It seems like no time at all has passed since you first made the decision to move to Accra, Ghana. Life has been busy. You’ve found a new home at Green Views, made some friends, and figured out where, and where not, to shop, and have nicely settled into your new life. It’s hard to believe it’s time to plan a vacation already. But where to go when you don’t have the time to make the long trip back home?
There are many decisions to make when choosing a destination. Do you want to get some rest and relaxation on a beach? Do you want history and culture? Do you want nature and hiking? Do you want to snorkel and dive? Or maybe you want all those things, but you’d like it to be quick and easy to get to? Well there is such a place and it’s only a 95-minute direct flight from Accra. Sao Tome and Principe!
These two main islands and several islets of volcanic origin make up the second smallest nation of Africa and lie about 250 kilometers off the coast of Gabon in Central Africa. The two islands were first settled by the Portuguese and the fertile land was used to cultivate sugar cane, cocoa, and coffee for export. The Portuguese abandoned Sao Tome and Principe in 1974 after a military coup and the island achieved independence in 1975. Globally, it is still a relatively unheard-of tourist destination making it a quiet destination with plenty of unspoiled beauty. With tourism on these islands still in its infancy now is the time to see nature as pristine as you may find anywhere else in the world.
There’s plenty to see and do on the larger island of Sao Tome. Cars are available for rent and you can drive yourself to tour the island. Or hire a driver as well and have a guided tour where you’ll be sure not to miss any of the sights and will get great recommendations for local restaurants. Drive to Obo National Park and see Pica Cao Grande, The Dog’s Tooth, rise from the land seemingly from nowhere and marvel at how this 668-meter volcanic finger was formed so many years ago. Continue South and take a short boat ride to Rolas Islet where you can stand at the equator and straddle the northern and southern hemispheres. You can drive down roads that snake through the lush tropical forests, up and down hills through peaks and valleys, and stare in awe as you crest a hill and see the most stunning panoramic views of the ocean with its sandy beaches and rocky cliffs.
Take a drive through small towns and villages where the friendly locals are going about their daily lives. Drive down remote roads that lead to beautiful waterfalls and take a dip in the cool water. You can stop at rivers where women are gathered and children are playing and see what laundry day looks like in a culture that doesn’t have the everyday conveniences we take for granted. You can visit the botanical gardens to see and learn about some of the indigenous plants and some of their medicinal properties. There are also 35 varieties of orchids that grow here if you happen to travel while they are in bloom.
You can find secluded beaches and perhaps see some fishermen pulling in their nets, or women gathering small fish and other marine life that became trapped in tidal pools. Or maybe even some cows taking a stroll. In the towns you can see old buildings from the colonial days that were abandoned by the Portuguese but have since had locals take up residence in their rooms. Visit the cocoa and coffee plantations and take a tour. A boat ride to Santana Island will reveal a cave that can’t be seen from the mainland and runs all the way through the middle of the small island, and strange geological formations that formed hundreds of years ago as lava spilled from a volcano.
And then there is the island of Principe! 150 km from Sao Tome, just a short 30-minute flight, and you can land on this extraordinary tropical paradise. Harder to get to yes, but the payoff is worth it if you have the time. When you’re on Sao Tome its hard to imagine a more beautiful place. Until you see Principe! The tropical rain forests are even more lush, green, and pristine than Sao Tome. Principe is a place where less is more. Since the population is significantly lower than Sao Tome there is less traffic and less development. And because it’s more difficult to get to there are even less tourists. Sometimes referred to as the “Galapagos of Africa” Principe is an eco tourists’ jackpot! Make sure to plan at least a couple of nights here to truly enjoy it and check out the Principe Biosphere Reserve with its secluded bays on the southern half of the island.
So where do you stay when you go? There are a variety of properties at different price points to suit just about anyone’s tastes and budget. You may choose to stay in a Roca, a large converted plantation house built by colonial Portuguese, or at a sprawling resort in a cozy bungalow looking out to the sea where you can be lulled to sleep listening to the waves break on the shore just a short distance away. The town of Sao Tome also has many options especially if you must overnight before catching your flight to Principe. Perhaps you will opt to stay on the Islet of Rolas, off the southern tip of the island, a true equatorial island with the equator running just several hundred meters behind the property. Club Santana, a resort on the island of Sao Tome will be offering Green View residents a discounted price. Details are still be negotiated but watch for an update soon with the details of their offer.
Wherever you plan to stay and whatever you plan to do the islands of Sao Tome and Principe will not disappoint! Whether you hang out on one of the idyllic sun-drenched beaches reading a book and relaxing to the sound of the waves or decide to be more adventurous and explore the island to discover its offerings; it is a place to decompress and you will leave feeling renewed. And you will wish that someday you will be able to visit once again.
By Lilian Heidel – GREENVIEWS resident