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Things to do in Sao Tome and Principe Islands

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Sao Tome and Principe are the two main islands constituting this nation of Central Africa, located on the equator, just off the Gulf of Guinea. 

Principe is the smaller of the two and much less visited, or not visited at all by some visitors, a pity because it is a truly magical place.

Several other rocky islets like Caroco, Pedras, and Tinhosas to the south of Principe and Rolas to the south of San Tome also form a part of the country's territory.

This two-island nation may be Africa's second-smallest and somewhat lacking in size, but its natural wonders, gripping history, and amazing safety, makes it a haven for visitors, especially eco-tourists.

Things to do 

Sao Tome and Principe holidays offer options to explore fantastic beaches, snorkel in sparkling blue-green waters, fish, or even enjoy jungle treks. Both islands have their unique natural appeal and should not be missed. Here are some must-see attractions in Sao Tome and Principe.

Visit the beaches

A perfect day awaits you on the tropical beach of Praia Banana, a fifteen minutes walk from the front gates of Roca Belo Monte. Its golden sands are in the shape of a banana, hence the name. It lies on the northern coast of the island of Principe.

The beach is devoid of big crowds, which gives it a feeling of being on an uninhabited island. A few other good beaches like Praia Boi and Praia Macaco are just around the bend and can be best visited by beach hopping boat trip which departs from Praia Banana.

Wander through San Antonio

The picturesque capital of Principe, San Antonio, is a small city but surely worth spending time in, especially around the old town square with its worn-out but colorful colonial buildings. Moreover, the friendly people add to the relaxed atmosphere of the place.

The town sits on a bay against a jungle backdrop. Roaming around San Antonio is a cheaper alternative to the many high-end resorts elsewhere, but to get to the beaches you will need to hire a car. 

This pint-sized town has a population of about 1000 individuals, and the mud-splattered pueblo-type homes give the place plenty of authentic charm. The winding waters of the Palhota River bisect the town in two halves before draining into the sea.

Head to the Nova Estrela viewpoint

The viewpoint from Nova Estrela provides the most iconic view of Principe from the end of the road to the south of the island. From this position of vantage you can even get a glimpse of Bone do Joquel island, which resembles a baseball cap. Keep a sharp lookout for African grey parrots in the canopy above as you listen to their shrill calls.

Do not miss the Obo National Park

The awesome 230 sq km Obo National Park is bound to take your breath away with its virgin rainforests and salty mangroves. With the mighty peak of Pico Cao Grande in the background, it seems that the park rises straight above the clouds.

The mountains, along the coast, are in the form of a square and present a pretty picture with the waves of the Atlantic Ocean pounding the escarpment far below. The iconic pillars can be seen from many parts of the city, but the best views are from within the park.

The best way to explore the park is by a trek through the beautiful backcountry where you will come across some amazing wildlife like grey parrots, monkeys, and a plethora of sixteen endemic bird species.

Explore Sao Tome City on foot

Sao Tome City has been the capital of Sao Tome island since 1535 and still bears forms of its colonial history through the buildings which have either fallen into disrepair or have been renovated with bright colors.

A stroll through this working African city is quite captivating as it offers a vivid insight into the life of the locals. Sao Tome attracts less than 13,000 tourists a year, thus offering visitors an opportunity to see a new destination without the tourist crowds.

Catch a turtle nesting trip

If you happen to visit Sao Tome between November and March, make sure to take time out to visit the important turtle breeding centers of Marro Paixe and Micalo. Rangers here take extreme care to protect the newly born hatchlings and compare the success rate with those left alone.

The team comprises fishermen who were earlier turtle hunters but have now turned to conserve them. These are the people who will take you on a turtle patrol trip where you will be taught about their nesting and hatching as well as help in cleaning up the beach the turtles nest on as a part of saving the environment.

Go whale watching

Between the months of July and November, the waters around Principe are literally transformed into a whale-watching zone. During this period, migrating humpback whales pass close to the shore and there are a number of operators who can take you on this 2-3 hours trip.

Apart from the whales, there are good chances of spotting playful dolphins, who often come close to the boat. Though these activities are available elsewhere in the world, whale and dolphin watching near Principe is pretty unique because of the low number of visitors 

Trekking and hiking

For an extremely rewarding trek, there is nothing like taking a guided walk in the impenetrable rainforests of the island. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes, an insect repellent, and water.

The Parrot Mountain half-day trek will take you across a volcanic basalt terrain, attaining a height of 700m, from where you get surreal views of San Antonio, weather permitting. Walkers will find an abundant variety of birds, monkeys, and some stunning orchids, not to be found anywhere else.

Stumble on the ruins of plantations

Ribeira Ize was once the original capital of Principe but has since been overtaken by the jungle. A two-hour walk through dense foliage will be a trip of a lifetime for most visitors.

As you trudge through the jungle you will stumble upon the ruins of a 400+-year-old church, completely consumed by the greenery. While this may be far from the famous Machu Puchu, hikers will enjoy taking part in this adventure and will tell stories for weeks to come once back home.

Another ruin worth exploring is Roca Infante, an old abandoned plantation that has now fallen into disrepair. For the perfect hike for the family, take the circuit along the old harbor and take a boat ride back.

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