Sao Tome and Principe

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Introduction to Sao Tome and Principe

Drink the best coffee in the world (so they say). Experience a culture that is a mix of African and Portuguese with a touch of Latin duende and rhythm thrown in. Escape the hordes. Snorkel in crystalline waters. Climb ancient volcanoes. Check out amazing bird life found nowhere else in the world.

Lush jungles, untouched beaches and fabulously decaying colonial architecture rub shoulders on these tiny equatorial islands. They're also safer than most of the hotspots in Africa, more beautiful than most of the mainland countries nearby, and more friendly than the Friendly Islands.

Full country name: Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe

Area: 964 sq km

Population: 175,000

Capital City: Sao Tome

People: Descendents of Angolan slaves and Europeans

Language: Portuguese

Religion: Roman Catholic

Government: republic

Head of State: President Fradique de Menezes

Head of Government: Prime Minister Damiao Vaz De Almeida

GDP: US$164 million

GDP per capita: US$1,100

Annual Growth: 2.5%

Inflation: 21%

Major Industries: Fish processing, textiles, soap, beer, timber, cocoa

Major Trading Partners: Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, France, Belgium, Japan, Angola

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Everybody needs a visa, and the best place to get one is in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Health risks: malaria, schistosomiasis (bilharzia), hepatitis

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +0

Dialling Code: 239

Electricity: 220/240V

Weights & measures: Metric

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São Tomé and Príncipe celebrate all the main Christian holidays, as well as Independence Day (12 July) and Martyrs Day (3 February).

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Best time to Visit

It's best to go between June and September. The rest of the year is muggy and hot - you'll be swimming in rain and your own sweat.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Dobra


Mid-range: DbUS$5-8

High: DbUS$8-10

Deluxe: DbUS$10+


Budget: US$8-15

Mid-range: US$15-50

High: US$50-70

Deluxe: US$70+

A stay on São Tomé & Príncipe is inexpensive, and, apart from a few nightclubs and the theatre, there's little to spend your money on. Budget travellers will get by in reasonable comfort for US$25 a day, and there's little reason to spend much more than US$60 if you want to stay in mid-range hotels. If you want to stay at the top end of town, go to nightclubs every night and throw in a few game-fishing trips, be prepared to spend about US$200 a day.

Don't exchange much money into dobra at first, because most hotels and taxi drivers insist on payment in US dollars or CFA. Restaurants, on the other hand, want dobra. Many people will exchange money on the black market, at the Feira do Ponto close to the Conceição Church. You can also change money at licensed shops such as the Tropical in Rua da Moçambique, and Tyk-Tak in Rua Morta. The only place where you can change travellers cheques is the Banco Internacional de São Tomé e Príncipe (BISTP) on the Praça de Independência.

In the more upmarket restaurants you should tip about 10% to 15% of the bill. Bargaining is normal in the markets, and even in some places to stay, but not, of course, in top-end hotels.

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São Tomé

The capital is a picturesque little town on the northeast coast of the main island. Nestled on a bay, it is full of badly neglected Portuguese colonial buildings but superbly maintained parks and gardens. The town centre is small enough to negotiate on foot in a couple of hours.

Worth seeing are the 16th century cathedral, and the National Museum in the 400 year-old Fort São Sebastião on the peninsula, about 1.2km (0.7mi) from the centre of town. It has a good range of displays on agriculture, religion, handcrafts and juju, and a hard hitting display on the slave trade.

Northern São Tomé

This beautiful island is full of the oddly weathered, pillar-like remnants of extinct volcanoes, some of which rise 600m (196ft) straight up out of the jungle. The coasts are ringed with white sandy beaches and clear water. You can also visit the coffee and cocoa plantations not far from town.

North of town, there is some stunning scenery but not many beaches. The country dries out around the north of the island, where magnificent baobab trees grow among rolling hills. The road peters out into dense jungle just past Santa Catarina, which is as far as the taxis will go on the west coast.

Southern São Tomé

From Porto Alegre, 37km (23mi) south of São Tomé, you can hire a motorised pirogue to take you to Ilha das Rolas, an islet smack on the equator. Other than for boasting when you get home, there's otherwise no point in making the trip. Traffic to Porto Alegre is light - the road is awful.


Trinidade is a pleasant town in the island's interior, and you can visit the waterfall Cascadas de São Nicolau nearby. You can also hike up Pico São Tomé, the island's highest point at 2024m (6639ft). There are buses couple of hours from São Tomé, a trip of about 10km (6mi), or you can hitch.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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