Sao Tome and Principe: where is it, when to go, what to see

Sao Tome and Principe

Anthem of São Tomé and Principe

Sao Tome and Principe is an African island country located in the Gulf of Guinea 360 km west of the coast, almost exactly on the equator. It includes the two main islands of Sao Tome and Principe, 160 km apart, and small rocky islets. The Territory has a total land area of 1,001 km², including the island of São Tomé (859 km²). From the 15th century until 1975 the Territory was a colony of Portugal. The official language is Portuguese.

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Both main islands are of volcanic origin, with volcanic cones prominent in their topography, rising 2,024 meters on Sao Tome Island and 821 meters on Principe Island. There are many craters, frozen lava flows, and the tops of the mountains are topped by finger-shaped rock islands. The shores of the islands are very indented, steep and rocky for most of their length, but are extremely picturesque. The climate is equatorial, warm and humid. The average January temperature on the coast is 26°C, July – 23°C, annual rainfall is 1000-1100 mm, in the mountains – up to 3000 mm. It rains almost all year round, but on the island of Sao Tomé there is a short relatively dry period – from December to March. The islands are covered with lush humid equatorial forests, but the animal world is very poor: you can meet monkeys (gverets, drills, macaques), a variety of birds, lizards, chameleons, snakes. But rich is the sea fauna, represented by a variety of fish, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, oysters and other mollusks.

The first Europeans who visited the islands in 1470 found them uninhabited. The modern population (about 200,000 people), the Santomeans, was formed by settlers from the mainland. Their culture, while African in origin, bears clear traces of Portuguese influence. In the capital and the only major city, São Tomé, the Portuguese fort and several other ancient buildings have been preserved.

Foreign tourists are attracted by the pristine natural beauty, volcanoes, distinctive culture and colonial architecture. The tourist season is limited by long rains and strong currents make the sea unsafe for swimming. Undeveloped tourist services make up for low prices. In 1992, the tourist complexes Bombom (on the island of Principe) and Santana (on the island of Sao Tome) were opened. Hotel Miramar in 1995, leased by investors from Germany for 20 years.


The islands are of volcanic origin. Relief – mountainous, volcanic cones. Mountains cover 2/3 of the territory of Sao Tome, while in Principe they are found in the southern part. The coastal plains are in the west of Sao Tome and in the north of Principe. The highest point of Sao Tome is the Picu de Sao Tome (2,024 m), while that of the island of Principe is the Principe Peak (948 m). On the coast, there are many shallow bays inaccessible to large ocean-going ships. The coastline is 209 km long.

The climate is tropical maritime. Its formation is influenced by the air masses of the Atlantic Ocean, mountains and marshes of the coastal areas. The average annual air temperature on the plains is +26 ° (Celsius), at an altitude of 700 m above sea level – +20 ° The high peaks are covered with snow. In the hottest month (January), the air temperature on the plains may rise to +30 °, and in the coldest (July) – may fall to +20 °. The rainy season is October-May, while the dry (gravana) season is June-September. The greatest amount of precipitation falls in the south-west and central mountainous areas of São Tomé (3500-5000 mm). The river network is well developed. The major rivers of Sao Tome are Agua Grande and Io Grande, while the rivers of the Principe are Agulhas, Banzu and Papagayu. The rivers are fast and rapids. The population is supplied with fresh drinking water.

Forests occupy 32% of the territory (2001). The flora of the islands includes about 560 plant species, but endemic to Sao Tome are 19.4% of the species and to Principe 12.7%. Tropical forests are preserved only on the mountain slopes above 900 m above sea level. Peach and citrus trees also grow on the mountain slopes, covered with dense bushes of tall grass capim. On the coasts, at the mouths of rivers – mangrove forests. In coastal areas grow bananas, mangoes, almonds, cocoa trees, coconut palms, both (tropical giant tree), papaya (melon tree), pinna and bread trees. Since 1990, the island of São Tomé is implementing a program of forest conservation financed by the European Union. The animal life is not rich. The forest is home to the African civet (a spotted and striped animal), wild boars, weasels, bats, flying dogs, and macaque monkeys. Of reptiles there are black cobra, many species of lizards, chameleons. Diverse avifauna: nectar-birds, many species of parrots, turako, hawks, etc. Mosquitoes and mosquitoes are widespread throughout the area. Coastal waters are rich in fish (shark, barracuda, flying fish, sea bass, needlefish, tuna). Shrimp, lobster, land and sea crabs, and oysters are abundant.

