Hidden in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of Africa lie the forgotten volcanic islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. These are the islands time forgot, a real-life Jurassic park, but without dinosaurs! Rich with endemic birds and a colourful underwater world of tropical fish. Dense rain and cloud forests teem with native plants and wildlife; idyllic deserted beaches are waiting to be explored; volcanoes to climb, and plantations where organic coffee, and cocoa abundantly grow.
The islands are divided into seven districts, six on Sao Tome (Agua Grande, Cantagalo, Caue, Lemba, Lobata, Me-Zochi) and one on Principe (Pague).
Getting to São Tomé & Príncipe
Options for getting to the islands are limited and the best is on TAP Air Portugal, via Lisbon (with a short stopover in Accra). Low-cost airlines Easyjet and Ryanair also fly to Lisbon and we can arrange separate tickets to São Tomé. Flights between São Tomé and Príncipe on with African Airways in partnership with STP (the local island carrier).
Getting around São Tomé & Príncipe
Cars, motorbikes and bicycles are the most common forms of transport on both islands. Overall the roads are reasonable, but a 4WD is recommended when visiting the interior of São Tomé. Be aware of the numerous potholes, as they can seriously damage the undercarriage of your hire car. Like the African mainland, shared minibuses and yellow taxis are popular with the locals.
There are daily boat transfers from Ponta Baleia (in the South of Sao Tome island) to Ilhéu das Rolas. There are also ferries between São Tomé and Príncipe, but safety is a concern and we feel it is best to use the regular inter-island flights.
Most locals travel by shared yellow taxis. If you want a private taxi you will need to pay for all the seats. Make sure that you agree on a price before setting off.
Car hire is not cheap and depending on the season and the state of the roads it is advisable to rent a 4WD instead of a saloon car. Our self-drive trip includes a Suzuki Jimmy (or similar) and includes CDW insurance, but make sure you have enough local currency with you and check with the hire company where the petrol stations are.
The short 40/50 minute hop from São Tomé to Principe is like a scene from the movie, Jurassic Park. Both islands have small, informal airports and checking-in is like a chapter from your favourite travel writer! At the moment, African Airways flies five times a week, though they can put on extra flights when it's busy. The planes only have 18 seats, so it doesn't take much. A standard return ticket costs around €200.
For those who like to take to the high seas, there are some sailing and powered boat trips that we can organise. There are full day trips around the island of Sao Tome trip (approx' 10 hrs) and shorter 4-hour trips to the Blue Lagoon, the Islet of Santana and the islet of Cabras. On Principe, it is possible to organise a local fishing boat for trips along the coast to secluded bays.
Visas are not required by UK, Canadian and US citizens for stays of up to 15 Days. For stays of 15 days and over a visa must be obtained prior to arrival in the country. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. Please note that your passport needs to be valid for at least a minimum of 3 months after the expiry date of your visa.
If you have travelled (and stayed) via a country where yellow fever is endemic you will need to show your yellow fever certificate prior to arrival in São Tomé and Príncipe. We recommend protection against malaria, hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid. These need to be planned well in advance of travel and you should consult your surgery for the latest update as they will also have a record of your current vaccinations. Please give you local surgery plenty of notice as you may need an extended appointment to discuss your travel plans and requirements. For initial research, you could check the NHS website www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk. Healthcare on both islands is basic, however, there are medical facilities which can deal with minor injuries and ailments. There is a Taiwanese medical mission in Sao Tome city, with English speaking doctors. It is important to remember that the availability of medicine in hospitals, doctors surgeries and pharmacies is very limited. If you have a regular prescription or need to take non-prescription medicines please make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip, and ideally a little longer in case your return home is delayed. We also advise that you take a small first aid kit with you. A suggestion of what to take can be found in the pre-departure information we send out when booking a trip to the island with us.
From January 2016 all hotels in Lisbon are required to charge a room tax of €1 person per night. At present this new tax cannot be pre-paid and all hotels are required to issue a guest invoice at either check-in or departure in order to collect the tax. Children under 12 years are exempt and the total is subject to a maximum of €7 per guest. As of now there is no hotel tax in Sao Tome and Principe.
The national currency on is the Dobra ($). You cannot buy or spend the Dobra anywhere but in these islands and it is more common to bring Euros cash with you, since the charges for exchanging travellers cheques are extremely high. It is worth remembering that credit cards are currently only accepted at the few larger international hotels and that there only a few ATMs in the island capitals.
São Tomé and Príncipe is 1 hour behind UK time in the winter and 2 hours behind in the summer.
The traditional Santomean dishes consist mostly of excellent fresh fish and is served with rice, manioc, fried banana or jack fruit. Beans are a staple food and although bland can be spiced up with several hot sauces. Food in hotels are usually a fusion of traditional Santomean and contemporary kitchen, with added Brazilian flavours. Drinking tap water should be avoided, however bottled water is readily available from hotels, restaurants and shops. If you have concerns about the wastefulness of bottled water then consider taking a water filter cup or bottle for everyone.
The official language is Portuguese and is understood by nearly everyone on both islands, whilst one or more creole languages like Lungwa Santome, Lunga Ngola and Lung'lea is used in every day situations. On Principe Capeverdean Criolu can be heard. French as a foreign language is taught in schools and is more commonly understood than English.
São Tomé and Príncipe is a very safe holiday destination and the crime rate is very low. However, petty theft is becoming more common especially in built up areas so we advise only carrying enough money for the day and keeping the rest in a hotel safe. The black cobra is the most dangerous and poisonous animal on São Tomé and is the most common in forested areas in the south and east of the island and like most snakes they try to avoid contact with humans and are therefore rarely seen. There are many lovely beaches on the islands, but they don't have lifeguards. Swimming in the ocean around the islands is amazing, however, we always advise that you check with the hotel where you are staying with to make sure the conditions are safe as there can be strong undertows and current on some beaches. The first rule of thumb is to check first. The second one would be that if there are large rolling breakers, then it is advisable not to go in.
Tropical, hot and humid all year round with maximum of 30˚C from January to April and slightly cooler from May to September. Both islands have dry and wet seasons. June to September is cooler, with more cloud and virtually no rain, whilst March to May and October to December are considered the wettest months, with rainy days and clear skies.