Top 10 Reasons to Visit Sao Tome and Principe in 2022
If you opened this post and wondered where is Sao Tome and Principe located, never fear, you’re certainly not the only one. It’s a tiny two-island nation located only an hour and a half flight from the coast of West Africa. Many flight connections are from Accra, Ghana.
So what’s so good about these islands and why should you visit Sao Tome and Principe?
Well, it’s a unique destination. If you were to ask someone where is Sao Tome and Principe located, they may initially believe that it’s somewhere close to the Caribbean, but it’s far from there.
Sao Tome and Principe, located roughly 220km from the mainland of Central Africa. Its location is also on the Equator in the Gulf of Guinea.
Where is Sao Tome and Principe on a map?
Visit Sao Tome and Principe – Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Sao Tome and Principe is during one of the two dry seasons, either between December and February, or June and September.
Temperatures stay around 27 ̊C all year round on both islands. Summer months are best for hiking and birdwatching (which apparently is great here, for all the birders out there).
10 Reasons to visit Sao Tome and Principe
1) Beautiful beaches to yourself
One of the highlights of a visit to Sao Tome and Principe is that you will likely get to enjoy its stunning beaches to yourself. This is unheard of in many parts of the world, especially in destinations that are this beautiful. So, this is a great reason to visit Sao Tome and Principe.
In saying that, many of the beaches in Sao Tome and Principe are a little hard to get to. You will likely have to hike a bit to reach them, so I recommend taking some waterproof hiking shoes with you for this.
Even after you’ve parked up your Jeep or 4WD (more about renting a car below), you may still have to hike to get to some of the more hidden beaches and coves.
And yes – it’s unanimous; the beaches in Principe are better than the beaches in Sao Tome. However, if you only have time, (or enough funds to see one island), you’ll have an incredible time in both.
The best beaches in Sao Tome:
Praia dos Tamarindos
Lagoa Azul (the Blue Lagoon)
The best beaches in Principe:
2) It’s a safe country and people are friendly
A huge plus when deciding to visit Sao Tome and Principe is knowing about safety on the islands. Hearing from other travellers that the people here are some of the friendliest in Africa, certainly puts your mind at ease.
I heard fantastic reports of both of these things before deciding to visit Sao Tome and Principe and I’m pleased to say that they are both true. There is no concern about safety for travel in Sao Tome and Principe.
There are yellow vans that do laps around the island of Sao Tome, however, they stick to a set route and main roads. Sao Tome is an island that is best explored with your own car as most of the best sights to see and just off the mainland.
They’re found hidden down small roads which are only reachable if you have your own vehicle.
We found that Privilege Car Hire has the cheapest car hire on the island. You can rent a small Suzuki Jimny Jeep for 50 euros per day which includes assistance and full risk insurance.
I’d recommend you get a 4WD or jeep as we did, as some roads are unsealed and you will probably cross a few shallow bodies of water to get to a new beach or sight.
Another option is to hire a car with a local English driver/guide
The price to take this option is around 60-80 euros per day. Contact the team at Privilege car hire for more information.
Alternatively, I’d recommend this Sao Tome Guided Tour of the island to visit the main highlights, and lunch is included.
A trip to Sao Tome and Principe will be an exciting one, whether you travel independently or even join a small group tour to explore with like-minded travellers.
4) The Food is Fantastic – This dining experience at Sao Joao restaurant is wonderful
Travel Sao Tome and Principe for the food! With so many tropical fruits and interesting products at their disposal, some creative meals can be prepared.
And that’s exactly what they do at Sao Joao restaurant. Come and enjoy a meal at the best restaurant in the country!
I highly recommend you make a reservation at this restaurant and enjoy an afternoon of eating some fantastic food.
Roca Sao Joao Restaurant is inside an old cocoa plantation that has been restored and is beautifully furnished. It now sits on the top of a hill overlooking the ocean – the views couldn’t get any better.
João Carlos Silva, a well-known Portuguese TV chef offers a degustation menu of 12 courses is offered here for $30 per head.
The very talented chefs prepare wonderful fresh dishes using tropical fruits, vegetables, and fresh seafood from the island. The beauty is that it’s all prepared in front of you in an open kitchen – and they impart knowledge about the products they are using too.
It’s all very interesting, relaxing and most of all it is beyond delicious. The lunch begins around 1.00 pm (but I’d recommend calling them to double-check the time), so be sure to time your arrival to have a look around the plantation first and then enjoy this memorable lunch.
You can get a room here too!
The restaurant where your lunch will be served is also part of a restored plantation home, which is now a hotel.
Note: This restored property is now a country hotel and offers 6 beautiful rooms. Rates start from $30 per night which includes a superb breakfast. Click here for more details.
5) Fresh fish is always available
Where is Sao Tome and Principe located? Well, the first thing you will notice is there is nothing but water surrounding them. What does this mean for this tiny nation?
It means that fresh fish and seafood are the primary protein available to locals and to you during your visit.
As Sao Tome and Principe is a former Portuguese colony, the food is influenced by Portuguese flavours. And, if you’ve ever eaten Portuguese food, then you already know how fantastic and full of flavour it is.
How do they prepare the fish?
The fish is cooked in many ways here, usually grilled and served with tropical, punchy sauces on the side or even cooked in coconut milk with spices and fresh lime. Meals are usually served with fragrant rice and vegetables or fresh salads with zesty dressings.
Either way, the cuisine is something to look forward to.
6) The music
There’s something special about visiting nations where music is life.
Whether it’s listening to music in a cafe, walking around the streets and hearing tunes from small shops, or just hearing people sing and hum along to the music as they go about their day – music is all around you in Sao Tome and Principe.
