Georgina Lockwood heads to Príncipe, a relatively unknown tropical island in the Atlantic, for chocolate, turtling and turquoise seas…
Where in the world?
São Tomé and Príncipe is an island nation consisting of two islands, floating in the Gulf of Guinea. This untouched paradise is about 140 kilometres apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres off the north-western Gabon coast.
Know before you go
• Getting there: TAAG Angola Airlines and TAP Air Portugal offer direct flights to São Tomé.
• São Tomé to Príncipe: Daily flights operate between the islands.
• Medication: Yellow fever vaccination and malaria prophylaxis.
• Visas: Not required by USA, Canada, EU and Community of Portuguese Language Countries passport holders. South Africans require a tourist visa, unless they have an active Schengen or American visa.
Madagascar is known for its sapphires and gemstones, and Lesotho for its trout. Countries like Ethiopia are renowned for their coffee. Kenya’s cash crop is tea or cut flowers, and Mozambique is known for its cotton. But where do the chocoholics go to cash in?
The Chocolate Isles of course, the relatively unknown African nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, located off the Gabonese coast. It is often referred to as the Galápagos of the Atlantic, making São Tomé and Príncipe West Africa’s answer to Seychelles.
Príncipe is the smaller of the two islands, and offers barefoot luxury resorts untapped by tourism. There is something for everyone, whether you love exploring the underwater world, fishing from the beach or a boat, exploring the birding diversity or getting active by hiking. It is the ideal destination for a honeymoon, lounging on the beach or looking for excuses to eat copious amounts of chocolate.
Príncipe is considered an important nesting location for sea turtles in Africa. From November to February, leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles emerge from the turquoise waters to lay their eggs. It is also a hotspot for birders, the Príncipe thrush (Turdus xanthorhynchus) and the newly discovered Príncipe scops owl being some of the highlights. Other weird and wonderful creatures include the Obô giant snail (Archachatina bicarinata) and five endemic
snake species, including a blind burrowing snake.
Half of the island is owned by South African tech-billionaire Mark Shuttleworth. He owns the Príncipe resorts of Bom Bom, Roça Sundy and Sundy Praia.
Our first stop was Roça Sundy, a beautiful old plantation house converted to a hotel, with high ceilings and paintings of endemic wildlife. It is the perfect location to relax with a gin and tonic while watching African greys fly by. Príncipe is a stronghold for African grey parrots.
We parted with our balcony view for a 7km hike up Pico Papagaio, or Parrot Mountain, travelling through abandoned plantations and along winding paths below the forest canopy. The mosquitoes kept us moving – if you stood still for too long they would bite. The canopy finally broke at the peak, giving way to impressive cloudscapes and old volcanic mountains as we looked down on magnificent Jurassic Park-like vegetation.
The official language is Portuguese and there are two words you need to understand to help you navigate: praia (beach) and roça (plantation).
Our next hotel destination was Sundy Praia, a newly built beach resort on the Sundy plantation. While there we were treated to a seven-course chocolate-inspired dinner by cocoa expert Claudio Corallo. The dining room is spectacular and made almost entirely of bamboo with black and white checked floors.
São Tomé and Príncipe’s chocolate history started in 1822 when the first cacao plants were imported from Brazil. At the end of the 19th century, São Tomé and Príncipe was one of the largest chocolate exporters
in the world.
Most of Príncipe’s coastline consists of isolated beach lined with coconuts. A highlight of our trip was a boat ride to Lover’s Beach, a small isolated area accessible only by boat, in the Bay of Needles.
• 7 000: The population of Príncipe.
• 16km x 8km: The dimensions of
• San Antonio: Príncipe has the smallest capital in the world.
• 1919: Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was proven by Sir Arthur Eddington on Príncipe.
• The ‘11th island’ of Cape Verde: The majority of the Príncipe population originates from Cape Verde, hence the nickname.
Written by Georgina Lockwood. Photos by HBD.
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