15 Best Things to Do in Sao Tome and Principe, Africa + Reasons to Visit
If you clicked on this article, it means you’re definitely interested in Sao Tome and Principe. Maybe you’re planning a trip there or you just want to find out more about this unique destination in Africa. Regardless of your reason, my complete Sao Tome and Principe travel guide will tell you everything you need to know about what to do, see and eat here, as well as where to stay and how to get around.
Most articles on the web are saying that the best thing to do in Sao Tome and Principe is to lay on the beach. While that’s definitely great (and strongly advised) on this island paradise, don’t limit yourself to just this. Trust me, there are SO many other São Tomé and Príncipe points of interest!
To make it easier, I have gathered my top 15 Sao Tome and Principe tourist attractions below.
But first, where is Sao Tome and Principe and why should I bother?
São Tomé and Príncipe (STP) is an island nation in Central Africa. Chances are high that you’ve never heard of this place before – don’t worry, no judgement, many people haven’t! Before I went, I hadn’t! That’s why I will explain everything you need to know about it here in this post! São Tomé and Príncipe is a country made up of two main islands – one called Sao Tome and the other one called Principe – and several other smaller islets. The country is located close to Gabon and Guinea, in the Gulf of Guinea.
Why visit Sao Tome and Principe?
There are plenty of reasons! First of all, this is a laid-back spot where not many tourists flock, so you’ll often feel like you have the entire place to yourself. Second of all, I really think this country is underrated. There are so many things to do and see here, from cocoa farms and sea turtles to remote beaches, fortresses, volcanic peaks, national parks and mountain viewpoints. Although it may be small, this country is full of exciting adventures and lots of nature to be explored. You can easily spend 4 days here and NOT get bored!
How to get to São Tomé and Príncipe
Sao Tome and Principe are located around 250km from Guinea and Gabon.
There are two airports in the country: one in Sao Tome with international flights and one in Principe only with internal flights between the two. So your only chance of arriving in the country by plane is São Tomé International Airport:
- If you’re already in Africa, you can take a plane to Sao Tome from Gabon, Ghana and Angola.
- If you’re in Europe, you can take a direct flight to Sao Tome only from Lisbon, Portugal. TAP Portugal and STP Airways are the only two companies that offer flights here. You can check for flights to Sao Tome and Principe here.
15 Exciting São Tomé and Príncipe points of interest
As I mentioned before, there are A LOT of things to do on this two-island nation. Scroll down to find my curated list of the most exciting activities to do during your Sao Tome and Principe holidays:
1 - Relax on the beach
I’m starting with the most obvious thing on the list, of course. There are many beautiful white sand beaches in Sao Tome and Principe, most of them remote and tucked away from curious eyes. Which means you can sunbathe all day long without a care in the world! Here are some notable Principe and Sao Tome beaches:
PRAIA PISCINA. One of the best beaches on São Tomé, in the southern part of the island. Crystal clear rock pools and a blow hole – this is what you’ll find on this “praia” – and more. Perfect spot for swimming and taking some vacation pictures.
PRAIA BANANA. Also called the “Banana Beach”, this banana-shaped strip of golden sand is one of the best beaches in Príncipe where you can swim, snorkel, kayak or simply sip a drink at the beach bar.
PRAIA GRANDE. Another excellent beach and the largest one in Principe. This is also the location of the Sea Turtle Conservation Area, which means it’s the best spot to spot sea turtles hatching!
RELATED READ: There are MANY other amazing beaches in STP and I’m telling you all about them in my dedicated article here: Best Beaches in Sao Tome and Principe.
2 - Pico do Cão Grande, Pico de São Tomé and Ôbo Natural Park
ÔBO NATURAL PARK. Ôbo Natural Park is located around half an hour from Sao Tome City and it’s a protected natural reserve occupying around 60% of the island. Expect pristine nature, hiking trails and… birds! In fact, there are 143 different types of birds here, most of them found only on Sao Tome.
