Sao Tome and Principé
Rugged landscapes, dense forests and sandy beaches. Little known and scarcely visited, the beaches of Sao Tome’s and Principé stretch for miles. The little islands shelter a host of endemic and unique wildlife.
These islands are in the middle of the world!
Holidays to Sao Tome offer breathtaking scenery, waterfalls, black and white sand beaches, rainforests along with extensive cocoa plantations, time doesn’t exist and living life is “leve leve” meaning an easy way of living!
This island was never part of Africa, and as a result has an array of flora and fauna that colonised it after travelling on the wind, by birds, or by ocean, and evolved to become mostly endemic to the island as the conditions here are unique to the island alone.
Of all the islands in the Gulf of Guinea, Sao Tome has the greatest biological diversity, as well as the highest number of endemic species; it was the first place that volcanic activity ceased, allowing forest and animals to become established more quickly. Some animal groups, however, are not represented at all on the island, for example large mammals.
Quiet, undisturbed and beautiful, this little island also has a fascinating history that can be explored at your leisure in the main town of São Tomé. With trekking across the mountains and gorgeous beaches, it is worth a quick visit anytime you are in the region.
Sao Tome is one of the islands in the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, and of the Republic’s total area of 1001 km², takes up 854 km² of this. It is located about 300 kilometres west of Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea.
there are five species of endemic amphibian, 120 endemic plant species (including a giant begonia and various orchids) and 15 endemic species of bird. The Obo National Park covers 300 km² over both Sao Tome and Príncipe and protects lowland and montane forest, mangroves and savannah.
For birders, the island is large and rugged, so walking can be extremely challenging. However, in the northeast, São Tomé prinia and spinietail can be found, along with golden-backed bishop and Newton’s sunbird. For the bulk of the endemic species the rainforest in the southeast yield the São Tomé kingfisher, weaver, speirops and paradise flycatcher fairly easily. More uncommon are the São Tomé olive pigeon, oriole, scops owl, giant sunbird and giant weaver. To the north of São Tomé Town is the savannah area of the island, which is excellent for spotting the savannah birds such as the francolin, laughing dove and savannah weavers.
To the north of the island the best beaches can be found, with a variety of types including yellow, white and black sand, and stoney beaches. Praia Micolo is a yellow sand beach, with coconut trees and a shady picnic area. The local conservation programme is in operation here, and netting marks the areas where turtles have laid their eggs. Lagõa Azul (Blue Lagoon) is popular for swimming and snorkelling as it has extremely clear and calm water, and the corals include some very rare species.
Inland are various attractions such as the São Nicolau waterfall, which is 30 m high and is surrounded by aphrodisiac and quinine trees. A walk through the capoeiras (post-agricultural forest) and ancient forest brings you to an old crater-lake in an extinct volcano called Lagoa Amelia which is surrounded by mosses, lianas and giant tree ferns. From here you can walk to the Pico de São Tomé at 2024m, or continue south until you get to the village São João. This is a difficult trek and takes a good few days, but the rewards come in the form of panoramic views of some stunning mountains and forests, as well as the opportunity to see some of the unusual wildlife and plants.
Southwest you find the best areas for spotting endemic birds and undisturbed turtle beaches, and plantations in which to stay, with little human activity to disturb the wilderness.
To the east is the town of Santana, with a beautiful church and views of Ilhéu Santana (Santana Island). South from this are blow-holes known as Boca de Inferno, beautiful bays to follow and São João dos Angolares, with a black-sand bay and a village of wooden houses on stilts.
São Tomé was a port that enjoyed its heyday during the slave trade…
it was the last port of call before ships left for America packed with slaves. Now it is a quiet place with the exception of the markets and the port around the midday arrival of the fishermen. To the east of the city is the historical heart with the cathedral at the centre of it. Around the cathedral is the Presidential Palace with lush gardens surrounding t. Down Avenida de Independencia is Fort São Sebastião, which is now used as the National Museum. From the waterfront you can take a trip to Cabras Island, which gives you a view of São Tomé from the water. There is a lighthouse to climb and a wonderful beach from which you can swim, both of which can be enjoyed for either a half-day or a full day.
For the historical side, Augustino Neto is a large cocoa plantation that can be explored to the north of the island, and towards the centre is Monte Café, one of the most important coffee plantations on the island.
To the south is Rolas Island, with is dissected by the equator and is perfect for relaxing with gentle activities like scuba diving, or lounging in the luxury landscaped pool.
Best time to go to São Tomé
You can visit São Tomé at any time of the year; it is hot and humid the whole year, but not as much in the dry season from May to September. If you are visiting Gabon, it is best to use conditions here as a guideline, as the climate of São Tomé is similar and activities here do not depend as strongly on the time of year.
Perfect for ending a primate safari in Gabon with, São Tomé makes a great conclusion to a Bush and Beach safari – it’s a marvellous combination to be able to end a trek through the rainforest with a luxurious lazy few days on the various beaches of a tropical island!
