Until less than a year ago I didn’t know where São Tomé and Príncipe was. To be completely honest, I hadn’t even heard of the country’s name. The islands are in the guinea gulf in West Africa and are the second smallest country in the continent. The country is comprised of two islands, Sao Tome being the biggest island while the smaller one is Principe. The capital is Sao Tome city, on Sao Tome island.
I visited in October for 9 days and previous to my trip it proved quite hard to find up to date information regarding practical travel requirements such as money or accommodation, so here’s everything you need to know about São Tomé and Príncipe so that you can plan your travels with as much information as possible.
Everything you need to know about São Tomé and Príncipe
- Coffee and cocoa cultivation
- Biosphere reserve unesco
- The Equator separates a little part on the south island from the rest of the country
- Dreamy beaches and year round 26ºC degree water
Getting to São Tomé and Príncipe
- Flight: You can fly from Portugal, Angola or Ghana with direct flights. They don’t fly every day of the week but about 2-3 times a week depending on the airline.
- Boat: This is not really an option. You might be lucky and be able to hop on a cargo boat or similar but there are no regular departures.
Travelling between São Tomé and Príncipe
- Flight to connect between the islands both airlines (35min) with STP airways or Africa Connection.
- There are some boats but for practical reasons I wouldn’t recommend them, as they take longer and do not have scheduled departures.
Entry requirements & health information
The information online is not up to date. I recommend you to contact your closest embassy. For EU citizens you only need a valid passport (I found that out after contacting the Brussels embassy).
The islands are in a malaria area, and noted by CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) preventive pills should be taken. Some years ago there was a big campaign to prevent malaria by providing insecticide sprays, mosquito nets and treatment. The citizens will tell you that malaria pills are not necessary in the country, so you can decide for yourself. I didn’t take preventive pills during this trip.
Driving in São Tomé and Príncipe
They drive on the righthand side of the road. Only the main roads are tarred, and the rest are gravel/dirt roads. Even in the cities there are gravel roads. A 4×4 is required for the usual day trips, as potholes, and bumpy gravel roads are common.
During your days on the big island (that is Sao Tome), you will most likely do the southern day tour, the northern day tour and the central day tour. They all require a 4×4 as some parts have tarred roads and some don’t. I have never had to drive so slowly over so many potholes, but it was part of the fun (the co-pilot begs to disagree on how smooth or not I was 😉 )
Paying in São Tomé and Príncipe
They do not accept card payment on the islands. They do not have foreign currency ATMs. I am not joking. São Tomé and Príncipeis (so far and hopefully) the only country that I’ve heard of who doesn’t accept card payments. When booking accommodation online, they will ask for a bank transfer (international). For car rental they will ask you for cash on arrival.
If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, wait until I tell you that their ATMs won’t let you withdraw money. ATM’s only work with their own bank cards. You have to carry cash with you for your whole trip. That means budgeting your possible expenses in advance (I had 1€ left by the time I left – that proves how amazing I am at budgeting, right?). You can bring Euros and pay with them everywhere. Some places won’t accept Euro coins but only Euro notes, so keep that in mind when they give your euro coins back (because, they do have them and are trying to get rid of them). It is a good idea to ask for dobras back instead.
You can also exchange from Euro to Dobras (it is always good to have some small notes) at hotels and near the Petrol Station in Sao Tome. Some guys will be asking “cambio?” “exchange?” and they will follow the official rate (but you should always check).
I only found one exception in Bom Bom Resort, Principe, where I could pay with credit card.
[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQWusDP10I0″ ]
The country is very safe. Not at any point during the trip did I feel unsafe or uneasy. I had two interactions with police while driving the rented car and both were very polite and friendly. People do look at you but it is more of a why-would-you-come-here face than anything else.
São Tomé and Príncipe gained its independence from Portugal in 1975. The language spoken is Portuguese with a very distinct African accent. There is a lack of classrooms and educated teachers, and the unemployment rate is close to 50% on the islands.
The buildings in the main cities haven’t been maintained for the last 40 years, and areas of town are left “abandoned”. There is a need to take care of their beautiful architecture. It feels like they don’t care and conserving their own country is not a priority yet. There is quite a lot of rubbish on the streets as well.
