Journaling The Journey

Sao Tome and Principe 11 Amazing Must See and Do Things

Sao Tome and Principe Must See and Do, best beaches

Sao Tome & Principe is a nation of two islands speckling the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa.  Here, you will find lush rain-forests teeming with exotic wildlife unfold alongside volcanic peaks, dramatic coastlines, and secluded beaches.  Actually some of the most beautiful beaches in the world!

Yet, Sao Tome & Principe remains largely unpolished when it comes to tourism infrastructure. Here, you’ll trade fancy resorts for basic accommodations, limited menus, and bumpy roads for off-the-beaten-path adventures.  The best comparison that we could come up with is a mixture between the Portuguese Colonial feel of Timor Leste and the verdant nature of Dominica.

If you’re a seasoned explorer who thrives on authenticity and enjoys a sense of adventure, Sao Tome & Principe will unveil its magic. Let’s delve into this island paradise, exploring its must-see sights, unique experiences, and the best spots to stay and eat.

Sao Tome Must See and Do

This map was created with Wanderlog

The journey begins on Sao Tome, the larger and more developed island. While luxury accommodations might be scarce, charming mid-range options (dubbed eco-lodges) and budget-friendly hotels offer comfortable stays. Be prepared to have a more basic experience, as air conditioning is not always a given, and food choices can be limited, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

#1 Obo National Park – Amazing Hiking

Start your exploration with a trip to Obo National Park, a sprawling sanctuary encompassing over a third of the island.  This dense rain-forest teeming with over 700 plant species, over 100 of which are endemic, creates a verdant wonderland. Hike through the emerald jungle of the forest, listening to the symphony of exotic birds, 16 of which are unique to Sao Tome. Be on the lookout for cascading waterfalls adding a touch of serenity to the landscape.

The starting point for exploring Obo National Park is about a 30-minute drive from the capital towards Trinidad. It’s easy to get lost on the trails, so having a guide is a good idea.  We found some wonderful guides at the Eden Valley Ecologe and Farming.  They actually have hikes from their wonderful hotel.  More about them, below.

Pico de Sao Tome & Other Hikes

Pico Cão Grande hiking Sao Tome
Hiking in the Obo National Park to see Pico Cão Grande View Point

Feeling adventurous? The summit of Pico de Sao Tome beckons. This challenging 2-day trek rewards determined hikers with breathtaking panoramic views. For a less strenuous adventure, consider the Volta a Ilha, a scenic 2-day trek along the remote west coast. Hike through lush greenery, following a path that winds its way to hidden coves and offers glimpses of the boundless ocean.

Another option is the Caminho do Fugitivo (Fugitives’ Path), a 5-hour loop trail leading to Lagoa Amelia, a picturesque lake nestled amidst verdant hills. This scenic route offers a glimpse into the island’s natural beauty and a chance to commune with nature.

There are two ways to climb the highest peak, Pico de Sao Tome. You can either start from the main entrance or from a place called Ponto Figo near Neves. Ponto Figo is supposed to be an easier climb. No matter which way you choose, you’ll definitely need a guide and at least two days to complete the hike.

Lagoa de Amelia

We decided to do the shorter hike to Lagoa de Amelia, which took about two hours each way.  We were told that some people do this hike without a guide, but we were glad we had one. On the way down, our guide had to clear the path with a machete because it was so overgrown. It was also very slippery and muddy.

When we finally reached the lake, it was actually just a grassy field with uneven ground and a stick marking how deep the mud was! Apparently, there used to be a real lake here. Our guide told us a story about a Portuguese lady named Amelia who rode her horse into the lake (when it had water) and drowned. Nobody ever found her or the horse.

#2 Leatherback Turtle Nesting and Hatching

Between November and March, a truly special experience awaits – turtle nesting and hatching. Join a conservation effort on the beaches of Morro Peixe and Micolo, where the critically endangered leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Witness the awe-inspiring process and play a part in protecting these magnificent creatures. Local NGO MARAPA works tirelessly to safeguard these gentle giants, carefully moving nests to hatcheries and conducting research to increase success rates.

