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Just a quick note, hoping to write a trip report soon on Sao Tome & Principe from my September 2022 visit.  A Gabon TR from a July/August 2022 trip is also in the works. 


Here are a few photos of STP to get things started. 









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~ @RC88COR:


Thank you for this trip report.


May I please ask what is being dried in the second image?


Are they cocoa beans, or something else?


The waterfall and ocean shot is especially captivating.


      Tom K.



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@Tom KellieThank you. Yes, they are cocoa beans drying. I will explain more about that location when I write the TR - lots to tell.

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Looking forward to your TR. I've read a little about Sao Tome and Principe and I'd love to learn more.

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The summer of 2022 was my Central African Adventure, spending about 2 weeks in Gabon (July/August) and then 2 weeks in September in Sao Tome and Principe. I am starting with the STP Trip Report as it is relatively unknown to tourism (beyond Portuguese-speaking nationals), even more so than Gabon, and I think it really deserves to be a destination at the top of everyone's travel list. 


My connection to STP goes back to when I was a child. My father bought me a globe for my 7th birthday. I was thrilled! He would spin the globe, and with my eyes closed, I would stop it with my finger. I vividly recall landing on a speck of land - 2 islands - in the middle of an ocean off the coast of Africa. It was so small, I needed a magnifying glass to read where my finger had landed - Sao Tome and Principe! And that is when my curiosity and interest in this Central African archipelago began, and now decades later I have travelled to these far off islands and I am very excited to tell everyone about them in hopes that you will want to visit as well. 


Here is a map to locate STP within the context of the African continent and a bit of web info I found online. 


Map of Sao Tome and Principe



"The Central African country of São Tomé and Principe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is an archipelago of volcanic origin in the Gulf of Guinea close to the equator, located about 320 km (200 mi) west of Gabon on Africa's mainland. Principe island lies west of Equatorial Guinea. The island nation shares maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria. The combined area of the archipelago is just 964 km². With a population of 178,700 (in 2016), São Tomé and Príncipe is the second least populated African country after the Seychelles, as well as the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. The capital and largest city is São Tomé. Spoken languages are beside Portuguese, Forro, Angolar, and some Principense Creole."

Edited by RC88COR
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Always good to hear of roads less travelled.

Looking forward to hearing more. 

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@RC88COR I hadn't checked in much for a few days, I am glad I did last night and saw this, I will be very interested to see all of the changes that have occurred since I visited, I think my combined Gabon/STP report was until now the only trip report covering STP, it is great to finally have another one, hopefully your visit might inspire other visits.



@Game WardenMatt, just a thought, but as São Tomé & Príncipe is not listed in the Africa trip reports subforum, but Gabon is, would it be a good idea to change Gabon to perhaps Gabon/STP, because at the moment this report doesn't have a proper home to go to, people do visit STP on its own, but many combine it with neighbouring Gabon, so it would make sense to combine the two countries in one subforum, this report could then be moved there, otherwise it might get a bit lost.

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@inyathi I remember reading your Gabon/STP trip report and finding it very helpful, hopefully this TR will also be helpful and encourage others to visit STP. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi, I am back. I will try to complete this TR over the next few days. 


I am so glad I dedicated 2 full weeks to visiting Sao Tome and Principe. Every day was full of exploring and discovering these 2 captivating islands. I divided my time equally - a week on each island, but you could easily spend more time. Some people say 3-4 days is enough for the smaller island of Principe, but I disagree and think 7 days was a good amount of time, although I could have spent a few more days on each island. The reason for the 2 week visit is a VISA is required for many countries to stay longer than 15 days, which I hope extends to at least 21 days in the near future. 


My first week was spent on Principe island staying at 2 different lodgings of the HBD Principe group. My international flight arrived in Sao Tome early evening and an early morning domestic flight to Principe the next day, so my first night was spent at HBD's Omali Hotel.


Here are a few photos from the Omali Hotel situated just 5 minutes from the airport overlooking the ocean.




















