green turtle hatchling praia grande principe 2023 mar ds?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

1. Marine Turtle watching:

One of the most memorable experiences for wildlife enthusiasts visiting both Sao Tome and Principe, is Turtle watching. (75 euros per person, payable at your hotel).

Female turtles (Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback in Principe with two additional species, Olive Ridley and Loggerhead turtes, in Sao Tome) come to deposit eggs on certain beaches in November – December and this activity can be observed at night.

If you want to see (and assist) the hatchlings scampering to the sea, plan your trip from the latter part of January to the end of March, when this wonderful experience can be enjoyed.  

On Principe, the location of choice is a 1,400m long beach, Praia Grande, which is not too far away from Roca Belo Monte. You’ll drive to a point where vehicles are parked, then walk for about 5 minutes downhill to the beach. The initial section of the trail is made of steps created by using old car tyres. It can comfortably be done using flip-flops.

Once on the beach, your guide will take you to the Kaxi Tetuga Museum, a cabin made and maintained by the resident community of reusable materials, painted in blue, which houses an informative exhibition enabling you to learn all about marine turtles, their ecology and the conservation issues these wonderful animals are up against. On Principe, the Fundação Príncipe oversees marine turtle conservation through its Protetuga project. Funds raised through tourist visits to the sites are used to benefit the residents, reinforcing the message that living marine turtles are worth more than dead ones. 

As my excursion was on 29th March, it was to see hatchlings. When we got to where the Museum is located, we met two of the Beach/Marine Monitors, who guard the nests which are identified with wooden markers, each of which has a date and number on it. 


beach guard sprints to save turtle hatchlings from dogs and kites praia grande principe mar 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Above: one of the Beach Monitors sprints to prevent a feral dog and Kites from predating a nest where hatching was about to start.


Marine turtles face a number of (as we saw first- hand, serious) threats. When females lay – or, after they have deposited eggs, the nests are often predated by feral dogs and feral pigs, both of which are in evidence all over both islands. When the hatchlings are about to surface, apparently it changes the nature of the sand and feral dogs can pick up the scent. When the feral dogs start digging for hatchlings at the nests, inevitably a swarm of Yellow-billed kites forms quickly and they circle the site, swooping down to capture as many hatchlings as possible, even from the shallow water. We watched this happening. At one point, one of the Beach/Marine Monitors sprinted like an Olympic athlete to the other side of the beach (pictured), as he spotted a feral dog digging in the sand and the Kites quickly gathering in the air above.  The Beach Monitors intervene whenever they can, but they work only in daylight hours, so any nests hatching at night are at the mercy of predators.

 The hatchlings that most tourists see, are the so-called ‘lazy ones’, which the Beach Monitors gather when hatching activity has been identified at a nest site.  The stronger hatchlings which have successfully dug their way out to the surface, instinctively scamper off to the ocean. The weaker hatchlings which are not able to dig their way out – or, which may be deemed at too high a risk from the ever-present predators, are gathered by the Monitors and placed in a safe container.  And it is these which wildlife enthusiasts are then invited to come and see, when the Beach Monitors conduct the controlled release.

While the release was happening, we were able to photograph and film the hatchlings, but tourists may not touch them. The Beach Monitors chased off a couple of loitering feral dogs and we all tried to help keep the Kites at bay, but they are persistent and caught a few hatchlings which had made it into the shallow sea. At the end of the afternoon, we left Praia Grande absolutely elated following our experience, while appreciating also the sterling work being undertaken by Fundação Príncipe, the conservation 'arm' of HBD.

palate cleansers roca sao joao dos angolares 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Above: palate cleansers on offer before lunch at Roca São João dos Angolares


2. Gastronomic experience at Roca São João dos Angolares 

Another activity high on the list of visitors is the culinary experience on offer at the very atmospheric Roca São João dos Angolares where for 25 euros, you'll be able to enjoy a 10-course lunch including 6 starters, 2 mains and 2 desserts, all of which are beautifully presented. 

