What to do and where to stay in Sao Tome and Principe
Sao Tome is hands down one of the most surprisingly beautiful places we’ve visited. Before we came here we couldn’t find much information on where to stay in Sao Tome and what to do here. So we wrote the blog.
A friend told us we’d love the natural beauty, the warm climate and the lush tropical surroundings, but this destination still caught us by surprise. The best thing about the island of Sao Tome is that you can hire a car and go at your own pace. This is exactly what we did.
Here is a quick guide on where to stay in Sao Tome and what to do here
We booked cheap flights from Accra in Ghana with TAP Portugal. This airline has flights that originate from Lisbon to Sao Tome, with a stop in Accra.
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. Australian passport holders (which I hold) require a visa to be pre-arranged before arrival.
You can apply for an E-Visa online through the official Sao Tome government page. Fill in the online form, upload a copy of your passport and wait for up to 5 days to receive a confirmation email.
Remember to print this page and bring it with you. You must pay 20 Euro (cash) once you arrive at the airport. The visa stamp takes a full page of your passport.
NOTE: Yellow Certificate is required for all travellers visiting Sao Tome & Principe and all visitors are checked by officers upon arrival.
Currency: The local currency used in Sao Tome & Principe is the Sao Tomean Dobra (STN).
At the time of writing: USD $1 = 21.20 STN / EUR 1 = 24.58 ST
NOTE: This is a cash country, meaning that most Western/International bank cards will not work in the limited ATM’s 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 euros. If you don’t have euros, bring USD.
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. Unless you’re staying at expensive resorts, not many people speak English. I recommend you try to learn some basic Portuguese before your arrival, just to get by and be able to read menus in restaurants, get directions etc.
Where to Stay in Sao Tome?
We decided to base ourselves in Sao Tome city and do day trips. We booked a wonderful boutique guesthouse, Albergria Porcelana.
We loved this place, and the location is perfect. The price starts from $29 for a single room or $39 for a double room. This includes government tax and a delicious breakfast each morning at their restaurant just below the hotel.
Our hotel was reasonably new and incredibly clean. There’s an area to chill out in an open living room for guests and the wifi connection is fantastic.
If the above hotel isn’t available for your dates, another good option for where to stay in Sao Tome is Sweet Guest House. This property is more expensive, yet it’s in a great location and has everything you need for a comfortable stay.
Where to stay in Sao Tome – Our room in Albergria Porcelana
What to see in Sao Tome?
Sao Tome city is interesting to check out, a few sights worth seeing here before you explore the island.
I’d recommend you go and visit the fortress. There’s also a small beach here where you’ll see locals swimming and a small food market where you can find some ladies cooking street food, including the local speciality, seas snails skewered and grilled.
Grab a plastic chair and enjoy a cold beer here too. There are some old empty colonial houses and an abandoned pool nearby here. A visit to the fresh markets is always a good way to immerse yourself in the culture. The variety of fruit, vegetables and fresh fish is fantastic here.
How To Get Around the Island?
Shared Taxis (yellow minivans) do laps around the island. They are cheap, however, they do a set route and stick to the mainland. Most of the interesting sights to see are off the mainland, hidden in small pockets and roads. For this reason, I’d recommend you hire a car to have the flexibility to go wherever you like.
How much does it cost to hire a car in Sao Tome?
Privilege Car Hire has the cheapest car hire on the island. You can rent a small Suzuki Jimny jeep for 40 EUR per day which includes assistance and full risk insurance.
Hire a Car with a Driver – This is another option. You can hire a car with a local English driver/guide for around 60-80 euros per day. Alternatively, Privilege Tours also offer day tours of different routes of the island from 60 EUR per person.
São Tomé Downtown
What to do in Sao Tome – Drive the Southern Route
This part of the island is probably the most popular route from the little number of tourists who trickle in each year. Less than 15,000 visitors per year to be exact.
The Southern route can be described as lush, tropical and picturesque. Enjoy fantastic roads which are reasonably quiet of traffic. We were lucky to have passed only 40 vehicles for the entire day.
As soon as you’ve driven only ten minutes out of the small city of Sao Tome, it gets very green.
Check out Roca Agua Ize, only 17km from the city. This was once one of the biggest cocoa plantations, but today it’s abandoned. Back in the day, over 2500 locals and at least 60 Europeans used to work here. As the plantation was so large, the workers had their own village here.
To look after such a large working population, an ultra-modern Portuguese hospital was built here in 1928. This was considered to be the best hospital in all of West Africa. You can explore the ruins of this abandoned hospital here too.
Just a few minutes south of Roca Agua Ize is “Boca de Inferno” (Hell’s Mouth). The short drive here is also gorgeous. See the water pound against the rocks to create a natural blowhole.
From here, drive to São João dos Angolares. This town is the biggest along the southern coast. The town itself doesn’t have too much to see, but it’s where you’ll find the best restaurant in the country.
