São Tomé & Príncipe

If you fancy going somewhere so under the radar that your friends will have to look it up on a map, where the beaches are made of soft yellow sand, the rainforests pristine and the sea full of beautiful marine life from tropical fish to turtles and whales, then read on to learn more about São Tomé and Príncipe. It’s a great destination for the summer holidays but also in the post Christmas months of January and February.  

In this bulletin I am focussing on the tiny twin island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe.  Truly off the beaten track, these islands are on the equator, just over two hundred km west of mainland Africa.  If you travel here, your friends and family will probably need to look them up on Google Maps.  But these are really special islands, as yet relatively undiscovered, with stunning beaches, wildlife, luxury hotels, delicious food and an interesting (albeit troubled) history.  

Shearwater Travel  works with a couple of suppliers to create tailor made trips to São Tomé and Príncipe.  You need at least 10 days to do the islands justice but can easily spend two weeks here with a stopover in Lisbon if you wish.  Flights are with TAP Air Portugal changing in Lisbon (approx 8 hours).  Some flights touchdown in Ghana on the way back so adventurous travellers might want to spend a couple of days in the vibrant city of Accra before returning to Europe.  From São Tomé it is a short hop to sister island Príncipe.  Being tropical, the islands have wet and dry seasons.  The wet season is really wet, with very heavy downpours which will limit the activities you can do.  So you are best travelling in the long dry season called the Gravina from June to September or the short Gravinita season in January and February.  There is no time difference. 

Below are a few reasons too make the journey to these intriguing islands.  The photos are from a trip I made in 2022, in the rainy season, we still had plenty of sun between the downpours. 

If however, you are planning on spending your summer a little closer to home in Europe, perhaps in a villa, then now is the peak season for holiday bookings and the best villas in Europe are being snapped up fast.  Shearwater Travel has a number of villa suppliers all over Europe who have great reputations and customer feedback and can book your holiday with flights and therefore ATOL protection.  Shearwater Travel will take the pain out of researching hundreds of villas to find the right one and you will go on holiday safe in the comfort that your holiday is fully protected and your villa has been inspected and selected by a trusted villa company.  

New Year Passport Check

The beginning of the year is a good time to check your passport is valid for all the holiday plans you may have this year.  As reminder, since Brexit, if you plan to travel to Europe, your passport must have at least three months’ validity post the date you return to the UK.  And if your passport was originally issued for a period longer than ten years, then you need to be careful.  Any extra time over the ten year period does not count when you are checking the three months validity. There’s a good explanation here from The Independent’s travel expert Simon Calder.  

São Tomé and Príncipe

stunning beaches

Butterscotch yellow sand edging up to rainforest and azure blue water teeming with tropical fish.  One of the beaches, Banana Beach, is said to have been the location of the original Baccardi advert.  Some of the beaches are in the grounds of hotels, others a good walk to get to.  Some are only accessible by boat.  Unless there is a local party taking place, the beaches are incredibly peaceful.  You may even have the beach to yourself, particularly if you travel in the rainy season.

pristine rainforest

Most of the smaller island of Príncipe is protected rainforest but there are a number of trails you can walk.  Some are doable on your own, but the most interesting are best done with a guide from your hotel.  You can walk to waterfalls, plantation ruins, beaches and even up the famous Pico Papagaio if you have the energy (dry season only)

Cape Verde, Fogo


The most interesting wildlife is probably in the sea.  At the right time of year, it’s possible to see turtles nesting on the beaches and hatching into the sea and humpback whales migrating.  When we went in 2022 we spent a very happy couple of hours following a whale and her calf as they crossed a bay, the only people (other than our boatman) to witness their journey.  Magical. There is great snorkelling to be had either from the shore or from a boat, but I would recommend taking your own snorkelling equipment.  The islands have a high density of endemic bird species including some that can’t be seen anywhere else. On land, there is less of interest on the wildlife front although on an a long walk to Praia Boi we came across wild pigs, fruit bats, giant crabs and hummingbirds.  If you walk quietly you may even see monkeys.  

Highlights of Cape Verde in Two Weeks

If you have the time, then how about spending two weeks seeing the highlights of both the northern and southern islands in the archipelago?  You’ll spend time soaking up the bustling markets on Santiago, explore the vibrant cultural capital Mindelo on Sao Vicente and drive the spectacular cobbled mountain roads of Santo Antao. You’ll walk through the fertile Paul valley, passing terraces full of fruit and vegetables and gaze up at the imposing volcanic peak Pico de Fogo on Fogo island which only erupted in 2015. Finally, stay on Sal at one of the best hotels of the Cape Verde archipelago perfectly positioned on Santa Maria beach. On your last full day, take a sailing trip out to see the island from a different perspective.

From £3340 per person including flights.  

Ribeira de Paul, Santo Antao
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