São Tomé and Príncipe

A unique fusion of Europe and Africa in an overlooked biodiverse archipelago

Overview

Step into a lost world, a land where remnants of the past meet pristine beaches and emerald seas. This island nation adrift in the West African Gulf of Guinea sees only 13,000 annual visitors, and hopes to welcome many more as infrastructures strengthen in line with responsible tourism iniatives, and jobs are created to support a local population surviving on fishing and agriculture. The twin islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. These were soon developed into successful centres for sugar, cocoa and coffee plantations or roças thanks to their rich volcanic soil and tropical equatorial climate. Peaceful independence came in 1974, leaving splendid colonial architecture to crumble and the islands to be, to a large extent, forgotten.

These days are a great time to visit the smallest Portuguese-speaking nation on Earth. It’s stable and democratic and TAP Airlines makes the 6 hour flight regularly out of Lisbon with connections from throughout Europe. While much of the tiny nation remains an untouched natural paradise, former roças and colonial buildings have been transformed into beautiful accommodation in the form of boutique hotels, luxury lodges and charming guest houses with an emphasis on ecotourism, serving up delicious African specialities, fresh fish, tropical fruits, and organic herbs and veggies.
STP’s position on the Equator means lovely daytime temperatures of up to 30°C year round. The low season hits when the rains come – the long rains are March-May and the short rains October-November. Come at this time, avoiding Easter, and you’ll find fewer tourists, lusher vegetation, and bargain rates for superb accommodation. During the rains showers are interspersed with dry weather, it’s rarely stormy, and it’s at this time you’ll discover the most authentic, truest essence of these islands.

São Tomé
At 330sq miles, it’s the larger and more developed of the two isles, and home to a population of 200,000. The small capital of the same name lies in the north of the island, a pretty place with old churches, plazas and cobbled streets. You’re never far the coast, beautiful ocean and sandy beaches, where you can spot dolphins year-round. 30 minutes from town, lies Obo National Park, with excellent opportunities to get into nature on the many hiking circuits. Enjoy views of the 663m needle-shaped Pico Cão Grande (Great Dog Peak), a solid column of magma left after a volcano eroded away. Plan your route according to duration and ability and include overnight stays at old plantations roças.

Príncipe
Rather smaller, Príncipe is much more off-the-beaten track, heavily forested and tiny at just 50sq miles and a 7000 population. The 87 mile journey is best covered by a 35 minute flight from São Tomé. All of Príncipe is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, committed to sustainable development, and a highlight is taking a boat trip past the Baía das Agulhas  (Bay of Spires) to see its crazy phonolite towers. You can take a tour with a local guide getting to know the island’s culture, rural communities, colourful harbours and outstanding scenery. Savour the aromas of herbs and medicinal plants, taste the local jams, chocolate, grilled fish, and breadfruit.


Major Airport

São Tomé International Airport (TMS)

Low Season Months

Jan Feb Mar
30°C
131mm
5hrs
Apr
30°C
122mm
5hrs
May
30°C
113mm
5hrs
Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
29°C
110mm
4hrs
Nov
29°C
99mm
4hrs
Dec

Hotels

Top Experiences

Turtle Tour

Sea turtles nest, lay eggs and hatch from November to March each year. On this fascinating experience, you’ll join in the monitoring of the female as they come ashore about to lay their eggs on the beaches of Príncipe and learn about the conservation of this sadly threatened species.

Bird Watching

Discover São Tomé and Príncipe’s extraordinary birds, with their distinctive sounds and colours. Specialists have sighted over 143 species, more than 30 of which are endemic, including the world's smallest ibis and the giant sunbird, meaning it outranks the Galapagos in volume and diversity.

Hiking Trails

A popular route is the 5 hour round trip to Lagoa Amelia, while the climb at Pico de São Tomé takes 2 days and good physical fitness. On Príncipe, the raw and wild biosphere trails are ideal for scratching under the surface of the destination, disturbed only by rustling leaves and birdsong.

Insider Tips

  • You’ll be spoilt for choice for beautiful beaches, but the most famous is Praia Banana on Príncipe. Its pristine shores were made famous in the 1990s when it was the filming location for the fantastic Barcardi Rum ads. It remains just a beautiful today and still uncrowded.
  • In 1919 Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was proven by Sir Arthur Eddington on the island of Príncipe, due to the observation of the solar eclipse showing the gravitational deflection of starlight. Each May, at Roça Sundy there’s a celebration of the anniversary.
  • Bom Bom Resort on Principe has its own PADI Dive Centre, so you can learn the necessary skills before exploring the underwater world for snapper, moray eels, parrot fish, barracuda, turtles and colourful corals. Summer visibility is best but you can dive in the warm waters year round.

Good To Know

  • Low season visitors should keep in mind that rainfall is abundant in Príncipe and in the southern part of São Tomé, bringing beautiful lush vegetation. However, the driest area is the north of Sao Tome, around the capital which is located in a rain shadow.
  • The inhabitants of STP are a genuine, welcoming and happy people. Take time to chat and listen to local stories, but note you’re in a different culture here, where time has little meaning and stress is low. Take heed of the national phrase – ‘leve leve’ - easy easy.
  • São Toméans are known for ússua and socopé rhythms, while Príncipe is home to the dêxa beat. Portuguese ballroom may have played an integral part in the development of these rhythms and their associated dances. Join in in downtown São Tomé.

Food & Drink

Fish Calulu

££

Local favourite, this tasty fish stew is available everywhere and includes onions, okra, tomatoes, aubergine and fresh herbs. Traditionally, made with fish or prawns, it can also be made with chicken, and is usually accompanied with rice or cassava.

Vinho de Palma

££

It has to be tried. This alcoholic beverage is made from juice from the sap of palm and coconut trees. Initially sweet it is allowed to ferment and become bitter. As with all local moonshine, be aware that the alcohol content can vary considerably.

Dark Chocolate

££

The Chocolate Islands were once the world’s largest producer of chocolate. Thanks to chocolatiers like Italian Claudio Corallo the industry is once more gaining momentum. Tour his plantation and taste the delicious, rich, velvety bars made straight from the local bean.

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