Sao Tome & Principe

Lodged in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of western Africa, the two main islands of Sao Tome and Principe are a part of a mountain range consisting of none active volcanoes. Colonized by Portugal in the late 15th century, the country achieved independence on 12 July 1975. The official language is Portuguese while Dobra is the official currency of Sao Tome and Principe. Other islands in the republic are Pedras Tinhosas and Rolas.

Of the various ethnic groups that have migrated to the islands since 1485, seven groups are identifiable: Mestiços, or mixed-blood, descendants of Portuguese colonists and African slaves brought to the islands during the early years of settlement from Benin, Gabon, and Congo (these people also are known as filhos da terra or "sons of the land"); Angolares, reputedly descendants of Angolan slaves who survived a 1540 shipwreck and now earn their livelihood fishing; Forros, descendants of freed slaves when slavery was abolished; Serviçais, contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde, living temporarily on the islands; Tongas, children of serviçais born on the islands; Europeans, primarily Portuguese and Sephardi Jews; Asians, mostly Chinese minority, including Macanese people of mixed Portuguese and Chinese ancestry from Macau.

Notable Places to Visit

Colonial “Roça” & Plantation Houses

Take a trip to an old plantation and visit some of the most beautiful roças and travel in time to the days when Sao Tomé was a slave station on the route to Brazil. Here are some plantations worth seeing: Ponta do sol (on Principe), Agua Izé, Ribiera Peixe, Monté Café, Roca de São Joao, Roca de Bombaim, Roca de Monteforte. In the early 1800s, coffee and cacao plantations (locally known as “Roças”) were developed on the island's rich volcanic soils. By 1908, Sao Tome had become the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Since then, the country has suffered many years of agricultural decline although cocoa continues to be a major cash crop. This fascinating history dominated by the slave trade and plantations, has left several historical landmarks. A plantation-slavery culture in the ‘roças’ has been eradicated and some of the owners’ mansion houses are now used as small boutique hotels. Many of them are now run as hotels or cafés where you can spend the night and relax on the spacious verandas. Others are now abandoned and reverting to interesting secondary forest growth.

The Chocolate Islands

Although São Tomé islands is no longer the world's biggest supplier of cacao, it is capable of exporting some of the best-quality beans on earth. Over the years, the world's cacao growers have sacrificed quality for the sake of high yields. On the São Tomé archipelago, however, there are still descendants of the original forastero plants that the Portuguese brought from South America in 1822. This kind of magic only happens in Terreiro Velho (Principe Island) and Nova Moca (Sao Tomé Island), two old plantations (locally known as "roça") devoted to coffee and cacao. The man who runs the place, Claudio Corallo, an Italian who spent most of his life in Africa, is working with these surviving plants, farming organically to produce a limited-yield superior cacao. Corallo has for the past decade been on a quest to produce some of the finest dark chocolates in the world

Obo Natural Park

There are over 700 species of native plants (including 100 unique orchids) and 143 birds, many of which are only found in Sao Tome and Principe. Scientists are still faced with a mystery of how such a large diversity of species could develop in a remote location like the Sao Tome and Principe Islands. Given its exceptional nature, the WWF classified the Sao Tome and Principe forests as one of the world 200 most important biodiversity areas. The number of endemic birds has led the BirdLife International to classify each island as an 'Endemic Bird Area' (EBA), and both islands are the only ocean small islands between the first 25% EBAs of the world. There are tourist operators that organise bird-watching outings on both islands and in the ocean. To learn more about bird-watching tours in Sao Tome and Principe, in order to be able to identify the species, it is advisable to refer to a Bird Guide. The Islands have recently designated protected reserve areas to be known as the Obo Natural Park. Covering almost 60% of the islands territory, this area offers dramatic landscapes with torrents and waterfalls on its slopes, luxuriant mountains which culminates in Pico de São Tomé (2,024 m), sheer cliffs over the sea, as well as primary rainforests filled with exotic birds and lush vegetation. The Obo Natural Park on Sao Tome is 30 minutes from the city and it provides excellent possibilities for hikers and for those who enjoy leisure activities in a natural context. Several circuits have been created within the Park in combination with staying overnight at the old plantations 'roças'. The lightest rainforest trek is the round trip to Lagoa Amelia, which takes about 4-5 hours. For longer treks walkers need to organise transport, guides and in some cases accommodation or a tent. Hikers can pick up guides from Bom Successo on the way if you haven’t already organised one. A good trek is Bom Successo to Roca Bombain, overnight in Roca Bombain and then Bombain to Roca Sao Joao dos Angolares. This takes 2 days and 2 nights. To climb the Pico de Sao Tome will take 2 days and hikers need to be physically fit to do this. On day one hikers climb several smaller mountains before they reach Mesa, where they sleep overnight in a tent. The next day hikers climb the last section to the summit. The ground is tough and you need to be capable of about 8 hours hiking a day to complete it.

