The island of São Tomé and Príncipe doesn’t make the list for top 5 places to visit in Africa, neither is the tiny country the most popular African country.
For starters, the entire place is Portuguese-speaking. And then there is the colonial flair of the cities and towns, which exude more New World character than sub-Saharan character. Yet there’s still a vibrant attitude to life that’s undeniably African, not to mention a cuisine of spiced fish chunks and plantain mash that blends the culinary traditions of East and West.
If that tickles your travel glands, then add to the mix a multitude of beautiful golden sand beaches, rare sea turtles and pretty hill towns, along with soaring needles of volcanic mountains, rare monkeys and more, and the wild and beautiful Island of São Tomé and Príncipe becomes hard to resist!
Let’s explore the Top 5 places to visit in São Tomé and Príncipe:
As the capital, economic centre, political centre and main market, it hosts the Presidential Palace and Independence Square – marking the year this Atlantic archipelago was freed from European rule.
Dive deep into the central market here and weave between terracotta terraced houses, beautiful Baroque facades and the cannon-topped Fort San Sebastián before visiting the fascinating exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum. Afterwards, you’ll find casual cafés scattered on the cobblestones and plenty of places to stroll along the beautiful coastline of Ana Chávez Bay.
Obo National Park
Obo National Park is otherworldly and breathtaking. The southern part of São Tomé covers more than 230 square kilometres of vast wilderness, ranging from coastal saline mangroves to pristine Atlantic rainforest in the highlands. What a highland! The park is crowned by the massive needle-shaped rocks of Pico Cao Grande, which rise into the sky.
There are huge square rocks in the mountains along the coast. High above, the waves of the Atlantic Ocean below. Safaris and treks here will show you the beautiful tropical hinterlands, as well as gray parrots, mona monkeys and many rare birds!
The capital of the Little Principe – the tiny half of the archipelago – is a pint-sized city on the north coast of the island, where the largest population lives (over 1000!).
A sleepy place of old colonial buildings and village-style mud houses, it has a certain authentic charm. The winding channels of the Palhota River cut through the heart of the city, separating the coastal streets through groves and swamps on the banks.
Meanwhile, the green volcanic mountains of the island’s interior loom on the horizon, and local fishermen moor their boats at coastal jetties.
The small town of Santana is a popular destination for beach goers and luxury seekers seeking the fabled cocktail of sand, sea and sun on the Atlantic Ocean, this little town stretches all the way to the shore on the island’s eastern edge, rising from a slender palm tree.
The jungle and volcanic hills are like a forgotten village in the land of Robinson Crusoe.
It is mainly known for the famous Santana Club Resort, which offers bungalows and cosy cottages just a stone’s throw from the golden sands of Santana Beach. There are also facilities on the shore cliffs, as well as opportunities for scuba diving, boat trips and other options.
If you want to know where to get a good cup of coffee in São Tomé, we recommend Monte Cafe, founded in 1850. Monte Cafe is the largest and most prosperous coffee and cocoa plantation in São Tomé and Príncipe, and the coffee produced here is exported around the world.
Today, you can explore the faded beauty of colonial buildings and visit the National Coffee Museum to learn about coffee production. Of course, you have the opportunity to taste the finished product before leaving.
Beyond Monte Cafe, a forest path leads to the impressive 20-meter São Nicola waterfall, the perfect place to cool off after a walk through the jungle surrounded by nature. This waterfall is a very popular destination for São Tomé and nature lovers and tourists.
After seeing all these amazing sights and activities, you are probably wondering why São Tomé and Príncipe receives few visitors. We are also a bit stunned, because the island is so beautiful.
However, the remoteness and underdeveloped nature of the country mean that São Tomé and Príncipe will remain the domain of adventure seeking travellers and, of course, the incredible locals for now.
We hope you’ve found our summary of the best things to do in São Tomé and Principe useful. There is so much more to see and do on the island.
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SUGGESTED READ: The Top 10 Affordable Countries to Visit in Africa.