Accommodation in São Tomé and Príncipe
Although the accommodation industry is developing, there are few options available to stay around the country. Most of the accommodation on offer are 5 star and luxury hotels, developed by foreign portfolios. The entry level industry is starting and there are a couple guesthouses available on both islands, although they are not so easy to find. I recommend checking the website Sao Tome islands (https://www.saotomeislands.com/hotel.html) as well as booking.com.
All hotels and guesthouse have internet access, as well as some big restaurants. The different wifi’s that I used were of good quality, enough to stream some youtube videos.
Food and water
Being islands their main source of protein is fish. Fish is served everywhere on the island and is delicious. I had the pleasure to taste what now is my number 1 fish ever at a small restaurant during the stay. Coffee, sugar and cocoa are common. Typical plates include pregos, queijadas and feijoadas.
The tap water is drinking water but as always keep in mind every stomach reacts differently and you should be careful. I recommend having a filtered water bottle just in case.
When is the best time of the year to go
São Tomé and Príncipe is a destination that can be visited all year round. The islands have two rainy seasons. The short rains are in October and November and the main rainy season is in February and March. I travelled in October and the thunderstorms are a force to be taken into consideration. I had good weather but some days after 1pm the rain took charge.
In São Tomé island
- Central day tour
- Southern day tour
- Northern day tour
In Príncipe island
- Visit Praia Banana
- Visit Praia Campinha
Why you should go to São Tomé and Príncipe
- The tourist numbers annually are around 110.000 people. The country is still fairly untouched and has a different offer
- Most beautiful beaches I have ever seen and warm water
- Great endemic flora and the Obo National Park is a UNESCO biosphere area
- Tourism is boosting the economy and giving jobs to the islands and hopefully improving their lives in the near future
- Nice to visit the second smallest country in Africa (after Seychelles) and the smallest capital city in the world, Santo Antonio (Principe island)
During our 10 day trip in Uganda and Rwanda our second last stop was Lake Kivu in Rwanda. The lake forms the border between the DRC and Rwanda, and is also very close to Uganda. We stayed at Paradise Kivu to pamper ourselves.Paradise Kivu recently opened they had an amazing “first year special”, allowing us to save some money and still be a little fancy. We stayed there for two nights and truly did not want to leave.
- Good for: families, couples, friends
- Starting from: 250 USD per night
- Location: Gisenyi, Rwanda
Arriving at Paradise Kivu, Rwanda
Paradise Kivu is 10 minutes away from Gisenyi. The lodge is on the shores of the lake and sits on the side of a hill running from the entrance down to the small private beach.To get there you will have to drive or take a bus to the city of Giseny. from there you can drive if you have a car or hire a motorcycle for about 10 minutes to take you to the accommodation. It is 10 minutes away from town but you can do almost everything from there.
About the lodge
From the main gate you descend onto the first level down, where the kitchen, main common area and restaurant are. The chalets are on both sides of the main area. There’s also an orchard that they use for all fresh produce in the kitchen.The food is made with freshly grown vegetables, fruits and other fresh produce from their own garden. It blew my mind. The menu is extensive and there are different international and local dishes to choose from. We had dinner and breakfast both days and enjoyed the cuisine a lot.We ordered food and enjoyed a improvised picnic on the beach both nights, because there wasn’t another place we would rather be spending that golden hour. The staff was super happy to accommodate and brought all food and drinks down for us.The most outstanding space in the lodge is clearly their private beach. Separating the cabins/main area and the beach there is a grass garden with picnic tables and hammocks. From there, descending cobbled stone stairs one can find the private beach. It is about 6 metres wide in the widest area, but it is perfect and very romantic. The sunsets there cannot compare to any other that I’ve seen, as the sun sets in right in front of one, where the DR Congo is.
The rooms at Paradise Kivu
The rooms are standalone with a little deck area. They have thatched roofs and you can access them walking on cobbled stone paths from the main areas.Inside the room there is a double bed, mosquito net, desk and chair. There was a little walk in closet with a safe and the bathroom.
