Sitting on the Equator, 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 small archipelagos clustered around the two main islands, São Tomé and Príncipe.
These little islands are as yet hardly known, being accessible only by means of four flights a week via Lisbon. They a paradise of unexplored jungles, crystal clear waters, palm-fringed beaches and delicious Portuguese-Creole cuisine. They also support some rare, small forest-dependent wildlife and thanks to unusual biodiversity, Principe is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
A São Tomé and Príncipe holiday offers an exceptional combination of 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 interesting birdlife (the 28 endemic species include some of the world's rarest and most endangered, such as Dward olive ibis, Sao Tome fiscal and Sao Tome grosbeak), these impressive volcanic islands seem impossibly far-flung. However, 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!
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.
Our verdict: go now, before the masses discover these delightful isles!