Sao Tome – Island worth visiting!

Two questions have been most frequent when I stated in January that I will spent a longer weekend in Sao Tome: where and why.

It might be easier to start with the first one and give some insights of the country’s geography: Sao Tome & Principe, which mainly contains of the two major islands (Sao Tome and Principe) and a bunch of really minor stuff is an island state West of the African continent, quite close to the equator. The next countries are Nigeria in the North and Equatorial Guinea and Gabon East. Next major country West? Brazil, of course! The by far biggest city is the capital of Sao Tome, which hosts about a fourth of the country’s 200,000 inhabitants.

Sao Tome – How to get there

As the country used to be a Portuguese colony, the most common way travellers will take to arrive on the islands are flights from Lisboa to Sao Tome International Airport. The local STP Airways operate direct flights to Portugal’s capital – but as they were a bit laid back in maintainig their planes in the past, they do not have the permission to land in any European Union airport and thus use Portuguese charter planes on a wet lease basis. In addition, TAP is doing the trip in their Airbus A320 as well – in both directions, there is a stopover in Accra, Ghana, though. The seat pitch is unfortunately significantly less comfortable than at Aegean. Quite a couple of people unboarded and boarded the plane there, also driven by the fact that Accra holds some quite decent connections to other flight hubs like Dubai, Istanbul, Amsterdam or Brussels.

The TAP A320 flight is also the key to reply on why I did that trip: in later 2017, there has been a quite ridiculously low-priced business class fare from London Heathrow to Sao Tome or Maputo, Mozambique (some 700 EUR). The latter has not been too much of an option to me due to safety concerns, but the strong arguments of not doing a trip like that could not prevent me from taking that adventure. On the outbound trip from London, there has been the necessity to stay overnight in Lisboa and the overnight trip back gave the full disadvantage of just having the intercontinental flight in the A320, which just offers a business class based on their European route standards, i.e. standard economy seats with a free middle seat. Nevertheless, I can absolute recommend choosing TAP – despite a ridiculous ground handling in Accra, the crew has been very professional and efficient and the service was excellent.



Finally, I ended up spending three nights on the main island of Sao Tome, sleeping in the very charming and excellently driven (just a bit hard to find… 🙂 ) “Sweet Guest House” in the capital and driving around the island in a Suzuki Jimny (great car for the roads there – you cannot rent a 2WD in Sao Tome anyway…). Though something like the country’s slogan is “Leve, leve”, which you may translate to “Take it easy”, the capital is quite lively and tends to feel to be chaotic. Quite soon, you will see that the people are in fact quite laid back. In contrast to many other destinations in that region, Sao Tome is safe – there is hardly any violence or crime, also not against tourist. The malaria rates are low (nevertheless, you should protect yourself). Especially to get in contact with the friendly locals in the capital,


Learn Portuguese before you go – and don’t forget cash!

I would absolutely recommend to learn some Portuguese before you go there – I felt very guilty have been too lazy. In some tourist places, you may get around with English or French. Another important preparation for your trip is bringing cash with you (preferably Euro of course – you may likely alternatively go for US Dollar or GB Pound). It is very easy to change Euro to the local Dobra by one of the money changers in the capital – it may feel a bit spooky at the very beginning, but it is safe and the rates they apply are really honest. The exchange rate to Euro is quite fixed – however, due to inflation the government just cut down the digits of the local currency.

The Capital

Sao Tome city is dominated by old colonial style houses. Of course, there are also slum-alike suburbs. Sao Tome also hosts supermarkets which import goods from Europe and other parts of the world – if you just go for a local snack, streetfood or the local stores will serve you well. The capital is also the easiest place to buy the most prominent Sao Tome product, which is chocolate. The city also offers some decent sights like the interesting national museum which is based in an old fort.






My trips on the island

The traffic conditions require a certain level of concentration – in general, it is fine to drive a car there – if you leave the lively heart of the capital, the market square, you will rather fight against potholes than with hazardous driving of the locals. Driving is on the right hand side. The key road is some sort of ring road, which is however not closed in the South. Thus, I spent one day exploring the East Coast, one on the East Coast and one towards the interior of the islands.



The center of the island is the area which likely attracts most tourists, as it allows you to do some marvelous hikes through the rain forest. Due to time limitations, I just got in touch with driving through some of the really difficult paths in the mountains (I am sure I would not have survived in more rainy times…) and see some attractions around there like a collective which is producing eco-friendly coffee or had a lovely tour though the Biological Garden of Bom Successo (which worked well as I am able to understand some Italian…).









On my first day, I went down to the South tip of the main island driving along the East Coast. There have been some really lovely villages along the route, but in general, nature has been amazing – and I would state I really loved any photo stop I took. The two highlights of the tour have definitely been at the very South, visiting the lovely Praia Piscina beach and having a lovely lunch at a nearby eco lodge. Furthermore, I could have a look to the island Ilheu das Rolas. which is crossed by the equator (I had to skip a ferry trip due to time restrictions).










Before I went home, I took the road along the West Coast. Among other sights, I passed some plantages. Nature has just been beautiful there. In addition it gave me the opportunity to enjoy the Atlantic ocean at the beautiful and lonely Praia dos Tamarindos beach. You unfortunately have to add that the beach itself is lovely, but there are major piles of waste quite closeby unfortunately.









A very special airport bar

For air travel enthusiasts, there are some interesting spots around the airport. The most well-known is the airport bar, which is incorporating a stranded DC-3 plane. Nicely done spot – unfortunately, the second plane nextby is more and more becoming a wreck. There are also some other stranded planes at the airport.






I could post numerous pictures of routes which gave a tough challenge to drive, even with the Suzuki Jimny, which is a wonderful car for difficult conditions. Maybe one thing which tells so much about the island and their people happened right when I returned the car: I felt to be too early and just enjoyed a coconut milk at a nearby beach when somebody approached and asked whether I am Florian. I confirmed… and got to know that I have been too late with the car, as with the beginning of 2018, Sao Tome has changed its time zone from Portuguese (winter) time to Central European one – I haven’t recognized the whole trip that I have been living in a wrong time zone (there is no mobile network which is roaming to German phones, which is typically avoiding these kinds of hassles…).



These three days changed my attitude towards so many things. Even months later, I remember so many great things and encounters and just can highly recommend you to travel to Sao Tome or the even more easy-living Principe (which you can connect to from Sao Tome by plane). – especially if there is a nice fare like the one I used. It is just an amazing spot and absolutely worth spending some time on.

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