São Tomé and Príncipe
Africa > Central Africa > São Tomé and Príncipe
The Portuguese were the first settlers of these previously uninhabited islands in the late 15th century. Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were "undesirables" sent from Portugal, mostly Jews. The Portuguese brought in slaves from Africa to cultivate sugar, coffee and cocoa. Nearly all of its current residents are descended from people from different countries taken to the islands by the Portuguese from 1470 onwards.
In 1990, STP was one of the first African nations to undertake democratic reforms, and it has maintained democratic government since then with only a one-week interruption. The country's culture, customs, and music fuse European and African influences.
|São Tomé Island |
(Ilha de São Tomé) - the larger island (and surrounding islets).
|Príncipe Island |
(Ilha do Príncipe) - the smaller island (and surrounding islets).
- 1 São Tomé (Saint Thomas) – the capital city and largest city in the country, home to a 15th-century cathedral, the national museum, and the Presidential Palace
- 2 Santo António (Saint Anthony) – the main city of Príncipe Island, it is known for its colonial architecture and for its churches
On Principe, find relaxation on Banana Beach or Burra Beach; or, climb Papagaio Peak in Obo do Principe National Park for some majestic views of the island and ocean beyond.
Trees cover almost 90% of the islands. The main crop on São Tomé is cocoa, representing about 95% of agricultural exports. Other export crops include copra, palm kernels, and coffee. Other than agriculture, the main economic activities are fishing and a small industrial sector engaged in processing local agricultural products and producing a few basic consumer goods. The scenic islands have potential for tourism, and the government is attempting to improve its rudimentary tourist industry infrastructure.
São Toméan culture is a mixture of African and Portuguese influences. São Toméans are known for ússua and socopé rhythms, while Príncipe is home to the dêxa beat. Portuguese ballroom may have played an integral part in the development of these rhythms and their associated dances. Tchiloli is a musical dance performance that tells a dramatic story. The danço-Congo is similarly a combination of music, dance, and theatre.
Football is the most popular sport in São Tomé and Principe, the São Tomé and Príncipe national football team is the national association football team of São Tomé and Príncipe.
São Tomé and Príncipe is a nation of about 202,000 people (2018). The two main islands are about 259 km apart and straddle the Equator in the Gulf of Guinea, west of Gabon. The country sees few tourists: in 2016, there were an estimated 13,000 visitors to the country.
Discovered and claimed by Portugal in the late 15th century, the islands had a sugar-based economy that gave way to coffee and cocoa in the 19th century -- all grown with plantation slave labor, a form of which lingered into the 20th century. Although independence was achieved in 1975, democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980s, and the first free elections were held in 1991.
|Currency||São Tomé and Príncipe dobra (STN)|
|Population||204.3 thousand (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Time zone||UTC±00:00, Africa/Sao_Tome|
|edit on Wikidata|
This small poor island economy has become increasingly dependent on cocoa since independence in 1975. 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, which pledged increased assistance in 2001. Considerable potential exists for development of a tourist industry, and the government has taken steps to expand facilities. 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 (80.6 °F) and little daily variation. The temperature rarely rises beyond 32 °C (89.6 °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 (196.85 in) on the southwestern slopes to 1,000 mm (39.37 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.
Nationals of the following countries may enter São Tomé and Príncipe without a visa for visits of up to 15 days: 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. Chinese citizens (including Hong Kong and Macau) can get a visa on arrival.
Holders of a valid Schengen or United States visa also do not require a visa.
Nationals of other countries should obtain an eVisa before arrival: http://www.smf.st/virtualvisa/
- 1 São Tomé International Airport (TMS IATA). STP Airways flies to Lisbon, TAAG flies to Luanda (Angola), TAP flies to Accra (Ghana) and Lisbon (Portugal) and Afrijet flies to Libreville (Gabon). STP Airways is on the list of carriers banned from operating into the European Union (July 2019), so its flights are operated by the Portuguese airline EuroAtlantic Airways.
- 2 Príncipe Airport (PCP IATA). This airport only receives domestic flights from São Tomé International Airport operated by STP Airways, which is on the list of carriers banned from operating into the European Union (July 2019).
On São Tomé Island, there are many taxis, including shared ones that depart to other cities when enough people are there. It is common for tourists to rent a car or scooter to better explore all that the island has to offer. Beware that although roads are paved, they are often not in good condition.
To get to Príncipe, the most common choice for tourists are commercial flights (STP Airways) connecting São Tomé International Airport to Príncipe Airport. Beware that the planes are very small. Locals instead typically hop on a cargo boat, but the 10 hour overnight journey is not considered particularly safe. There are faster charter boats that can do the trip in 3.5h.
