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Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Tome and Principe travel guide

The small islands of Sao Tome and Principe are truly undiscovered Africa – come for great diving, vivid birdlife and no other tourists

The two islands of Sao Tome and Principe hover just above the equator, 250km off the coast of Gabon. While other tropical paradises have been taken over by resorts, Sao Tome and Principe remain thankfully much as they were when the Portuguese first discovered them in 1470, save for the addition of the odd cocoa plantation and charmingly crumbling colonial town.

The interior of the two islands is still predominately primeval rainforest and is a nature lover’s dream. Here you can spot over 100 types of orchid, giant snails, luminous tree frogs and dozens of endemic birds such as the iridescent purple and blue Giant sunbird. There’s also a fascinating collection of mist-shrouded volcanic peaks to test the avid hiker.

On the coast, the islands’ too-paradiscal-to-be-true white beaches continue to play home to four species of nestling turtles, including the endangered leatherback. Diving off Sao Tome and Principe reveals an undisturbed underwater kingdom of luminescent parrot fish, moray eels and octopus. A little further out to sea you can spot humpback whales and flying fish leaping out of the water.

And after a hard day stalking nature, you can unwind with the laid-back locals who love nothing more than throw open-air street parties. Go to this modern-day Eden before the rest of the world discovers it.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Trek through rainforest and cocoa plantations in the islands’ interiors.
  2. Scale Pico de Sao Tome, at 2,024m the highest point on Sao Tome, for spectacular views of other mist-shrouded peaks  
  3. Spot endemic birds and orchids around the dried crater lake, Lagoa Amélia.
  4. Sail out to Rolas Island where you can stand on the equator.
  5. Go diving among the islands’ pristine coral reefs where you’ll meet giant turtles, rays and hundreds of tropical fish.
  6. Soak up the atmosphere of Sao Tome town’s bustling market where stalls piled-high with limes and chillies are set against a majestic African flame tree.

Wanderlust tips  

Women travelling on their own may find Santomean men quite persistent with their chatting-up. Consider wearing a ring or inventing a namorado (boyfriend) or marido (husband).

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