São Tomé may not be synonymous with African travel, but these little-known islands should be on your travel list.
A visit to São Tomé and Principe is a genuine, off-the-beaten-path experience of forest trekking and island life immersion. Picture a scene out of Robison Crusoe, which you can expect. The great thing is not a lot of people know of these islands, and you will be one of the very few tourists.
These mysterious African islands are floating in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of West Africa. They entice you with their lush vegetation, colonial charm, friendly locals, and fusion culture. The islands are covered with emerald-coloured rainforests flanked by golden sand beaches and crystal-clear oceans, giving them a feeling of being in another universe. There is a laid-back natural pace of life here and a strong Portuguese influence.
The bigger of the two islands is São Tomé. The escapist’s dream destination, Principe, is only a 35-minute flight away from its sister island. It’s known as “Africa’s Galapagos” because it’s home to a staggering number of plant and animal species found nowhere else on the planet. Principe is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve that is largely unexplored and unaltered.
In this exquisite resort, watch whales frolic off uninhabited beaches, explore the jungles with a trained guide, and adjust to Mother Nature’s schedule.
What Can You Do in São Tomé and Principe?
In São Tomé and Principe, there are surprising things to do for such a tiny island nation. From small beach picnics and snorkelling from boats in the bays to paddling along quiet mangrove rivers and seeing crumbling cocoa plantations. Holidays in São Tomé and Principe are all about being enthralled by nature.
Obô National Park
With over 700 plant varieties and 143 distinct types of birds, some of which are native to the islands, this unspoiled reserve is a true highlight of São Tomé. It’s a Robinson Crusoe-style journey with thick forests, flowing waterfalls, and magnificent volcanic vistas.
The Pico Co Grande, a needle-shaped volcanic plug that climbs 370 meters (1 214 feet) above a tropical forest and is typically shrouded by swirling mists, is one of the loveliest sights to see.
There are various circular hikes, including one to Lagoa Amelia, a four- to five-hour journey to a volcanic crater with breathtaking views of the lagoon. In addition, multi-day hikes with overnight stays in rocas are possible (old cocoa plantation houses).
Culture and Cuisine Found in São Tomé and Principe
The welcoming residents will welcome you into their paradise. A lovely combination of Portuguese and West African elements blend well together here. The culture of São Tomé and Principe is bright, reminiscent of the birds and its vibrant colours. It’s a mecca for traditional music and dance, as well as creative artists displaying their one-of-a-kind items.
Plantations of coffee and cocoa abound, with some converted into restaurants and eco-tourism companies. Prepare to be smitten by their high-quality coffee and chocolate, which has earned them the moniker “chocolate islands.” The cuisine is beautiful, with imaginative dishes made with fresh local ingredients (mostly fish), herbs, and tropical fruits.
São Tomé and Principe Beaches
São Tomé and Principe have some of the world’s loveliest beaches. Kilometres of smooth sand, drooping coconut palms just like in the movies. Best of all, they are so quiet; you will not find another soul for kilometres. You can spend your days swimming in warm seas, discovering new rock pools, or snorkelling in bays.
The beaches of São Tomé and Principe also see a spectacular natural event: turtle nesting and hatching (in season). Turtles such as the Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Olive Ridley come to lay their eggs on the beaches at night. If you happen to be on the islands during hatching, you can watch them make their perilous journey to the sea.
Consider how much you enjoy island activities, hiking, snorkelling, relaxing, and learning about new foods and cultures. If that’s the case, a trip to these secluded tropical islands off Africa’s west coast should be on your bucket list.
Is it Safe to Travel to São Tomé and Principe?
So Tomé and Principe’s tourism is still in its infancy, and it remains a well-kept secret. Thanks to its isolated location and laid-back island vibe, it is a safe resort with low visitors. The residents of São Tomé and Principe are passionate about eco-tourism, which helps preserve the island nation’s natural beauty and tranquility.
São Tomé and Principe Travel is Affordable
Most resorts in São Tomé and Principe include breakfast and dinner, allowing you to choose the best local lunch restaurants and learn about the local cuisine. The lodging options range from luxury tented villas to island eco-lodges and historically restored plantation cottages that will transport you back in time.
In addition, many rates include daily activity, such as Biosphere walking and hiking trails, plantation excursions, and boat explorations, as well as community visits and stand-up paddle-boarding.