São Tomé and Príncipe Travel Notes
NOTE: This guide is a work in progress. Feel free to email leve [@] mm [.] st if you'd like to comment.
Welcome to São Tomé and Príncipe, the leve-leve islands.
Everything moves slower here, and so should you.
You'll start your trip in São Tomé, the big island. It's not THAT big, but it takes some time to get to know her, and her secrets.
You'll arrive at São Tomé International Airport, and this is where you'll get your first taste of the land. You should be prepared for a slow entry into the country.
-- airport photo --
As soon as you leave the airport you'll probably be picked up by your hotel's transfer service, and be on your way to a cosy bed and a refreshing juice.
São Tomé City
São Tomé, the capital city, is a good introduction to life on the island. This is the biggest and most chaotic city in the country, and yet it still manages to be a walkable town, with plenty of interesting spots to entertain you.
You can visit the market, have a coffee in one of the cafes that keep popping up all over, try delicious chocolate, go visit the fort, or simply walk around and take it all in. There's also a nice cathedral, and plenty of places to grab a bite.
The market can be a bit overwhelming at first, if you're not used to African markets, and the ladies who sell there are not big fans of being photographed. Approach with care, as you always should, and ask for permission before you start shooting.
The market area is usually a messy noisy place. That should not scare you, people are actually quite nice, as everywhere else on the islands. There's a huge number of fruits and vegetables for sale, some you're not used to seeing, it's quite a thrill to find unusual produce for sale. The area is also where the taxis gather, and the vans pick up people who are looking for a ride to other parts of the island, so you should expect that special kind of chaos.
Places to eat
You can find a lot of places to eat, for all budgets. I would recommend the Omali restaurant as first choice, it's the best place to eat on both islands, home of the world's best chocolate mousse. Nothing comes close.
There are other places for a very good meal, no doubt, but this one is heaven.
Other venues are Teté, amazing fish here, Pico Mocambo, the Parque Nacional with many restaurants, the list goes on...
You can, and should, take the time to visit Diogo Vaz, a chocolatier in town.
While we're talking about chocolate, Claudio Corallo also has a factory in town, so maybe add that to your itinerary, and it's guaranteed you'll have fun.
When you feel you've mastered the city it's time to venture outside. That's when the fun begins.
Broadly speaking you can go south and north.
The southern road will take you to Santana, Ribeira Afonso, São João dos Angolares, all the way down to Porto Alegre and Praia Inhame. The landscape is superb, lush green on your right hand side, and the sea on the left, all the way down to the tip of the island.
If you go north you'll find Micoló, Guadalupe, Neves and, finally, Santa Catarina at the end of road. Most of the road will also be close to the sea, but it's a bit drier on land. Still beautiful.
There's actually a third road you can take, inland from the city, and that's the one you should get if you're planning on visiting the coffee museum at Monte Café, or the city of Trindade. You can have lunch at Almada Negreiros old place if you take this route. It's a nice place for a meal, and the view is amazing.
The Southern Road
As soon as you leave the capital you'll be in Pantufo, then Praia Melão, past the Voice of America station. You'll arrive in Santana, a lovely place for your first stop. There's a nice church and, if you're lucky, you'll be able to spot a few surfers on the ocean just in front of it.
Staying on the road, you'll be able to spot Ilhéu Santana, a small islet. You can arrange a visit if you have the time. Not the most memorable experience you can have on the island, but if you're staying in Club Santana and have nothing else to do, go for it...
Keep driving and you'll soon find Roça Água-Izé, where you can have a quick stop and visit the ruins of the old hospital. A lot of people live there, you'll probably find a few kids kicking a ball around, and asking for sweets (don't!).
Moving on to the classic spot where the women are doing their laundry in the river. This is a must stop. It's been a favorite of people visiting the island for such a long time that now they'll probably yell at you and ask for money. It shouldn't need to be said, but please be polite when photographing people. It's amazing how many people feel they can just point a camera and start shooting without asking for permission.
Women are doing their laundry, kids are taking a bath, men washing their motorcycles. It's a wonderful site, and easy to understand why so many people decide to stop for a bit and take home a photograph or two...
Boca do inferno is another lovely place for a stop, and maybe even drink some coconut water. The sea can get quite rough, so pay attention to that if you decide to go down the hill.