Activities at Paradise Kivu
The lodge is far enough from the city to not hear noise and sits next to a lake. You can enjoy the beach or the tranquil ambience of the lodge itself – relaxing in the hammocks.They also have a sister property, Paradise Malahide, halfway between town and Paradise Kivu. We took a boat to the other lodge and rented kayaks there. Right in front of the Malahide property the owners have a small private island that you can visit or rent for lunch or dinner.
What I loved the most
The entire lodge feels like an Eden garden, full of greens, trees and chirping birds. But I would be lying if I didn’t say my favourite part of the resort was the private beach… and the food… and the food we ate at the private beach! Both nights the sunset and having dinner sitting on a beach alone was the highlight of my stay.
What could be improved
There is always something you can come up with for this section, but in this case it was quite hard. The only thing I would say is that staff could have given us a better recommendation on where to eat in town. Not a big deal, it was very touristy and we wanted the right local experience.
What is the best food in a restaurant or lodge that you’ve experienced? Paradise Kivu’s food was definitely in my Top 10 greatest ones!
The Garden Route is the perfect add on to a Cape Town holiday. This scenic coastal road is known for the dramatic landscapes while driving along the Indic Ocean. It is famous for locals and tourists alike who want to get out of the buzz and enjoy some nature oriented days. If you have limited days for the drive, here’s the ultimate 4 day Garden Route road trip.
The name Garden Route comes from the great variety of vegetation, lagoons and lakes in the area.
4 day garden route road trip
Day 1: Cape Town – Oudtshoorn
Start the day driving from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn. On your way you have to stop at Ronnies sex shop, a restaurant on the road that has become quite famous. Ronnie had a shop, Ronnies shop, and someone wrote Ronnies Sex shop, making it locally famous.
On arrival to Oudtshoorn leave your bags and head out quickly, as you want to spend the last hours driving the Swartberg pass. I’ve driven a bunch of mountain passes but this one is quite phenomenal. You will need a 4×4 to access it. You can drive either all the way and then back (depending on the time of the day) or just to the highest point to see the mountain from both sides.
Day 2: Oudtshoorn – Tstitsikamma – Plettenberg Bay
Start the day by visiting the UNESCO Cango Caves. There are two visits available: classic tour or adventure. Definitively go for the adventure. The caves are very big and pretty, but the best part was no doubt the adventure. You will walk along very thing corridors, have to almost walk on your fours cause the ceiling is very low and at the end you will have to go down a rock toboggan.
We did it with my family when they were visiting, and my mum decided to not do the last bit with the toboggan. The tour can be followed without much hassle if you are fit/healthy.
Drive next to Tsitsikamma, with a detour to go through Nature’s Valley. There are tall trees in that area of the forest – trees that start about 15m below you and go way higher than road level. I’ve always been more of a mountain lover rather than beach one, so that scenery really impressed me.
After the little detour it was time to get to the Bloukrans bridge. The bridge is 216m high, and that’s from where you can bungee jump. It was more scary/anxious the fact to be waiting at the restaurant before our scheduled time than the actual jump. Being in the bridge itself is funny – the staff is smiling and cracking jokes all the time and there are tunes banging the speakers. The only moment you get scared is when you’re actually left at the edge of the bridge. Later on you hear “3,2,1, bungy” and you jump – there’s really no time to be scared, you don’t have time!
And after you jump, you have tunnel vision for the free fall (about 7s) and then you’re being pulled up by the rope and it’s exhilarating. I always said: I’m never bungee jumping. I want to do skydive but not bungee. And then I skydived and decided that I wanted to do bungee jump. And I was sp sure I wouldn’t want to repeat… Well, I know I’ll do it again one day now. Adrenaline junkie!
If you don’t want to jump you can continue to Tsitsikamma National Park. The park has a lodge and restaurant, as well as different hiking routes. The most visited attraction is the suspension bridge. There are actually 3 of them that you can walk in less than 30minutes from the restaurant.
When you are done drive back to Plettenberg Bay where you can stay at the coziest guest house, called Lala Panzi, the owners are lovely and helpful. Do not stay in, go out for dinner, there’s a main road full of restaurants.
