Rugged landscapes, dense forests and sandy beaches – little known and scarcely visited, São Tomé’s beaches stretch for miles and the little island shelters a host of endemic and unique wildlife. Together with Principé 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, São Tomé 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.
São Tomé 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 São Tomé 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, as 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
Hot and humid all year round. May to September is the dry season. 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.
Why go to São Tomé
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!
How to get to São Tomé
There is one airport with only one direct link with Europe from 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 São Tomé with a Gabonese holiday.
Fly direct from Lisbon, Portugal or via Libreville in Gabon and consider combining with a safari on the mainland.
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