There are a lot of beaches on the way south, and a couple of places where you can stop for a meal. I would recommend Miongá, but some people prefer the old classic of Roça São João. The view is amazing, but I find it a bit pretentious. I'm not a food expert but Miongá feels more authentic. Either way you'll have a nice meal with a magnificent view.
Look for Praia das 7 Ondas, maybe you can stop for a swim.
Pico Cão Grande is the island's ex-libris and you'll soon be looking at it. You'll go through the damn palm oil plantations before getting there, but put that hatred aside, Pico Cão Grande is truly amazing. If you're the instagram type, don't forget to take that classic shot sitting on the road with the peak behind you...
If you've made it all the way here, you should drive a bit more, to Porto Alegre, and Praia Ínhame. You'll see Ilhéu das Rolas from the beach.
A lot of people go to Rolas, there's an hotel there, and the Equator goes through (there's a little monument there, great for photos for Instagram) and you can make your dream of having one foot on the northern hemisphere and the other on the southern one come true.
The trip to Rolas can be quite rough, so come prepared.
The Northern Road
If you decide to try the northern road from the city, and you should, prepare yourself for another nice day in São Tomé.
Start with a quick swim at Praia dos Tamarindos, a fantastic beach, before heading to Lagoa Azul, another cool spot, complete with picnic site. You'll be lucky if there's no one around. A lot of people come here for a quick snack and a dip in the ocean, and it's easy to understand why.
Mucumbli is a bit higher up on the hills, so you'll get the nice view while seeping a cold drink.
Guadalupe is on the way, no reason for a long stop except a visit to Roça Agostinho Neto (one of the bigger ones in the country) and you're close to Neves.
There a tradition in Neves, eating santolas. If you like shellfish, you're in the right place. Neves is also the town where the local beer comes, the pairing is obvious and amazing. Ask for a Nacional, and enjoy.
If you're looking for a nice place to drop off some items you might have carried from home to help disadvantaged kids, Sister Lucia is the one you should give them to. She's been running a school and other projects on the island for so long she's already a local. Ask for Irmã Lucia, and everyone will be able to show you the right direction.
Further down the road, if you're still willing to drive a little more, is Santa Catarina. Time to head back to São Tomé.
You can also go a bit inland and head on to Roça Monte Café, where you'll find the coffee museum. Lunch spot for this tour should be Casa Museu Almada Negreiros.
Monte Café is also an active Roça, and a very lively one. Workers going about, and a big school with a lot of kids.
You'll go through Trindade, good for a quick stop, the view from the church is a nice one, and you can even go up the bell tower if the caretaker is on the premises, and move on to the waterfall.
São Nicolau waterfall is also on this road, as well as the Botanical Garden. Both are worth it.
You should take a sweater, it can get pretty chilly on this tour, as it goes up the mountain and you'll soon notice the huge drop in temperature.
Places to stay
There are a lot of places theses days. You get to pick from luxury hotels, big chain hotels, simpler hotels, hostels, Airbnb hosts, and everything in between.
In town the best choice is Omali.
You also have other choices, but Omali is just too good to miss.
If you're staying further south, there's Club Santana (a resort type hotel), Ondas Divinas or the Micondo Suite, if you prefer something less hotely.
Up north there's Mucumbli. Nice choice, and nice food too in the restaurant.
You can also find some lower tier options all over, Residenciais and Pensões. The choice is yours, and what's on offer keeps growing every day.
Príncipe, our beautiful island. The time has come, you've made it to the end of the world, and the most perfect place on earth.
It's a very very small island, but still a lot of places to share.
Aeroporto do Príncipe
You'll fly to the sweet airport of Príncipe from São Tomé, a short 35 minute flight. You'll get your first glimpse of the island from the air. I'm betting you'll fall in love with it before even landing.
This place is paradise, and you can feel it straight away.
Príncipe's capital city, supposedly the "smallest capital of the world".
A quiet (talk about quiet) city, with a somewhat limited number of touristic spots. Still, it's a very charming town. If you found São Tomé leve-leve, get ready for Santo António.
You can go from one end to the other, walking slowly, in an hour.
You're probably staying at one of the hotels, not in town, so you'll have to find a way to visit this wonderful place. You can take a tour with the hotel staff (they have an activities team that will set it up), or asked to be dropped off in town, and picked up later. You can find everything on your own and, apart from a couple of things, you'll be able to walk there. The hotel yours are much more comprehensive, Santo António will be one of the stops on a much longer tour, you decide.