Beaches on the Equator

Rolas is a small islet lying south of Sao Tome Island, being the third largest island of São Tomé and Príncipe. It lies directly on the equator and is known for its beaches, fantastic views, palm trees, lighthouse and beach resort. The little Ilheu das Rolas is absolutely marvelous, though it’s all wild, just like all of São Tomé. The equator line crosses this small Islet and there is an equator monument to honor the geodesist and cartographer Gago Coutinho who demonstrated the equator’s passage in the islet. It’s really a nice feeling to have one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other on the southern, when visiting the equator mark.

Jalé Beach Ecolodge & Sea Turtles Protection

Jale is a small and very rustic eco-lodge on the southern tip of Sao Tome island. The lodge has a project to encourage the survival chances of the turtles that nest on these remote beaches, and if visiting at the right time of year it may be possible to see the staff releasing the young hatchlings into the sea early in the morning. Praia Jalé is a beach where giant sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand every morning. Here visitors have the opportunity to spend the night on the guarded beach, staying in small huts that have no electricity. The beach guards can be asked to wake visitors in the morning so they can watch the extraordinary spectacle from close up.

Whale Watching

Through the months of July to October Humpback Whales visit the waters around the islands as they move from their summer feeding grounds in low latitudes to more tropical mating and calving areas. Dolphins can be seen all year through. With the presence of majestic Whales and friendly Dolphins, the blue from the Atlantic Ocean becomes even more magical around the two islands and islets. A good trip is to follow the Whale Trail in order to see the hump back Whales and Dolphins. This boat trip only operates between July and October. The trip starts early morning from Sao Tome and travels down the East coast following the Whale Trail, past some of the famous beaches. Tourists stop for lunch on the island of Rolas before heading back along the same trail. This trip takes about 8 hours.

Underwater Diving

The Sao Tomé Islands offers adequate spots for various experience levels, from beginners to professionals, and the adventure may start with simple snorkelling in order to leisurely enjoy the abundant marine life of the archipelago’s crystal clear waters. Diving day and night, in sandy, rocky or mixed sea beds, in caves or shipwrecks. Given the island’s privileged location virtually on the Greenwich Meridian and right on the Equator, it offers ideal conditions in terms of visibility and water temperature to underwater sport. The reefs are made largely of hard corals and interesting rock formations. A large variety of marine life exists including bright red soldiers, snapper, goat fish, barracuda, turtles, eels, lazy nurse sharks, stony coral, gorgonian sea fans and volcanic boulders coated in anemone like hard corals of vibrant orange/red and yellow colours. The small islet, Ilhéu das Rolas, offers the spectacular dive resort named Pestana Equador. Another famous dive spot in Sao Tomé Island is at Lagoa Azul or Blue Lagoon. Snorkeling and fishing are very popular and the key attractions on the smaller island of Principe as there is a lot of volcanic rock and hard coral in the water, bountiful fish and water is warm all year round. The most popular dive sites on Principe Island are: Bom Bom Resort, Pedra de Adalio, Pedra de Galle, Maria Coreo, Jockey Cap Island and Shark Dive.

Museum & Gallery

Located in the Sao Tomé harbour, the old São Sebastião fortress is now used as a museum. Visitors to the museum have the opportunity to admire a religious art collection and artifacts from the colonial period. The remarkable items include the remains of one of the cocoa kings kept in a box under his painting. The roof of the museum offers visitors a magnificent view of the oceans and the lighthouses that are still being operated. In addition to the traditional crafts of the island (including intricately carved wooden boxes, masks, and seed and shell jewelry) there is a budding arts scene drawing international attention revolving around the Teia D’Arte gallery, which has held several Biennials and holds art workshops for the local population. Famed São Tomé artist (and gourmet chef/TV host) João Carlos Silva heads up the gallery; his work can be seen at the Plantation Roça São João.

Notable Events

  • Auto de Floripes, Principe

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