Public Transportation Part I: Getting Around the Island of Santiago

The island of Santiago is small enough that a person can make a round trip to any part of the island within one day. The island is pear-shaped, with Praia sitting at the base and Tarrafal sitting at the stem end of the fruit.

The drive straight through from Praia to Tarrafal, a drive of 42 miles through dozens of towns big and small, up, down and around the mountains, takes about two hours. The road stretching from Praia to Tarrafal is one lane in each direction. It is the main road on the island and is called strada principal.

The view out the window of a hiace on the strada principal.

Very few families in Cape Verde own a car; less than 10% would be my guess. I don’t know any families that have more than one car. Though the capital of Praia has a public bus system similar to what we know in the U.S., the public transportation system that most people use on a daily basis is made up of privately owned and operated vehicles that are regulated by the government. There are two types of vehicles that make up this transportation system – the Hilux and the Hiace.

The Toyota Hilux is a small pickup truck with two benches built into the long sides of the pick-up bed and covered with a heavy-duty tarp.

The Hilux

Hiluxes are generally for short, local trips – anywhere from a quarter mile to about ten miles. They make repeated loops in an area, usually going between one fixed point and then going to another fixed point before turning around and coming back. Each hilux (pronounced ‘eelux’) is distinguishable from the dozens of others by the custom made tarps which combine various colors, designs and logos.


Some of the hiluxes are named, many of these after popular brands or sports teams or people. This hilux sports the logo for FC Barcelona.

Some of the names I’ve seen on the trucks include Lacoste, Adidas, Nike, Pepe Jeans, Jordan, Che Guevara, John Lennon, Peace and Love, and Nha Codê (My youngest child).

There are two hilux that I ride in several times per week and that cover the same route going from the chapel near our house to the local high school, about three miles each way. The cost of a one way trip of any distance along the three mile route is 30 Cape Verdean Escudos, about $0.40.

This is Sasá and his hilux, one of the two that I regularly ride in. The other one has a peace symbol on the side.

The Hiace

The Toyota Hiace is a 15 passenger mini van referred to simply as a ‘hiace’, pronounced ‘yaas’. The hiace is for longer trips, going between the biggest urban areas on the island. Most of these vans are white, silver, blue, red and green.



Less tricked out than the hiluxes, the hiaces are distinguishable by decals in the top part of their front and back windshields.

The decals help to distinguish the hiaces which help me and Jen to know whose vehicle we are getting into. Sometimes we try to remember a particular vehicle because the driver drove safely and slowly. And sometimes we try to remember a vehicle because we don't want to risk our lives with a particular driver a second time.

I most frequently take hiaces when I am going between our small town in the middle of Santiago and one of the bigger cities such as Praia, Assomada or Tarrafal. The cost of the trip is based on the distance you go. From our house to the capital of Praia, about a 45 – 60 minute trip depending on the number of stops, costs 150 CVE or about $2.

Other Vehicles Used for Public Transportation

There are some other types of vehicles used for public transportation. Taxi cabs are around, though mostly in the capital, Praia. There are other trucks that have been converted for passengers to ride in the back and some larger buses as well.

Much larger than the typical pickup truck, these trucks hold a lot more people in the back though typically don’t have a tarp which can make for a very windy, cold or rainy ride.

The view from above one of these larger trucks. The woman in pink in the middle of the aisle and towards the front of the truck is our host mother from training, Guta. This picture was taken when the batukadera group from the town where we did training came to visit and celebrate their two year anniversary as a group.

A larger bus, similar to the school bus used in our county. There are not enough school buses to pick up all of the students so many rely on hiluxes or hiaces to get to the school. Many students also walk, some for several miles in each direction.

The Bolea: The Other Way We Get Around Santiago

The other major way that people get around is the free ride or bolea. If someone is going your direction and they have room, they will frequently let you hop in their car or truck. Many boleas are in the bed of a pickup truck.

People piling into the back of a pickup truck for a free ride.

The ride in the back of the pickup can be a bit frightening. Sorry, mom. We don't do this often.

A wedding procession making its way through town. Though not technically a bolea, I wanted to include this picture somehow.


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