Day 3 Plettenberg bay – Knysna
On the road again, go to to Knysna Lookouts. The lookouts are on the point of land closest to the ocean, so you can see the point where the ocean created the famous Knysna lagoon. When you are done go to the Knysna waterfront where you can walk around and check different types of shops.
The next stop is Wilderness, a charming small village with some restaurants. Have lunch in one of them and then you can either sleep in Knysna or George. It all depends on how long do you want to drive the next day.
Day 4: Knysna/George – Cape Town
Last journey of this 4 day garden route road trip starts with a long drive. Drive back to Cape Town.
Planning a 4 day Garden Route Road Trip? Pin it for later!
Now that my official one year anniversary of living here is around the corner, I wanted to make a post about some incredible things to do in Cape Town. I first came here for an internship and, before I officially moved, came back for some other shorter periods, a couple of months at a time. It is clear through my actions that I love this city and below are just some of the best attractions and activities that you should consider when you visit the mother city.
1. Table Mountain
Table Mountain is the jewel of the Crown (that is, Cape Town ?). The mountain overlooks the city and creates so much charisma? that everyone living in or visiting the mother city uses it to orient themselves.
During your stay in the city, you have to go when there is no “tablecloth” covering the top (which happens often enough). If you like hiking there are a couple of amazing routes starting from Theresa Ave in Camps Bay. My favourite one is Kastelpoort and will take you about 1h40 to get to the top. From there, there is at least another 1hour “flat” walk to the cable car. Around the cable car you will find paths and platforms to walk and you might even meet the Dassies, little animals that look like cuter rats but descend from the same species as elephants!! If you are up for the hike I would highly recommend hiking in the morning and bringing some lunch to stay up there and watch the sunset, coming down with the last Cable Car.
2. Enjoy sunset from any of the city’s rooftops
Cape Town and all its neighbourhoods have some very interesting places to enjoy a spectacular sunset. If you want to find 5 of the best spots for sunset in Cape Town you can read more here.
3. Chapman’s peak drive
Arguably one of the prettiest drives in the entire world, this drive is close to the centre of Cape Town. There are different lookouts to stop and enjoy the views and you should definitely stop at each of them. If you have time, there are a couple hikes as well. Keep in mind that the road is closed due to rocks falling or for bad weather from time to time, so you might drive there and not be able to drive the road. There’s a facebook page where you can check for updates.
4. Walk around the Bo-Kaap
Bo-Kaap means “above the Cape” in Afrikaans. It is the name of the most colourful neighbourhood in Cape Town. It is known incorrectly as “Cape Malay”, because in the 1700’s criminals and slaves were sent from India, Sri Lanka or Malaysia. Today it showcases the oldest Mosque in South Africa and vivid colours on its facades.
5. Shop in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is the harbour area and you can walk around while checking out different malls, shops and markets. It is a great spot to buy South African products.
6. Blue peter’s drink and stroll in Blouberg strand beach
One of the iconic beaches of the Cape, where you can see Cape Town and Table Mountain from a distance. The beach is endless and a perfect spot for a walk that you can finish up with a drink and some tasty food at Blue Peter’s restaurant.
7. Marvel at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Walk around the magnificent gardens of Kirstenbosch. There are different areas and the treetop canopy tour. If you are around the city in Summer (November to February) check out the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts for a great evening of music.
8. Cape Point day tour
Go to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve to see the spot where most people think the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet (but it’s not true!). Go to Simon’s town and Boulder’s Beach where you can see the little penguins. Afterwards go to St James beach to see the coloured houses and finish the day at Kalky’s for the best fish and chips in town.
The Winelands is the name of the area surrounding Cape Town. It is called this because of, well, wine. You can find thousands of wine estates and hotels in the area. I would suggest visiting at least 2 or 3 different wineries to get a feel for the different landscapes and various wines.
My favourite one to start with is Babylonstoren because they have an incredible garden where all their fresh produce comes from.
Drive to Boschendal for another wine tasting and head to Franschoek for that small town feel. If you don’t want to drive, there’s the option of taking the “Wine Tram” which will take you to different venues (but the wine is not included in the ticket price!).
