Sao Tome and Principe
A chocolate box of beautiful Romanesque churches and ornate colonial buildings, palm-lined boulevards and pretty plazas, Sao Tome is the only real city on these islands. The capital, and the economic hub, the political center and the main marketplace, it’s loaded with the likes of the Presidential Palace and Independence Square – marking the year that this Atlantic archipelago gained freedom from the powers of Europe. Delve into the Central Market here and weave between terracotta-tiled townhouses, beautiful Baroque facades and the cannon-dotted bulwarks of Fort Sao Sebastian, all before hitting the fascinating exhibitions of the National Museum.
The capital of tiny little Principe – the smaller half of this archipelago – is a pint-sized town on the north shore of the island, and home to the bulk of its population (and that’s just above only 1,000 individuals!). A sleepy place of age-stained colonial edifices and mud-splattered pueblo-style homes, it’s got a certain authentic charm. The winding channels of the Palhota River cut through the heart of the town, bisecting the seaside streets as they weave along the shore through palm groves and swamp flats. Meanwhile, the verdant volcanic hills of the island’s inland beckon on the horizon, and local fishermen bob in their boats by the riparian jetties.
Languishing in the Atlantic like the teardrop of Sao Tome, just a short boat ride away from the southern tip of the island, the speck on the map that is Rolas Island is famed for its sparkling white-sand beaches and paradisiacal veneer. The sands are invariably totally secluded, cascading down from the jungle-covered coast in a medley of boulder-spotted coves and long stretches of sun-splashed ivory hues. There’s also an acclaimed hotel resort here (perfect for a remote and romantic tropical stay away from the archipelago’s more-trodden spots), along with a monument to the courses of the equator, which crosses right over the middle of Rolas.
Trindade is one of the few possible destinations in Sao Tome that’s not on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, this small town sits high above the capital, atop the rising ridges of the inland hills.
It’s surrounded by the great swathes of coffee plantations and cacao growing fields (the main economic drivers here) that make up the larger Me-Zochi District. However, it’s the haunting and dilapidated character of the old colonial frontispieces that really strike visitors to the town – they stand like ghosts of a former age all along the pot-holed roads.
Porto Alegre is hardly anything like its Brazilian namesake.
Instead of one million inhabitants, this one clocks up just over 500 in total. Instead of endless barrios and sprawling modern districts, this town is a ramshackle conglomeration of earthy huts, stilted longhouses and faded fishing canoes. Still, it’s got real charm, and is one of the starting points on the Sao Tome whale watching circuit (which runs the length of the east coast). It’s also a great place to launch further explorations along the pretty beaches of the south shore – Jale, paradisiacal Praia Piscina – and the gorgeous reaches of Rolas Island to boot.
Neves is – unlike most all of the other cities that dot the shoreline of pretty Sao Tome – an industrial place at heart. Factories, depots, breweries and one particularly productive electricity plant pepper its shoreline, all of which were raised on account of the useful deep water harbor that was built back in 2012 under a partnership with the Nigerian government. There are also a couple of hotels and guesthouses here, along with a smattering of local restaurants. But don’t expect Club Meds and the like – Neves is down-to-earth, and largely undeveloped.