Sao Tome and Principe Overview
Never heard of it? You’re hardly alone: the vast majority couldn’t point to these two rocky outcrops on a map, and estimates on tourist numbers currently stand at less than twenty a week, which means on landing there you'll have the run of the sights. You might not know the islands, but you’ll probably love them: they sit off the west coast of Africa, and are home to an equatorial line that’s quite literally etched in the sand, lush jungles and a hefty Portuguese influence. In fact, the hardest thing about a trip to Sao Tome and Principe is probably the quite substantial effort involved in getting there in the first place.
Sao Tome town – on the southern of the two islands – is an immensely sleepy capital, full of gently scenic streets and elaborate colonial architecture. Hiking through the nearby rainforest is a birdwatcher’s idea of heaven, as well as home to numerous scenic waterfalls, and can be seen by wondering inland from almost any of the sensational, white-sand beaches. Each one is guarded by extraordinary turquoise water and enough palm trees to ensure that your Crusoe complex gets a good airing, and that you’re in no hurry to leave.
The tiny island of Ilheu das Rolas is the place to stand with one leg either side of the equator, before snacking on a freshly caught fish, while Roca Sao Joao – an old school, rejuvenated plantation – is the place for a real gourmet feast, accompanied by a bottle of local Creola beer.
On the second main island, Principe, you can snorkel amongst a fishy tropical paradise at banana beach, before buying your own bendy yellow snack from the rustic street-side market stalls. The total population is less than 5,000, and the almost entirely infrastructure-free feel makes it the ultimate in chill out desination.
Before you head home with one of the world’s most unusual stamps in your passport, be sure to swing your hips at a Sao Tome bar, stay up until dawn on the caffeine high post the freshest and strongest coffee you’re ever likely to taste, and spend a morning in a hammock, shaded by the jungle. With so few people coming here at all, even fewer get a second look, and you'll treasure these remote, seaside African memories forever.