If you like art, go to Stellenbosch and check all the antiquities shops around.
10. Canter on the beach of Noordhoek
One of the most incredible things to do in Cape Town is to go for a horse ride at Noordhoek beach. You can enjoy a nice ride on an endless beach with amazing views of the ocean.
11. Do a Woodstock grafitti tour
One of my personal favourite things to do is to checkout the graffiti scattered on the walls around Woodstock neighbourhood. On my way back from work I drive past some of the most amazing ones, here are some examples. You can book half day tours to drive around the neighbourhood (if you don’t know where they are you might not find them on your own).
12. Take a mini taxi
The white vans along main roads, make sure you ask a local first and know where you are going. It is a different experience that scared me the first couple of times but has since become my way to move around the city and I am very comfortable with it.
Disclaimer: it is not for the faint of heart, as they drive like maniacs. If you are new to the city and don’t know anyone I wouldn’t recommend you jump on one without a friend (for the first time experience).
Planning your own trip to Cape Town? Save this list of incredible things to do in Cape Town for the future!
Set in the Klaserie Private Concession sharing unfenced borders with the Kruger National Park, Nthambo tree camp is the place of wildest dreams for all of you treehouse and wildlife enthusiasts.This lodge has a rustic style, is intimate and it is mostly made from canvas tents and wooden decks.
- Good for: families, couples, friends
- Starting from: 4775 ZAR per person per night (253,60€)
- Location: Klaserie private reserve, National Park Kruger, South Africa
Arriving at Nthambo Tree Camp
nThambo Tree Camp is located inside a private concession in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. It’s closest airport is Hoedspruit Airport (HDS). Flights to the airport are expensive, so you can choose to arrive in Johannesburg and get a shuttle bus or hire a car to drive. You can access the lodge with the private car or transfer.The drive from Hoedspruit to the lodge will take around 30 minutes. If you drive from Johannesburg, the drive will take around 5-6h.
First impressions of nThambo Tree Camp
The general manager sat us down with a fresh glass of juice in our hands and ran over the camp’s logistics, rules and considerations.The main area comprises a living room with a bar, the outside wooden deck with some hammoqs and a little plunge pool. there’s always a big communal table for dining and a curio shop.
Treehouses in the Kruger: nThambo Tree Camp
The rooms are elevated on top of wooden decks, creating the feeling of treehouses in the bush. Each room has a double bed with mosquito net, ensuite bathroom, a desk, chair and closet.The sides of the chalet are canvas tent, while the floor is wooden and there’s thatched roof. There is also a fan inside as well as two little stools to put your bags on top. The lodge has 5 chalets, two on one side and three on the other. They have recently added a two bedroom chalet for families.
Food and drinks at nThambo
Like most lodges in the private concessions of the Kruger national park, the rate includes full board with activities. All our meals were catered for and the food was varied and tasty.Every day they provide coffee, tea and rusks before the morning game drive. During the drive there will be a coffee/hot chocolate stop. On arrival back at the lodge there’s a hot breakfast.Lunch is served around 2pm and there are sundowner drinks and snacks offered in the evening game drive while the sun is setting. Dinner is also served at the communal table.
Wildlife activities at Nthambo
We visited with my family during dry season, South African winter (from June to October). The leaves have fallen from most trees which makes it easier to spot the animals. It is also the high season for safari in South Africa.They have a traverse area shared with other 4 lodges. Game viewing was amazing during our two night stay. We saw the big 5, plain games and were lucky enough to see a pack of wild dogs fighting with a hyena – a once in a lifetime experience!The vehicle is an open safari vehicle 4×4, with 3 rows of 3, the driver, co-pilot and the tracker in the front. The seats are padded and comfortable. There is a blanket for you to cover yourself when it’s cold in the mornings and evenings, and there is also a rain jacket in a pocket in front of your seat in case of rain.There is only one vehicle at this camp, so if the camp is full then the car will be too. Some other lodges limit the number of people to 6 so you all have a “window” seat.
