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Holidays in Sao Tome and Principe

Understanding Sao Tome and Principe

This small poor island economy has become increasingly dependent on cocoa since independence 34 years ago However, cocoa production has substantially declined because of drought and mismanagement The resulting shortage of cocoa for export has created a persistent balance-of-payments problem São Tomé has to import all fuels, most manufactured goods, consumer goods, and a substantial amount of food Over the years, it has been unable to service its foreign debt and has had to depend on concessional aid and debt rescheduling São Tomé benefited from $200 million in debt relief in December 2000 under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries HIPC program São Tomé's success in implementing structural reforms has been rewarded by international donors, who have pledged increased assistance in 2001 Considerable potential exists for development of a tourist industry, and the government has taken steps to expand facilities in recent years The government also has attempted to reduce price controls and subsidies São Tomé is also optimistic that substantial petroleum discoveries are forthcoming in its territorial waters in the oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea Corruption scandals continue to weaken the economy


At sea level, the climate is tropical—hot and humid with average yearly temperatures of about 27 °C 806 °F and little daily variation The temperature rarely rises beyond 32 °C 896 °F At the interior's higher altitudes, the average yearly temperature is 20 °C 68 °F, and nights are generally cool Annual rainfall varies from 5,000 mm 19685 in on the southwestern slopes to 1,000 mm 3937 in in the northern lowlands The rainy season runs from October to May

The equator lies immediately south of São Tomé Island, passing through an islet named Ilhéu das Rolas

Talking in Sao Tome and Principe

The official language is Portuguese, and due to the comparative lack of English-speaking tourists, the visitor should assume that it will be necessary

What to see in Sao Tome and Principe

  • The Obo national park 7 is a national reserve in the south-west part of the country Local guides offer trips with bird-watching, observation of marine turtle nesting and ascension of Monte Pico
  • Fort São Sebastião The fort was built in 1575 and is now the São Tomé National Museum The US Government donated money and services to refurbish the fort back in 2006, and now for a small fee anyone can be escorted around the Fort by a trained guide The Fort has a working lighthouse and consecrated chapel, and is absolutely beautiful at night The Fort is flanked by statues of three famous Portuguese explorers that nobody seems to remember
  • Boca do Inferno Blowhole A blowhole is a cavity formed in the ground at the inland end of a sea cave When waves enter the mouth of the cave they will be funneled up towards the blowhole, which can become quite spectacular if the geometry and state of the weather is appropriate The Boca do Inferno Mouth of Hell blowhole is spectacular at any time of the day but especially dramatic at high tide and during a full moon Go with a good camera for dramatic shots Just go past the VOA and coffee plantation, and take a left at the second basket stall
  • Cascada Sao Nicolau Drive up to Trindad and pass Café Monte Bear left and keep going until the road washes out In the middle of the jungle is a 100 foot high spring-fed waterfall named after Saint Nicolas Absolutely beautiful and romantic Pay no attention to the young couples lingering…
  • Roças Café Monte in Trindad and Sao Joao dos Angolares are two well known and easily accessible roças Café Monte has a new coffee museum set to open, and since it is in the mountains is cool and inviting Sao Joao dos Angolares is run by a local art shop owner; the food served in the excellent restaurant is grown on the premises Art and knicknacks are available for sale
  • City market Ah, to experience public life in Sao Tome See, hear and…smell quotidian life Just look for the yellow taxis in front of the recently-built City Market to experience the average Saotomense shopping experience The taxi cabs are a experience in themselves, and are so numerous they have been photographed from space
  • National Cathedral Sao Tome has lots of churches, all of which are worth visiting However, the National Cathedral adjacent to the Presidential Palace is the largest in the country and is beautiful and peaceful inside It also has a sign as you enter: “You don’t need a cell phone to talk to God here Please turn it off”

What to do in Sao Tome and Principe

The waters around Sao Tome are clear and rich with life Consequently, diving, fishing and boat tours provide much to see One of the few operators that offers these activities is Club Maxel 8

Walk Around Traffic is light, the sea breeze is cooling, and you can admire the architecture and people The capitol city of Sao Tome is replete with public art Painting and carvings by local artists, in addition to old Portuguese statues, can be found throughout the city Often times you will walk down the street and turn a corner to come up suddenly against a colorful and sprightly painting right in front of you

Shopping is limited, but there are a few things worth purchasing, and possibly of export quality:

Claudio Corallo Chocolate Tours of his chocolate factory are give on request He or one of his sons will gleefully describes the shocking inferior stuff that passes for chocolate around the world Claudio maintains complete control of the chocolate making process, from growing the pods on his own plantation on Principe through to packaging the chocolate in his own vacuum-sealed clean rooms He gives copious free samples during the demonstration, and sells all his products right there in the demonstration room Expensive but worth it

Coffee Sao Tome was famous for its coffee The quality suffered a bit after the newly-independent Sao Tome government broke up the old rocas into sharecropper lots, but given the quality of the volcanic soil the coffee was still great There has been a recent surge in interest in Sao Tome coffee, mostly due to Claudio Corrallo’s work, but you can walk into any shop in Sao Tome and get great coffee cheap

