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Sao Tome and Principe: Go Tripping Wonderfully at the Equator in Africa

Sao tome

Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa just off the coast of Gabon. It is the second smallest country in Africa and one of the least visited in the world. It is made up of two main archipelagos: Sao Tome, which consists of more than 95% of the nation’s population, and Principe, its much smaller and uncharted brother.

Uninhabited before Portuguese explorers set foot on it in the 15th century, Sao Tome and Principe has since then become the colonizers’ commercial hub for the Transatlantic Slave Trade before gaining independence in 1975. The island nation’s unique history means that its culture sees roots from Europe and Africa entangled in one place, making its atmosphere one that cannot be found anywhere else.

Sao Tome and Principe is one of the few destinations in Africa that is not only very safe for travelers but also has almost no visa-restriction. The potential language barrier is perhaps the only hindrance as Portuguese is the sole spoken language and while French is understood in some places, there is a complete lack of English understanding.

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Sao Tome in Pictures. Photography by Elenida Leite

Sao Tome and Principe: An Overview

Location West Africa (Gulf of Guinea)
Language Portuguese
Population 200,000
Currency Sao Tome and Principe Dobra (STD), with Euro (EUR) being accepted in some places as well. (1 EUR = 24,500 STD)
Climate Tropical – Humid
Safety Very safe
Visa All nationalities are either visa-exempt or are eligible for an e-visa
Best time to visit All year round
Nearby places to visit Ghana, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria



Sao Tome: The Capital

The capital city of Sao Tome and Principe, Sao Tome, lies on the northeastern edge of the main island, just 3 km away from the airport. Although this city is small in size, it will surprise you in every corner, from picturesque beaches to colonial heritages. You can get around easily with the cheap yellow-painted local taxi-van or simply by strolling down the coastal walkways underneath the palm trees. If you do, be sure to stop at the pale white Sao Sebastiao Museum, a Fort built by the Portuguese turned into exhibitions of historical artifacts; and don’t forget to visit the busy central market to experience being lost in a sea of Sao Tomean mamas trying to sell you all kinds of fish.

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The lovely Hotel Pestana in the capital city of Sao Tome. Photography by Klerton

Hungry or thirsty? Don’t worry! Delicious and affordable meals are available everywhere. Here are some of the best places to go for food and drinks and good vibes:

Pico Mocambo

One of the only two bars in the capital of Sao Tome, Pico Mocambo is a must-go for anyone who finds him- or herself in Sao Tome. To go with its locally made Rum, the Rum bar features dozens of handcrafted flavors including garlic, cucumber, coconut, cacao and many more. Located right above an art gallery, Pico Mocambo’s artsy decoration and tranquil lighting combined with its smart interior setup and free WiFi will keep you there buzzed for hours.

The owner, Gudi, originally from Guinea-Bissau but has lived in England, is one of the few permanent residents on the island who speaks fluent English. So don’t be afraid to go up and strike up a conversation with him, he doesn’t bite! Plus, he could find locals and arrange deals for you to rent a car or help you look for other services. He will even order pizza for you if you ask nicely.

Must-try item: Signature Rum drink! Average cost for one – 90,000 STD (~3.5 EUR)
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While in Sao Tome, stop by Pico Mocambo. Photography by Faitma Loureiro

 

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A freshly packed bottle of Rum from Pico Mocambo. Photography by Francis E Lagos

Pastelaria Central

Pastelaria Central is a lighthearted café conveniently located next to a busy junction right off the main avenue – Av. da Independencia. Here, you can quench your thirst for various drinks, from iced latte, fresh juice to Coca-Cola – they serve it all. There is also a perfect option for brunch or a light meal: a plate with rice, fries, salad, eggs, and meat chops.
Must-try item: Coffee and combination plate! Average cost for one – 220,000 STD (~9 EUR)
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A cup pf hot steaming latte. Photography by Justin Klunk

O Pirata
Located in the eastern part of the capital of Sao Tome in Vila Maria, O Pirata lies on a platform built right on a beach. The high-end restaurant serves various European dishes with a local touch and offers a scenic view of the beach and the ocean. You don’t only satiate your stomach but also your eyes here.
Must try-item: Local beer and seafood pasta! Average cost for one – 340,000 STD (~14 EUR)
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Enjoy some chilled beer at O Pirata. Photography by Filipe Amilton

Road-tripping in Sao Tome

The best way to get around the small but filled-with-curvy-mountain-roads island is by car. You can easily rent a four-wheel Suzuki for less than 1,000,000 STD (~40 EUR) a day. You could also hire a driver alongside to show you around or get a Motorcycle instead, if you heart so desires.