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Christianity is practiced by 90% of the population (the majority are Catholics – 83%). The spread of Christianity began in the mid-16th century. Part of the indigenous population holds traditional African beliefs.

Architecture of cities is designed in the Portuguese style. Buildings in villages and in city outskirts are wooden, built on piles, the roof is covered with planks or palm leaves. The art of circular wooden sculpture (carved figures of people and animals) is well developed. Original lamps made of coconut shells, which local artisans decorate with national ornaments.

National literature began to appear in the second half of the 19th century in Portuguese on the basis of folklore. Later there were works in the Forro language. C. da Costa Alegre was the founder of the national poetry (the first collection of Poems was published in 1916). Prose has been developing since the 1930s (the collection Maria from the City (1937) by F. de Almeida, etc.). Contemporary writers and poets: Alda do Estpirito Santo (author of the text of the national anthem), Francisco Costa Alegre, Albertino Braganza, Carlos do Estpirito Santo (novel Memories of the Present, 2001). Olinda Beja and Rafael Branco belong to the younger generation of writers.

The traditions of folk dance are preserved: d’jambi, ussua (a dance similar to the European mazurka), tesha (common on the island of Principe), and the bliga game dance. For decades, vocal and instrumental ensembles Afrika Negra, Sangazuza, and Untuyeh have performed with great success. An indispensable attribute of holidays and celebrations are traditional theatrical pantomimes of dansu kongo, puita and sokope (all age groups take part in them, and some participants are dressed in ritual costumes), as well as theatrical musical performances stleva and tlundu. The theater is semi-professional. Pau pretu (“Black Stick”), a modern theater group, is popular. The folk theater “Chiloli” puts on plays based on medieval European texts, one of them being The Tragedy of the Marquis de Mantua and the Emperor Charlemagne. The name of contemporary actor and director Miguel Hurst is widely known.

Elementary education is compulsory (four years). It is received from the age of six. Secondary education (7 years) consists of two cycles – 5 and 2 years. In 1997, the OPEC Fund for International Development financed the construction of a polytechnic. In 2000 there were 579 teachers and 20.3 thousand pupils in 71 elementary school and 414 teachers and 8.4 thousand pupils in 10 secondary schools respectively. In 2001, 93.67 thousand people were literate (49.19 thousand men and 44.49 thousand women).

Malaria, tuberculosis and yellow fever are common, and there are AIDS patients. Medical personnel are trained abroad.


The history of the settlement of the archipelago is not conclusively studied. The first Europeans to land on the islands (1470-1471) were the Portuguese navigators Pedro Escobar and João Gomes. The settlement of São Tomé (named after St. Tomé) began in 1493 and that of Principe (named after one of the heirs to the Portuguese throne) in 1502. The colonists planted the town of São Tomé and began to grow sugar cane from Madeira.

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In 1522 the islands were declared a Portuguese possession. Slaves, mostly from Angola, were used extensively on the sugar cane plantations. During the 16th-17th centuries, Dutch and French pirates took control of the islands for a period of time. Slave raids forced many colonists to leave the archipelago. In 1753 the seat of colonial administration was transferred to Principe. For almost 400 years, Sao Tome and Principe served as a transshipment base for slave ships en route from Africa to Brazil (slaves called them “islands of death”) and for merchant ships en route from Portugal to India. From 1800 the islands began to grow coffee, and from 1822 cocoa beans. In 1852 São Tomé regained its administrative center. Slavery was officially abolished in 1869, but in fact existed there until 1875. The authorities began to encourage the influx of new settlers “contratados” – contract laborers from Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique (from 1901 to 1928 to São Tomé arrived 100 thousand people). Living and working conditions equaled the status of slaves. In 1951 the archipelago was declared an “overseas province” of Portugal. In response to the massive refusal of the population in 1952-1953 to work for Europeans, the authorities burned villages and arrested the rebels. In 1963, 90% of workers went on strike. The first political organization, the Committee for the Liberation of São Tomé and Principe (CLSTP), was founded in 1960. Since 1972, it advocated for independence under the name of the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLCTP). In August 1974, Portugal recognized the islands’ right to self-government.