Beach and sea rangers, formerly turtle fishermen, now patrol the beaches, protecting the turtles instead of catching them. You can join them on a Turtle Patrol, helping safeguard these fascinating creatures and contributing to a cleaner environment by collecting trash along the shoreline.

# 3 Pico Cão Grande

Pico Cão Grande View Point, Sao Tome and Principe
Pico Cão Grande View Point comes into view as you drive south on the east side of the island

Pico Cao Grande is a landmark needle-shaped volcanic plug peak rising out of the jungle. Quite extraordinary to look at and worth the drive through the palm plantations as the main road headed south gets worse and worse. The Pico Cão Grande is located in Parque Natural Obô. Its summit is 663 m above sea level, and it rises about 370 m over the surrounding terrain.

The best 2 main road viewpoints of Pico Cao Grande are located right on the main road in the south eastern part of the island.  The first is from a small bridge and provides a stunning view of the obelisk with the river in front of it.  The second viewpoint is a little bit south, where the volcanic needle is a bit closer rising above the verdant jungle.

# 4 Hellmouth

Hellmouth in Sao Tome and Principe
Hellmouth on the east coast of the island is a great stop

Boca do Inferno or Hellmouth as it is sometimes called, is a lovely rocky cove.  Here, there are large rock formations that the ocean waves beat through and create huge waves.  Hellmouth is located on the east coast of Sao Tome.  Once you see the sign for Hellmouth, make the left hand turn which is a dirt road towards the ocean.   In a few bumpy minutes you will arrive at the rocky outcrop of Hellmouth’s cove.  People sell cold coconuts to passers by and there are a few local souvenir stalls filled with bright and colorful masks and other wood carvings.

#5 St. Nicholas Waterfall

St. Nicholas Waterfall
St. Nicholas Waterfalls near Obo National Park

On your way to or from Obo National Park, make sure to stop by the Saint Nicholas Waterfall which is spectacular. This is a very tall waterfall that you can walk down to. A few local souvenirs are sold at the bridge. This is well worth the drive, so we highly recommend this stop.

#6 Rolas Island

If you made the trek all the way down to the south of Sao Tome, we highly recommend that you grab a $15 USD boat (for 2 people) to Rolas Island.  The hotel on the island closed down a few years back, but there is a cafe which also serves lunch.

On the island make sure to visit the Equatorial Sign, as the spot crosses the equatorial line. In addition, there is a small botanical garden with some local plants and some cacao trees. The beach called Battery Beach is also worth a stop and a dip in it’s pretty water.

#7 Santa Catarina Tunnel

Santa Caterina Tunnel
Santa Caterina Tunnel

From Mucumbli heading south on the west coast, you will find the  Santa Caterina Tunnel area. The drive itself is a treat, offering lush vegetation, cascading waterfalls, and ocean views. The tunnel itself adds a touch of whimsy to the journey.

If you continue further south, to the end of the western road, you will drive through the village of Santa Caterina.  This is one of the poorest areas of Sao Tome and Principe and provides a glimpse into the day to day life of the island.

#8 Roca Sao Joao de Angolares

Roca Sao Joao de Angolares
Roca Sao Joao de Angolares, a destination in itself which is also a great accommodation and gourmet restaurant

Roca Sao Joao de Angolares is a combination of a destination, accommodations as well as one of the best gourmet restaurants on Sao Tome and Principe.  This historic spot is located on the eastern side of the main island.  Driving south you will see the sign on the  right hand side from the main paved road.   The cobblestone path to Roca Sao Joao de Angolares climbs higher and higher until reaching the spectacular top.

Roca Sao Joao de Angolares is a gorgeous centuries old colonial posada. The rooms here are quite large but only have fans (the breeze is sufficient to keep you cool).  The views of the ocean and beaches below are beautiful.