There are two main squares in town: the church square, and the palace square.
The church itself is lovely, and I would advise you to time your visit with one of the masses. Sunday would, obvioulsy be a great bet, but make sure to check the mass time with someone from the hotel. Double check it.
There's a nice cafe just in front of the church, Marnie (official name Fofokices), two cell phone shops, a restaurant (Barbosa) and the Banco da Má Língua, the informal bus stop, where all the vans pick up their clients, and people gather to share the news. It's also the square where you'll find the minimart (Luso Cash), pick up some essencials you might be missing, but chances are even there they'll be in short supply.
Right next to Luso Cash there's a very cool shop, fromprincipetotheworld, where you'll find an assortment of handmade items, produced on the island by local artisans. Take a look at what they're selling, there are some really nice pieces.
Keep walking and you'll be looking at Papagaio river. Here you'll find another cafe with a nice view overlooking the river. At Mirario you can also have a nice meal or grab a beer. Downstairs you'll find a small supermarket.
You're just a couple of steps from the Palace square, so why not follow the river to the sea until you get there ?
The President's palace, the island's Council, the Post Office. All of these spots are on this square. You'll also be able to shop here. There's Mambos da terra and Loja da Biosfera, if you're looking for a souvenir to take back home. You'll find some of these items at the hotels, but you can also get them here, probably a bit cheaper.
The sea is now very close, and it's worth it to go check it out. There's a Padrão, an old portuguese monument on the cute Santo António bay.
You'll also be able to see the activity on the small harbor, boats loading and unloading goods and people for the trip to, or from, São Tomé.
This is a dangerous trip and you shouldn't attempt it. Lives have been lost recently and sinking ships are not unusual.
There's one bakery where you can get fresh bread later in the afternoon, if you're staying in town, and there's one place where you might get lucky and have an ice-cream, right in front of the highschool.
If you're looking for the best restaurant in town, you should go to Rosa Pão (Rosita). She's the most amazing woman and an excelent cook. You'll have a traditional meal, usually a very BIG meal, and enjoy it with her family around. They're the sweetest people and will be able to tell you a few stories about the island while you eat.
As in most places on the island, there's one thing you should consider: you must book your meal. Food is scarce and expensive, and the restaurants will only prepare the number of ordered meals. They cannot risk cooking food that will go unsold. So ask your hotel to book it or, if you're staying in town, go there beforehand, and make sure they'll be able to feed you.
On the edge of town you'll find the football stadium and playing field. Regular matches happen here, part of the island's football championship, and also, from time to time, other sports as well.
While we're talking about sports, there are Judo and Karate lessons for kids happening almost daily at the presidential palace square, late in the afternoon. Easy to find, follow the martial arts sounds coming from the building next to the palace.
Project Cooperativa de Valorização de Residuos
A couple of women got together some years ago and decided to recicle glass into jewelry. They are amazing, and their work looks great and makes for a great souvenir from the island. They are on the far end of town, at Roça Porto Real. It's far for a walk, your best bet is to get a ride from one of the moto guys at the market,or ask to be taken there when you book a tour with one of the hotels. When you get there ask for Bela.
There's a couple of discos where you can dance a bit, and not a lot more. There's one in Roça Sundy, another closer to the airport, and one in Santo António.
If you're lucky and Osmar has a day off, you can have a delicious caipirinha by the old Sporting building, when the sun sets. They're delicious, and the lady who sells Búzio kebabs might be around the corner, you should go and have a look.
The old Roça Sundy buildings have been renovated and are now an hotel, while the local community still lives across the yard.
One of the larger communities on the island, and the most amazing experience. Staying at Roça Sundy will allow you to interact with the local population, you can have a ice cold beer and share a few minutes or some hours with them, visit the place where cocoa pods were dried, there's a chapel, a kindergarden, and even a place to have lunch (please make sure you book in advance) at Sheira's place, and just relax. It really is an amazing place, and you should make sure you get to know it and the people who live there.
The chocolate factory is also here, as well as the Eddington Museum. Both deserve a visit.
Down the hill, on the shore, you'll find Sundy Praia, the new luxury hotel on the island. You can visit and have a cocktail by the pool, something I recomend, even if you're not staying there. They also make an amazing pizza. You can have that with your delicious cocktail.
