A bay in east São Tomé

São Tomé e Principe in a Nutshell

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 15th June 2019

São Tomé e Principe - Where?

São Tomé e Principe consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about 140 kilometres (87 miles) apart. They are nestled in the arm pit of West Africa. São Tomé Island, at 854 square kilometres, is the largest island and is home to about 96% of the nation’s population. It is tiny: about 30 miles long (North-South) by 20 miles wide and  is a typical tropical island.

São Tomé e Principe - Snippets of Information

  • The official name of the country is the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe.
  • São Tomé e Principe is the 172nd largest country in the world in terms of land area with 964 square kilometres (372 square miles) and the second smallest country in Africa.
  • Cocoa represents about 95% of agricultural exports and I'm told that the chocolate is world-renowned.
  • The official language is Portuguese.

Who Colonised São Tomé e Principe ?

The islands were reportedly uninhabited at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese sometime between 1469 and 1471. The Portuguese brought Jews to settle first but most of them died. Gradually colonised and settled by the Portuguese throughout the 16th century, the islands collectively served as a vital commercial and trade centre for the Atlantic slave trade. Cycles of social unrest and economic instability throughout the 19th and 20th centuries culminated in peaceful independence in 1975.

Is São Tomé e Principe Safe to Visit?

São Tomé is a surprise. It's well geared up for tourists and there are some very nice hotels and restaurants. Crime rates are low.

Is São Tomé e Principe a Poor Country?

  • The economy of São Tomé e Principe, whilst traditionally dependent on cocoa, is experiencing considerable change due to the development of its oil industry in the oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea.
  • However, currently, infrastructure is poor and there are few natural resources, Much of the population depends on the cocoa industry for employment. Demand here has slowed - the quality of the product is not always good enough, despite boasts to the contrary. As a result, over half the population lives below the poverty line.

What to See and Do in São Tomé e Principe?

I'm exploring both the east coast and west coast of São Tomé island separately - you can't get all the way round.

There are beaches, fishing villages, colonial buildings waterfalls and national parks to explore, as well as a Jurassic Park style Volcanic plug tower. There's some surprisingly good accommodation, converted Plantation Houses and modern hotels and some very up market food. And chocolate...

There's also a five star resort on Principe that has good reviews - next time.....

Getting In and Out of São Tomé

I flew in from Luanda. I'm flying to Gabon this afternoon on Afrijet. No visa required. In his inimitable style guide Agostinho has told me that their planes are old, only hold about 20 people and are often overbooked. In the event it’s an ATR that is nowhere near full and has capacity for 66. Perhaps I should take everything else he has told me about São Tomé with a pinch of salt.

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