West of Sao Tome

Morro Peixe

Morro Peixe is a fishing village westward of the capital and just a 30 minutes-drive from there. Here, you can learn all about the lifestyle and routines of the local fishermen. Go scuba-diving or hop on a boat and go whale-watching.

If you’re lucky, you might even see some dolphins. Morro Peixe also hosts the incubation center for the local sea turtles due to their frequent appearance and activities in the nearby beaches. You will get to learn about fascinating facts of local species and play with the most adorable baby sea turtles ever.

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The fishing village of Moro peixe. Photography by Morro Paulo Antunes

Praia dos Governadores

The stunning beach at Morro Peixe stretches one kilometer long. Each year starting from September until March, sea turtles comes up here to lay eggs. It is a fascinating sight that you won’t want to miss. However, you must absolutely be patient – there is no guarantee when they are going to come. The good thing is that you won’t even feel the time past by just lying on the beach and immersing yourself into the soft sands.

This Xanadu of sand and water rarely gets visitors, but there are locals stationed here 24/7. Hired by the government, they serve as guardians of the wildlife from poachers and as natural scientists gathering data and conducting research. Each time a sea turtle comes to shore, they record the time and the location, the turtle’s length, width, eggs laid, species etc. and attach clips to them. These guardian-scientists will gladly notify you whenever a sea turtle is laying eggs and take you there. They will even let you help collect the newly-laid eggs for the incubation center.

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Beautiful Sea Turtles. Photography by Shawn Miller

Lagoa Azul

The lagoon just west of Morro Peixe features a lighthouse built 20 years ago by the Portuguese Navy. The small red-white watchtower that runs on solar energy is a perfect spot for a rest- and for some pictures.
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Lagoa Azul. Photography by Sofia

Neves

Keep going west and you will finally reach the town of Neves, famous for its crabs. Without any other significant attractions, it might be hard to justify coming all the way here, but just have a meal in one of the restaurants and you won’t regret it. A standard crab dinner should cost around 300,000 STD (~12 EUR).
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Town of Neeves. Photography by Helio Falcao

South of Sao Tome

When it is not raining, it will take you around 2 hours to get all the way down south. Fortunately, there are more than enough townships and beaches for you to make some quick stops and stay well-restedon your way.

Dona Augusta

More than halfway through the journey you will come across a small settlement called Dona Augusta. Make sure to stop and climb up the plateau and get a view of the sea of greenness in the heart of the island. Amidst the forest you will also find the perfect sight of Pico Cao Grande, the iconic 650 meters tall volcano plug.
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Pico Cao Grande, the iconic 650 meters tall volcano plug. Photography by Susana Camelo

Porto Alegre

When you embark your journey towards the south, your final destination is always Porto Alegre, the town on the southern tip of the island. Take a walk through it and enjoy the curious gazes of the locals, and be sure to visit some of the most beloved beaches in the nation that are just nearby – Praia Priscina and Praia Jale.
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The island town of Porto Alegre. Photography by Christophe H

Illheu das Rolas

Finally, you simply cannot arrive at Porto Alegre without taking a step further and visit Illheu das Rolas, a tiny island right off the coast of the mainland famous for lying on the equator. Local fishermen will be more than happy to take you there with their boats, just make sure you negotiate the right price beforehand: a round trip should cost around 500,000 STD (~20 EUR). Each way takes about 20 minutes. Once you are there, it’s only a short hike to get to the equator landmark, so don’t miss the chance to hop on the southern hemisphere a couple times!
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Dolphins captured on camera in the waters of Illheu das Rolas -, a tiny island right off the coast of the mainland famous for lying on the equator. Photography by Ketherly Oliveira

Towns and Beaches: North to South – A glimpse

Towns (From north to south): Santana, RibeiraAfonso, Sao Joao dos Angolares, Monte Mario
Beaches (From north to south): Praia Ize, Praia Micondo, Praia Grande, Praia Haleia

Sao Tome in Pictures

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Morro Piexe at sunset. Photography by Isaac Liu

 

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Sao Tome consists of some beautiful beaches. Photography by Isaac Liu

 

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The UN office at Sao Tome. Photography by Isaac Liu

 

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Try contributing towards the Turtle conservation project at Sao tome. Photography by Isaac Liu

 

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At Sao Tome, baby turtles are bred, conserved and protected. Photography by Isaac Liu

Happy wayfaring 🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sao tome

Isaac Liu

Isaac Liu studies philosophy and economics in Minnesota, United States and has the globe within his grasps with three passports, four languages and five continents conquered. He wants to go somewhere nobody else has been, so the fewer visitors a place has, the all so more attractive it is for him. He especially loves talking to people, locals and travelers alike.  He prefers learning more about them, with the mentality of “What do they know? Do they know things? Let’s find out!”

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