PICO DO CÃO GRANDE. This one will make you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park, I swear! Pico Cão Grande is a striking volcanic peak located right in the middle of Ôbo Natural Park. The rock is 663m above sea level, it’s made of magma and it looks like it’s been there since the beginning of the Earth. And the fact that it’s (almost) always surrounded by thick fog really helps with the mystical vibe!
Can you climb Pico Cão Grande? Mmmmyes, but only if you’re a VERY experienced climber. There are numerous volcanic rocks collapsing and even sneaks, so you can definitely count me out of this one. I’m good just admiring it from afar!
PICO DE SÃO TOMÉ. Except for Pico do Cão Grande, you’ll also find Pico de São Tomé in the park, a.k.a. the highest point on the island (2.000 m). You can climb this one as well if you’re adventurous enough, but I only advise it to very experienced climbers as well. The total hike takes 2 days, so you’ll have to spend the night there in a camp.
TIP: If you want to discover Ôbo Natural Park, know that there are numerous hiking trails inside it. Make sure you discuss with your hotel if you want them to arrange a guide for you! There are some hikes that can take up to 2 days, but I recommend the 5-hour trek going to Lagoa Amelia. You can book it here.
3 - Snorkel and dive
Barracudas, parrot fish and lots and lots of turtles. If you’re a snorkelling or diving fan, Sao Tome and Principe will be paradise on Earth for you! 🙂 You can snorkel on almost all beaches on these two equatorial islands, as well as on Rolas and Santana Islets if you’re taking a boat trip.
As for diving, I recommend going to São Tomé e Principe Diving Center in Sao Tome City or the PADI Centre at Bom Bom Resort in Príncipe.
4 - Whale watching
If you’re not a diving fan, no worries, I have another suggestion for you too! If you’re lucky enough to be in Principe from June to September, you can go humpback whale watching! You can either spot them while you’re sitting on the shore (but you have to be crazy lucky for this) or you can arrange a boat tour with your accommodation. By the way, there are dolphins as well!
5 - See the sea turtles
Seeing sea turtles hatching from their eggs is one of the best things to do in Sao Tome and Principe! Sea turtles are a protected species on these islands, after they’ve become endangered (and nearly extinct) due to extensive hunting. There’s a special program dedicated entirely to protecting and conserving this species called the Tatô Program.
You can see the hatching anywhere from September to April on numerous beaches, but I recommend Jalé Beach in Sao Tome or Praia Grande in Principe for this activity.
6 - Visit the cocoa and coffee Roça Plantations
You simply can’t go to Sao Tome and Principe and leave without seeing at least one roça plantation! These traditional coffee and cocoa plantations are mostly in ruins nowadays, although a couple of them have been restored in recent years. Regardless, they’re one of the most popular attractions in Sao Tome and Principe because they tell a real, harsh story about the country’s past and human exploitation. The buildings themselves are also pretty impressive, so it’s a visit worth adding to your list. If you decide to do so, here are my recommended roca plantations:
ROÇA ÁGUA IZÉ. (Sao Tome). This was one of the first and biggest plantations in Sao Tome in the 19th century; nowadays, the place is made of ruins and lush trees. It’s located around 30 minutes from Sao Tome City by car. Tip: Don’t forget to visit the old hospital building while you’re here, it’s a perfect photo spot!
ROÇA MONTE CAFÉ. (Sao Tome). The coffee produced here was once exported all around the world. Now, Monte Café is the place where you can sit down, sip a cup of coffee and visit the National Coffee Museum.
ROÇA INFANTE. (Príncipe). Another place forgotten by history. Nowadays, the forest has been taking over the old buildings, creating sort of a lost paradise on earth. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for monkeys, birds and beautiful orchids on your walk here.
There are numerous other roça plantations on the two islands and some of them have been refurbished and transformed into restaurants and cafes. I’m mentioning a couple more in the “Best Restaurants” section. Scroll down to find it!