They offer Bush walks as part of their rate. Bush walks are walks around the camp area which last usually for 1 hour. They include an armed guard and the guide, just as a preventive measure. It was an amazing experience and it let’s one focus so much more on little things like footprints and different types of poop (for real).
What makes this camp Eco friendly?
Nthambo tree Camp is implementing different policies day by day to strive to be an eco-friendly camp. The waste is separated and recycled, there are no more plastic bags: the food is delivered in boxes and they have paper bags for souvenirs.They run on solar power and a generator using diesel. They are bringing new batteries for the solar to be able to store more energy. The generator runs on diesel during game drives to not disturb (it is a bit noisy) and also because if they wouldn’t, the battery wouldn’t last for the full camp during the night.
What I loved the most
Tree houses – DUH. Of course when I picked my safari accommodation early last year I already knew I was going for the tree houses. If you want to complement your treehouse bush experience with an outside of Cape Town tree house head over here.
What could be improved
The only improvement I would point out is that at breakfast they don’t ask about how do you want your eggs done, and every day it is different. Eggs are a very particular taste, so not having an option felt like a waste of food.
Have you ever stayed in a unique accommodation? For more inspiration check my Sweet Dreams Section
The first sight of a running impala, the slow motion gallop of a giraffe or a family of zebras crossing the road. Safaris are one of the most exquisite activities we can experience in the bush. There are different ways to experience a safari, and staying on a South African private concession lodge is my favourite of them all (so far!).
What are private concessions in South Africa?
Private concessions are parts of National Parks that are rented out from the government. They are privately owned or leased.
What are the advantages of staying in a South African private concession lodge?
There are fewer cars in the traverse (Traverse: area in which one or more lodges have the right to drive for the safaris). That means that you will barely see any other cars while on your game drive. There is a 2 car (maximum of 3) rule for sightings: If there are 5 different cars in the area, and one finds a group of animals they will communicate over the walkie talkie.
Only two cars (maximum of three for special sightings or occasions) will be allowed, compared to sometimes 10 cars in the public areas. That ensures good sightings and sparser crowds. It is also possible to do game drives during sunset – after 6 pm – the public area of the park closes gates at 6 after which game drives are not allowed.
My favourite advantage of staying at a private concession is the right to go bundu bashing or leave the regular paths to follow an animal. By doing that you get close to skittish animals like cats, who won’t be next to the roads the majority of time.
What’s included in the private concession lodge rate
Lodges in private concessions generally operate on a full board basis. The rate includes 2 game drives per day, all food and accommodation. Some lodges also include a selection of alcoholic drinks in their rate. If they have qualified staff, they might offer other optional activities like walking safaris or bush walks – it depends on the lodge.
Your typical day at a South African private concession lodge
05:30 Wake Up Call and Quick Coffee
Your guide/tracker will knock on your room to wake you up. You have half an hour to get out of bed, get dressed and head to the main area, where some coffee and tea will be supplied to help wake you up.
06:00 Morning Game Drive
Start your morning safari and head to the bush to find the early risers. The safari will usually take 2:30 to 3 hours and might include a coffee/tea/hot chocolate stop with rusks (hard biscuits that you dunk in the coffee).
After all that adventure sit down for a proper breakfast (hot and cold options available).
10:00 Free time or optional activities
If optional activities like bush walks are offered, this will be the time to do them. They usually last about an hour and include learning about footprints, dung, smaller animals and local plants. You might run into some larger animals as well. After that take your time to relax by the pool, have a nap or read a book.
13:30 – 14:00 Lunch time
Have a meal and some more free time before your next game drive
15:30 Afternoon game drive
Depart one more time for an exciting drive trying to find the famous Big 5: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. When the sun is setting, and the sky turns red and pink you will stop in another beautiful location to have snacks and a glass of wine, a beer or whatever your preferred drink is!
19:00 Dinner and free time
End your day chatting around the boma (fire pit outdoor area) about all the day’s sightings and share the last meal. At this point your day is over and you can stay up and talk all night or go to bed and get ready for the next day.
The next day: the adventure repeats itself!
*Spoiler alert: after being on safari several times in a South African private concession lodge , I can say it is not an activity one can get tired of (but it is tiring!)