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The next day was a Monday, and I had an mid-morning domestic flight to Principe island. The flight was approximately 30 minutes in duration and scenic. The plane was small, just 2 rows of seats divided by the aisle, so everyone had a window seat. I was met at Principe airport by HBD Principe staff and taken to my first lodging - Roca Sundy (a former plantation) - where I would spend the next 6 nights before switching to Sundy Praia for the final night of my stay on Principe. I will go into more detail on both of these lodgings in the next few posts. 


I should make a note that the weather in September was warm 25-27 degrees celcius, at times cloudy, with a bit of rain. Perfect weather for my taste. The rains happen mosly in October and November then again in March/April/May when it can rain almost every day and heavy rains. 














Edited by RC88COR
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HBD Principe offers half board accomodation and a daily excursion. I think this works out well. I had the same HBD guide/manager (Andrew de Rosa who was excellent) throughout my stay in Principe. He organized my 7 excursions and advised me of the itinerary upon arrival at Roca Sundy on Day 1. My excursions were not private, as there were other guests staying between the 2 Principe properties (Roca Sundy and Sundy Praia), so I joined up with multiple guests throughout my stay. It was a great way to meet other travellers from Portugal, UK, Norway, Spain, Italy, Brazil and the USA. Many of my excursions lined up with an awesome Norwegian couple and we so enjoyed our excursions together they joined me for a few days in Sao Tome. 


The staff at the HBD properties were excellent. They are all learning some English to help them converse with the international visitors that are now starting to visit STP from non-Portuguese speaking countries. I did not have a problem conversing with anyone within the HBD properties speaking English and my very basic Portuguese.


I should also note that I was well aware of the layered history of Sao Tome and Principe rooted in colonialism and slavery. I have studied the impact of slavery and colonialism over the last decade and had a firm grasp of the history of the islands and peoples of STP. The islands of Sao Tome and Principe are to my knowledge one of very few nations that were colonized through slavery and indentured workers without having indigeous peoples already inhabiting the lands. So, just about everyone living in STP has ancestors that go back to the harsh times of colonialism and slavery or indendured workers. The remaining working Rocas (plantations) are testaments to this history - good and bad. 


If anyone is interested, I would highly recommend reading Catherine Higgs - Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa (2013).


So, my focus on visiting STP was not only to discover the beauty of these islands, the conservation stories of STP, the culture of the islands and peoples, but also an indepth exploration of the colonial plantation and slavery history of STP. With this in mind, I started my visit staying at Roca Sundy - it was once the islands largest cacao plantation. It now also focuses on growing cacao and has begun to produce it's own chocolate. Roca Sundy covers an area of 1657 ha, and includes the former owner's house with 6 bedrooms called the Eclipse House (where I stayed), and the Cacao House with 9 bedrooms. The buildings date back to the 18th and 19th century and have been painstakingly restored - with original Portuguese tiles throughout. The main area of Roca Sundy includes the Eclipse House, the Cacao House, a small church, a school, a former hospital and stables, and the sanzalas - workers quarters still in use by the families that live and work on Roca Sundy. 


Einstein's general theory of relativity was proven at Roca Sundy in 1919 by Arthur Eddington. There are a few commemorative placques/markers throughout the grounds and in 2019 on the centennial of May 29th there was a celebration and exhibition.


Here are some exterior photos of Roca Sundy - Eclipse House and Cacao House:




























Edited by RC88COR
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So interesting to read about this and looking forward to more! How did the 'excursions' work out? Was it general scenery etc. or were you able to be more specific in your interests? I'm asking because, as a birder, I'd be reluctant to share excursions with non-birders! Is it possible to book private guiding? And, another question, what are the costs like there? Is it all up front in your total tour cost, or are there add-ons?

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Thanks! I will go into detail of each exurcsion as they happened per day.


