivers are certifiably nuts! I'm sure that's a world-wide phenomenon. Maybe the taxi drivers of the world have a secret association where they share crazy driving tactics.

Bus companies are all privately owned, so the service is relatively reliable and there are lots of buses. At least that's how a tourist would feel because they have nowhere to go, really. But just ask residents trying to get to work on time - they are likely to think there aren't enough buses and that they have to wait forever for the bus to arrive. LOL. Which bus do you take? Look, Cape Verde is so small that you can hardly go wrong catching any bus that comes. If it's the wrong one, you won't be too far from your destination and you'll see more of the place and more of the people ... you can always catch a taxi to the correct spot.

For longer journeys on just about all of the islands, you'll find a Hiace (private van) or Hilux (private pickup truck) is the only way to go. They are cheap at €1-3 each way depending on the island and depending on the distance. It's the best way to meet lots of locals as they are usually packed into the vehicles! But the music is great, if you like it loud. LOL.

By Air

If your goal is to move from one island to the next, there are two choices - by air or by sea. Cape Verde has three domestic airlines: TACV, Halcyon Air and Cabo Verde Express. TACV and Halcyon Air have the most robust domestic schedule using ATR 72s and ATR 42s, popular aircraft models used around the world for short-haul air transportation. However, TACV has a very poor reputation for service and on-time performance ... probably because it is the government-owned airline. Halcyon Air is the better choice as it is pretty much on time and the fares are somewhat cheaper.

TACV has more aircraft (3 versus 2) than so it has more scheduled flights and more connections than Halcyon Air. It also has international services to various European countries, Fortaleza in Brazil, Boston in the USA, and several African countries. But you've been warned ... don't expect top notch service.

Cabo Verde Express has 3 aircraft but they are very small 19-passenger LET 410 UVPs.

By Sea
One of the most recent developments in Cape Verde's travel industry was the introduction of Cabo Verde Fast Ferry which hailed a new era in inter-island maritime transportation. It is not that there were no ferries in Cape Verde prior to Fast Ferry's arrival in January 2011, it is simply that the ferry services were completely unreliable, slow and uncomfortable because they use very old vessels which constantly have maintenance problems. And several of the islands were not served except on an ad-hoc basis.

Now, with the advent of the Fast Ferry with sleek, modern, rapid craft and daily schedules for the first time, both residents, businesses and tourists have a meaningful choice for travelling between the islands. You can even reserve and purchase your tickets online - another first. You can even befriend Fast Ferry on Facebook.

Of course, the question that is surely on the mind of every tourist: "how safe is it?" The answer is that all of the travel options are extremely safe. If it's one thing governments are good at, it is regulation, and the transportation industry in Cape Verde is no exception, perhaps even to a fault (they even regulate the prices that can be charged by private companies!) So the good news is that you can rest assured that the operators of airlines, maritime vessels, taxis, buses and vans are all scrutinized by the regulators and are required to comply with various laws. Nothing is ever fool-proof, but I personally would not hesitate to use any of these options anywhere in Cape Verde. So go forth with confidence and explore more of these islands!

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