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Sao Tome: Africa's hidden gem

TROPICAL HEAVEN: ao Tome offers an idyllic setting for a holiday

LOCATED JUST off the west coast of Africa is Sao Tome and Principe. If you’re like the many who I encountered on my return from this haven of beauty and pleasure who have never heard of the place, this article is for you.

There are few hidden gems left, let’s face it. The world is a much exposed, super transparent place these days, everyone has a bucket list and on it you will probably find the same old, same old. Sao Tome offers travellers the opportunity to get one up on your peers and educate yourself a little in the process.

A Portuguese-speaking island nation situated in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western coast of Africa, Sao Tome is the biggest of the twin volcanic Islands. A wonderful fusion of striking rock and coral formations, rainforests and beaches, there really is something for everyone in this idyllic part of the world.

Named after Saint Thomas by the Portuguese explorers who arrived on the island on the saint’s feast day, Sao Tome became one of the first African countries to adopt democratic reforms. Whether you are a rock climber and keen to visit the Pico Cao Grande (a towering needle-shaped volcanic peak) or you want to chill out on Rolas Island – home to the biggest swimming pool in the country, there’s something for you.

If you like to roam more than you like to sit, there are colonial excursions to Monte Café (old coffee plantation) to enjoy. Check out the Casa Almada Negreiros or visit Bombaim farm settlement, the unique waterfalls or botanical gardens in Obo Natural Park.

Still very much a raw, unspoilt county as far as tourism is concerned, I wanted to see what the island had to offer the new age traveller.

FLIGHT:

Flying with TAP Portugal Airways from Heathrow to Portugal, change onto a connecting flight to Accra, Ghana, where the plane touches down and then it is one and a half hours to Sao Tome. It might sound like a bit of a pain but it is all worth it in the end. Trust me.

WHERE TO STAY:

Pestana Group: Pestana offer some superb options in picturesque spots on the island. My stay encompassed a walk to the Equator, diving, swimming and much more. The five-star hotel has hotels located on the seafront or in town, panoramic sea views and is located only one km from the centre of Sao Tome and one minute from the beach.

Located on Ana Chaves Bay between embassies and universities, palaces and assemblies, it is ideal for a tropical holiday. The choices are Pestana Equador Resort, The Pestana Sao Tome or Miramar by Pestana.

Omali Lodge (HBD Group):
With two bars and a black bottomed pool, Omali, set in tropical gardens opposite Lagarto Beach, is an upscale hotel with a laid-back vibe and is 20 minutes from both the São Sebastião Museum and São Tomé International Airport.

The food is beautiful with the chef keen to ensure that local produce is sourced and used throughout the menu.

Club Santana: For me, with their 7am bamboo stick stretching classes and daily 8:30am power walk to the volcano black sand beach this is the best hotel on the island. Fantastic customer service, beautiful views, wonderful chalets and an infinity pool to die for.

Club Santana Resort is beautifully positioned in front of the beach, with unique panoramic views over the ocean. This four star luxury resort is situated in Santana village, about 15km out of Sao Tome town. It offers tranquillity and privacy in a quiet environment hidden away on a rock cliff, tropical gardens and private beach. You will not be disappointed with a stay at this hotel whether it is short or long term. With free tours included, Club Santana comes highly recommended.

WHAT TO DO:

You must check out the Blue Lagoon in the Lobata District. The bluest of blues, the secluded spot surrounded by baobab trees and fossilised corals is perfect for a romantic picnic, barbecue or simply to brush up on your diving skills.

It’s also down the road from Turtle protection and conservation park in the Moro Peixe village located by yet another picture perfect beach. Check out tour guide company Island Tours & Logistics to help you get around.

In the southern region, if staying at an Eco-Lodge is more your style, you will find the Praia Inhame right up your street based right on top of a beach, where Turtles lay their eggs.

In town discover the local São Tomé artisan market and immerse yourself in the sounds, aromas and tastes of the stalls that offer everything from food to clothing, while enjoying the sweet wafting smell of aromatic herbs that make delicious infusions.

Also visit the Monte Café, after the city of Trindade, where you can visit cacao and coffee plantations. In the South of Sao Tome you have the Boca de Inferno – a great vantage point from which to see the beautiful landscape of the Atlantic ocean and the crossing line of water through a hole in the volcanic rocks.

Go and explore close to the Angolares community, a fishing people who are said to be descendants of runaway slaves from Angola.

UNUSUALLY:

There are no ATM machines in Sao Tome. Withdrawing money is a myth. I would advise everyone going there to have as much cash as they think they will need. Some hotels do change your money but they won’t change more than one hundred euros per day, funds permitting.

The Voice Newspaper would like to thank:
West Africa Tourism Organisation (WATO)
Island Tour Travel

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