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Sao Tome and Principe Travel Guide - Travel S Helper

Sao Tome and Principe

travel guide

Sao Tomé and Principe, formally the Democratic Republic of Sao Tomé and Principe, is a Portuguese-speaking island country off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. It is made up of two archipelagos centered on the two main islands of So Tomé and Prncipe, which are about 140 kilometers (87 miles) apart and around 250 and 225 kilometers (155 and 140 miles) off Gabon’s northern coast, respectively.

The islands were uninhabited until they were discovered in the 15th century by Portuguese explorers. Throughout the 16th century, they were gradually conquered and inhabited by Portugal and functioned as a key economic and trading hub for the Atlantic slave traffic. So Tomé and Prncipe’s fertile volcanic soil and closeness to the equator made it excellent for sugar farming, which was subsequently followed by cash crops like as coffee and cocoa; the wealthy plantation economy was highly reliant on imported African slaves. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, cycles of social upheaval and economic insecurity culminated in peaceful independence in 1975. Since then, So Tomé and Prncipe has remained one of Africa’s most stable and democratic nations.

Sao Tomé and Principe, with a population of 192,993 (2013 Census), is the second-smallest African country after Seychelles, as well as the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. Its population are primarily of African and mestiço origin, with the majority practicing Roman Catholicism. The legacy of Portuguese control may also be seen in the country’s culture, customs, and music, which include European and African elements.

Since its independence in 1975, this tiny, impoverished island’s economy has grown more reliant on cocoa. However, due to drought and mismanagement, cocoa output has significantly decreased. The resultant scarcity of cocoa for export has resulted in a long-term balance-of-payments issue. As a result, Tomé must import all energy, the majority of manufacturing products, consumer goods, and a significant quantity of food. It has been unable to pay its foreign debt and has had to rely on concessional assistance and debt rescheduling throughout the years.

Sao Tomé received $200 million in debt relief from the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program in December 2000. International funders praised So Tomé’s achievement in enacting structural changes by pledging greater aid in 2001. There is significant potential for the development of a tourism sector, and the government has recently made efforts to enhance infrastructure. In addition, the government has tried to remove price restrictions and subsidies. Sao Tomé is likewise hopeful about significant petroleum finds in its territorial seas in the oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea. Corruption scandals continue to erode the economy’s strength.

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Sao Tome and Principe - Info Card




Dobra (STN)

Time zone



23,200 km2 (9,000 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


Sao Tome and Principe | Introduction


The islands of Sao Tomé and Principe, about 300 and 250 kilometers (190 and 160 miles) off the northwest coast of Gabon, are Africa’s second smallest country. They are located in the equatorial Atlantic and Gulf of Guinea, respectively, about 300 and 250 kilometers (190 and 160 miles) off the northwest coast of Gabon. Both are part of the Cameroon volcanic mountain range, which also includes the Equatorial Guinea islands of Annobón to the southwest and Bioko to the northeast, as well as Mount Cameroon on the Gulf of Guinea shore.

Sao Tomé is the most hilly of the two islands, measuring 50 kilometers (30 miles) long and 30 kilometers (20 miles) broad. Pico de Sao Tomé, at 2,024 meters (6,640 feet), is the highest mountain. Principe is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) long and 6 kilometers (4 miles) broad. Pico de Principe, at 948 meters (3,110 feet), is the highest mountain. Both islands are crossed by swift streams that flow down the mountains, through lush woodland and farmland, to the sea. The equator passes via an islet called Ilhéu das Rolas just south of So Tomé Island.

Pico Co Grande (Great Dog Mountain) is a prominent volcanic plug peak in southern Sao Tomé, situated at 0°7′0′′N 6°34′00′′E. It climbs nearly 300 meters (1,000 feet) above the surrounding landscape, with a peak elevation of 663 meters (2,175 feet).


The climate is tropical at sea level, hot and humid with average annual temperatures of about 27 °C (80.6 °F) and minimal daily fluctuation. The temperature seldom exceeds 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The average annual temperature in the interior’s higher elevations is 20 °C (68 °F), with chilly evenings. On the southwestern slopes, annual rainfall ranges from 5,000 mm (196.85 in) to 1,000 mm (39.37 in) in the northern lowlands. From October through May, the rainy season is in full swing.

The equator passes at Ilhéu das Rolas, a small islet off the coast of Sao Tomé Island.


