After a 10 day long roadtrip across the coast along the Gulf of Guinea and a day to recover in Accra, we flew out on an afternoon 4:10pm TP1527 TAP Portugal flight from Accra to TMS airport in São Tomé, one of the least visited countries in the world.
But not before checking out all 3 premium lounges at Accra airport… There’s the ground level and smaller Sanbra Priority Lounge in front of gate C3:
The more crowded Adinkra Lounge with a buffet serving hot food is above gate C4:
And the larger, more personable, emptier, and less crowded (but also fewer hot foot options, which are made to order) one at Awkwaaba Lounge:
Our flight was slightly delayed to 4:55pm but boarding was quick. We landed at 6:30pm local time.
No visas for most countries to visit so we passed straight through!
One of the smallest and hilariously fastest conveyor belts I ever seen (after the even smaller one we found in Tuvalu):
Once we got our luggage we headed out into arrivals.
Waldimiro from Micaval Residences greeted us at arrivals and drove us straight to the residence for check-in. But because many of my travelers desired their own single supplements, I had booked nearby HN City Center Hotel as overflow, only to find that it was formally closed despite its open listing on booking platforms.
Waldimiro and I yelled from the ground floor and called their number only to be informed they had no idea why I was there.
In spite of Waldimiro not speaking a lick of English this whole time, a combination of my Spanish and using Google Translate on his phone was still able to get me checked into a backup overflow hotel next door at Porcelana, get us SIM cards for Lauren, Letti, and Sandy, our euros exchanged for dobras, and arranging guides for both Lauren and Sandy separately in different parts of São Tomé and a guide in Príncipe for me and Letti tomorrow.
Whew! What an adventure in of itself. The funny side note about Porcelana was that I had initially booked it and then cancelled a few weeks ago when they seemed a little fishy sending me a message to “verify my credit card” with a 500 euro deposit on an independent payment portal outside of the booking platforms; luckily that didn’t happen here in person.
All lost in translation drama settled, we then enjoyed a late dinner and shisha at Zima that took forever to prepare but was worth the wait (they take international credit cards too!).
The next morning after arriving into São Tomé Letti and I made an attempt at a morning 9:00am STP Airways flight to Príncipe, the rarely ever visited (São Tomé is already one of the least visited countries in the world in of itself) “Galapagos of Africa,” due to the level of floral and fauna found nowhere else in the world.
Because we had committed to this trip as early as last August we were able to snag 2 seats on an otherwise fully booked flight on STP Airways.
I admit my initial anxiety in coming:
- STP Airways is on the list of carriers banned from operating in the EU for not meeting its safety standards, but seems to be currently the only option for visiting Príncipe at this time.
- STP Airways also has a weird booking system where you can book online on their website without a payment needed, but they do not accept USD, thus causing the tickets to look like they have been cancelled. So I e-mailed them directly where I was then sent instructions to find a portal link back in the website to pay by credit card in a foreign currency, and then once I paid it, I had to let them know so they could “uncancel” our tickets.
- STP Airways do not fly to Príncipe on Tuesdays. Today was a Monday (see next point why that’s important).
- STP Airways has a track record of frequent cancellations due to their tiny sized airplanes and bipolar weather. If the weather caused our same day return flight from Príncipe to be cancelled, this would risk us from being able to make it to our onward flights to Gabon (which was on Wednesday morning), Cameroon, or Equatorial Guinea: Our trip would be royally screwed.
But I guess that didn’t happen. Leaving at 7:30am for the airport from the city center, we arrived 15 minutes later for check in.
This was my flight ticket on STP Airways:
After a quick security screening where they almost confiscated my travel spork (which I haven’t used since the Transsiberian Railway monsoon in 2016) we waited in the departures lounge enjoying the free Wi-Fi.
And right on time at 8:55am we boarded our tiny plane for Príncipe.
With the friendly co-pilot and first office Livio reassuring me that the return flight looked all clear due to great weather, I boarded and didn’t look back.