Eat lunch at Roca Sao Joao
Eat the best food in Sao Tome at Roca Sao Joao
Roca Sao Joao Restaurant is inside an old cocoa plantation that has been restored and now sits on the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. If you’re interested in eating some amazing local food, I highly recommend you book ahead and make a reservation to eat here.
A famous Portuguese TV chef, João Carlos Silva offers a degustation menu of 12 courses for $30 per person. He and his team prepare and cook some wonderful fresh dishes using tropical fruits, vegetables and fresh seafood from the island. The lunch starts around 1.00 pm, so it’s best to time your arrival to enjoy this unforgettable lunch.
This is another option on where to stay in Sao Tome
This beautifully restored old plantation home is now also a country hotel and offers 6 beautiful rooms. Rates start at $42 per night which includes a superb breakfast. Click here to see more details about this property.
There is also a recommended hike starting from here. Ask about it at reception when you stop in here for more information.
A further 20 min drive south of São João dos Angolares is the most famous site of Sao Tome & Principe, Pico Cao Grande, one of nature’s most impressive volcanic rocks in the world. Cross your fingers that the sky is clear of mist and you’re able to snap a picture of this awesome peak.
The site mentioned below is only for those wanting to cross the equator.
You can cross the equator in Sao Tome!
Further south down the coast is the small town of Porto Alegre, it’s the last town on the southern coast of Sao Tome. From the beach here (next to the Hotel Praia Inhame), you can catch a 20 min boat ride each way across to Rola’s Island. This is where you can cross the equator.
A return trip with a local fisherman in a small boat is 40 EUR. The ride can be rough if there are waves and be prepared to get wet or take a dry bag to cover camera equipment etc.
You will get off the boat in a small village and it’s an easy 20 min uphill hike to the equator marker.
NOTE: If you leave early and plan on taking a day trip and returning to Sao Tome city, you should have time to cross the equator (read below). To fit this into the day, you’d need to skip the 12-course degustation menu. You need to allow about 2.5 hours for this lunch.
If you’re not returning to Sao Tome city today, you can also stay on Rola’s Island at Pestana Equator. This is a 4-star resort, so expect a very comfortable stay.
The Central Route
The roads along the Central route are in fantastic condition and this road takes you up through the heart of the island, through lush and tropical surroundings. You’ll pass by small villages and see many local wooden houses on stilts. The amount of fruit trees along here is astounding.
I’d recommend you drive to Monte Café, an old coffee and cocoa plantation. Here you can learn how coffee and cocoa is produced and make sure you try their coffee in their café overlooking the mountains of this region. They also have bags of fresh coffee beans for sale at only $4.50 per 250g bag.
Another highlight is to visit São Nicolau Waterfall. You can swim here and relax away from the heat. The drive to reach this waterfall is beautiful. You’ll feel the temperature drop, yet the lush surroundings are vivid green and its silent here except for the sound of birds and nature.
The Northern Route
Along the Northern route, you’ll discover some secluded little beaches, bays and beautiful panoramas. The roads along the Northern Route aren’t in the best condition, expect lots of random potholes. The route is still very green, however, it’s more rural and less developed, expect more countryside and grasslands.
Around 30min drive from Sao Tome city is Lagoa Azul, a small lagoon with blue clear waters. The perfect place for snorkelling (bring your own equipment) or simply relaxing. We were the only people there on the day of our visit.
Don’t miss Praia dos Tamarindos
The main highlight along this route is reaching Praia dos Tamarindos beach. Here you will find lots of locals swimming at one of the most popular beaches on the island. Park your car and jump in the warm waters.
There will be great music playing, local snacks and corn on the cobs grilling and a great place to chill in the sun for a few hours.
The beauty of this island is that it’s entirely up to you as to what you’d like to see and do. Some people enjoy the beaches, others enjoy spending their time hiking or exploring small villages. However you like to spend your time on vacation, I’d say that Sao Tome has so much to offer any visitor.
Principe is the other island, much smaller than Sao Tome. We didn’t have time to visit this island on this occasion, however, we would love to return and do so as we’ve already fallen in love with Sao Tome. Many people told us that Principe is even more pristine, lush and untouched than Sao Tome. We’re not sure how that is possible, but apparently, it’s true.
It’s worth noting that both islands are fast becoming well known as being very eco-friendly and lodges are popping up to give visitors some very comfortable options for accommodation.
So what’s stopping you? Book that flight ticket with Skyscanner (the best prices available) and go and visit Sao Tome & Principe now!
Make sure you’re covered with comprehensive travel insurance for your trip. We use World Nomads Travel Insurance and we’d highly recommend them to all travellers.
A coffee lover, history junkie, former tour guide, and endless optimist. The mastermind of logistics and chief navigator for Very Hungry Nomads, two women on an adventure to visit EVERY country in the world. Marty is a social butterfly who describes her life as “just livin’ the dream".