On July 12, 1975, the independent Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe (DSTP) was formed. The first president of the country was Manuel Pinto da Costa, leader of the DSTRP. The Government adopted a non-capitalist course of development. The economic transition was complicated by the mass exodus of qualified Portuguese administrators, civil servants, and most contract workers. Under pressure from the IMF, the country embarked on structural adjustment programs (SAPs) in 1987. On September 10, 1990, a new constitution was adopted, enshrining multipartyism and limiting the president’s tenure to two 5-year terms. In November 1990, the DSTP was renamed the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-SDP). In multi-party elections in April 1991, Miguel Trovoada won. Following the recommendations of the IMF and the World Bank, the government adopted a course of austerity. In October 1994, the parliamentary elections were won by the former ruling MLSTP party, the SDP. Presidential elections in 1996 were held in two rounds, as a result of which M. Trovoada was re-elected for a second term (52.74% of the vote). In 1997-1998 there were demonstrations and strikes of civil servants discontented with the arrears of wage payments and a 140% increase in fuel prices. In the July 29, 2001 presidential election, the Independent Democratic Action (IDA) candidate, 59-year-old entrepreneur, won out of five candidates. (IDD) candidate Fradique de Menezes, 59, a businessman, won with 56.3 percent of the vote. Following the March 3, 2002 parliamentary elections, the MLSTP-SDP is represented in the National Assembly by 24 deputies, the Party of Democratic Unity – Reflection Group (PDK-GR) by 23, and the Ue-Kedadji coalition (a five-party bloc) by 8.

The republic’s economy is directly dependent on foreign aid. It receives financial assistance from the IMF under the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) program, which is provided to the poorest countries with high foreign debt. In 2001, international creditors wrote off $200 million (83% of the country’s foreign debt). In 2001 international creditors wrote off $200 million (83% of the country’s foreign debt). Despite falling world prices for cocoa beans and higher fuel prices, in 2001 GDP growth increased by 3% (due to a 45% increase in cocoa bean exports). In 2002, GDP was $200 million. GDP WAS $200 MILLION. The inflation rate in 2002 was 9%. The United States and Nigeria are interested in developing the deposits of oil found in 2002 (its reserves are estimated at 6-11 billion barrels). The latter has been actively involved in oil field exploration and is estimated to receive 60% of revenues from oil production. In July 2003, an attempted military coup was averted.

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The majority of the population is concentrated on Sao Tome Island. The population density is 169.1 persons per sq km. The average annual growth rate is 3.18%. Fertility is 41.36 per 1000 and mortality is 6.89 per 1000. Infant mortality – 44.58 per 1,000 newborns. Life expectancy – 66.63 years (65.11 for men and 68.21 for women). (All figures are as of 2004).

The population consists of Bantus-speaking Africans, mestizo Forrus (descendants of mixed marriages of Portuguese and African colonists), Angolaris (descendants of Angolan slaves), and contract laborers from Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, as well as their descendants. 1.5% of the population is European, mostly Portuguese. In addition to Portuguese, forro (local Creole on a Portuguese basis) and several dialects are widespread. Major cities: Neves, Santana, Santo Amaro and Trindade (São Tomé), Santo António (Principe).


Agrarian country. One of the poorest countries in Africa, one of the largest per capita consumers of foreign aid.

Agriculture. Cultivated land accounts for 2% of the territory. Agriculture employs half of the economically active population. The main agricultural activity is growing cocoa beans. Also bananas, beans, cinnamon, coffee, corn, cassava, papaya, pepper and soybean are grown. Natural climatic conditions allow to harvest two or three crops of vegetables a year. Livestock development is hampered by outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis and African swine plague. Poultry farming (chicken breeding) is developing. Fishing is oriented to the domestic market.

Manufacturing: textile, timber, clothing, and agro-processing industries (production of palm oil, soap, and beer). There is an increase in production in the construction sector.

Imports far exceed exports.