Illustrious chef João Carlos Silva has restored the former colonial plantation house with great thought and in the spacious restaurant with its open- plan kitchen area and panoramic views, he also occasionally gives culinary classes.

The property has an interesting art gallery, where your guide can take you around and give interpretations of the artworks, all of which have been created by talented local artists such, as the sculptor TiVo.   

The restaurant is about 90 minutes drive from Omali Lodge.

artwork at roca sao joao dos angolares gallery 2 2023 sao tome?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Example of the fine artwork on display in the gallery at the Roca. 

bay of needles lovely principe 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Above: Principe island boasts stunningly beautiful scenery. One of the most unforgettable highlights is seeing spectacular tropical rainforest meeting deserted coastline - just look at the colour of that water!...


3: The Bay of Needles boat excursion, Principe:

If you do only one activity on Principe, this has to be it.  During the motorised boat trip, you’ll be completely awestruck by the astonishing scenery: the so called ‘needles’ are insanely steep, imposing rock formations (basalt plugs) clad in equatorial rainforest. The colour of the water is simply unbelievable - turquoise, aquamarine and sundry other intensely beautiful shades in-between.  There’s a chance to enjoy some snorkelling and swimming in the warm waters. HBD does an impeccable job with this particular activity. You'll depart from Sundy Praia at 09h00, all being well weather-wise. After about 20 - 25 minutes in the boat, you'll arrive at the snorkelling and swimming spot in Baia das Agulhas, where you stop for about an hour. There are no reefs; the sea bottom is rocky but we saw a good variety of colourful tropical fish. Visibility is excellent and you’ll spot a few urchins and perhaps an octopus or two. Snacks are served on the boat afterwards, and ordinarily, guests are back at Sundy Praia by lunch time.


My photos didn't capture the grandeur of the scenery but there are some great images on our website by photographer Scott Ramsay, who did a photo shoot for HBD.


birding in obo natural park biodiversity trail 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Above: guide searching for endemic birds along the Biodiversity Trail in Obô Natural Park. This photo shows the slippery, muddy nature of the trail.


4: Obô Natural Park Biodiversity Trail on São Tomé

A must for anyone keen on natural history, which means most Rainbow clients. From Omali Lodge, the drive to the Obô Natural Park office is about 1hr via settlements like Trindade on the slopes above the capital.  A 4-wheel drive vehicle is required because roads in some places are in need of repair.

The outing is generally marketed as a trail to the crater lake Lagoa Amelia, the source of many of the island’s rivers. But, as is mentioned in the Bradt Guide, its really not the lake as much as the rainforest trail, which is what people come to enjoy.  From the park office where vehicles are left, the trail is about a 3.2km walk uphill (with one short downhill section). Once you've passed through cultivated plots of plantain, cassava, beans etc, you enter into the luxuriant rainforest of Obô, and begin ascending in altitude – think Bwindi in Uganda or Ranomafana in Madagascar, as the slopes are quite steep and muddy. Any visitors need surety of foot. The heat and humidity add to the challenge. 

I would strongly advise a walking pole; footwear with firm grip (I had bought some ‘Curlew’ trainers at Mountain Warehouse which was an excellent purchase) and a rain jacket plus a dry- bag. Take a change of clothing to leave in the vehicle in case of rain. Raincoats and umbrellas will not help if the rains are hard and persistent.

After fantastic birding, we reached the crest of the mountaintop at about 12 noon and while we were taking a break at a sitting area, the heavens opened. It bucketed down solidly until about 4:30pm. So local guide Gabriel advised we return to the vehicle quickly as he (accurately) reckoned the rain was not going to let up. The trail had transformed into a torrent, so we were completely soaked – but it was warm rain so actually fun. 

