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TRAVEL - Join my Sao Tome & Principe escape

Dec 07, 18 - Comments


I recently returned to amazing Sao Tome & Principe, two beautiful islands an hour and a half flight south of Accra, and thought you would enjoy accompanying me.

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Over the centuries, some of IUCN most endangered species have chosen these islands as their own sanctuary to enjoy the “leve leve style” (stress-free) life, safe from the modern world hustle and bustle. A mere hour and a half flight from Ghana on TAP Portugal, don’t you wish to do the same and feel far from Accra?!
So I landed today in Sao Tome after an afternoon trip between light blue skies, all kinds of white clouds and a dark blue sea. Here I was, stepping in this stress-free tropical island with everything a small ecological paradise can offer.
I settled at the charming Omali Lodge across a tranquil bay, dipped and the pool and will now taste local dishes on the nicely lit terrace with great temperatures and the sound of folk guitar and small waves.
The real adventure starts tomorrow.

Being the second smallest country in Africa and the second least visited country as well, the Sao Tome & Principe duo is hardly Africa’s best-known tourist destination.
However, the Portuguese-speaking islands with the colonial feel of the towns and villages, wealth of gorgeous golden-sand beaches and rainforests along with the soaring spires of volcanic mountains are an amazing destination for us in Ghana to escape to a different place but so near.
In numbers | São Tomé & Principe
2 main islands and 7 islets
186 miles from mainland Africa
1975 year of independence
30,000 overseas visitors each year
29 species of endemic bird live on the islands
90 per cent of the country is covered in forest
42 per cent of the country is protected reserve
Sao Tome is about 48 by 32 km.
After a day in Sao Tome island, I am leaving the lovely capital and Omal Sao Tome, the Cao Grande pic in the green south and the drier north: a 40mn flight in a small aircraft is taking me to amazing Principe, an island of just 7000 people, which will be the main and best part of my travel.

Even before putting a foot on Principe, the slow low altitude descent around the island gives amazing views and makes you realize how unique the place you are about to land on is: 100% forest coverage with a unique topography dotted by golden sand beaches with the bluest waters.
This combination of forests and volcanic mountains gives the island of Principe a Jurassic feel (yes, like in the three Jurassic World movies!): it is indeed a magnificent Lost World an a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Welcome to Principe – 16 by 8km – discover it with this beautiful video.

In addition to the flight descent, the 20mn drive through the forest to remote Sundy Praia, my hotel, was the best introduction to the pure nature you are surrounded with here.
Checked-in this beautiful property of fifteen tented villas nested in a feast of nature and overlooking its own beach and bay; then went on by boat to discover the northern coast and explore lost beaches.
Tomorrow is adventure inland as I will hike to the base of Pico de Principe, the rock on top of the island, culminating at 2024 meters.
But for now, it is cocktails and dinner time at SUNDY Praia, Príncipe Island. What do you wish for? The combination of an amazing island for a unique experience and a gorgeous resort to rest and relax.

Inland Principe plans were slightly changed as the rain made the access road to Pico de Principe unsafe: I instead hiked to Que Pipi waterfall. The hour drive through the island and towns gave me a good feel of the place and life here. The hike started on a small rocky road where small rail tracks can be seen at times: imagining last century when cocoa and café passed here from the plantation to the port. We then fully entered the jungle through a single track made of light brown earth, black volcanic rocks and many tree roots: up and up and up till the bottom of a cliff and this high Que Pipi waterfall: such high volume of water falling hard due to the rainy season. You can bath in regular season but today was like a river falling on me and my guide! Slow descent feeling the forest, seeing birds, all kind of plants, including the one with leaves that close when touched and the hotel picnic waiting in the car was welcomed.
The hotel proposes many activities to experience all the sides of life here and the pure nature of Principe: plantation visits, hikes like mine, bird watching, local cooking classes, boating, etc. Learn more about the many activities.