On Príncipe, there are fewer roads, and many are not paved. It is common to hire a driver (car or motorbike) to explore the island, or to hire a boat.
The official language is Portuguese. It is spoken natively by over half of the population, but basically everyone (95%) can speak it. The other main language is Forro, which is a Portuguese-based creole language spoken natively by 43% of the population and as a second language by just as many (85% in total).
Other languages include Principense Creole and Angolar Creole, but these are only spoken by a small minority.
As a rule, Portuguese is the main language in the northern part of the São Tomé island, whereas Forro is more common in the south. On the Principe island the main language is Portuguese.
When speaking Portuguese, São Toméans generally use a dialect known as São Toméan Portuguese. It is similar to Brazilian Portuguese in terms of grammar and pronunciation, which is very different from European Portuguese. However, most people can switch to European Portuguese and thus neither Portuguese nor Brazilians should have trouble communicating.
English is virtually non-existent in this country, since it is not taught in schools and there are few English-speaking tourists; you will however have better luck with French, which is taught in schools and thus spoken by many.
It is essential to know Portuguese, Forro or French in order to get along.
São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited prior to colonization by the Portuguese in the 1490s. Since then, much of the landscape has remained unchanged or, where former plantations once stood, reclaimed by the rainforests. The islands are covered by lush rainforests and with a small population and very few tourists, and remain for visitors a veritable tropical paradise.
The interior of São Tomé island contains Obo National Park. Find a local guide to take you bird-watching, climb 2,024-meter Pico de Sao Tome, trek to a secluded waterfall, or try to spot as many of the island's 109 species of orchids as you can. Waves enter an underwater cave on the south side of São Tomé island and, with nowhere to go, shoot straight up through the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell) blowhole in an impressive show for visitors. The isolated beaches on Príncipe are breathtakingly beautiful and romantic... don't blame yourself for feeling like you're on a deserted island in the South Pacific.
Just offshore are coral reefs with a large diversity of sea life—including a few endemics as the waters between other islands and the mainland reach 2,000 meters! Diving and snorkeling are the ideal ways to explore the underwater side of this paradise, during which you can come face-to-face with dolphins, large green turtles, and a wide array of colorful fish. Experienced and daring divers can explore underwater caves.
Among the few human-made sights on the islands is Fort São Sebastião. Built in 1575, the fort was refurbished in 2006 and is now the São Tomé National Museum. The fort is absolutely beautiful at night. Essential for every visitor is a tour of one of the islands' colonial-era plantations—roças—which lie in many different states, from centuries-old buildings slowly being overgrown by rainforest to lovingly refurbished ones operating as bed-and-breakfasts. One of the more easily accessible, Monte Café, has a new coffee museum set and, since it is in the mountains, is cool and inviting. The Sao Tome market is, like many in the region, a bustling, colorful experience while photographers will love city's quaint colonial-style architecture.
- Eddington's Plaque, Sundy Plantation, Príncipe Island. In 1919, Arthur Stanley Eddington and his team visited Príncipe to test Einstein's Theory of Relativity. During a solar eclipse, they could see stars behind the sun, which helped to prove it true. There is now an informational plaque on the site.
The waters around São Tomé are clear and rich with life. Consequently, diving, fishing and boat tours provide much to see. The forests of both islands lend themselves wonderfully to hiking.
Walk around. Traffic is light, the sea breeze is cooling, and you can admire the architecture and people. The capital city of São Tomé is replete with public art. Painting and carvings by local artists, in addition to old Portuguese statues, can be found throughout the city. Oftentimes 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.
- 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.
- Bird watching: There are over 135 species in 40 families on the islands. The widest variety is found in the southern part of São Time,, but Principe also hosts many species, including parrots roaming free in the jungle, Dohrn’s Flycatcher, Black-capped and Principe speirops, Giant Weaver, Sao Tome Sunbird, a paradiseflycatcher, scops-owl, prinia, swift, white-eye, seedeater, oriole, thrush, starling, and four pigeons. Three species endemic to the island—Bocage’s Longbill, Newton’s Fiscal, and Sao Tome Grosbeak—are much harder to find. Many West African mainland specialties inhabit the islands including Olive Ibis, Harlequin Quail, Gray Parrot, Whitebellied and Blue-breasted kingfishers, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Chestnut-winged and Splendid glossy-starlings, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Golden-backed Bishop, and Blue-breasted Cordonbleu. Seabirds and wetland species may include White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, Long-tailed Cormorant, and Western Reef-Egret. There are tourist operators that organise birdwatching outings on both island and in the ocean.