The hotel restaurant is famous for their 8 course tasting menu made of locally grown ingredients.  Lunch and dinner are served (the price is 30 euros per person). Quite odd as the price for a room for 2 people with breakfast is only 55 euros. Even if you choose not to stay or dine here, we highly recommend that you drive up and take a look. Perhaps have a drink or a coffee (which is fantastic) and just unwind.

#9 Cascata de Praia Pesqueira

Located on the eastern side of Sao Tome, the Cascata de Praia Pesqueira is a bit of a bumpy drive only advised with a 4X4.  A sign from the main road points you towards this cascading waterfall, which tumbles down towards the ocean. Locals use this spot for bathing, swimming, and washing clothes, offering a glimpse into the island’s daily life. A small restaurant nearby provides a convenient pit stop for refreshments or a bite.

Accommodations Sao Tome

Mucumbli sunset Sao Tome
The gorgeous sunsets from Mucumbli – a must visit places on Sao Tome and Principe

Overall accommodations on the islands vary from very rustic to quaint eco-lodges.  Most places do not have air-conditioning or other more modern amenities.  Here are some spots that we enjoyed:

Mucumbli – this is a lovely place to visit overall.  Mucumbli is owned by an Italian couple, who have lived on the island for many years.  The lodge is made up of individual, wooden chalets, all made using local materials. The huts range from doubles and twins, to three-bedroom bungalows, all with en-suite bathrooms and spacious verandas looking out to sea.

For us, Mucumbli is the nicest hotel and restaurant on the island. There is no air conditioning in the huts, but the fan is enough. The restaurant overlooks the ocean and even has vegetarian/vegan options.  WiFi is only available in the restaurant and the outdoor reception area.

Eden Valley, Ecolodge and Farming: driving through the center of the island was quite a delight, climbing farther and farther up through the lushness of the island. We stayed at Eden Valley Ecolodge in their glamping tents which actually had air conditioning and a little kitchen.

It was a marvelous place for the setting and the food was fresh and delicious. There is also a cute pool overlooking the jungle as well as a waterfall. Many cocoa plants grow on the property and the workers gladly snap off a cocoa pod for a taste. There are also 3 dogs here adding a welcoming vibe.

Eden Valley is an eco-lodge also offering hikes into the National Park.

Nguembu Resort: If you choose to continue driving towards Porto Alegre and beyond, the road is quite difficult. Therefore, you will probably want to stop for a night’s sleep before returning north towards the capital. Nguembu is a lovely place perched on top of a beautiful beach. The place has many small white huts (some with air conditioning).

The huts are really well appointed and quite functional. The hotel serves food for lunch until 15:00 and then dinner from 19:00. One must pre -order so that the chef knows how many dishes to make. The food is quite good. Rob had the octopus and I chose to turn in early. A girl can only have so many rice dishes and veggie plates.

Restaurants Sao Tome

Finding a great meal in Sao Tome can be a challenge, especially for vegetarian and vegan dishes. While options might be limited, there are hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Here are a few of our favorite spots:

Mucumbli Eco Lodge Restaurant
The Mucumbli Eco Lodge Restaurant

Mucumbli, a lovely spot on the island, offers charming accommodations  and a restaurant with a surprisingly diverse menu, including vegetarian and vegan options. Savor fresh, local ingredients prepared with a touch of flair, and soak in the relaxed atmosphere overlooking the ocean.

Another option is Casa Cantagalo Restaurante Leve Leve, a small hotel with a fantastic ocean view. While you might not be staying here, it’s a perfect stop for a delicious lunch break. Indulge in fresh seafood dishes or a simple yet flavorful vegetable rice plate, all while enjoying views of the Obo National Park.

