Located far off Africa’s coast, there’s an island nation of wild volcanic beauty and absolute escapism. Where rainforests and mountains sweep above private beaches and contemporary resorts. Where the coastline is part of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and there’s a direct flight connection to Europe.
Ready to Be the Explorer?
Welcome to Sao Tome & Principe, a tiny island paradise in the centre of the world, at 1 degree north and 7 degrees east to be precise.
Formed by volcanic eruptions some 30 million years ago, this African country has more endemic wildlife species than the Galapagos.
Here you stay on the beach, surrounded by tropical African rainforest. You can walk or sail to dozens of golden beaches which have absolutely no road access. You can follow birdsong to hidden waterfalls, lunch in fishermen villages, then spend the afternoon beneath a palm tree.
Undiscovered is an understatement here. Before the pandemic, Mauritius received 1.4 million annual visitors. The Seychelles had close to half a million. Only 30,000 visit Sao Tome & Principe. That’s not a typo. This country sees 50 times fewer visitors than Mauritius.
It’s one of the world’s least visited countries, yet it provides a genuine five-star experience.
Here it’s not exceptional to be a small, boutique and sustainable resort. Everything about tourism in Sao Tome & Principe is small-scale, boutique and integrated with the country’s excellent conservation record.
Hopefully you can imagine the experiential luxury. Like sailing to empty beaches, trekking in virgin rainforest, swimming in tropical bays, and following cacao from bean to bar. Or hanging out with locals and searching for ruined citadels in the forest.
But many people find it hard to believe that such an undeveloped destination can also be home to high-quality accommodation.
Sunday Praia is a five-star beachfront resort with just 14 villas. Each is dominated by local artistic and architectural features and that’s important here. The idea is not to have a European experience in a tropical location. It’s to have a local and authentic experience, with five-star European comforts.
1 bedroom villas measure 70㎡ plus a private outdoor terrace area. Three-bedroom villas are more than 150㎡, plus a private pool and large wraparound terrace.
An inclusive stay includes breakfast, dinner and house drinks. More importantly, a stay also includes a daily half-day guided experience. You spend the morning exploring, then the afternoon relaxing. It can be on the water, in the rainforest, into small villages and out to places few foreigners have ever seen.
There are very few island paradises left to explore and develop. Which is one reason Sao Tome & Principe is going to trend. More significantly, this new destination finds a perfect balance between beach holiday and real adventure. It has this mix of exploring and relaxing, discovering something totally unique while having your all-important downtime.
Mostly these islands attract couples and we wouldn’t recommend it for children aged under ten. However, it can be great for families with teenagers.
TAP has three direct flights a week from Lisbon to Sao Tome. There are daily (except Tuesdays) 25-minute local flights between Sao Tome and Principe. Currently you need to do a one-night layover on Sao Tome, where there’s a decent lodge close to the airport. This is due to a Covid testing requirement. We’d recommend a week on Principe and you could also combine Sunday Praia with the island’s plantation lodge, Roca Sunday.
The final reason we know Sao Tome & Principe will soon trend is the price and value. This is a natural playground beyond what any visitor can imagine, yet a five-star inclusive stay is significantly cheaper than the more famous beach holiday destinations outside Europe.
January to March is turtle hatching season. July to September are the driest months and most popular time to visit. April and May are generally avoided as these are the wettest months.
It may sound incredibly adventurous. Maybe even daring. Remember, Mauritius and The Seychelles were incredibly adventurous and daring not so long ago. Just imagine the experience had by the first explorers on those islands. That could be you in Sao Tome & Principe.