The lodging (half-board buffet breakfast and dinner with house wine) with daily excursions are paid for upon booking - a deposit in advance and full payment 30 days before arrival. You do not have to pay for the excursions separately, as they are included in the lodging rate. Lunch is paid for separtely.


They have a number of daily excursions which they seem to cycle through depending on your arrival day. I believe they have a Birding excursion which you can request when booking, and it may be possible to request private excursions depending on the number of guests and the time of year. I would suggest inquiring directly with HBD Principe about the birding inquiry. Principe is well-known for a number of endemic birds, and I saw a few without even being on a Birding excursion. I know that December, January and February are the best Birding months in Principe. 

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Ah, thanks, that's really interesting. So presumably Dec-Feb are the driest months? As a UK citizen who hates cold and rain but loves birds.... :)

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And here are a few more photos of Roca Sundy - the church, the old fortified walls and clock tower, the old hospital and the homes and sanzalas of the Roca Sundy community. 













Central green space - courtyard area:








Fortified gate and clock tower with staircase leading up to clock.








And this is the old hospital (next 2 photos). The larger plantations all had hospitals built on the grounds.






Edited by RC88COR
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7 minutes ago, Galago said:

Ah, thanks, that's really interesting. So presumably Dec-Feb are the driest months? As a UK citizen who hates cold and rain but loves birds.... :)


@Galago - The actual driest months on STP are June, July and August. The suggestion for Birding is October to March, with January and February being the best time as it is mating season so lots of avian activity and colours. I would recommend January as it has the least amount of rain within the October through March period. The weather will be still be around 25-30 degrees in January - STP is right on the equator so the temperature does not change that much with or without the rainy season. 



As per Bradt guide to Sao Tome and Principe:

STP birdlife is considered exceptional with the highest desntiy of endemic birds worldwide. There are over 84 species that regularly occur on the islands, at least 29 are endemic species and 18 are endemic subspecies. Sao Tome holds 17 single-island endemic bird species, while Pricipe holds eight, and they share 3 other endemic bird species . 



Also STP is nesting grounds for 4 different turtles. They return to nest on the islands from mid November through mid February, with eggs hatching 45 days later, so into March. I visited in September, unfortunately outside of the turtle nesting period, so I was not able to see any turtles. HBD provides turtle nesting excursions, this would be an add-on, as they can not guarantee nestings during the time of your visit. HBD works with local turtle conservationists to help protect the turtles that nest on Principe and they patrole the beaches during nesting periods. 

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And here are photos of the interior of Roca Sundy - Eclipse House - the main building that houses the reception, lobby, restaurant, bar, and 6 rooms. This is the building that has the portico running around it and is a single story from the front and double story from the back. These first few photos are of my room the master bedroom - it was an upgrade, and I loved it!























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And here are photos of the lobby and reception area:
























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And here a few photos of the Roca Sundy dining area, bar and grounds.


I am posting a lot of photos of the lodgings, as they are deeply evocative and really help contextualize the place.


All the meals were served on this covered patio area that overlooked the garden, the forest and the ocean in the distance. And the food was excellent!












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Thank you so much for the detailed response to my questions. And the house is wonderful, your room is to die for! All the tiling is superb, but the tiling on the floor of the dining patio is outstanding.

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The renovated parts of Roça Sundy look amazing compared to how they looked when I was there.



On 1/2/2023 at 6:02 PM, RC88COR said:






Staircase old plantation house at Roça Sundy, Principe Island, São Tomé & Príncipe by inyathi, on Flickr


The interiors look great, very comfortable, looks like a very nice place to stay, I was wondering briefly why it was called Eclipse House, even though you did mention Sir Arthur Eddington, I'd somehow failed to connect the two, despite knowing from my own visit, that he confirmed Einstein's Theory or Relativity by observing a total solar eclipse from Sundy, on the 29th of May 1919 (so my photo of a memorial plaque tells me). 


