I hope this piece inspires you to pack up your bags and head out to São Tome or any place of your choice actually! Go! pack! Explore! As Gustave Flaubert put it “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
My trip to São Tome was birthed out of curiosity and the drive for adventure. It was birthed out of my drive to curve new paths for myself.
“Why would you want to travel to an old colonial town with nothing there to see?”
“Why pay this or that much in tickets just to go to an African island still struggling with civilization?”
“I thought you wanted to go to New York to have new year’s at Time square… that will be more fun and that would mean you get to clear something off your travel and adventure list.”
These were just a few of the comments i got from people who knew i was making my maiden trip to “São Tome e Príncipe”. So one very early morning in my office whiles doing my usual daily reflections, I asked myself , “why not Sao Tome?” Why not take this trip and see if what these people are saying about the country is actually true and whether it was worth giving up my New York Trip.
Planning started for this trip in October as I have come to learn that holding a passport as mine with restricted access into other countries ,meant I had to find out all the necessary arrangements required to go to another country.
Ghanaians require a visa to get to São Tome e Príncipe. The good news is that the visa is an online visa which you can get at http://www.smf.st/virtualvisa/enault.asp?Language=english . All you need to do is have ready your airline and ticket details, pdf of your passport biodata page and your accommodation details. Visit the site and get all the required documents as well to enable you acquire your visa. Good news is, it takes less than twenty minutes to be able to complete the online form. You will pay 20 euros for the visa once you get to the country. Remember to get your yellow fever vaccination better still you can take that shot at the airport.
Booking your flight can be a bit stressful if you are like me always looking for budget tickets…hahaha ! but why pay $700 when you can pay $297 for the same flight right? The airline that mostly goes to Sao Tome is TAP Portugal. You can visit https://www.flytap.com/pt-st/ or use skyscanner to compare ticket prices as well as get relatively cheap flights
Once again you have the option of getting budget accommodation or a more expensive yet comfortable accommodation with everything sorted for you. For more comfortable ones where tourist visit sites are well planned for guests, you pay more.
I booked my accommodation on http://www.booking.com and got relatively cheap accommodation. What I paid for four (4) nights was what someone paid for one night in a more luxurious hotel but remember that I had to forgo comfort, swimming pool on a daily basis etc.
Now that you have your tickets and visa online, and accommodation sorted, let’s get ready for our maiden trip to Sao Tome. The flight with TAP Portugal will most likely arrive at the São Tome e Príncipe airport at about 17:30 GMT. After security checks and payment for your visa you can proceed outside to the car park to pick a taxi. Majority of the people in São Tome do not even understand English let alone speak If you are lucky enough to meet the Minority few who do, they will definitely help you. I would advise you to arrange for transportation from the airport to your hotel or you could be like me and start your adventure right from the car park finding your way to your hotel. Trust me its stressful but fun!!!
PLACES TO VISIT
You can look up several blogs on the Internet to find out places that interest you but there is one place I see no reason you visiting So Tome and not seeing if you are an explorer: THE EQUATOR!! You have to be there and whiles you are at it why not pay 56 Euros to Pestana lodge to have a full day’s package of swimming, buffet lunch, amazing view at the Ilhéu Das Rolas Resort and oh! your boat and bus ride is covered to and fro. No stress!
TAKE A WALK THROUGH TOWN AND STUMBLE UPON PLACES!
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block.
I am sure you are saying” why would i do that? i am in a strange place where a few people speak english, what will I do if I get lost? hahaha!
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark.
oh yes it is! I felt so happy, alone , so excited as near explosion and different when I woke up the next day in a different world knowing nobody. I decided to take a stroll through town and get lost. Yes that was the plan, but then I stumbled upon many beautiful places and buildings, met a few friends from all over the world and got a new perspective to travel… I will share that in my next blog
GO HIKING UP THE MOUNTAIN / OR ON A BIKE
Early morning hiking up the mountain is perfect on the way to the waterfall. You will meet lots of locals along the way either going to the farm or returning, you will get to walk through many smaller towns and absorb the morning air on your way. If you plan to do this my advice is to remember to bring along your hiking boots! Don’t be like me! Better still you have the option of paying for a motor bike.
