São Tomé and Príncipe is the second smallest state in Africa after the Seychelles… located around 200 km off the west coast of the continent, in the Gulf of Guinea. The island state is formed by the two main islands and the smaller islands of Rólas Cabras, Gago Coutinho and Pedras Tinhosas. Whereby Príncipe with 128 square kilometers is also rather small compared to São Tomé with 836 square kilometers. About 90% of the total population of the state live on São Tomé. In terms of landscape, the islands are by and large similarly worth seeing – only that Príncipe is less mountainous. On excursions through nature you will come across peaks of extinct volcanoes, waterfalls, streams, rainforest and hill country, dreamy white sandy beaches, lonely bays and mangroves and countless species of birds. As well as an underwater world off the coast that is considered to be one of the best in all of Africa. What also characterizes the landscape, especially inland, are the remains of what were once large farms that belonged to coffee, cocoa and sugar cane plantations. Nostalgic villas and trading houses from the Portuguese colonial era are also integrated into the landscape, which is often lush with tropical vegetation. Settlement today is concentrated on Príncipe on the small capital St. Antonio, on São Tomé on the capital of the same name, founded at the end of the 15th century. Visiting the latter is recommended – because of the architectural relics from the colonial era, but also for a visit to the National Museum, to visit the old fortress or for the atmosphere in the busy markets.
Cidade de Sao Tome
São Tomé City, the capital of the state of São Tomé and Príncipe, which consists of two islands, is located in the northeast of the island of São Tomé directly on the sea and has around 55,000 inhabitants. Sights of the lively city, strongly influenced by the long Portuguese colonial rule, include the fort, the national museum, the cathedral, the presidential palace and the two large markets.
Under foreign rule
The Portuguese Fort (Forte de São Sebastião) was built in the second half of the 16th century on the northeastern tip of the city and now serves as the national museum. A visit is recommended insofar as the painful history of the islanders is illustrated here, the majority of whom were used as plantation slaves. Photographs and documents commemorate the Batepá massacre, in which nearly 2,000 people were murdered in 1953. In addition, the museum houses a collection of religious art and provides information on the history of agriculture and the period after independence was achieved in 1975.
Two important buildings
If you walk from the fort along Avenida da Independência towards the city center, you will soon come to the cathedral (Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Graça de São Tomé), which was built at the beginning of the 16th century. Its two towers can be seen from afar and when mass is celebrated on Sunday, it is well attended. Almost 90 percent of the population of the young state belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Right next to the cathedral is the Presidential Palace, a long, pink building with neoclassical elements that is surrounded by a large garden and guarded around the clock.
Markets worth seeing
Not far from these two buildings and in the middle of the center there is a large market (Mercado Municipal), where everything is offered in the covered area as well as in the outdoor area that the island offers in terms of delicacies and what is needed on a daily basis. Hustle and bustle, a considerable volume and dense crowd are essential, no space is wasted. In 2007 the so-called New Market (Mercado Novo) was opened a few hundred meters away, which is calm and orderly compared to the Mercado Municipal. Visiting the markets is a special experience.
Roca Monte Forte
After exciting hikes on the slopes of São Tomé Mountain, visitors to São Tomé e Príncipe Island can also head south to see even more of the beautiful African island. The first stop is Roça Monteforte, an old and still functioning cocoa plantation. Shortly after leaving the main road and going up a steep path, you come to an open space where white colonial buildings with red roofs have been built in the shape of a horseshoe. Since the presence of strangers immediately catches the residents’ attention, you can always find someone willing to take an impromptu tour of the plantation.
An entire building used to be dedicated to drying cocoa pods, but has long since been closed. Visitors are often allowed in anyway and look at the very long oven, which is located here under a plateau on which the cocoa pods were placed to dry. On the other side of the island, in Roça Ize, there is still a working oven, but the plantation guides explain that there is a better way to dry the cocoa. To show this more precisely, tourists are led to a place with long wooden tables and plastic roofs. The tables are full of cocoa beans. During the very interesting tour you learn that drying on these tables takes about a week. Every table has a large wooden fork that can be used to move the beans regularly. The drying process is closely observed.
The dry beans are trucked to the port of São Tomé, from where they are shipped to Europe to be made into chocolate. If you want, you can try a cocoa bean after the tour. There is definitely a hint of chocolate to taste. For many visitors, a tour of the cocoa plantation is a real highlight of their Africa trip. You will never again mindlessly eat a piece of chocolate at home without remembering how much work it is to make it.
The West African island state of São Tomé and Príncipe impresses with its very pronounced serenity and a relaxed atmosphere, which lets you quickly forget the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The islands worth seeing, which are still strongly influenced by the Portuguese colonial era, have many interesting buildings from this time, which give the islands a very special charm.
Príncipe – a haven of peace and quiet
In particular Príncipe, the smaller of the two main islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, is a tropical paradise that offers lonely dream beaches and magnificent buildings from the colonial era in front of an incredibly beautiful natural backdrop. The former Roça Sundi plantation house, for example, is particularly worth seeing and is steeped in history, where the Portuguese royal family once resided and which offers interesting insights into the past of Príncipes as a world-renowned stronghold of cocoa cultivation. Thanks to the very high quality cocoa, which is cultivated here in painstaking detailed work and which still plays a very important role for all of São Tomé and Príncipe, the production of chocolate has been perfected by committed masters in their field in recent years,
Roça Sundi – history comes to life here
In addition to beautiful and above all lonely beaches, such as the fantastic Banana Beach in the shape of a banana, the already mentioned Roca Sundi complex, which includes a hospital, a church, stables and a coffee roastery, is another special place on Príncipe that you can visit in kidnapped another world. Playing children, who use the once stately plantation nowadays to play soccer, shape Roca Sundi as well as one of the most important events of mankind that took place in this place and which is remembered with a memorial plaque. Because in Roca Sundi Arthur Stanley Eddington was able to prove Albert Schweitzer’s theory of relativity for the first time in 1919 during a solar eclipse.