Sitting on the Equator and located 225 kilometres west of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is one of the smallest countries in Africa (only the Seychelles is smaller). Part of an extinct volcanic range, the country consists of two archipelagos, clustered around the two main islands, São Tomé and Príncipe. These little islands are hardly known and accessible only via three weekly flights from Lisbon, but offer a paradise of unexplored jungles, crystal clear waters, palm-fringed beaches and delicious Portuguese-Creole cuisine. They are also a haven for wildlife, and Principe is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve thanks to its rich biodiversity that includes humpback whales, dolphins and nesting turtles.
A São Tomé and Príncipe holiday brings together nature, beach and delicious food. Travel writer Nigel Tisdall has visited them many times and describes them as a "dream destination for any fan of Africa’s undiscovered corners".
Thickly forested with vivid birdlife (including 28 endemic species), these mighty volcanic islands seem impossibly far-flung. In fact, getting here is pretty straightforward thanks to TAP Air Portugal’s flights from Lisbon – and there’s no jet lag, making a seven day holiday there entirely manageable.
There is a time lag, though. Discovered by the Portuguese in the 1470s, the islands were for many centuries given over to roças, feudal plantations growing sugar, coffee and cacao using slaves and contract workers imported from Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique. These became the forefathers of today’s São Toméans, who now number just 187,000. The colonists left abruptly in 1975, leaving a ghostly legacy of bandstands, churches and wide, tree-lined avenidas. Portuguese remains the official language, bars sell Superbock beer, hotel rooms are priced in Euros.
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