Its location on the West Coast of Africa naturally makes it the western alternative to Pemba, Zanzibar or Mafia Islands off Tanzania’s coast – if you’re considering a more typical African safari, it might be worth looking at the East Coast which has prolific lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and the other animals you’d normally expect to see on vacation in Africa!
Fly direct from Lisbon, Portugal or via Libreville in Gabon and consider combining with a safari on the mainland. There is one airport in Sao Tome, which has only one direct link with Europe, in Lisbon. Otherwise, Air France flies between Libreville and São Tomé town at least twice a week. This makes it ideal for those wishing to combine a trip to Sao Tome with a Gabonese holiday.
More about Príncipe
Príncipe is likened to the Galapagos Islands, a small island off the west coast of Africa. An isolated, volcanic retreat with a generous helping of endemic bird species. Accessible only by plane from Sao Tome which in turn is fairly hard to get to but the trip is well worth the effort.
Príncipe is exquisitely covered in ancient rainforest, cocoa/coffee plantations and empty beaches. The island is best known for its bird, photographic and beach holidays.
Like Sao Tome, Príncipe developed as a result of volcanic action, and so all plant and animal life migrated there on the wind, sea currents or carried by birds. The result is a large number of endemic species due to the unique conditions that these migrants have evolved in. Forest covers most of the island, and there are no roads to the south, where the Obo National Park is situated. The island is undeniably ancient and mystical, and the only inhabitants are the occasional fishermen – difficult access makes it one of the most deserted retreats on our planet!
Conveniently located near the Gabon coast, Príncipe is a fantastic addition to Central African safaris and is particularly attractive to keen birders (due to the endemicity of the local wildlife). It is a good beach destination, an infantile diving hotspot and guarantees exclusivity to those that want a quiet retreat.
The wildlife in the forest includes mona monkeys, African grey parrots and numerous orchids and begonias. The trails are not incredibly well maintained, but there are guides and transport if you want to explore the rainforest.
For birders, by walking anywhere on the island you’re likely to spot endemic birds such as the Príncipe spierops, golden weaver and sunbird. It is also possible to spot the green ibis, which is extremely rare and difficult to find. The many islets off Príncipe have many sea birds on them, and Jockey Cap Island has its own species of seedeater.
The main town is the smallest settlement in the world that has the name ‘town’ assigned to it. Santo Antonio is surrounded by mountains and water, and has a number of churches, the most important of which is the Roman Catholic building. It has two statues inside it which are worth a stop; one of St Anthony, the town’s patron saint, and the second of Christ. Both are at least 250 years old.
To the north of the island is a luxury resort, the Bom Bom Island Resort. Big-game fishing and scuba diving are the most popular occupations here, and there is a fishing tournament every year. The two beaches near the resort are good for swimming or jogging, and the hotel provides snorkelling gear.
Diving is very popular as there is a lot of volcanic rock and hard coral in the water – bountiful fish and the water is warm all year round. Night dives are available if you bring your own torch. The most popular dive sites are Bom Bom Resort, Pedra de Adalio, Pedra de Galle, Maria Coreo, Jockey Cap Island and Shark Dive.
- Bom Bom Resort has a shore dive for beginners – snapper, octopus and angelfish can be seen as you swim through an underwater arch
- Pedra de Adalio is a reef dive west of Bom Bom which you reach by boat, and has octopus, eel, groupers and sturgeons
- Pedra de Galle is a deep dive to 30 metres that challenges divers as it goes down a sheer rock face teeming with trigger fish, snapper and barracuda
- Maria Coreo is again to 30 metres and is only suitable for advanced divers. There are many reef fish here, along with moray eels, turtles and nurse sharks.
Jockey Cap Island has a diver of 24 m with large schools of small fish, barracuda, parrot fish, trigger fish and sometimes turtles.
To swim with reef sharks and hammerheads, there is a dive site about an hour south of Príncipe by boat.
The most famous beach on Príncipe is the Praia Banana, which is a curve of sand the shape and colour of a giant banana. The beach was made famous by a Bacardi Rum advert and can be reached by crossing the land of the Bela Monte plantation or by boat. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have this beach to yourself.
How to get to São Tomé and Príncipe
There is an airport to the north of Santo Antonio and flights from Sao Tome on Air São Tomé e Príncipe leave regularly; definitely the best way to get there and back.
Príncipe is a fantastic, undiscovered retreat; access is simply too difficult for the big travel companies to consider it as a serious holiday destination and this is something that definitely works in its favour – the loneliest beaches in the world! Our speciality trip expertise and knowledge of remote areas gives us the experience required to organise a successful trip to the rainforested paradise, and the island will definitely deliver to travellers looking for something above the average African holiday.
Discover Sao Tome
… a little known island in the middle of the world! Breathtaking scenery, waterfalls, beaches and rainforests
Sea Turtle Conservation
Join marine biologists on Sao Tome and Principe for research and conservation of Leather, Loggerhead and Green turtles on the island’s beaches
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A guide to Principe vacations and safaris on this isolated volcanic island off the west coast of Africa - known for its photo, birding and beach safaris.
A complete guide to vacations to Sao Tome, a paradise for birders, fishermen and holiday makers in search of remote peace, quiet and charm.