7 - Claudio Corallo Chocolate Factory
After all this talking about cocoa and old plantations, it’s only natural that our next stop is Claudio Corallo Chocolate Factory. This factory has been up-and-running for more than 40 years now; they have two plantations on the island as well as a factory right in Sao Tome City. I advise going on a tour of Corallo Chocolate Factory to learn about how chocolate is produced, how they ended up with the classic recipes and how their chocolate (and coffee too!) tastes.
TIP: You have to go to the factory in the morning to buy your ticket for the afternoon tour. The tours run 3 times a week and I advise you call them to ask about ongoing tours and to make a reservation. At the end of the tour, the price you paid is converted into a product that you can take home. By the way, oftentimes Claudio Corallo himself is present for the guided tour!
8 - São Sebastião Fortress / National Museum
São Sebastião Fortress, also known as the National Museum of São Tomé and Príncipe dates from the 16th century and it’s the best place to learn about the country’s history. Apart from all the information you’ll find once you enter (btw, they have guides too), the building itself is worth admiring as well as it’s perfectly well preserved.
TIP: After you’re done with your visit, climb up to the roof to see the lighthouse and admire the ocean from above!
9 - Baía das Agulhas
Also known as the Bay of Needles or the Bay of Spires, Baía das Agulhas is one of the most famous attractions in Príncipe. It’s a beautiful bay made of phonolite towers (hence the name) that creates a striking skyline. The towers are called the Father, Son and Grandson.
The only way to explore this place is to take a boat trip from Principe (you can arrange this with your accommodation).
TIP: If you want to spend some more time at the bay, you can explore the numerous deserted beaches surrounding it. Snorkelling is a popular activity here as well!
10 - São Tomé City
São Tomé City is the capital of Sao Tome and Principe and it’s well-worth exploring for a couple of hours. There’s a National Museum, the Independence Square, lots of stunning, colonial buildings and a Cathedral as well. You can expect some decaying buildings as well as some not-so-well-maintained streets. Sadly, this is the harsh truth of the city ever since they gained their independence in 1975. BUT! The locals are super friendly and welcoming and there’s a very good laid-back vibe all around the city. Definitely worth adding to your Sao Tome and Principe itinerary at least for a quick peek. You can book a guided tour here or arrange one with your accommodation.
11 - Malanza Mangroves Canoe Tour
Sao Tome and Principe is an off-the-beaten track destination by itself, but if you want to go even more remote, I recommend the Malanza Mangroves canoe tour. The tour will take you through the south of Sao Tome Island, in the biggest mangrove forest of the island. You will get to see countless monkeys and birds and I think it’s such a cool, themed activity for this place! The 2-hour traditional canoe tour will be paddled by a local fisherman and you can arrange this activity with your accommodation. Or you can book it online here.
12 - Admire the waterfalls
I told you that Sao Tome and Principe is a place of pristine nature and heading to a waterfall is one of the best things to do while you’re here! Here are the 2 most beautiful ones I recommend you visit, one on each of the two islands:
SÃO NICOLAU WATERFALL. (Sao Tome) This waterfall is very easy to reach, which makes it one of the most popular ones on Sao Tome! And the view is pretty striking as well, I must admit. A must!
O QUÉ PIPI WATERFALL. (Principe) You’ll need to walk on a steep road for around 45 minutes to reach this waterfall in Principe, but the effort is totally worth it! After you arrive you can see monkeys, lots of birds and you can even take a dive into the water pool at the bottom of the waterfall – how unique is that?
13 - See the waves crashing at Boca do Inferno
Boca do Inferno, meaning Hell’s Mouth in Portuguese, is a must-see while you’re on the island. It’s basically a rocky blowhole where waves are brutally colliding with the shore. There’s a Boca do Inferno in Portugal as well and there’s a fun story connecting the two: it is said that an old, evil governor of Sao Tome used to jump in this blowhole whenever he wanted to take a vacation in Portugal. He would then instantly arrive at the spot with the same name in the European country. Teleportation at its best!
