Saint Helena (jenny , Fotolia.com

Saint Helena


Overview

St Helena travel information, including maps of St Helena, food, drink and where to stay on St Helena plus the best time to travel to St Helena

The volcanic island of Saint Helena has been called the remotest speck of the British Empire, afloat in the middle of the South Atlantic, some 2,000km west of the nearest mainland - the Angolan coast. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled here in 1815 and his island residence of Longwood House has since, under French governmental ownership, become the finest Napoleonic museum in the world.

There is far more to this small island than being the home-in-exile place of the martial Frenchman. The islanders, called Saints, are very proud of their small world and their British heritage. Their lifeline was the RMS St Helena, the last remaining Royal Mail Ship, which delivered cargo, tourists and returning Saints to the island up to twenty times a year. However, in late 2017, the long-panned, and sometimes controversial, airport was opened on the island. There are now weekly flights from South Africa, with a second flight planned for early 2019.

Despite the new air link, St Helena still feels truly off the beaten track.

Wanderlust recommends

1. Climb the 699 steps of Jacob's Ladder, the 180m stairway to the fort above Jamestown. You can buy a certificate marking your feat at the Museum of St Helena at the foot of the stairway.

2. Walk to Drummond's Point to see the Heartshaped Waterfall - a cascade gushing down a - yes, heart-shaped - rock face.

3. Visit Briar's Pavilion, where Napolean stayed for a few short weeks, and was at his happiest, before taking a tour of Longwood House, where he lived and died, and before visiting Napoleon's Tomb (now empty) in tranquil Sane Valley.

4. See if you can meet Jonathan, the ancient giant tortoise, at Plantation House. It is believed he is the oldest living terrestial animal on earth. 

5. Take to the water to appreciate just how forbidding and fortified St Helena was, and to seek out the rich marine and bird life. Depending on the season, you can swim with huge but gentle whale sharks (January to March), or spot acrobatic humpback whales (June to December). Year-round, you can laugh at the antics of the playful pantropical resident spotted dolphins, or look out for rare seabirds including the rare Madeiran storm petrel. 

6. Hike up Diana's Peak - at 823m, the highest point of the island and the perfect place to get a 360º view.

Wanderlust tips

Befriend some of the locals - known as Saints - and listen to their tales of island life. If you can, join them on a fishing trip - some of the areas around the island provide the perfect place to land big fish, even with homemade fishing rods!

Be aware that Jamestown's shops have very relaxed opening and closing times. They are likely to close at 4pm most days, with a half-day on Wednesday; few open weekends.

There are no ATMs and few places take cards. Take pounds sterling with you to spend. Be aware that the bank is closed at weekends. If arriving on a Saturday make sure you either have cash on you or get some at the airport.

Travel insurance is essential: you'll need to show a certificate of insurance when checking in for your flight, and again on arrival at St Helena's airport.

Further Reading

Saint Helena – vital statistics

  • Capital of Saint Helena: Jamestown
  • Population of Saint Helena: 4,200
  • Languages in Saint Helena: English (but a local dialect is spoken)
  • Time in Saint Helena: GMT
  • International dialling code in Saint Helena: +290
  • Voltage in Saint Helena: 230V 50Hz
  • Visa information for Saint Helena: Not required by UK nationals, although travel insurance documents and a return ticket must be shown at immigration on arrival.  Travellers from other nationalities can find out about Saint Helena visas here.
  • Money in Saint Helena: Saint Helena pound (SHP). UK sterling is completely interchangeable with local currency. Credit cards are accepted; there are no ATMs on the island so take cash with you.
  • Saint Helena travel advice: Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Saint Helena tourist board: St Helena Tourism

When to go to Saint Helena

Saint Helena has a tropical climate highly influenced by the south-east trade winds. Coastal areas can be hotter and drier than the forested interior. Jamestown's temperature can range from 14ºC to 32ºC, while in the central hills it can be anything from 8ºC to 26ºC. Seasons aren't strongly delineated; hottest months are January-March, with the rainy season running late March to early May.

The Governor's Cup Yacht Race is held in December every two years, covering 2,400km of open ocean - watching the finish is an exciting event.

The Festival of Running takes place in late June, while the Walking Festival in May includes a range of themed hikes.

Travel to Saint Helena

 

The airport opened in autumn 2017. At the time of writing this there is one weekly flight on Saturdays from Johannesburg. A second flight is planned from January 2019.

Some cruise itineraries stop off at St Helena. Since the establishment of the Governor's Cup Yacht Race in 1996 between Cape Town and Saint Helena there is an increased presence of yachts mooring in James Bay, and it is possible for the experienced to sail to the island.

Getting around Saint Helena

The island is fairly small (16km by 10km) but feels bigger due to its topography. Cars can be hired relatively cheaply, although you should be confident on steep hills and narrow lanes. Taxis are plentiful and good value. Numerous organised tours explore the island's history, landscape, botany and wildlife. Locals will often offer lifts.

It's a great island for walking with numerous footpaths. The St Helena Conservation Group has devised 21 Post Box Walks mapping scenic routes around the island, and suitable for experienced walkers.

There is a limited bus system, geared mostly for locals. 

Saint Helena accommodation

Options include a few B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels, plus a larger number of self-catering properties. Details are listed on the Saint Helena Tourism website. At the top end is  the lovely and relatively new Mantis St Helena, well situated on the main street in Jamestown. 

Saint Helena food & drink

There are various pubs and restaurants around the island, some offering fantastic views, but opening days and hours vary considerably. Ask a local for recommendations, and book before noon to ensure a table.

Being an island, and surrounded by rich marine life, fish is a staple, with excellent tuna most ubiquitous whether served as steaks or in fishcakes. The island's lush pastures produce fine organic meat. Pumpkin dishes are local specialities - try pumpkin stew or fritters.

Tungi is a spirit made with the prickly or cactus pear, distilled at St 'Helena's Distillery along with gin, brandy and a very good coffee liqueur. Note that it's prohibited to drink alcohol on the streets of the capital.

A good morning wake-up shot is the rare Saint Helena Coffee - praised by Napoleon himself, and sold in Harrods, London.You can visit the plantation where it grows, or try it at the St Helena Coffee Shop. 

Health & safety on Saint Helena

There is a good modern hospital on the island which can cope with most emergencies; however, treatment isn't covered by the NHS so medical insurance is required, and which covers repatriation of you need to be flown out.

No specific inoculations are required, though you should be up to date with tetanus jabs.