After you've explored the Biodiversity Trail, its worth doing the short walk (level terrain) in the Botanical Garden next to the Park Office. There, you'll see many endemic plants, including Tree ferns, Hardwoods, Orchids and perhaps most notably the Giant begonias. And after that, a lunch stop at Monte Cafe is a wonderful idea.

giant begonia in sao tome botanical garden nr obo np mar 2023 ds?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

The impressive Giant begonia is endemic to São Tomé and can be seen at the Botanical Gardens by the Park HQ or around Lago Amelia.

honeymooners praia inhame beach with ilheu rolas in background 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Above: young couple at Praia Inhame Beach, with Ilheu das Rolas where the Equator Marker is located, in the backdrop. 


5: Southern Beaches experience (São Tomé)

The sites covered in this circuit are about 2 hrs drive from Omali Lodge along roads are rough once you're in the southern region of Sao Tome. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is essential for the journey and we had a very comfortable Suzuki jeep. The scenery in places really evokes images of classical equatorial Africa, with verdant forests and cultivated plots with tropical crops such as Plantain, Cassava and Papaya. You will get what the guides call an ‘African massage’.   

The first stop on the circuit is a Mangrove boat trip (done by local fishermen; you may need to wait a bit for them to appear).  You'll then drive to lovely Praia Inhame where you can enjoy a swim off the white sand beach and have lunch at Praia Inhame ecolodge. While we do not usually recommend this lodge for Rainbow clients unless adventurous or specifically requesting it, people who wish to see marine Turtles, should stay a night or here - just be aware that it is basic.

Praia Inhame is absolutely delightful; people who were there were clearly enjoying the place. The ecolodge has a nice restaurant. In the grounds there is a Turtle hatchery and on the beach - as is the case at nearby Praia Jalé, you'll see many markers for Turtle nests.


guide driver from navetur plus 4wd jeep sao tome southern excursion 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Travelling around southern São Tomé, really does evoke images and memories of mainland tropical Africa. The very comfortable Suzuki jeep we travelled around in was perfectly suited to the rough roads. Here we were stopping for an impromptu spot of birding, which produced the like of Sao Tome paradise flycatchers, Sao Tome weaver and Island bronze-naped pigeon, among others.

turtle nest markers praia jale sao tome south 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

Turtle nest markers on Praia Jalé, the most remote of the Southern beaches in the excursion. 

navetur guide showing trap door for slave death chamber national museum fort sao tome 2023?h=0&w=0&fit=crop&auto=enhance&crop=focalpoint&fp x=0.5&fp y=0.5&fp z=1

The aim of this post is just to share some ideas of experiences I most enjoyed during March 2023, in a destination labelled appropriately by some in- the- know as the 'fashionable getaway of choice for the worldly, eco-conscious travellers'.

Many other exciting activities are possible in São Tomé & Príncipe, such as a boat trip on Principe to the 'North-eastern Beaches' during which you can savour time seeing exquisite beaches including Praia Boi and Praia Banana. 
If you're planning to visit in July - August, Whale watching is a possibility as that's when Humpback whales are present around Principe.

Some of our more energetic clients have enjoyed taking on the likes of the Pico Papagaio hike on Principe and it has also been a pleasure to have arranged for ardent birders to notch up excellent sightings of some incredibly rare endemic species, such as Dwarf olive ibis, Sao Tome fiscal and even Sao Tome grosbeak.  That said, one of the most magical experiences I had on Principe was watching many, many African grey parrots flying free over the forest canopy - a real privilege and something very special. 

Culture enthusiasts must definitely factor in a visit to the Museum and old Fort in Sao Tome city (pictured,above), where a professional guide will be able to deliver an excellent and moving briefing on the country's turbulent history. 

Our verdict: Africa's second smallest country makes for a delightful getaway for discerning travellers after something quite different, remote and decidedly off the beaten track. 

Stay in Touch

Subscribe for our newsletter and to hear about exciting offers and experiences

By clicking ‘accept’, you consent to our use of cookies to improve our website experience. See our privacy policy for full information.