14 - Nova Estrela Viewpoint
Want to feel like you’re right on the edge of the world? This place is for you! It’s also known as one of the best spots to admire Principe from above! Nova Estrela Viewpoint can be reached if you take the road from Santo Antonio south and drive until you arrive at the southernmost point.
TIP: Pay attention to the sounds around you while you’re here; oftentimes you can hear African parrots “talking”!
15 - Cross the Equator at Rolas Islet / Ilhéu das Rolas
Let’s end this list in style with a truly unique thing to do: cross the Equator line on one of the islets close to Sao Tome and Principe. I’m talking about Rolas, a tiny islet located right on the Equator line, only 15 minutes by boat from the southern part of Sao Tome (Porto Alegre). While you’re there, you can stand with one foot on either side of the colourful mosaic line that represents the equator. Although this activity is not really life changing, it’s still a cool memory to bring back home. If you want to spend some more time here, you can consider a snorkelling session or having lunch on the islet. Or you can spend the night on the island at Pestana Equator, an excellent 4-star resort.
Best tours of Sao Tome and Principe
In case you need some help with planning your itinerary, I recommend booking some organised tours with locals. Here are the best ones I could find for you:
- Fully customisable Sao Tome tour – my top recommendation! You can talk with the tour guide and arrange any kind of customised tour with him. Arrange a two day tour if you want to be driven around to numerous spots and activities.
- 7-hour Sao Tome Excursion
- Southern Excursion, São Tomé (Beach Road)
- City Tour São Tomé Capital
- Sea Turtles Observation Package (2 activities + dinner)
Where to stay in São Tomé and Príncipe
Unfortunately, there aren’t hundreds of hotels to choose from, as Sao Tome and Principe tourism is not that developed. But this destination is getting more and more popular (hint: explore it ASAP while it’s still off-the-beaten track!), which means that hotels and resorts are popping out year after year. I recommend choosing one hotel for each island so you can make it your base while exploring the surroundings. This is better than having one hotel on Sao Tome, for example, and doing multiple day trips to Principe to do some activities there as well.
RELATED READ: This is just a brief introduction into the best Sao Tome and Principe hotels and accommodation options. If you want to find out more about this subject, I recommend checking out my dedicated article here: Where to Stay in Sao Tome and Principe
Best restaurants in São Tomé and Príncipe
I’m not sure if you’re expecting it or not, but the Sao Tome and Principe food is pretty amazing! Especially if we’re talking about fruit, fish and seafood – ah, a delicacy around these islands and very similar to Portugal as well!
The food might just be the highlight of your trip, especially at the food places down by the coast, so here are my recommended restaurants on both islands:
- Roça São João dos Angolares – a very good restaurant (some even say it has the best food on the island!) hosted in a traditional roça house, with incredible views of the sea. Roça São João dos Angolares serves a Sao Tomean-European fusion of dishes and they have a fixed price menu (7-course tasting menu) as well. The restaurant is run by a famous TV chef called João Carlos Silva which means it can get pretty popular, especially on weekends; make sure to call ahead and make a reservation.
- Mucumbli Restaurant – This restaurant belongs to the resort with the same name and they have one of the best curries around. Plus nice views of nature all around the restaurant!
- Xico’s Café – A popular spot for coffee, as well as fresh seafood dishes and fresh juices.
- Celvas – Located in a charming garden, this restaurant serves fancy dishes and wines, a fusion of Sao Tomean and Portuguese flavours.
- O Paraíso dos Grelhados – Iconic spot where they serve excellent grilled seafood. Located on the waterfront of Sao Tome.
