visit sao tome and principe small secluded beach drone pic

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 Sao Tome and Principe is located, they might initially believe it’s somewhere close to the Caribbean, but it’s far from there.

Where is Sao Tome and Principe on a Map?

Sao Tome and Principe are 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
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 is excellent 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 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.

Even after you’ve parked up your Jeep or 4WD (more about renting a car below), you may still have to hike to some of the more hidden beaches and coves.

And yes – it’s unanimous: the beaches in Principe are better than those 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 Piscina
  • Praia Jale 
  • Praia dos Tamarindos
  • Praia Micondo
  • Lagoa Azul (the Blue Lagoon)

The best beaches in Principe:

  • Banana Beach
  • Praia Grande
  • Praia Boi
  • Praia Macaco

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.

In saying that, we recommend you follow the same basic rules of keeping safe when travelling as you would when visiting any country.

3)  Hire a car and explore at your own pace

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, including 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.

This Southern Tour of Sao Tome is also another good option if you don’t want to hire a car.

A trip to Sao Tome and Principe will be exciting, 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 to 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 fantastic food.

Roca Sao Joao Restaurant is inside an old cocoa plantation that has been restored and is beautifully furnished. It now sits atop 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 excellent 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 fascinating, relaxing and most of all it is beyond delicious. The lunch begins around 1:00 p.m. (but I’d recommend calling them to double-check the time), so be sure to time your arrival to look around the plantation first and then enjoy this memorable lunch.

Where to stay in São Tomé Principe lunch

You can get a room here too!

The restaurant where your lunch will be served is also part of a restored plantation home, now a hotel.

Note: This restored property is now a country hotel with six beautiful rooms. Rates start from USD 30 per night, which includes a superb breakfast. 

Check price and availability here

5)  Fresh fish is always available

Where is Sao Tome and Principe located? Well, the first thing you will notice 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 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, you already know how fantastic and full of flavour it is.

visit sao tome and principe fish in bucket

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 recommend driving 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, you would 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, 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 attract more visitors. It greatly impacted 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. It was an ideal location; it was clean and comfortable, and the staff were very friendly.

Single rooms start from USD 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 USD 30 per night, so accommodation is very affordable.

Check prices at Roça São João dos Angolares 

9)  Natural beauty

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.

visit sao tome and principe sandy coastline sao tome

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.

visit sao tome and principe drone shot rainforest

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 boost the local economy), 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 Skyscanner from Accra in Ghana with TAP Portugal. This airline has flights from Lisbon to Sao Tome, stopping in Accra.

Search Skyscanner to get the best deal – and read our tips about how to find and book cheap flights to get the best prices.

Sometimes, it’s all about thinking outside the box, I explain more in the above post.

And once you’re here – we highly recommend that you hire a car. It’s the best way to maximise your time and have the freedom to explore and fully immerse yourself in island living.

What are the best places to visit in Sao Tome and Principe?

We recommend that you read our post about what to do and where to stay in Sao Tome and Principe for some great ideas.

What is the language in Sao Tome?

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 & Covid Vaccination Certificate is required for all travellers visiting Sao Tome & Principe. Officers check all visitors upon arrival.

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 excellent 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 a fantastic time.

Check out the G Adventures range of tours in Sao Tome & Principe 

More Practical Tips for Travel in Africa

You may also enjoy reading these 17 ESSENTIAL Things to Know Before Travelling to West Africa.

We wrote a recap of our travels in West Africa in 2019 – it’s good for entertainment if you plan to visit. There are some great West African dishes to try when you get here, too. 

As you’re quite close to Ghana, you may consider trying to stop by for a visit. Our post explains more about travelling in Ghana, and why you’re Ghana love it!

Our Ultimate Packing List for AFRICA has got you covered for all the essentials.

If you’re keen to learn more about what they eat in every African country, then our African Food Map is for you. 

So many more useful articles for travelling in Africa can be found by navigating to our AFRICA Destination Page and selecting the countries you wish to read more about.

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