Firma Efraim is a great stop on the way to Eden Valley or from it. This is a coffee farm that makes wonderful coffee and has a terrace on the second floor to watch village life below. I brought my own soy milk so that they could make me a latte which was heavenly. Here, you can also do a coffee museum tour for a few dollars.

Monte Mar Restaurante São Tomé is a good place to have some fresh cooked dishes, when you are in the north of the island.

Xico’s Cafe has good coffee and some food options for non vegans and vegetarians.


Places mapped by Wanderlog

For a completely different experience, hop on a short flight to Principe, Sao Tome’s smaller and more secluded sister island. Here, time seems to slow down even further. Principe boasts UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status, a testament to its incredible biodiversity and pristine natural beauty. Dense rainforests teeming with rare plants and animals unfold alongside deserted beaches and crystal-clear waters.

#10 Best Beaches on Principe

Banana Beach, best beaches Principe
Banana beach in Principe is one of the best beaches.

Principe’s true treasure lies in its countless deserted beaches. Explore Banana Beach, a paradise with fine golden sand and turquoise waters, reminiscent of a postcard. Praia Grande is another pretty beach, offering swimming opportunities and a turtle project dedicated to protecting these magnificent creatures.

Sundy Praia has a luxurious boutique hotel and a gorgeous beach, perfect for swimming and relaxation. Birdwatching enthusiasts will delight in the abundant birdlife, making for a truly immersive experience. Sundy Praia’s sister hotel, Bom Bom Island Resort (currently closed for renovations), is located on a nearby islet and boasts another amazing beach, creating a delightful dilemma for beach lovers.

#11 Whale Watching

If you visit between July and November, consider embarking on a whale watching adventure. Witness humpback whales migrating through the ocean surrounding Principe – an unforgettable experience. Throughout the year, you might also encounter playful dolphins frolicking alongside your boat.

Accommodations & Restaurants Principe

Best Beaches Principe
The stunning Banana Beach in Principe is one of the best beaches

Principe has even fewer accommodations and restaurants than Sao Tome.  Sunday Praia is a luxurious hotel located on the beautiful beach with the same name.  The resort also has a wonderful restaurant.  However, be prepared for a price tag to match the luxury.

Bom Bom Principe is the sister hotel to Sunday Praia and is on a tiny islet.  Unfortunately, it is currently closed for renovations.  However, it should be even more beautiful when it opens later in 2024.

For cheaper options consider staying in Nova Cuba, however, this location is far from the beautiful beaches of the island.

Essential Tips for Your Sao Tome & Principe Adventure

To make the most of your Sao Tome & Principe adventure, here are some essential tips:

Currency Exchange: Look for money changers near Xico’s Cafe in Sao Tome town or outside the gas station across the street.
SIM Cards: Purchase a SIM card with data from Cartao’s office for a reasonable price to stay connected.
Entry Visa: Many nationalities, including those from Canada and the USA, don’t require a visa to visit Sao Tome & Principe. Always check the latest visa requirements before your trip.

Wrap Up Sao Tome and Principe

best beaches
Driving on the west coast of the main island is lush and filled with waterfalls and a gorgeous coastline

Sao Tome & Principe is not your typical tourist destination. It caters to adventurous souls who crave authenticity and a chance to connect with nature’s unspoiled beauty. Be prepared to encounter basic accommodations, limited menus, and sometimes challenging roads. But for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure, Sao Tome & Principe offers an unforgettable experience.

From witnessing the awe-inspiring power of nature to encountering rare wildlife and soaking up the laid-back island vibes, this hidden gem in the Gulf of Guinea will leave a lasting impression.

Sao Tome and Principe offer travelers with a unique blend of untouched beauty and rustic charm. These islands are part of the 54 independent UN Countries in Africa, so we had to check them out as our 182nd country visited so far.

So if you choose to make the trek to these far away and off the beaten track destinations, we have put together some gems for you to visit to make it worth your while.

Have you been to these islands?  We would love to hear from you in the comments!  What are your favorite beaches in the world?

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