80% of exports are cocoa beans, copra (dried coconut kernel), bananas, coffee and palm oil. Export partners are the Netherlands (30.1%), Poland (11.8%), Canada (9.7%), Germany, the Philippines and Spain (7.5% each), Belgium (6.5%), France and Portugal (4.3% each). The main imports are petroleum products, mechanical and electrical equipment, and food products. The main exporters are Portugal (51.4%), Germany (10.1%), Great Britain (7.6%), and Belgium (6.3%).

The 15 best attractions of São Tomé

Lost off the coast of Africa, the island state of Sao Tome and Principe cannot boast of sights in the usual sense, but the nature and beaches here are simply stunning.

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san tome

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It is a must-see for nature lovers. Obo Nature Reserve is a pristine jungle, a haven for rare animals and birds. And the descent into the crater of an extinct volcano with the poetic name of Laguna Amelia can be compared with a journey into the prehistoric past of our planet, when the crust was only formed.

Architecture buffs will appreciate the former grandeur of the colonial buildings, a legacy of Portuguese rule. Fort San Sebastian, which once protected the island of São Tomé from sea robbers, is well preserved. The ruins of the Agostinho Neto plantation mansion are spectacularly beautiful. And the unusually pink presidential palace blends surprisingly well with the colorful tropical atmosphere.

The beaches of São Tomé offer different kinds of recreation. Banana Beach is especially popular. Here you can combine sunbathing with snorkeling and kayaking. Blue Lagoon is a real wild beach where it is always quiet and peaceful, almost like paradise.

Natural attractions

Obo Reserve

nac park obo

The reserve was founded in 2006 to protect and enhance the natural diversity of the tropical nation.

The area of the reserve is about 252 square kilometers and it is located simultaneously on two islands: about 30% of the protected area is located directly on Sao Tome and about 65 square kilometers – on Principe. There are more than 700 species of plants (100 of them are endemics) and about 30 species of birds.

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The park is famous for its diverse landscapes. Mangroves along the coastline are interspersed with impenetrable jungle, savannah, mountain forests and ever-moist lowlands. Abandoned plantations, nearly consumed by lush vegetation, complete the landscape.

The park’s calling card is the volcanic peak of Can Grande. The rock, resembling an arrowhead, rises almost 300 meters high.

The best time to visit Obo is from October to February. This is when turtles come here to lay their eggs.

St. Nicholas Falls

vodopad st nikolai

The cool, two-cascading waterfall is located off a mountain road. Stopping by its rushing waters is the best way to cool off on a hot day. The beautiful scenery is inspiring: jets of water rush down against the background of emerald greenery that clings to a rocky slope.

Near the bowl of the reservoir built a bridge that allows you to enjoy the water element at close range. The more adventurous can even swim in the natural lake.

Sao Tomé Peak

pik san tome

Mount Sao Tomé is an extinct volcano and the highest point of the island of the same name (2024 m). There are several trails of varying difficulty leading up to the peak. Most climbs start from a place called Ponto Figo. The journey is along narrow forest paths, along waterfalls and ravines. Visiting São Tomé Peak during the rainy season is not recommended, as it is dangerous.

Bombaine Falls

vodopad bombein

The waterfall is located away from the beaten paths and highways. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach it from the nearest town. The path winds through pristine jungle along plantations of cacao trees. It takes some physical preparation to overcome the significant drops in elevation.

The waterfall is hidden by lush tropical vegetation. The water seems to flow over ferns, vines, and other exotic jungle flora. There is a small dam next to Bombayne.

Amelia Lagoon

laguna amelia

Contrary to its name, this picturesque place lies far from the sea. Amelia Lagoon is actually the crater of an extinct volcano, overgrown with dense vegetation since the last eruption. Steep slopes lead to a lowland area shrouded in mists. The hike promises to be interesting but challenging. Amelia Lagoon is part of Obo National Park.

Remarkable architecture.

Fort San Sebastian.

fort san sebastian

This defensive structure was built by the Portuguese in 1566 to protect the island from pirate raids. Massive walls and cannons, which still decorate the territory of the yard, then did a pretty good job. Three hundred years later a lighthouse was installed in the fortress, and in 1928 it was modernized.

Alas, the fort gradually fell into disrepair. In the 1950s, local authorities repaired it and opened a museum there. The exhibits include folk arts and crafts, artifacts from the colonial era, and everything related to the history of the fort.

