You will not get a more accurate description for a place as ‘unspoilt’ and ‘off the beaten track’ as you do to describe the small islands of São Tomé and Príncipe which are just off the West African coast in the Gulf of Guinea.
The islands which are on the equator have tropical jungles, exotic birds, trees and flowers, deserted beaches, volcanoes and volcanic plugs and some breathtaking scenery. São Tomé is the oldest of the Gulf of Guinea islands and has the greatest biological diversity with many endemic birds and plants which attract only the most hardy of nature lovers as the jungles can be pretty thick and some of the rarest endemics are hard to spot.
Príncipe in contrast to São Tomé is a tiny island only 12 miles long and 9 miles wide. Its capital Santo Antonio is thought to be the smallest settlement in the world to be given the status of a town! When the Portuguese left in 1975 the small population of 5,000 turned to subsistence farming and the plantation houses and roads have slowly been taken back by the forests. There are very few navigable roads on Príncipe and the south of the island is nearly totally uninhabited except for a few fishermen. However there are a few new beach lodges and plantation houses which have been converted into up market hotels.
Did you know?
- As an ex-Portuguese colony the islands were a major ‘holding bay’ for African slaves with slave ships arriving daily into the port to pick up its ‘cargo’ destined for the Caribbean.
- In the past few years tourism has slowly been introduced with the building of a few international hotels but the majority of visitors are still expats and NGOs from the African mainland.
- The equator runs through the tiny island of Rolas just off the south east of Sao Tome.
- Back in the 13th century, the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were not inhabited. In 1493, the Portuguese people discovered it and started a settlement there. They brought in slaves from their other colonies to work on the plantations so today there is a diverse mixture of cultures from Angola and the Cape Verde Islands.
- The fertile volcanic soil is perfect for growing cocoa and in the early 20th century were the world’s largest cocoa producers.
- Chocolate lovers must visit the renowned chocolatier Claudio Corallo's laboratory in São Tomé. Here you can buy cocoa nibs and intense 100% cocoa chocolate bars.
- You can go whale watching between July and October.
- Hundreds of Green Hawksbill and Leatherback come to lay their eggs on the Príncipe’s beaches between November and March. Nests are well-protected, and you can visit Praia Grande to view them.
- The Obo National Park has pristine Atlantic rainforest with many endemic plants and birds.
- South African entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Shuttleworth has started up HBD Príncipe, which focuses on responsible tourism, organic agriculture and conservation to aid economic growth on the island.