The postcard resort. Bungalows and perfect beach, super staff and that place you'll never want to leave. This was the first hotel on the island, and has been renovated multiple times over. Diving center, gym, world class restaurant and a pool. Also a SPA overlooking one of the two beaches available.
You'll have the time of your life here, that's for sure.
￼￼One of The most isolated of all the old plantation houses, and one of the nicest views on the island. The trip there would be justified by that alone. The locals are super nice and very welcoming, and there's a small store selling beer as well.
There's a trail that goes from Roça Sundy to Roça São Joaquim that's very good, and you can access a couple of very remote beaches when you get there. This will also require a guide.
There are a lot of beaches in Príncipe. A lot.
You'll be spoiled by the time you leave, as no other place on earth gets to have this many unspoiled beaches, no trash in sight, and most times empty beaches.
Some beaches are harder to get to. The roads there are quite hard to drive on, so you should go with a guide, or book a tour on the hotels. They'll take you by boat, and you can visit a few of them back to back, stopping for a swim on the ones you like.
My favorite beach in the world. Bar none.
Next to Boi, a nice beach as well, and you'll still find the ruins of an abandoned resort.
The famous Bacardi beach, where an ad was shot back in the 80s, you can access it from Monte Belo hotel, or just go up to the lookout point and get your version of the shot everyone loves to take when they visit the island.
Turtle beach. This is the beach most turtles pick when laying their eggs. And a lot of turtles come to Príncipe. There's a small museum run by AAAA and you can set up a visit with them. It's a one of kind experience, and very much recommended.
Fishermen community living here makes this a memorable visit. Drying fish, card playing, music and a cold beer.
Next to Sundy Praia, a cosy beach where you can have a delicious picnic if you're staying at the hotel. They'll make sure your experience is something to rave about when you get back home.
Another old plantation house, one that's still alive, and produces a lot of stuff for the HBD hotels (Bom Bom, Roça Sundy and Praia Sundy). You can visit. There's a very sweet man near the entrance that keeps weaving baskets with palm leaves, Mr Leandro, and a lot of work going on on the premises. They grow a lot of vegetables for the hotels restaurants and cosmetics for the SPAs. You can buy yummy muesli and a wide array of other things. The Lab where all these are developed is also here.
Príncipe has invested a lot in it's Nature Trails and, if you're a hiking fan, you should take advantage.
There's one for every kind of hiker, from 30 minutes easy walking, a hike to the top of Pico Papagaio, or a 6+ hours walk to Roça Infante.
Half the island is a protected park, walking to the places is the only way to see a few of the best locations. You must book an accredited guide, and take the tour with him. An authorization from the park authority is required, but the guide will take care of that.
You'll be able to visit Oque Pipi, a cool waterfall, and .... other places
There's a list of them at Wikiloc, thanks to Fundação Príncipe. You can find them here.
The lost city.
The first settlement in Príncipe, long abandoned and almost forgotten.
Right on the beach you'll still find the ruins of an old church.
You can visit by car (it's on the way to Sundy Praia hotel) and there's also a trail that will take you there, starting at Bom Bom Resort.
Nature is the biggest star in Principe, and there are a few places that have amazing views.
Not far from Santo António, Nova Estrela has one of the best views on the island, you'll be able to see Jockey's Cap, an islet off Príncipe, in the distance, and a big part of the protected forest. All the way there from Santo António is very nice, grassy, a very pleasant drive. THe road is VERY bumpy, but slow is always better anyway.
If you're feeling really adventurous, you can even get a haircut at Lindinho, one of the barbers on the island. Mind you, this is a very basic barber, but if you're willing to take a chance, that's an experience you can tell your friends when you get back home.
Right next to Nova Estrela, you'll find Terreiro Velho, a few houses and an old Roça, this one is today the property of Claudio Corallo, the famous chocolatier who spends most of his time on the island. The cocoa production is done in Príncipe, and he runs a hands-on operation. Ask for permission if you venture here, this is not a vacant lot.
Closer to Roça Sundy, you can walk there (a guide is advised) from the hotel, or drive there on one of the tours. Magnificient view.
Places to Stay
In Príncipe the offer is not as extravagant as on the big island.
If you're looking for the perfect postcard experience, Bom Bom should be the one you pick. You get not one, but two beaches, super restaurant by the sea, all the activities you might need, or just a luxury bungalow literally two feet from the sand.