Roca Belo Monte.

roca belo monte

A former plantation lost in the jungle on the way to the village of Praia Banana has now been turned into a guesthouse. It is a model of colonial style. The main 2-story building is made of massive stone which keeps you cool even on a hot day. The same stone is used in the flooring, one of the few original details to survive.

A gate leads to the courtyard, which looks like it was torn out of the fortress wall. There is a bell on top of the gate, and cannons are nestled on the sides, which creates a rather picturesque entourage.

Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary

kafedralni sobor

The construction of the cathedral began in the 16th century, but due to lack of funds ended only in the 19th century. The reconstruction of the building was carried out twice, greatly changing the facade.

The cathedral has the form of a Catholic cross. There are two towers on the sides, one of them is equipped with a bell tower. The facade is decorated with narrow arched windows and a round window-socket under the roof. But the interior decoration is ascetic. The main decoration of the cathedral – the altar with a figure of the Virgin Mary and the wall paintings with biblical scenes.

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Presidential Palace

presidentski dvorec

The pink 2-story building is built in the colonial style. The main facade is decorated by a portico with a row of massive columns and a large balcony. The right wing has a covered gallery. Arches and high windows complete the look of the building.

It’s impossible to get inside, because the head of state is guarded 24 hours a day. But you can stroll through the garden adjacent to the palace. It is small and compact, and notable for its shapely lawns. In front of the palace is a fountain, alas, not working.

Agostinho Neto

agostinio netto

Agostinho Neto, founded in 1865, was part of a network of six plantations where cocoa trees were grown. Among the others, it was the largest, with about 2.5 thousand people living there permanently. In 1910, the farm got its own railroad about 68 km long. The rails connected the warehouses and the port, from where the products were delivered to Europe.

After the archipelago gained independence from Portugal, the settlement was renamed after the president of Angola Agostinho Neto. He made a great contribution to the development of the young state. When the plantation fell into disrepair, the building was converted to a hospital, but it soon stopped working due to lack of personnel and medicine.

Tourists now come to Agostinho Neto to see the ruins of the once beautiful estate, talk to the friendly villagers, and stroll among the exotic chocolate trees.

The Beaches of Sao Tome and Principe

Banana Beach

banana beach

The beach of Banana Beach, named for its characteristic shape, is the landmark of Principe. The descent to the shore here is quite steep: the elevation changes are up to 100 meters. On the way back up the beach you will need to take this factor into account.

A sandy beach covered with golden sand is a true paradise. Tropical vegetation creates a romantic entourage, the transparent water shimmers all shades of blue, huge boulders become an obstacle in the way of big waves. This is the best place for a contemplative vacation.

Those who are not used to basking in the sun for a long time, do kayaking and snorkeling here. Equipment must be brought with you – Banana Beach has no sports equipment rentals. It offers vacationers only a cafe and sun loungers.


Long beach with crystal clear water will appeal to those who crave a quiet holiday and looking for beautiful natural views. Spreading a towel on the golden sand, you must be careful – you can come across a turtle clutch of eggs. In the fall and winter, thousands of these animals come here to leave their young.

In addition to tourists, there are locals who come here to pick coconuts, which they then sell in the markets to visitors to the island. There is a small restaurant right on the beach.



A tiny volcanic island of only 3 sq. km lies next to the island of São Tomé. There is only one small hotel, unusually popular among tourists. The thing is that the equator runs through the territory of Rolash – a symbolic demarcation line marked with a pole. Here you can literally stand with one foot in the southern hemisphere of the Earth, and with the other – in the northern hemisphere.

Blue Lagoon.

golubaya laguna

The chambered lagoon is sandwiched between steep shores that were formed thousands of years ago by lava. The surrounding landscape is defined by African savannah and huge baobabs. The water in the lagoon is absolutely clear, and thanks to the shallow depth it warms up perfectly.

The beach is sandy, but it has a lot of stones. There is no infrastructure in the usual sense. However, a nearby tent sells fried bananas, tortillas and simple seafood dishes.

Tamarind Beach

tamarind beach

Unlike other beaches in this tropical state, where palm trees dominate, here – a real kingdom of tamarind trees. And the sand, according to local residents, the softest on the island. But you have to wear safety shoes, because on the beach there are sharp stones left by the volcanic eruption.

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