São Tomé and Principe

São Tomé and Principe


São Tomé and Príncipe, two tiny islands in the Atlantic Ocean
that over the past 500 years have been: one of the main centres for
the organised slave trade; the largest producers of cocoa in the
world under Portuguese colonisers; and world leaders in sugar cane
production. They are now among Africa’s most stable and democratic
countries, as well as one of the continent’s best-kept secrets.

Why now?

With TAP’s frequent flights from London, via
and Accra, São Tomé is an easy trip in the same time
zone as the UK, and it’s worth getting there before everyone else
does. The islands are tiny and luscious, with both black-sand
volcanic and white-sand beaches; rainforests full of animals, birds
and plants, many of which are endemic and make you think of a land
that time forgot – think spiky palm trees and dinosaur-like
lizards. There is so much more to see and do than the size of the
islands would suggest, including snorkelling, fishing, scuba diving
and whale or dolphin watching; trekking through the jungles or up
the famously phallic Pico São Tomé mountain or getting involved in
local culture through the Portuguese- and African-influenced music,
food and art.

When to go?

The short dry season is from December to February, and the long
dry season is from June to September. You can visit all year round,
although the mosquitoes come out in force in the wet seasons, so
remember your malaria pills. If you’re a carnival fan, then the dry
seasons are for you. Diving season is December to March, and the
whales cruise around between July and September, with turtles
nesting on the beaches from September to March. Game fishing is
best between May and December, with marlin, tuna, wahoo, dorado and
sailfish in abundance at different times during the fishing

Who to take with you?

Explorers. The islands are Africa’s second smallest country and
their limited infrastructure means that if you want an adventure,
you won’t have to look far. There are three flights a week from São
Tomé to Príncipe, which has even fewer tourists, so if you’re the
kind of person who wants to kayak the perimeter or find a new trek
into the forest, you can guarantee you’ll be one of the first to do

Most likely to bump into?

Huge shoals of brightly coloured fish and marine life, whether
you’re snorkelling or diving. You’ll see snapper, barracuda,
turtles, eels, nurse sharks, octopus, angelfish, trigger fish,
grouper and coral.

Don’t miss

The chocolate. The islands were once the largest producer of
cocoa in the world, and although cocoa growing is now done by
smaller farmers (with much of it exported) some is made into
chocolate on the island. You can visit a chocolate factory in São
Tomé town – try the bars made with fresh cocoa nibs, or their
chocolate and coffee blends. Just make sure you let it warm up
before you eat it – not hard in a climate like São Tomé’s – for the
full flavour of pure chocolate. If food is your thing, take a trip
to Roça São João, a rural
plantation venture, even if it’s only for their
tasting menu that blends modern cooking with local ingredients and
a Portuguese influence, and includes a course made from chocolate,
black pepper, and red wine.

Do miss

The hundreds of crabs, which scuttle from the beaches in the
evenings to spend the night in the rainforest. They carpet the
roads by dusk, and it takes a skilled driver not to squash one or
two in a journey.

Essentials to bring with you

A map and your sign language skills. There are no detailed
tourist maps of either island, and most visitors hire a little
Suzuki Jimny to go exploring. It’s hard to get lost on the one road
that rings São Tomé, but print yourself a Google map before you go
so that you know you’re heading in the right direction to the empty
beach you’ve chosen for the day. Santomeans speak local languages
and Portuguese, with some French, so unless you’re pretty confident
you can get by with one of those, a Point It book will come in
handy. Buy yourself a local SIM card when you arrive so that you
can make calls, although don’t hold out much hope for internet
access unless you’re in one of the bigger hotels.

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