Luxury travel to São Tomé and Príncipe
A fascinating natural nirvana of exceptional beauty
Flying to these magical islands is like travelling back in time! This destination truly is one of the last untouched places on Earth, and you might even bump into the president of Príncipe, walking the streets of the capital on a Saturday in flip flops. Part of the Cameroon line of volcanoes that reaches into the ocean from the mainland of Africa, this island country is a miniature version of the mighty Congo rainforest. With a significant number of endemic species of birds and fascinating social enterprise projects sitting alongside a colonial history, which is slowly decaying into the forest, São Tomé and Príncipe is a remarkable place to visit.
This two-island African nation and former Portuguese colony in the Gulf of Guinea is distinguished for its wealth of endemic species. In fact, this utopia of diverse flora and fauna, off the west coast of Gabon, has even been referred to as the African Galápagos.
Across the islands, the landscape of dense tropical rainforests, backed by volcanic peaks and interspersed with expanses of cocoa plantations, sets an otherworldly atmosphere. This ethereal feeling is heightened by the utter remoteness of the region, the unspoiled sweeps of sandy beaches, hemmed by overarching palm trees, and the abandoned plantation manors, remnants of the country’s thriving cocoa production past.
Príncipe, a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is home to a staggering assortment of amphibian, reptile and bird species, including the rare African grey parrot. Weaving hiking trails lead you into the depths of the rainforests, passing by soaring phonolithic rock towers and hidden waterfalls. The coastline circling both of the islands is equally as exciting to explore, as a vast array of coral reef fish, turtles, dolphins and whales can be found in the crystal-clear waters.
The capital and largest island, São Tomé, is slightly livelier than its tranquil and less populated counterpart. Pastel-hued colonial buildings and churches line the dusty streets and the cream-coloured fort, São Sebastião, sits at the mouth of the city’s original trading port. Rainforests cover the rest of the island, with up to 90% of the area enveloped by trees. Beyond the vastness of vegetation lie more pristine beaches, which serve as ideal bases for water sports, or simply, for reclining on while taking in the heavenly scenes.
Accommodation in São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sundy Praia$$$$$Located on the wild northwest tip of the island of Príncipe, Sundy Praia allows guests to fully immerse themselves in their tropical surroundings. This is a place where the chatter of parrots, the swaying of trees and the lapping of the ocean provide the soundtrack, and your senses are ignited by the tastes and smells of the forest. Everything here is based around keeping it local, from the staff to the products in the rooms, and the ingredients used at the restaurant. Sundy’s 15 wooden tented villas are nestled amongst almond and banana trees, looking out towards the ocean. There’s a selection of one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, all with floor-to-ceiling sliding windows and private decking. Freestanding granite bathtubs look out over the canopy, and the three-bedroom villas also feature their own pools. The restaurant menu is inspired by the island’s incredible natural larder, with fruit, veg and herbs coming from Sundy’s organic farm, and tuna and wahoo straight out of the ocean. There is so much to do on the island of Príncipe, from 4×4 tours and boat trips to whale spotting, birdwatching and hiking.
- Roca Sundy$$$$$Set on the far-flung island of Príncipe, this idyllic retreat is housed within two former cocoa plantation buildings on an expanse of land, which is shared with the friendly, local community. Nature lovers, in particular, will appreciate the surrounding tropical beauty, rainforest backdrop and abundance of wildlife. The Colonial House, with six rooms, serves as the hotel’s main house and when refurbished, was done in such a way as to maintain its original features, some of which date back to the last century. Boasting a more modern look, the Plantation House encompasses nine rooms and along with the Colonial House, overlooks a garden. Each bright and breezy room comes with air-conditioning and a private bathroom. A refined bar can be found in the Colonial House, as can the hotel’s restaurant that opens up onto a terrace with extensive views of the treetops. The menu, which is centred around local cuisine, offers dishes created with fresh, seasonal products from the hotel’s organic gardens and producers on the island. During your stay, you can partake in an array of special experiences, many of which allow you to engage with the island’s community and explore the area. Some of the available activities include venturing to the south of the island in a 4×4, delving into the world of organic farming on a plantations tour, trekking into the depths of the rainforest and journeying along the spectacular coastline in search of whales and dolphins. Post-adventure, guests are welcome to enjoy a therapeutic treatment or two in their room.
- Bom Bom$$$$$Tucked away in a tropical forest, fronted by a pristine beach and linked to the main island of Príncipe by a wooden bridge, this secluded bolthole of 19 bungalows is breathtakingly beautiful. Here, you can ease into the relaxed pace of island living and take advantage of the surrounding natural wonders. Choose from the collection of air-conditioned bungalows, which are set on the beach, within the garden, overlooking the pool or facing the sea. Although simple in design, the bungalows are well-equipped and ensure a comfortable stay, and some encompass private balconies or terraces. The clear, warm waters are ideal for aquatic activities, including diving, snorkelling and paddle boarding or alternatively, you can pick a spot by the pool to relax followed by a treatment at the spa that uses local, natural products. Excursions across to the main island, its capital and through the plantations are available. You can also take a boat trip along the coastline to fish, and spot dolphins and whales, venture on a guided hike into the forest or do a photography workshop. Breakfast can be enjoyed in your bungalow; otherwise, dining takes place at the charming Bom Bom Restaurant. The menu pays special attention to seasonal and local produce, and dishes range from local favourites to international fare. At low tide, on a clear day, you can enjoy your meal with a sea vista from a table set right on the beach.
- Omali Lodge$$$$$Enjoying a beautiful position just back from Praia Emilia on São Tomé’s north east coast, and set within palm-filled grounds, Omali Lodge promises a peaceful and relaxing stay on this exotic African island. The atmosphere enjoyed throughout the hotel is one of a paradise escape, with the pristine grounds, central swimming pool and nearby sounds of the waves contributing to a sense of serenity that is an essential ingredient of any island getaway. The 30 rooms and suites are set around the grounds and offer views of the surrounding greenery and the swimming pool. All are spacious, light and airy, with the decor blending a contemporary and traditional theme, presenting a sense of authenticity and style. There’s nothing like walking straight from your room to the pool, or taking the short stroll to the sands of the neighbouring beach. Two bars, including one around the pool, will keep you refreshed during your stay, while the on-site Omali Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, utilising a large variety of fresh, local ingredients, as well as offering great views of the sea from the terrace. For those who like to keep active during their holiday, the lodge features tennis courts as well as a gym, offering the chance for some exercise in between sunbathing sessions by the pool.
Need to Know
- is the local time
- Dobra is the local currency
- São Tomé is the capital city
- Palm oil stew is São Tomé and Príncipe's national dish
When to go
São Tomé and Príncipe is a year-round destination, and the temperatures vary very little throughout the months. However, the best time to visit is during one of the two dry seasons, between June and September or from January to February. Humpback whales visit the surrounding waters between late July and October, October to March are the best months for birdwatching and turtles nest on the beaches from mid-November to early February.