The first ever census was conducted in 2011 with the assistance of Cape Verde’s National Statistic Institute (INE).

The government estimates the population to be 163,784 people. Around 157,500 people reside on Sao Tomé and 6,000 on Principe, according to estimates.

All are derived from individuals brought to the islands by the Portuguese from various nations beginning in 1470. The departure of most of the 4,000 Portuguese inhabitants in the 1970s and the entrance of several hundred Sao Tomé refugees from Angola were two major demographic migrations.


Almost all inhabitants are members of the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, or Seventh-day Adventist churches, all of which have strong connections to Portuguese churches. A modest but increasing Muslim population exists.


Portuguese is the official language. Over half of the population speaks it natively, but nearly everyone (95 percent) can communicate in it. Forro, a Portuguese-based creole language spoken natively by 43% of the population and as a second language by an equal number, is the other major language (85 percent in total). So, although 95 percent of the population speaks Portuguese and 85 percent speaks Forro, the official language is still Portuguese.

In general, Portuguese is spoken in the northern portion of the island, whereas Forro is spoken in the southern section. The primary language spoken on the island of Principe is Portuguese.

So Toméans utilize a dialect known as So Toméan Portuguese while speaking Portuguese. In terms of syntax and pronunciation, it is close to Brazilian Portuguese, which is quite different from European Portuguese. Most individuals, however, easily transition to European Portuguese, so neither the Portuguese nor the Brazilians should have any difficulty conversing.

English is almost non-existent in this nation since it is not taught in schools, and English-speaking visitors are likewise few; however, you will have better success with French, which is taught in schools and is therefore widely spoken.

So, in order to get along, you’ll need to know either Portuguese, Forro, or French.

Entry Requirements For Sao Tome and Principe

Visa & Passport

Angola, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Rwanda, East Timor, United States, and all EU citizens may enter So Tomé and Prncipe without a visa for visits of up to 15 days.

Holders with a valid Schengen or US visa are likewise exempt from the visa requirement.
Other nationals should apply for an eVisa before arriving:

How To Travel To Sao Tome and Principe

Get In - By plane

The Portuguese airline TAP [www] operates one weekly flight from Lisbon to So Tomé. On Mondays, the national carrier flies from Lisbon to Sao Tome, returning the next day.

On Tuesdays, Air Nigeria flies between Lagos and Sao Tome through Libreville, and on Thursdays, via Douala. TAAG Angola Airlines flies from Luanda to So Tomé on Tuesdays (flight DT511, [www] ). Flight DT502 stops at Sao Tome on Thursdays and Sundays on way to Praia, Cape Verde ([www]).

Other airlines, such as Africa’s Connection [www], CEIBA Intercontinental [www], and Allegiance Gabon [www], claim to travel between Sao Tome and neighboring towns like Libreville and Malabo.

Accommodation & Hotels in Sao Tome and Principe

In the capital, there are just a few hotels. An beautiful bed and breakfast with magnificent views is located near the town of Santana. On the tiny island of Ilheu das Rolas, off the coast of Principe, and on the small island of Ilha Bom Bom, off the coast of Principe, opulent resorts have been constructed.

Several modest pousadas (B&Bs) may be located in Sao Tome’s major city.

Each bungalow at the Bom Bom Island Resort offers its own veranda with views over the green palm fronds and the water, in addition to an ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, and other contemporary conveniences. The restaurant, bar, and marina of Bom Bom are located on a small islet that may be accessed by traversing a 230-meter wooden boardwalk.

Mucumbli An beautiful resort located minutes from the city of Neves with a breathtaking outlook. There are presently just 5 Bungalows available, so book early! Titiano and Marie, an incredibly lovely and helpful Italian couple who came on the island 30 years ago and gradually built their property. This location is private and secluded (in So Tomé terms), and it is a must to relax on the balcony and watch the sunset side of the island, walk to the beach, or hike the trails. A donkey enclosure was also rescued by the owners (after the government got them as a gift from Angola and didn’t know what to do with them). Breakfast is included.

Things To See in Sao Tome and Principe

Prior to the Portuguese invasion, both Sao Tome and Principe were uninhabited. Much of the terrain has remained unaltered since then, or has been reclaimed by the rainforests where old plantations once stood. The islands, which are covered in beautiful rainforests and have a tiny population and few tourists, are a true tropical paradise for visitors.

