Sao Tome Town
The town of Sao Tome is picturesque, with colonial Portuguese architecture. Several cathedrals dot a mostly two-story-high skyline of pastel-colored colonial-era buildings with arched windows and ornate balconies. Wide boulevards wind along the waterside, past black rock outcroppings and sandy bays.
Founded by Portuguese in 1485, São Tomé is the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe and is by far that nation’s largest settlement. Important as a port, the town city is located on Ana Chaves Bay in the northeast of Sao Tome Island. Most of the action takes place in one centralised area a few blocks in from the water, starting at the markets and spreading south to shops, banks and restaurants.
The town is easily walkable, and even destinations further out take no longer than 15 minutes by foot. There is a sixteenth century cathedral in the central part of Sao Tome. Another early building is Fort Sao Sebastiao, now the Sao Tome National Museum. Features of the city also include the Presidential Palace, Fisherman’s Church, Municipal Market and the Independence Square.The airport is 4km north of town.
Once you get here, you’ll delight in this mellow capital town of fading pastel colonial buildings along the seashore. São Tomé town has charm, a budding arts scene, and plenty of activities of its own and nearby, making it an ideal base from which to make day and overnight trips. A good trip is to visit the old city centre with its colonial era architecture and the vibrant Mercado Central and get a feel of what São Tomé was like during the colonial era. At the lively Mercado Central, you will discover the islands products and the Calilu’s secret ingredients. With a visit to the National Museum, the guide will tell you about the life on the plantations and São Tomé’s tormented pre-independence history.
Príncipe is the smaller of the two major islands of São Tomé and Príncipe archipelago. It has an area of 136 km² and a population of around 6,000 people. It rises in the south to 948 metres at Pico de Príncipe, in a thickly forested area forming part of the Obo National Park. The north and centre of the island were formerly plantations but largely reverted to forest. The languages other than Portuguese includes Principense or Lunguyê with a few Forro speakers.
Obo Natural Park – ecotourism hotspot
For those of us who enjoy outdoors activities in unspoiled nature the island provides excellent possibilities. The Sao Tome and Principe interesting volcanic geology, as well as its rich flora and fauna have been admired and studied by numerous travelers, scientist, and nature-lovers. There are over 700 species of native plants (including 100 unique orchids) and 143 birds, many of which are only found in Sao Tome and Principe. The Island’s have recently designated protected reserve areas to be known as the Obo Natural Park.
The Obo Natural Park on Sao Tome is 30 minutes from the city and it provides excellent possibilities for hikers and for those of us who enjoy leisure activities in a natural context. Several circuits have been created within the Park in combination with staying overnight at the old plantations ‘roças’. The lightest rainforest trek is the round trip to Lagoa Amelia, which takes about 4-5 hours. For longer treks walkers need to organise transport, guides and in some cases accommodation or a tent. You can pick up guides from Bom Successo on the way if you haven’t already organised one.
A good trek is Bom Successo to Roca Bombain, overnight in Roca Bombain and then Bombain to Roca Sao Joao dos Angolares. This takes 2 days and 2 nights. To climb the Pico de Sao Tome will take you 2 days and you need to be physically fit to do this. On day one you will climb several smaller mountains before you reach Mesa, where you will overnight in a tent. The next day you will climb the last section to the summit. The ground is tough and you need to be capable of about 8 hours hiking a day to complete it.
Colonial “Roça” and plantations houses
Sao Tome and Principe Island’s have a vibrant and fascinating history. In the early 1800s, coffee and cacao plantations (locally known as “Roças”) were developed on the island’s rich volcanic soils. By 1908, Sao Tome had become the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Since then, the country has suffered many years of agricultural decline although cocoa continues to be a major cash crop.
This fascinating history dominated by the slave trade and plantations, has left several historical landmarks. A plantation slavery culture in the ‘roças’ has been eradicated and some of the owners’ mansion houses are now used as small boutique hotels. Take the time to pay a visit to the various plantation houses dating back to the colonial epoch. Many of them are now run as hotels or cafés where you can spend the night and relax on the spacious verandas. Others are now abandoned and reverting to interesting secondary forest growth.
Take a trip to an old plantation and visit some of the most beautiful roças and travel in time to the days when Sao Tomé was a slave station on the route to Brazil. Here are some plantations worth seeing: Ponta do sol (on Principe), Agua Izé, Ribiera Peixe, Monté Café, Roca de São Joao, Roca de Bombaim, Roca de Monteforte.
Birding in Sao Tome and Principe
As well as being a pleasant place for tourists São Tomé is also a splendid location for lots of birds. Experts report over 135 species in 40 families on the islands. The widest variety is found in the southern part of the island, but Principe, too, boasts many species, including parrots still roaming free in the jungle. The number of endemic birds in Sao Tome and Principe equals that of the much more extensive Galapagos Islands and exceeds the Seychelles; they are furthermore much easier to find than those in Hawaii. These factors make them possibly the easiest and most concentrated group of island endemics anywhere in the world!