Images: São Tomé & Príncipe

Posted by Justin Fox on 5 December 2018 Tags:,

It’s not easy to get to West Africa’s ‘Chocolate Isles’, off the coast of Gabon, but any concerns will melt away once you reach these exquisite enclaves.

Words and photographs by Justin Fox

São Tomé has a number of roças, large plantations built by colonial Portuguese, such as Ribiera Peixe with its grand but abandoned hospital.

Picture-perfect Banana Beach was made famous in a Bacardi rum advert. You’ll get your first glimpse of it from above, at the cliff -top mirador (where this shot was taken).

A newly hatched green turtle makes a dash to the ocean on Praia Grande beach.

Roça Sundy is one of Príncipe’s old but still operational plantations. As a guest here, you’re completely immersed in farm life: wake up to the sound of roosters, get to know the children playing soccer on the square, and visit the cocoa, vanilla and pepper plantations.

Pico Cão Grande (‘Big Dog Peak’) rises from the valleys of Obo National Park in southern São Tomé. The 668-metre volcanic finger has become a symbol of the island.

São Sebastião Fort, built in 1575, perches at the southern end of Ana Chaves Bay in São Tomé town. Today it houses the national museum.

On Príncipe, you come upon secluded fishing communities that survive off the ocean and forest. This is at Abade on the east coast.

On a boat trip from Bom Bom Resort to Banana Beach, we passed thisgroup of fishermen from Burras village; The ribbed ceiling of the restaurant at Praia Sundy makes it feel as though you’re inside the stomach of an arboreal whale. Chefs use the island’s culinary traditions and natural bounty – plants sourced from the forests, and tuna and wahoo from the surrounding waters – to create unusual and delicious seasonal menus.

With volcanic peaks rising out of the ocean, impenetrable forests and isolated beaches, combined with a high density of endemic species, Príncipe is often referred to as the ‘Galápagos of Africa’. We took a boat from Praia Sundy to go snorkelling in the secluded bays of Príncipe Biosphere Reserve, which covers the southern half of the island.

 

How we got the shots
Just before jumping into the editorial hot seat at Getaway, photojournalist Justin Fox was invited by Classic Portfolio to experience a number of eco lodges on São Tomé and Príncipe. South African entreprenuer Mark Shuttleworth has invested in the lodges to uplift these former Portuguese plantation islands. It’s not a budget holiday, so visiting is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Travel planner 
It requires a flight from Joburg to Luanda (about R6,000 per person return) with TAAG Angola, then a connection to São Tomé on a Friday, Sunday or Wednesday (about R5 100 per person return). Flights from Cape Town to Luanda (about R7,800 per person) return via Joburg. Flights between the islands cost R3 400 return on Africa’s Connection. It’s warm all year round in the tropics; the rainy seasons are from October to December and March to May (although on Justin’s rainy-season trip there was plenty of sun).

Activities include biosphere trails, island tours, community visits, plantation tours, scuba diving and snorkelling, boat trips, bird watching and monitoring turtles. Justin stayed at: Omali Lodge, a boutique hotel on the beachfront in São Tomé town (from R2,540 per person sharing); Roça Sundy, on Príncipe, offers two colonial guest houses on a working plantation (from R2,490 per person sharing); Praia Sundy has luxury tented villas amid the forest on a private beach (from R7,280 per person sharing). Any island stay can be tailor-made, but we recommend the seven-night, DBB package for R5,893 per person sharing per night, which includes stays at all three lodges, flights between São Tomé and Príncipe, transfers and island tours.

Enquire about family packages. For reservations, email [email protected] (discoverprincipeisland.com). For info, call 021-876-2153. classic-portfolio.com