Sao Tome and Principe are amazing islands floating in the Gulf of Guinea in Africa. Here you will find luscious vegetation, picture perfect postcard beaches, rich history and some of the most gentle people on earth.
The islands were once a Portuguese colony, so you can still find remnants of Portuguese buildings and farms. The coffee here is fantastic and the weather is superb for most of the year, but if you want those sparkling blue waters it’s best to come in the rainy season towards December.
If you are thinking of visiting this two-island nation then you have come to the right place! In this travel guide, I will be sharing my experiences in Sao Tome and Principe – covering everything you need to know from the best things to do, where to stay, what the local people are like, and more. Before I do so, let me tell you a little bit about myself and my traveling history.
About Me: Andreia Castro
My name is Andreia and I’m a 35 year old doctor from Portugal. I grew up in Lisbon’s surroundings but it wasn’t long until I discovered my passion for traveling since my parents always took me with them on vacation.
By the age of 8, I had seen several European countries. At 13, I was selected for a student exchange program in Japan where I stayed at a Japanese family’s house for two weeks. It was such an incredible experience!
At 21, I joined an Erasmus program and moved to Paris where I lived for a year. That was a huge step in my “travel life” since it was the moment where I first started to plan my own trips, book stays in hostels, etc. By the end of college, I was already planning new adventures with friends.
Later on in life (at 28), I lived in London for a month while studying. I finished my medical residency in General Practice (family medicine) in 2016 and in 2018 I decided to quit everything to travel the world.
My travel blog – “Me Across the World” – started a little bit before those days. I returned to Portugal five months later after traveling through Hawaii and South America. Then, I decided to work on a luxury cruise ship in the Caribbean for another three months. When I came back, my life was never the same. I decided to leave my 9-5 job and turn myself into a freelancer.
Nowadays, I work in five different fields: an Emergency Room Doctor at Lisbon hospitals, a Lead Medical for an insurance company, I started my own company where I do travel medical appointments for people, I also offer preparation-for-travel workshops, and lastly I’m a speaker and content creator at travel magazines while running my own blog and Instagram.
10 Days in Sao Tome and Principe
My recent trip to Sao Tome and Principe was my second visit to this country. I first went there in 2017 as a volunteer, working in the “Rocas” (farms) and at the local hospital. This time I was invited by a travel agency called “Bamu Non”. They took care of everything – from flights to experiences – and showed me around in order to promote their agency.
I spent nearly 10 days in Sao Tome and traveled through the whole island, from north to south, and even went to Rolas Island – a small island that has a landmark showing the equator line. At this landmark, you can have one leg in the northern hemisphere and another leg in the southern one!
My favorite place in Sao Tome and Principe though is Cao Grande Peak (Pico Cao Grande) – a huge rock in the middle of the forest that stands nearly 300 metres in height. This is something that I have never seen in any of the 71 countries I have been to. The landscape here is out of this world! Climbers have tried to make it to the top but only a few have made it.
Best Things To Do in Sao Tome and Principe
- Walk across the old Portuguese Rocas while they still exist
- See the turtles on the beaches and their babies being born
- Get in touch with the lovely people of Sao Tome and Principe
- Enter and lose yourself in the local markets early in the morning
- Experience local food and fruit (like jaca, banana-pao and others)
- Go hiking with a guide and marvel at beautiful, hidden waterfalls
- Join a local family to go see some traditional music on the islands
- Drive south to Cao Grande Peak and to Rolas Island to see landmarks
- Take a swim in the most amazing golden sand and palm tree beaches.
Gentle & Soulful Local People
I always try to immerse myself with the locals when I travel – especially by connecting with them wherever I can, listening to their unique stories and traveling beside them on public transport. The people in Sao Tome are genuinely kind and warm, and it’s a place that will fill your heart with joy.
It’s a safe country and even though the bureaucracy isn’t easy, people in their everyday lives will help you with whatever you need. Being a doctor, I did a fundraiser to get medicine and medical gear to the islands. I provided a workshop and clinical counseling about menstruation, puberty and sexuality to young teenagers after buying menstrual cups in Portugal.
Where to Stay in Sao Tome and Principe
Staying in Sao Tome isn’t cheap but it’s worth it! Some people stay in the main city and find a small hotel – but personally I didn’t find anything appealing, since there are more interesting places outside the city.
The coastlines have the best Rocas with accommodation facilities like Belo Monte Hotel (in Principe) or Roca Santo Antonio Ecolodge in Sao Tome. In Principe, the best known resort is called Bom Bom and a small but good (and cheap) residential place is Residencial Palhota. If you go through booking.com you should be able to find several other accommodations.
Special Memories in Sao Tome and Principe
The most amazing moments for me in Sao Tome and Principe have been when I have spent time with locals, stayed with families at Rocas, heard stories and lived like a local. Seeing kids play and laugh, and how simple, kind and happy people are (even in poor conditions) is so heart-warming.
You should note that Sao Tome and Principe isn’t a rich country. In fact, it lacks a lot of infrastructure and is always relying on international donations and charity. But there is an abundance of fresh fruit, meat, fish and water here, since these islands are a natural paradise that provide everything.
Need to Know Before you Go
When staying in Sao Tome, consider renting a SUV or 4×4. Otherwise, you won’t get to see much of the island. The streets aren’t in good shape though but you will still want to drive around as freely as possible.
You should also learn some very simple words in Portuguese like “Bom dia” (good morning), “Ola” (hello) and “Obrigado” (thank you). In Sao Tome they have a very traditional expression that is pronounced as “Leve Leve”. It reflects their living and can be translated to something like “Hakuna Matata” or “Don’t worry, everything will work out” or “Don’t stress about it”.