São Tomé & Príncipe were a handful of islands first discovered by the Portuguese in the late 15th century but settling proved difficult due to its remote location. Therefore the earliest inhabitants were “undesirables” sent from Portugal, mostly Jews and enslaved Africans, to cultivate coffee beans, cocoa beans, and sugar. Modern day São Tomé inhabitants are now mostly descended from people from different countries who had been taken to the islands by the Portuguese from 1470 onwards.
Then in 1990, São Tomé was one of the first African nations to undertake democratic reforms, and with exception of a single week it has maintained democratic government since. Similar to Cape Verde, São Tomé & Principé fuses European and African influences.
90% of the island is also covered by trees . . .
. . . so although there may not be much to see in terms of man-made sites, plenty of its gorgeous natural scenery more than makes up for that:
On our first full day here, Letti and I took a risk with a once in a lifetime chance to see Príncipe having booked a fully sold out flight as far back as 6 months ago. As for the other 2 in the group who couldn’t get flights there as they had signed up later for this trip, Lauren (who wanted a private tour to herself) and Sandy, in the meantime negotiated over different drivers to explore the northern part of São Tomé.
From the city center you can glimpse and visit Fort São Sebastião. Built in 1575, the fort was refurbished in 2006 and is now the São Tomé National Museum.
One of the more easily accessible plantations, Monte Café, boasts a coffee museum that Lauren briefly visited while Letti and I were in Príncipe:
In the capital itself, you can walk around and take in the old Portuguese colonial style architecture reminiscent of that you may find in other former Portuguese colonies such as Cape Verde or in Guinea-Bissau.
The Roman Catholic Our Lady of Grace Cathedral/Cathedral of São Tomé (Catedral de São Tomé) dates back to the 15th century and then renovated in 1956 in an eclectic revival style with a neo-romanesque main façade.
Like in Bissau’s center, the main cathedral faces an independence square and Presidential Palace that shall not be photographed:
The next morning with all 4 of us back together, Waldimiro offered to take us on a tour south of the city for originally a whopping €300, but we were able to negotiate it down to €150.
By 9:30am we set out on his 4×4.
The basalt columns resembles that of Giant’s Causeway:
. . . while its official name comes from how ocean waves would enter an underwater cave and with nowhere to go at the end, shoot straight up like a geyser.
After enjoying some coconut water there we continued south to visit the nearly empty Praia das Sete Ondas; Beach of 7 Waves.
We then visited Sao Joao dos Angolares, a colonial-era plantation or roça like the one at Cafe Monte.
It boasts an impressive open kitchen concept that chefs around the world that are part of Portuguese diaspora have taken advantage of.
After another hour on the road we entered Obo Natural Park for unobstructed views of the majestic Pico Cão Grande:
Continuing further into the national park, there was a section where even driving at 40 miles per hour we saw an neverending array of these impressive forest tunnels for what felt like a whole 5 minutes:
We finally ended our southern roadtrip at Porto Alegre.
For €10 a person we boarded a motorized speedboat for 10 minutes across the bay to visit the islet of Ilhéu das Rolas:
How can you get more remote than either São Tomé or Príncipe? Well, ladies and gentleman there’s Ilhéu das Rolas:
Once we disembarked, Waldimiro beckoned us to follow him through the village . . .
. . . and then through a forest . . .
. . . then taking a right headed up a hill . . .
. . . reaching where the equator crosses on one of the land masses closest to 0º latitude, 0º longitude (although not THAT close; officially we were 0.0069ºS, 6.5223ºE).
None of us were expecting this (I had thought this statuette was in Príncipe and we had totally missed it).
After taking our photos here, we headed down through the botanical gardens on a different path back to the beach.
This was a thoughtful, awe-inspiring forest path; it wasn’t a surprise that Lauren would linger behind long enough here for Waldimiro and his friend to turn back and try to find her (she still has a flight to catch in 6 hours!).
Seeing that Lauren had an outbound flight back home at 10pm and it was already 3:30pm by the time we finished our walk, we debated whether to skip lunch so she could still fit in a visit to another beach. Then unlike every other meal in São Tomé, lunch then came out quickly in the middle of our conversation anyway and we were charged €50 for it. Sigh…not worth fighting.
At least the fish tasted great.
After the quick lunch we got back into our boat, dropped off a visiting local family on one part of São Tomé by Porto Alegre, disembarked ourselves back where our car was parked, and was immediately requested by another villager in Porto Alegre to see some turtles.
Sensing an unsolicited fee incoming, I started to walk away and yet then was asked for money anyway… yes, just to look at small turtles already swimming around in the bay. With the double header of being solicited for money over a lunch and a handful of sea turtles we didn’t initially ask for, we quickly jumped into our car to get in Lauren’s top sight she wanted to see: Praia Piscina.
After 20 minutes of a bumpy ride past Porto Alegre southwest, we reached a secluded beach known for swimming:
Here lava has formed natural infinity pools lined with white sand. I could see why this could be a honeymoon treat.
After 10 minutes here of photos, and Lauren satisfied with the beauty of this island, Waldimiro rushed back up to the capital city to get Lauren on her flight home. Driving out beginning at 4:30pm we somehow defied Google Maps by 2 hours and arrived back at our place by 6:30pm.
Once at the residences, Lauren had enough time to pack and head to the airport with plenty of time to check in. We said our goodbyes and toasted her farewell with ice cream across the street at an empty bar called “Anger.” I wish I could come up with a different name for the bar, but facts are facts.
It’s now 8:30pm and we shall sleep early tonight: Tomorrow morning we head out at 5am for our 7am onward flight to country #6 of Gabon!
- At time of posting in São Tomé, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 89% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a