Obo National Park is located in the interior of Sao Tome Island. Find a local guide to take you bird-watching, climbing the 2,024-meter Pico de Sao Tome, trekking to a hidden waterfall, or trying to find as many of the island’s 109 orchid species as possible. In a spectacular display for tourists, waves enter an undersea cave on the south side of Sao Tome island and, with nowhere else to go, shoot straight up through the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell) blowhole. The remote beaches on Principe are both stunningly gorgeous and romantic…don’t blame yourself if you feel like you’re on a South Pacific island.

Coral reefs with a diverse range of marine life—including a few endemics—are only offshore, since the seas between neighboring islands and the mainland exceed 2,000 meters! Diving and snorkeling are great opportunities to see the underwater side of this paradise, where you may see dolphins, big green turtles, and a variety of colorful fish up close. Divers who are experienced and brave may even explore underwater caverns.

Fort So Sebastio is one of the few man-made attractions on the islands. Built in 1575, the fort was renovated in 2006 and is now the National Museum of So Tomé. At night, the fort is extremely stunning. A tour of one of the islands’ colonial-era plantations—roças—is required for all visitors, and these may range from centuries-old structures slowly becoming overrun by rainforest to beautifully restored ones functioning as bed-and-breakfasts. Monte Café, one of the most readily accessible, has a new coffee museum built up and is pleasant and welcoming due to its location in the highlands. The market in Sao Tome, like many others in the area, is a busy, colorful event, and photographers will appreciate the city’s charming colonial architecture.

The seas off the coast of Sao Tome are crystal clean and teeming with life. As a result, diving, fishing, and boat excursions offer plenty of opportunities to view the sights. Club Maxel [web] is one of the few operators that provides these activities. Both islands include beautiful woods that are ideal for trekking.

Take a stroll. The traffic is low, the sea air is refreshing, and the architecture and people are worth seeing. Sao Tome’s capital city is brimming with public art. Local artists’ paintings and sculptures, as well as ancient Portuguese monuments, may be seen around the city. Frequently, when you go down the street and round a corner, you will come face to face with a vibrant and lively artwork right in front of you.

Chocolate by Claudio Corallo. On request, tours of his chocolate factory are given. He or one of his sons will joyfully explain the appallingly substandard chocolate that is sold all across the globe. Claudio has full control over the chocolate production process, from cultivating the cacao pods on his own farm on Principe to packaging the chocolate in vacuum-sealed sterile chambers. During the presentation, he gives out a lot of free samples and sells all of his goods right there in the demonstration area. It’s pricey, but it’s well worth it.

Food & Drinks in Sao Tome and Principe

Food in Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Toméans eat a lot of fish, and it’s usually paired with breadfruit and mashed, cooked bananas. Fish of all kinds may be found, including flying fish during certain periods of the year. Many So Toméans obtain their protein from buzios, huge land snails, in the interior. Along the shore, sea snails are also prevalent. Despite their extreme poverty, So Toméans can dependably rely on a variety of tropical fruits for nutrition. The capital’s hotels provide European-style cuisine at European rates.

Bigodes. If you choose to wait for your flight near the airport, the airport will contact you to let you know when your aircraft is boarding. Lunches are excellent, and the view is spectacular.

Café e Companhia (Café and Company). In Sao Tome, this is where the expats congregate. This is the spot to announce your arrival in the nation. After the owner and previous manager Maria Joo, the Café and Companhia is known as “MJs.” When she is in the country, MJ leases the company to a new German management and makes appearances. Thursday night jazz and the “Atomic Penis” are popular at C & C.

Pirata, it’s you. It’s one of the few restaurants open on Sunday morning, and it’s just adjacent to the Pestana Hotel, although one thinks they only party till Saturday night. It’s a nice spot for a cup of coffee and an omelet while watching the waves. The restaurant is named after a sunken ship that lies just off the coast… thus the moniker “The Pirate.”

So Joo dos Angolares is a Brazilian football team. Make reservations as soon as possible, but it is well worth the wait. Gourmet dinners offered as a multi-course prix fixe are well worth the additional effort.

Sum Secreto, to be precise. Standard grill food, although big parties may be accommodated without a reservation. The steak and seafood are superb, and the service is usually great. The restaurant isn’t luxurious, yet it’s popular because it has that certain something.

Drinks in Sao Tome and Principe

Beer is widely accessible, but Sao Toméans are not renowned for being heavy drinkers. Creolla and Rosema are two local brands. Palm wine may be purchased from roadside sellers at a very low price in the interior. Whiskey and other alcohol are popular among the aristocracy in the city. With fish meals, wine, particularly Portuguese vinho verde, is popular.