How to get around São Tomé and Príncipe
Although there are some shared yellow taxis around the islands that you can use, the best way to get around is definitely by car. You can either rent a car to drive yourself (starting from 30€ per day, check up-to-date prices here) or hire a private car with an English-speaking guide that will take you to your desired sites for around 60-80€ per day. If you want to go to remote areas, I recommend renting a jeep.
Other than the above-mentioned options, there aren’t any public transportation options that will work around the islands.
BONUS: FAQs about São Tomé and Príncipe & Useful travel tips
Now that you know everything there is to do and see around these lands, I’ll just tell you a couple more things about the most common curiosities and most useful travel tips before your trip to STP. Here we go:
A brief history of São Tomé e Príncipe
Although this country has a very rich history, I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. The archipelago was discovered in 1470 by some Portuguese navigators. Because of its excellent, strategic position, the Portuguese ended up colonising it and transforming it into one of their most important ports. With the colonisation, the cocoa and coffee roca plantations were introduced, as well as slavery, and by 1900 the islands were producing so much cocoa, they became the BIGGEST cocoa supplier in the world. The Roças became bigger and bigger, some of them resembling tiny cities (think around 1.000 people living and working there). Slavery was abolished here in 1876 but only on paper; the truth is that Portuguese rulers forced Sao Tomeans to work on the plantations in horrific conditions for decades and there was also a massacre (“Batepá Massacre”) in 1956. Hundreds of people died. After this, the country started working towards gaining its independence from 1960 and they received it after a revolution in 1975 (the “Carnal Revolution”).
Best time to visit & Weather in São Tomé e Príncipe
São Tomé and Princípe has a tropical climate, which means the weather is very hot and humid all year round. It has two seasons: the dry season (June to September) and the rainy season (October to May). I recommend visiting during the dry season to avoid those rainy days.
Language in São Tomé e Príncipe
The official language spoken here is Portuguese, with a few local dialects as well.
Is São Tomé e Príncipe safe?
Yes, the country is pretty safe overall and there aren’t any notable crimes happening. Of course, if you’re a solo female traveller, make sure you take care of yourself as you would do in any other country in the world and you’ll be good.
BUT! I recommend getting travel insurance for your trip, especially when it comes to Africa. You can never be too careful about local diseases and I always believe it’s best to be safe than sorry! I recommend World Nomads.
Do I need a visa for Sao Tome and Principe?
Most travellers won’t require a visa for Sao Tome and Principe if their stay is shorter than 15 days. In some cases you might need a pre-arranged visa before your arrival, so it’s always best to check beforehand. You can find more information about this here. Make sure you enter your nationality and the country where you currently live in and the website will tell you if you need a visa or not.
Is Sao Tome and Principe budget-friendly?
Yes and no. STP is not an expensive destination, but it’s not backpacker-friendly either. Mostly because you’ll need a car to get around and that can cost at least 30-50€ per day without a guide. In terms of accommodation, you can find anything from luxury resorts to mid-range hotels, as well as a couple of budget guesthouses. There’s also a tourism tax for accommodation for an extra 3€ which you’ll need to add to the price of your room.
My travel tips for São Tomé e Príncipe
- Some information on the web states that you have to pay a certain “departure tax” before you leave. That is, in fact, not true.
- Make sure you bring cash with you, as there are no ATMs on the islands where you can use International credit cards. You can bring cash in your local currency and then exchange it on the streets. I know that may sound shady, but it’s not the case; that’s just how stuff works around here! You can find the street money exchangers close to restaurants and gas stations in the cities. And if you ask at your hotel, the concierge will be able to point you in the right direction.
- The most popular restaurants around the two islands accept payment in Euros in cash.
So, this was my complete guide to São Tomé e Príncipe! In this post I have gathered the 15 most exciting things to do here, as well as the best tours, restaurants, hotels and more. In short, if you’re planning a trip to this tropical oasis, you can rest assured that this article has everything you need to know – and more!
In case you want to find out more about this destination before your trip, I recommend clicking here to find all my articles about the country.
And for more destinations worth considering in Africa, click here.