I'm glad to see that there are still other buildings that have not been renovated, but I think it's fantastic that some have been renovated like this and turned into hotels and that it has been very well done, I would hope that it has made a big difference to tourism on the islands. A lot of people obviously know about the Seychelles, Mauritius and the Indian Ocean, but many people may never heard of STP, I hope that they will become at least a little better known, outside of birding circles. With all of their endemics the islands have plenty to interest birders, but also plenty for non-birders, good perhaps for couples, if one is a birder and the other isn't.   


I wouldn't have recognised the Omali Hotel on São Tomé from that first photo, but I recognised the beach, I think the hotel was being seriously renovated back in 08, so it didn't look quite as it does now. I'm looking forward to more of your report, it's fun to look back at how it was, after seeing how it is now.  

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@inyathi Thanks for posting the photo for comparison purposes. The restoration of the buildings must have taken years. I visited many other Rocas (especially on Sao Tome) that are               still in a deteriorated condition while the community continues to live and work on the grounds. There is a lot more to be said about the Rocas (past and present) which I will get more into when I cover the Sao Tome portion of the trip. 

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PRINCIPE - DAY 1 - MONDAY continued


Cacao Route excursion - 3 hr


After checking into Roca Sundy, I headed down the winding road through the lush hills filled with cacao and banana trees, along with palms and huge orange flowering trees (can't recall the name now.) I was joined in the open safari-like vehicle by two couples from Portugal which had a family connection to STP having been born and raised as young children in Sao Tome, which was interesting. They were on their way to the other hbd property Praia Sundy to spend a quite afernoon swiming in the ocean and sitting by the lovely pool, enjoying lunch and drinks - which turned out to be what I did most afternoons as well. However, this was my first day on Principe and I was to do the Cacao Route excursion and joining me was the Norwegian couple at Sundy Praia. 


The Cacao Route excursion was very informative with mutiple stops throughout the plantation to discuss the different types of cacao trees growing in the vicinity, the growing process, how banana trees help the growth of the cacao trees with 4 banana trees to every 1 cacao tree. The cacao trees grow in hilly terrain, quite steep at points, and difficult work to harvest. Our guide broke open a ripe cacao pod and let us taste the cacao seeds - fleshy and white - you suck on the fleshy area, and do not eat the seeds. The tour ended viewing the cacao seeds drying and a visit to the Sundy Paciencia organic chocolate store on the Roca Sundy property. HBD has restored the cacao plantation and it is a remarkable revitatilzation of the original cacao plantation, and this gives paid work and opportunity to the local Sundy community. 


Principe island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. I was very impressed with the conviction of the local communities to retain the natural biodiversity in flora and fauna of Principe island. They are dedicated to keeping Principe as green as possible, and HBD Principe has helped with this resolve. I understand HBD Principe began their eco-tourism initiatives in Principe as an alternative to the proposed palm tree plantations that were eminent for Principe, and after seeing the massive palm tree plantations that surround Cao Grande Peak on Sao Tome I am very thankful that this did not occur on Principe.


Here are a few photos:












Edited by RC88COR
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Bay of Needles - boat excursion - 4 hours


Here is an excerpt from the HBD excursions info page:

With prehistoric volcanic phonolite towers which rise dramatically from the landscape, Baía das Agulhas, or the Bay of Needles, is a geographical wonder. Take a boat trip to this otherworldly bay, within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and on the edge of the Parque Natural do Príncipe, to swim and snorkel.


I loved this excursion! We were about 10 people on a mid-size boat which picked us up near Sundy Praia around 9 am for a 4 hour boat ride to the SW side of Principe island which is remote with only a few isolated villages scattered in the area with often no roads leading to them, reached only by walking in for a few hours, so quite remote. The island of Principe is really stunning with lush intact equatorial rainforests. We went swimming and chatted with local fishermen in carved out wooden canoe boats. They served snacks and drinks on the boat. It was a lovely excursion and a great opportunity to visit the remote SW side of Principe island. Highly recommend this excursion.


Here is the Bradt guide map of Principe Island and some photos:




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