Money & Shopping in Sao Tome and Principe

The Dobra, a limited currency, is used in Sao Tomé and Prncipe (the import and export of local currency is prohibited). You can import an unlimited amount of foreign currency subject to disclosure, but you can only export up to the amount you import. Travelers’ checks aren’t always a good idea. At bigger restaurants and stores, Euros and sometimes dollars are frequently accepted.

Although shopping options are limited, there are a few items worth buying, some of which may be of export quality:

Coffee. Coffee was a big deal in Sao Tome. The quality of the coffee decreased a little when the newly independent Sao Tome government divided the ancient rocas into sharecropper lots, but considering the volcanic soil’s nature, it was still excellent. There has been a recent increase in interest in Sao Tome coffee, mostly owing to Claudio Corrallo’s efforts, although you can buy excellent coffee for a low price at any store in Sao Tome.

Rum. ‘Gravana, which is sold out of a vehicle repair shop close to the Central Market, and Me-Zochi, which is in Trindad beside the church, are both within easy reach in Sao Tome. A one-liter bottle of rum may cost anywhere from USD 3 and USD 7, depending on the price of sugar. Gravana rum is dark and sweet, and it’s finest enjoyed over ice like a scotch. The Me-Zochi rum is likewise excellent, but the factory also offers other liqueurs produced from indigenous fruits. The majority of their merchandise is sent to Europe.

Baskets. Baskets are an integral element of daily life in Sao Tome. As a result, they are abundant and inexpensive. They aren’t fancy, yet they have a certain allure.

Various Tourist Attractions Ossobbo is located across the street from Fort Sao Sebastiao. From coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla to sculptures, t-shirts, and thumb drives, the store showcases local artists and Sao Tome goods. The prices are fair, but the greatest thing is that the store is operated by the Sisters of Misericordia, a non-profit organization that donates all proceeds to artisans or charity causes.

Culture Of Sao Tome and Principe

The culture of Sao Tomé is a combination of African and Portuguese elements.


Ssua and socopé rhythms are popular in So Tomé, whereas the dêxa beat is popular in Principe. The evolution of these rhythms and their accompanying dances may have been aided by Portuguese ballroom dancing.

Tchiloli is a theatrical tale told via song and dance. Similarly, the danço-Congo combines music, dance, and theater.


Fish, shellfish, beans, maize, and fried banana are all staple foods. Tropical fruits including pineapple, avocado, and bananas play a big role in the cuisine. So Tomése cuisine is known for its use of spicy spices. Coffee is used as a spice or condiment in a variety of cuisines. Breakfast meals are often reheated leftovers from the night before, and omelettes are popular.

Stay Safe & Healthy in São Tomé and Príncipe

Stay Safe in Sao Tome and Principe

In Sao Tomé and Prncipe, safety is not a problem, but road traffic is dangerous, as it is in other areas of Africa. In public, violent crime is virtually unheard of. However, as tourism grows, so does the number of crimes committed against visitors. There have been reports of roadblocks near Santana, as well as tourist frauds in the main city.

The black cobra, which may be found in the southern and eastern parts of Sao Tome island, is the sole hazardous species on the islands. Adults have yellow-white scales on their fronts, while young ones are entirely black. They are terrified of people and will crawl away if you approach them. When trekking, be attentive and watch where you put your hands. Local hospitals have anti-venom on hand. If you’ve been bitten, you should seek medical attention right away, ideally within 30-120 minutes. Deaths, on the other hand, are uncommon.

Stay Healthy in Sao Tome and Principe

In Sao Tomé and Prncipe, safety is not a problem, but road traffic is dangerous, as it is in other areas of Africa. In public, violent crime is virtually unheard of. However, as tourism grows, so does the number of crimes committed against visitors. There have been reports of roadblocks near Santana, as well as tourist frauds in the main city.

The black cobra, which may be found in the southern and eastern parts of Sao Tome island, is the sole hazardous species on the islands. Adults have yellow-white scales on their fronts, while young ones are entirely black. They are terrified of people and will crawl away if you approach them. When trekking, be attentive and watch where you put your hands. Local hospitals have anti-venom on hand. If you’ve been bitten, you should seek medical attention right away, ideally within 30-120 minutes. Deaths, on the other hand, are uncommon.



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