7) Tropical fruit grows everywhere
Once you leave the capital city (which isn’t very big anyway) and head off around the island, you will notice tropical fruit and spices growing everywhere!
Bananas, papaya, pineapple, mango, and coconuts are in abundance.
Another crop that grows here is cocoa, due to the rich volcanic soil.
Let’s not forget about coffee either. If you drive the Central Route, I’d recommend you drive to Monte Café, an old coffee, and cocoa plantation. Learn how coffee and cocoa are produced and try some coffee in their café overlooking the mountains of this region.
And if you travel with a portable espresso machine, then you would definitely buy a bag or two of freshly ground coffee (at $4.50 per bag) for your onward travels.
8) Accommodation is affordable
If you’re familiar with travelling around Africa and West Africa in particular, you would know that accommodation is the main expense. And the prices for a budget, comfortable and clean room are ridiculous.
The best part about travel Sao Tome and Principe is that accommodation is affordable. This is a real selling point for tourism Sao Tome and Principe to promote to draw more visitors here. It made a big difference to our overall budget for travel Sao Tome and Principe, yet I don’t think enough potential visitors know how affordable it can be.
To give you an idea, our boutique guesthouse in central Sao Tome City, Albergria Porcelana was perfect. An ideal location and it was clean and comfortable and the staff were very friendly.
Single rooms start from $29 or $39 for our double room. This price includes government tax and a great breakfast each morning at their restaurant just below the hotel.
As I mentioned above, the Sao Joao Restaurant offers rooms at their property, Roça São João dos Angolares for rooms starting from $30 per night, so you can see that accommodation is very affordable.
The sheer natural beauty of Sao Tome and Principe is astonishing. Lush tropical rainforests, rugged coastlines, ocean views, hidden coves and beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls and prominent peaks, the list goes on.
This is a destination that boasts pristine nature at every turn. It reminds me a little of the beauty of Dominica, the lush island in the Caribbean.
10) Unspoilt and untouched
This is definitely one of the best reasons to visit Sao Tome and Principe. There aren’t too many destinations left in the world that seem as untouched and unspoilt as this.
For visitors to the island, it is a welcome surprise to enjoy nature in its purest form.
You will not be charged $25 to swim at a waterfall or dip in a rockpool (similar to what we experienced when travelling in Jamaica, which I find absurd paying big fees to enjoy mother nature).
I still have memories of enjoying the serenity and pureness of my visit to Sao Tome and Principe.
I can’t wait to return to enjoy more of it.
And, if tourism Sao Tome and Principe do increase in the future (and I hope it does to give the local economy a boost), I wish to see that it remains unspoilt.
Frequently Asked Questions to Visit Sao Tome and Principe
Do you need a visa for Sao Tome?
Most nationalities don’t require a visa to visit Sao Tome & Principe, a 15-day visit is stamped in your passport on arrival. See the full list here. I travel with an Australian passport, and I did require a visa to visit Sao Tome and Principe.
You can apply for an E-Visa online through the official Sao Tome government page. It can take up to 5 business days to be processed and emailed to you. Allow enough time to secure your visa before making plans to travel to Sao Tome and Principe.
Note: Print the visa page once you receive it and take it with you. You must pay 20 euros (cash) once you arrive at the airport. The visa stamp takes a full page of your passport.
Best way to travel Sao Tome and Principe
The best way to travel to Sao Tome and Principe is initially by flight.
We found cheap flights on Aviasales from Accra in Ghana with TAP Portugal. This airline has flights that originate from Lisbon to Sao Tome, with a stop in Accra.
As Sao Tome & Principe is a former Portuguese colony, Portuguese is the official language spoken here. You could also get by speaking some Spanish too.
They do speak some English too, but I’d recommend learning some basic phrases in Portuguese to help you communicate outside of Sao Tome City. A Portuguese Phrasebook would also be handy to pack.
What is the currency in Sao Tome and Principe?
The local currency used in Sao Tome and Principe is the Sao Tomean Dobra (STN).
At the time of writing: USD $1 = 23.39 STN / EUR 1 = 24.69 ST
NOTE: This is a cash country, meaning that most Western/International bank cards will not work in the limited ATMs on the island. You must bring hard currency to change with money changers on the streets here (totally safe) or at the bank.
The best currency to change is the euro. If you don’t have euros, bring USD.
Do I need a Yellow Fever Certificate?
A Yellow Fever Certificate is required for all travellers visiting Sao Tome & Principe. All visitors are checked by officers upon arrival.
Covid Requirements for Travel to Sao Tome and Principe
Fully vaccinated travellers may enter Sao Tome and Principe without needing to quarantine or present a negative test result. Travellers who are not fully vaccinated should present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result obtained within 72 hours prior to travelling.
Unvaccinated arrivals who are not in possession of a negative PCR test result may have to undergo quarantine. Find out the latest travel restrictions here.
Make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing, depending on the type of traveller you are.
Join a Small Group Tour in Sao Tome & Principe
Why not consider travelling in Sao Tome & Principe on a Small Group Guided Tour? We highly recommend G Adventures. They offer a variety of awesome tours in Sao Tome & Principe to suit everyone. Let your local guide take care of all the details; your only task is to turn up and have an amazing time.
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Rach is a self-confessed travelling foodie. Her passion for food and culture has seen her eat her way through 190 countries. She's currently on a big food adventure to visit EVERY country in the world!
When Rach isn't travelling, you can find her at the beach, drinking coffee or wine with friends or chowing down on the best eats around her home city of Melbourne, Australia.