SÃO TOMÉ AND PRÍNCIPE
Paradise does exist, and it’s located about 250 kilometres off the coast of west Africa. The remote two-island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest country in Africa (after Seychelles) and one of the smallest countries in the world. It’s also one of the least-visited countries in the world and is unknown to most people. Let’s be clear: They are missing out. CNN Travel voted São Tomé & Príncipe (often called “São Tomé” or STP for short) one of the 20 best places to visit in 2020, and no wonder.
It’s not only amazingly safe but also truly breathtaking, with soaring volcanic peaks and rich jungle forests that would look right at home in Jurassic Park. They teem with wildlife, incredible birds and endemic plants, including hundreds of species of orchids, that have earned them the nicknames of “Africa’s Eden” and the “African Galapagos”. The entire island of Príncipe is even a designated UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve.
Both islands are fringed by some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Golden or blinding-white sands beckon, many devoid of tourists, while warm, pristine waters offer great snorkelling and fishing, and the chance to see rare sea turtles at certain times of the year.
You can step back in time and visit a roça – one of the islands’ colonial-era plantations. The rich plantation history of STP revolves around coffee and cacao, so it means you’ll get a literal taste of history on these fascinating tours, with shots of caffeine and delectable chocolate.
The islands were uninhabited until Portuguese explorers discovered them in the 15th century and established them as a colonial outpost. Today, São Tomé and Príncipe is distinctively West African, but with an intensely strong Portuguese influence that you’ll feel in everything from the music, culture and customs.
São Tomé and Príncipe is incredibly safe, its people are super-friendly and inviting, it’s an eco-friendly paradise with breathtaking, otherworldly scenery at every turn, and it hasn’t yet succumbed to the pitfalls of overtourism. These tiny, far-flung islands in this unspoiled area of Africa won’t remain hidden for long, so go as soon as you can.
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About São Tomé and Príncipe
São Tomé & Príncipe is a tiny country made up of two main islands and eight smaller islets, six of which are uninhabited. They cover an area of around 1,000 square kilometres, making this one of the smallest countries in the world. The islands lie in the Gulf of Guinea, straddling the Equator. Situated west of Gabon and south of Nigeria on Africa’s mainland; their other closest neighbours are Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
São Tomé island is home to the country’s capital, São Tomé city. The island of Príncipe lies about 145 kilometres northeast of São Tomé, and is about nine times smaller. Of the total population of just over 200,000 people, only around 7,000 live on Príncipe. Travelling between the two islands requires a short flight on a small plane, or a 6-8 hour boat ride. The official language of the islands is Portuguese, while the other main language is Forro, a Portuguese-based creole language.
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The islands were uninhabited until Portuguese explorers discovered them in the 15th century and established them as a colonial outpost. Later, they farmed cacao, coffee and sugar on plantations here. Most of today’s inhabitants are descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to work on these plantations. São Tomé and Príncipe gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and is today one of the most peaceful countries in all of Africa.
While you can visit the islands at any time of the year, the best time to visit São Tomé and Príncipe is during one of two ‘dry’ seasons, which are also the coolest months of the year, with temperatures hovering around 28C. The first dry season runs from June to September. The second is known locally as ‘Pequenha Gravana’ and spans from the end of December to early February. The rainy season, which runs between October and May, is best for orchid spotting, while January, February and March are the hottest months of the year.
São Tomé and Príncipe travel information
Citizens 55 countries can visit São Tomé and Príncipe without a visa for up to 15 days. Australia, however, is not on this list, so Australian tourists will require a visa to visit São Tomé and Príncipe. To apply, contact any São Tomé and Príncipe embassy; the one in Brussels is recommended. Alternatively, you can obtain an eVisa before arrival: http://www.smf.st/evisa/index.php. You will also need a return ticket and a passport that’s valid for another 12 months after your return date. Take note, as this is a longer period than usual. The local currency is the Dobra (Db). There are no international ATMs, and only certain high-end hotels accept credit cards. The dollar is increasingly less common; bringing cash in euros is the best option. The euro can be used almost anywhere, although you will often receive change in dobras, and only dobras. There are no compulsory vaccinations for travel to São Tomé and Príncipe unless you’re travelling from a country with yellow fever. In this case, you’ll need to provide proof of vaccination at immigration. Other than that, nothing is compulsory, but it’s recommended you be up-to-date with routine vaccinations, including tetanus, polio and diphtheria, typhoid and hepatitis A. For more inspiration about where to go and what to see when you’re visiting this incredible country, click on the buttons on the adjacent map.
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