Tonight was Sundy Praia Tasting Night by Chef Angelo Rosso from Italy: six creative dishes mostly crafted out of local ingredients. Many surprising but great tastes – a real and rare treat, accompanied by Portuguese wine of course.
This island and hotel are getting into me and I understand why Principe has become a “celebrity” for travelers looking for untouched nature and true experiences, while staying at a hotel like this one.

Let us look at why Príncipe, the smaller, northern major island of the country of São Tomé and Príncipe, is so exceptional.
This natural gem came to light early this decade when it was simultaneously declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2012 and started to benefit from the involvement, investments and exposure given by HBD Company, the people behind Sundry Praia where I am staying and two other hotels on the island (Bom Bom resort and Roca Sundy plantation).

Príncipe is a jungled, mountainous speck of land settled in the 15th century by Portuguese mariners which has more endemic species per square mile than anywhere else on earth. As the small population live in the main town and a few fishing villages, the island is spared: pure nature covered by untouched forests, peaks, deserted beaches and a birdlife second to none.
It is not a place where you will find a golf course, jet skis, souvenir shops and many cars – it is Africa’s secret Garden of Eden as the Sunday Times rightfully put it, to which we, people in Ghana, are so close. Visitors find themselves immersed in this intact natural environment for a retreat which luckily, still few are enjoying. I am sincerely happy to be one of them and determined to make the most of my last day in this amazing Lost World after one more sound sleep at Sundy Praia.

As I am leaving this great island, let us look at the man and company who put Principe on the map.
HBD Principe is the initiative of Mark Shuttleworth who fell in love with this island and made it much more than a hotel company.
For this South African indeed, it is all about protection and sustainable development, in partnership with authorities and the local community:
- improving and ensuring the preservation of Principe’s unique natural environment,
- training and employing over 600 people in the hotels, the agriculture project which provide them with organic products, the timber workshop and a new cocoa initiative,
- continuously initiating and financing education projects, recycling, road maintenance, airport improvement and more,
- developing and managing hotels that are eco-friendly and using local products every time possible.

This is the spirit behind the HBD investments and daily management in Principe: visitors choose to stay at HBD hotels for that and to experience incredible nature that remains untouched as well as life on this particular island, besides enjoying fine hospitality and cuisine in small properties:
- Mr. Shuttleworth bought the Bom Bom resort after his first visits: bungalows on two beaches with the restaurant and bar on an small island,
- the Colonial House and Plantation House of the old coffee plantation acquired to supply food for the hotel were restored to offer eighteen rooms where guests can experience plantation life and the daily work there,
- Sundy Praia where I stayed: fifteen luxurious tented villas set among nature on a remote bay on Principe’s north coast. The restaurant alone set the tone: on a small hill, it is housed in a unique bamboo structure.
Discover the hotels.

I hope you enjoyed the successive daily stories about my escape to these beautiful islands and that tidy and unspoiled Principe is now rightly on your destination list while in Ghana!
I chose the term escape as we expatriates all need to take a break from time to time and Sao Tome & Principe being so close represents a unique opportunity to take a short trip (while avoiding going home or crossing a continent) and at the same time, experience a very different place in West Africa.

The natural environment being so pure and preserved and the number of visitors to Principe being small, one can really feel a sense of isolation, of relaxation and experience what Principe is about while enjoying fine hospitality like at Sundy Praia.
In addition, it is so easy to go: a 1h30 TAP Portugal flight (3 times weekly) and citizens of Canada, the USA and EU do not need visa; others can easily get one online. After a night in Sao Tome due to the evening arrival, a short flight takes you to Principe. Flying back is in the morning, giving you plenty of time to discover the charming city of Sao Tome before the evening flight to Accra.

Sao Tome & Principe await you!
In my opinion, the greatest vacation destination in West Africa for us living in Ghana.

See another beautiful video and the photo album on accraexpat.com Facebook page (like & follow us).

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