SEE THE São NICOLAU WATERFALL
If you decide to hike up to the mountain through Monte Cafe, I bet you that the waterfall will definitely be an icing on the cake. Take this view of mine to serve as a motivation as you hike up the mountain. It rains often in the afternoons in Sao Tome but briefly. Up the mountain, it can get very dangerous when the storm is very strong, the fog very thick and the rain pouring doesn’t make a good experience unless you love taking risk like I do. Study the weather carefully if you decide to go hiking up the mountain to see the waterfall.
VISIT THE São Sebastiao FORT
A beautiful fort from the outside. Nice scenery to take pictures and enjoy the beach. You can decide to go inside the fort to see the old remains of the Angolan slaves who first settled in São Tome. You will need to pay an entrance “entrada” fee of 100 dobras (4 euros). Once in make sure you climb up the light house to catch the beautiful view from the top.. its breathtaking!
SEE THE Palacio Presidencial AND THE OLD CHURCH
You can get to see the Presidential Palace from afar just outside the old church across the beach but you will not be allowed to get close to the gate let alone enter. There are military men positioned outside the gate to make sure of that. The view of the church takes you centuries back to the colonial days.
VISIT THE PESTANA OCEAN AND SPA HOTEL
Visit Pestana Ocean and Spa Hotel if you decide not to lodge there like I did. I will leave a few pictures here which will hopefully convince you to go there! Just buy yourself a glass of wine and sip to the view or better still get yourself a sandwich for 6-8 euros not bad right! At Pestana , you can inquire and make arrangements to visit the Ilhéu Das Rolas Resort island to see the equator. You will need to book online 24hrs ahead to avoid any surprises. I did not book online, I actually just walked in to the resort and was blessed enough to get an empty seat on the bus. http://www.pestana.com/pt/hotel/pestana-sao-tome
TAKE A ROAD TRIP
The trip to the Equator is about 1-2 hours by road, 30 minutes of the sea in the middle of the atlantic ocean and 45 minutes by foot. This 2 hoursride can serve as a road trip for you in São Tome. You will get to see different towns along the way, lots of lakes and the most amazing sight will be the mountain where the volcano started !yes the volcano that gave birth to this beautiful island of São Tome. Just take the trip already! 🙂 “Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman.
My advice: Once you get to the Rolas island at least spend a day at the Ilhéu das Rolas resort. it’s really nice and I hear its even nicer at night-time. so go ahead and book a day’s stay there!
THE MARKET PLACE
I believe that the best way to know what is in the life of the locals is to live like them, interact with them and most importantly understand them. “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin
Take a walk through the market place and discover for yourself how the people live. Let their ordinary become your extraordinary. Buy a key chain, hell just buy something that will allow you to interact with the market women. you can also buy fish from the night fish market 🙂
AVENIDA DA INDEPENDENCIA (INDEPENDENCE AVENUE)
Visit the Independence Square to see amazing old buildings along the way. If you are lucky enough you may get to see an event happening there and this will offer you the opportunity to see most locals in one place interacting with one another. The beauty and the greatest reward of travel for me is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
INTERACT WITH THE LOCALS AND EAT SOMETHING NEW
My interaction with the locals was an everyday ritual… anyone who knows me will tell you that about me and that is why I’m able to turn stranger into friends. watch out for my blog on turning strangers into friends along the way! The locals offered me the “Jacques fruit”. my oh my! it is very sweet and I was wondering how come I hadn’t tasted a fruit this nice and also very filling.
CLAUDIO CORALLO CACAO CAFE
If you haven’t heard of the Claudio Corallo chocolates, don’t worry just visit http://www.claudiocorallo.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=101&Itemid=967&lang=en and the mouth-watering chocolates will inspire you to put this place on your list. it is actually a beautiful factory that will show you how the coffee and chocolates are made from cacao one of the main agricultural produce of the people of São Tome. You will pay 100 dobras (4 euros) as entrada fee _by now I’m sure you know what entrada means :). The best part is that you will have a chocolate tasting session yassss! (about 8 different kinds of chocolate) and oh you will get a chocolate gift for the road!… If you are a coffee lover like me, you cannot but take some home.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain ….
So GO! PARK! EXPLORE!
If you have any further questions/suggestions/corrections do not hesitate to reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org