Exchange rates for Dobras
As of January 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
São Tomé and Príncipe uses the new dobra, denoted by the symbol "nDb" (ISO currency code: STN). In 2018, the old dobra (Db) was converted to the new dobra at a rate of 1000 Db to 1 nDB.
It 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' checks are no longer accepted. Euros, and sometimes US dollars, are commonly accepted at larger restaurants and shops. The currency is pegged to the euro.
There are no ATMs that take overseas cards. You must bring sufficient cash in euros. Cash withdrawal with a Visa card may be available from the main bank in São Tomé.
The Pestana hotels may offer a cash advance (if they have enough cash at hand themselves). Expect a 5% commission for their service and not too generous an exchange rate.
Shopping is limited, but there are a few things worth purchasing, and possibly of export quality:
Coffee. São Tomé used to be famous for its coffee. The quality suffered a bit after independence n 1975 when the new 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 surge in interest in São Tomé coffee, mostly due to Claudio Corrallo’s work, but you can walk into any shop in São Tomé and get great coffee cheap.
Rum. São Tomé 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 US$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 São Tomé. Therefore they are plentiful and cheap. They are not fancy but have their charm.
Miscellaneous tourist stuff. Ossobbo is across from the Fort São Sebastiao. The shop features local artisans and products of São Tomé, 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.
Fish is a staple of the São Toméan diet, often served with breadfruit and mashed, cooked bananas. Tropical fruits, such as pineapple, avocado, and bananas, are significant components of the cuisine. The use of hot spices is prominent in São Tomése cuisine. 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.
Roça São João dos Angolares in the village of Angolares 42 km SE of São Tomé city on EN No. 2. Make reservations as far in advance as possible (+239 9906900), but it is worth it. Gourmet meals served as a multiple course prix fixe are worth the extra workout you will need. Also offers rooms from €60 (Dec 2017).
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.
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.
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 Príncipe.
In Santo António, the main city of Príncipe, several small pousadas (B&Bs) can be found.
- Bom Bom Island Resort In addition to an ensuite bathroom, air-conditioning and other modern amenities, each bungalow has its own veranda with views across the green palm fronds and the bay. Bom Bom’s restaurant, bar and marina are on a tiny islet, which can be reached by crossing the 230-metre wooden walkway.
- Mucumbli An amazing lodge, situated a view minutes down the road from the city of Neves. It only has 5 bungalows so book well in advance! Owned my Titiano and Marie, an extremely nice and helpful Italian couple that arrived to the Island in the 1980s and built this place little by little. Private and remote (in São Tomé terms that is), sitting on the deck watching the sunset side of the island or going to the beach or hitting the trails, this place is a must. There is also a donkey pen, that were practically saved by the owners (after the government received them as a gift from Angola and didn't know what to do with them). Includes breakfast.
Safety is not an issue in São Tomé and Príncipe, though the roadway traffic is hazardous as in other parts of Africa. Violent crime in public is almost unheard of. However, with an increase in tourism there has been an increase in crime against tourists. Road blocks near Santana have been reported, as well as scams targeting tourists in the main city.
The only dangerous animal in the islands is the black cobra, which can be found in southern and eastern areas of São Tomé island. Young ones are completely black, adults have yellow-white scales on the front. They are afraid of humans and will normally slither away when you approach. Be alert when hiking and very careful of where you stick your hands. Anti-venom is available at local hospitals. If bitten you need to seek immediate help, preferably within 30-120 minutes. Deaths are rare, though.
Malaria was once extremely common on the islands, but an eradication program initiated by the Taiwanese government in 2005 has effectively stamped out malaria in populated areas (deaths have dropped from over 1000/year to just a handful). However, visitors should still continue taking precautions against mosquito bites (which can transmit other severe illnesses) such as the use of insect repellants and bed netting. Furthermore, the rate of malaria infections in nearby, mainland countries is high and there is the potential for isolated outbreaks from infected people/animals arriving from those countries. If you are also visiting the mainland on your journey, keep in mind the length of time before/after visiting malarial regions that you need to take your anti-malaria medication (which can be several weeks).
The rate of HIV/AIDS in STP is between 1-2%, which is relatively low compared with nearby countries. There is a very strong stigma against those infected on the islands and few have ever come out with their diagnosis and in many cases health workers have to deliver medications to their homes in secret because patients are unwilling to be seen in public collecting these medications. Even with the low risk, you should always use protection, such as condoms.
Water must be boiled before drinking, or purchased and consumed from bottles.