They were already beginning to turn the propellers before the last of us got onboard, and we took off promptly at 9:00am. It’s a 35 minute flight and I recommend sitting on the left side for these initial views of Príncipe:
We landed at 9:40am at PCP airport, one of the least visited in the world:
Felt so nice to be here, that we had to do it twice:
Their arrivals hall:
Outside one of Waldimiro’s friends Joaquim Andrade picked us up in his 4×4 after a last minute arrangement made last night. And like Waldimiro, Joaquim does not speak of lick of English OR Spanish. It was all body language and some carried over Spanish words into Portuguese from here on out.
But it didn’t matter because Príncipe is GORGEOUS. Both greener and wilder than its bigger brother island, Príncipe does it for me; rarely has a place left such an immediate impression and shooting its way up to many of my top ten lists.
Nature is so lush here that my eyes started to hurt from seeing so much green.
Our first stop was Miradouro oquepipi:
The breathtaking views here are replicated all over in the island even in its street art:
We then drove down to one of its many beaches/praias which are so so so secluded and yet so welcoming at the same time.
We felt like we had every one of these beaches to ourselves:
After a few beaches we stopped at Roça Porto-Real, the largest of Príncipe’s abandoned plantations:
We found plenty of other similarly abandoned buildings around Príncipe scattered like jewels from the past, including this former hospital (at least according to Joaquim who simply said “hospital.”
On our way back to the main settlement of Santo Antonio, we passed by Príncipe’s main market:
Once at Santo Antonio, we got out for a leisurely walk. The settlement was founded in 1502 as a center of sugarcane cultivation and trade.
I don’t say this often, but it literally feels perfect here, and felt perfect being here.
The main cathedral and church (or se catedral) was under renovations at time of posting:
After half an hour of strolling, Joaquim left us for about an hour at Restaurante e Bar Romar for lunch
Even its back alleys for bathrooms is photogenic here:
Filled up with a fried fish fillet lunch, we got back into our car with Joaquim and drove towards Belo Monte Hotel and Museum. Along the way we picked up a few school children to help them on their long hike back home from school:
Dropping the kids off 10 minutes later up and down dirt roads (Letti and I have no idea how these kids can hike miles and miles up and down hills like that everyday…gives me plenty of excuses to play hooky if it were me), we then parked and walked into Belo Monte.
There’s a viewpoint inside the hotel that overlooks a cliff that’s truly unbelievable:
This view overlooks Villa Príncipe and Praia das Bananas. Letti and I spent a little more time here after an unexpected gasp when we saw how beautiful it was.
Belo Monte itself wasn’t too shabby. For anywhere from 400 to 1500 euros per night, you can add this to your list of honeymoon destinations:
Arguably the most atmospheric abandoned plantation would be Roça Paciencia, which is right outside of Belo Monte:
After buying local coffee beans here I briefly ran inside one of the houses for some urban exploration:
After a full and satisfying 5 hours driving around this paradise of an island, Joaquim dropped us off back at the airport at 2:40pm, 20 minutes before check-in for our return 4:20pm flight back to São Tomé.
Feeling bad for us having arrived a little too early, the airport staff unlocked the doors and let us sit inside for awhile before check in (although there’s no air conditioning inside except for the departures room after security):
At 3pm we checked in and got our handwritten paper tickets:
Although Letti’s bag was hand searched (there’s no x-ray machines here), they didn’t even bother with my backpack; for me they simply waved a metal detector wand over me and let me through.
Letti and I enjoyed the air-conditioner here for about half an hour before we began boarding at 4:10pm:
I said hi again (and thanked him for coming back for me, haha) to the first officer and co-pilot Livio before boarding:
By 5pm we were back in São Tomé, where Livio told me he’d reach out to me whenever he’s in New York with his new wife. I gave him my card, shook his hand, and headed back out into arrivals where Waldimiro picked us up to take us back home.
This one’s for the books: one of my favorite days already. Celebratory dinner at Carambola (they take Visa credit cards!):
- At time of posting in Príncipe, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 76% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: hot but clear and pleasant