Rum Sao Tome has two rum factories within an easy trip: Gravana, which is sold out of a car repair shop next to the Central Market, and Me-Zochi which is in Trindad behind the church Prices of a one liter bottle of rum vary from USD 3 – 7 depending on the price of sugar Gravana rum is dark and sweet, and is best served over ice and savored like a scotch Me-Zochi rum is also good, but the factory also sells different types of liqueurs made from local fruits Most of their product is shipped to Europe

Baskets Baskets are part and parcel of everyday life in Sao Tome Therefore they are plentiful and cheap They are not fancy but have their charm

Miscellaneous Tourist Stuff Ossobbo is across from the Fort Sao Sebastiao The shop features local artisans and products of Sao Tome, from coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla to carvings, t-shirts and thumb drives Prices are reasonable, but the best part is the shop is run by the non-profit Sisters of Misericordia; all profits go to the craftsmen or charitable works

Buying stuff in Sao Tome and Principe

São Tomé and Príncipe uses the Dobra, which is a restricted currency the import and export of local currency is prohibited The import of foreign currency is unlimited subject to declaration, and you may export only up to the amount you import Travelers' cheques are generally not recommended Euros, and sometimes dollars, are commonly accepted at larger restaurants and shops

Food and eating in Sao Tome and Principe

Fish is a staple of the São Toméan diet, often served with breadfruit and mashed, cooked bananas The variety of fish is wide, including flying fish at certain times of year Inland, many São Toméans get their protein from buzios, large land snails Sea snails are also quite common along the coast In spite of the abject poverty, São Toméans can always count on some sustenance from the wide array of tropical fruits The hotels in the capital offer European-style fare at European prices

Café e Companhia The expat hangout in Sao Tome This is THE place to let people know you have arrived in country Café and Companhia is popularly known as “MJs”, after the owner and former manager Maria João MJ leases the business to a new German manager but makes appearances when she is in country C & C is known for Thursday night jazz and the “Atomic Penis”

Sum Secreto Standard grill fare, but they can handle large groups without a reservation Service is generally very good, and the meat and fish are excellent Nothing fancy, but the place is popular because it has that secret something

Bigodes Located near the airport, if you decide to wait for your flight here the airport will call to let you know when your flight is boarding Good lunches and great view

O Pirata Located next to the Pestana Hotel, it is one of the few places open on Sunday morning, but one suspects they just party through Saturday night Good place to nurse a cup of coffee and an omelet and just watch the ocean A sunken ship is right off the restaurant…hence the name “The Pirate”

Roça São João dos Angolares Make reservations as far in advance as possible, but it is worth it Gourmet meals served as a multiple course prix fixe are worth the extra workout you will need

Drinking in Sao Tome and Principe

Beer is readily available everywhere, though São Toméans are not known as big drinkers Local brands include Creolla and Rosema Inland, palm wine is available very inexpensively from vendors along the road In the capital, whiskey and other spirits are popular among the elites Wine, especially Portuguese vinho verde, is popular with fish dishes

Accommodation in Sao Tome and Principe

A small handful of hotels exist in the capital Near the town of Santana lies an idyllic bed and breakfast with stunning views Opulent resorts have been built at the very northern and southern extremes of the country, on the small island of Ilheu das Rolas, and at Ilha Bom Bom off the coast of Principe

In the main city of Sao Tome several small pousadas B&Bs can be found There are three main hotels in the city

Pestana The brand new Pestana Hotel is advertised as the only five-star hotel in the capital, and could comfortably be described as a high four-star The hotel is owned by the Pestana hotel chain from Lisbon Most rooms have a great view of the ocean, and a full breakfast is included Good restaurant, great bar, a decent gym and two infinity pools


Agosto Neto This hotel could be described as either a large B&B or a small boutique hotel This quiet hotel is on a side street a couple of blocks from the Presidential Palace The hotel is relatively new, spotlessly clean, and will open the kitchen upon request Full breakfast is included Internet access in the lobby, and the desk TRIES to speak English


Miramar The grand dame of Sao Tome hotels, this place has seen better days In its heyday you could sit in the lobby and anyone that was important would walk past The hotel has open wi-fi, so lots of local people still come by A bit overpriced for what you get The neighboring Pestana Hotel bought out the elderly German owner last year and is rumored to be converting the Miramar to a conference center


Bom Bom Island Resort is a true haven of luxury and calm, offering the ultimate in comfortable and secluded accommodation

In addition to an ensuite bathroom, air-conditioning and other modern amenities, each bungalow has its own veranda with wonderful views across the green palm fronds and the bay Bom Bom’s restaurant, bar and marina are located on a tiny islet, which can be reached by crossing the 230-metre wooden walkway What better location for enjoying a cocktail or a choice of local as well as international delicacies than the outside deck of this restaurant, overlooking the secluded beaches, the bungalows and the marina pier!


Cities in Sao Tome and Principe

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