If you don't need the beach right on your doorstep and favor the authentic approach, go for Roça Sundy. A renovated plantation house,
If you want something over the top, Sundy Praia will deliver. It's luxury times ten, you can have your own tented villa with a private swimming pool and dinner at a world class restaurant in the forest. There's no other like it.
There are also a couple other choices, some in town, but they're not the same. Residencial Palhota comes to mind, but there's not a lot more.
Transportation in Principe
There is no transit system on the island, most people just hitchhike (boleia, boleia), or grab a ride in one of the moto-taxis.
If you're staying in one of the hotels they'll arrange for your transfers and any tours you might need. If you're taking things into your own hands you have two ways you can go: Try to hire a car from the very limited pool on offer and drive yourself, or find a guide with a car.
You can also get a motorbike, but plan on doing this only if you really know how to ride one. They're usually not very well kept, and the roads here can be quite dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Road building is going on, but to get to most places you'll end up driving on dirt roads, and that's not something you'll want to do if you're not a good driver. That goes for cars and motorcycles.
Driving in São Tomé is pretty easy. Not so much in Principe.
Most of the roads on the big island are ok, and you should have no problem getting around the whole island. On the smaller one though, roads can get tricky pretty fast.
There are only a few roads with tarmac, and not a lot of places to go anyway. So I believe it's better to just get a good guide, one that has a car, and do the tour with them. It'll be done in a day, anyway, and you can spend your time on the island without worrying about a car accident.
In São Tomé, go ahead, rent that car and drive around the whole island by yourself. Just make sure to fill that gas tank when you have the chance, not a lot of gas stations on the way.
Hanna e Silva
Alvarino Metzger, at Residencial Palhota
You can download Google Maps of the islands before flying over, and you'll be able to use them without internet. Or try Maps.me and get the maps for the islands. There's a lot of places already marked there as well. You'll need them if you're planning on driving on the islands, mostly in São Tomé island.
A few of the spots mentioned above have their Google Maps locations, but I've saved a few waypoints along the way, feel free to download them and import them into Maps.me. The KMZ format should work with other GPS apps as well.
There are a few reputable guides in both islands, I'll leave a contact for a couple of them below.
In São Tomé you may talk to Cau and, when you're in Príncipe, you'll do fine if Yodi is with you. Both have extensive knowledge, and you'll be in good hands. Contact them well in advance, they tend to be busy.
If you're in São Tomé and Cau is busy or you find him pricey, try Navetur.
One of the most annoying, and puzzling, things about São Tomé and Príncipe is the money situation.
There are no ATMs that will accept foreigner's cards in the country, so there's no way to get money while on the islands. True, you can get a cash advance at the bank, with your credit card, but you'll have to pay a hefty fee for the privilege, and stand in a line for hours.
You can pay with your cards at a (very) few select places but, other than that, cash is king.
You'll need to bring all the cash you'll be spending with you, and exchange it in São Tomé for the local dobra. You'll do this in the black market, but fear not, that's just how you do it here, and it's pretty safe. Go to the square near the gas station and Xico's restaurant, and the money guys will find you, you don't even have to look for them! You can trust them, but do count the money. I never had a problem doing this, and been there quite a few times.
When you're in Príncipe, you can try the bank, if you really need to. The lines are smaller. And, at some places, Euros will be accepted and you'll get your change in dobras.
If you're staying at one of the better hotels you can pay for everything with your cards.
At this point in time one rarely thinks about bringing extra cash for souvenirs and other things we might have not considered, but when visiting these islands there's really no other way to go about it. It's a shame when we aren't able to get that special gift because we forgot to bring a few extra Euros along.
If you fancy chocolate, or some special kind of cookies, feel free to bring them from your home country. Supplies are very scarce in São Tomé and almost non-existant in Príncipe.
There are supermarkets in STP (I would recomend Super CKDO), where you can find a huge number of treats that you can only dream about when you're on the smaller island. If you have a sweet tooth, make sure you stock up while in STP, as you're really out of luck in PCP. There's a chance you might find one brand of chocolate in Santo António, but you probably will not.
So, if you think there's something you can't live without, think about it before you head on to the airport.
Roça da Boa Entrada
Praia dos Tamarindos
Museu do Mar e da Pesca Artesanal
Roça Bela Vista
Baía das Agulhas (Bay of Spires)