São Tomé and Príncipe (officially known as the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe) is a republic that does not allow a monarch to hold the position of head of state. The economy is heavily dependent on the production and export of cacao beans. Tourism is also an important industry, but the country is famous for having few visitors. The Domain Island Expedition explored the charms of Sao Tome Island, where the capital is located. The ccTLD assigned to São Tomé and Príncipe is “.st“.
◆Where is São Tomé and Príncipe?
São Tomé and Príncipe is a country composed of volcanic islands located in the Gulf of Guinea on the African continent. The population is approximately 220,000 (as of 2021), and the land area is 1,001㎢ (about half the size of Tokyo). The currency used is the São Tomé and Príncipe Dobras or the Euro. A fixed rate of 1 euro = 24,500 São Tomé and Príncipe Dobras (STN or Db) is used. The official language is Portuguese.
*As of January 2024
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◆Ranked “The World’s 3rd Least-visited Country”
We will be flying from Lisbon, Portugal to São Tomé Island, where the capital is located. From Lisbon to São Tomé Island, we flew with the Portuguese airline, TAP Air, and arrived at São Tomé International Airport. The time is 17:00.
On arrival, tourists are welcomed with a board saying “Ben-Vindos” (Welcome). According to a UN World Tourism Organization report published in 2017, São Tomé and Príncipe was ranked third on the list of “Least-visited Countries.” By way of comparison, Tuvalu ranked No. 1. The Domain Island team once traveled 40 hours each way to investigate whether iPhones can be used on Tuvalu.
It’s a small airport, but it’s crowded with people picking up and dropping off passengers.
We took a taxi to the hotel where we will be staying.
There is a large crack in the windshield, but the driver doesn’t seem to mind.
It takes about 10 minutes from the airport to São Tomé city. We arrive at our hotel “Pestana Miramar São Tomé“. On the way, we almost got mistakenly dropped off at a similarly named hotel Pestana São Tomé. There are many hotels under the Pestana chain so be careful not to get mixed up.
After checking in, we went to our room. It was very beautiful.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel before leaving to go out exploring.
There was a lot of delicious bread!
There was a pool on the premises. The area around the hotel is fairly safe, however, as we were walking around there were a lot of people approaching us asking if we wanted to buy small items or souvenirs. It’s not scary once you get used to it, but it may be a little overwhelming at first.
◆Like Something out of Anime! A Fantastic 663m Rock Tower
We heard that there is an Equator Monument on Rolas Island, one of the islands that make up São Tomé and Príncipe, which marks where the equator passes through the island, so we decided to go there.
First, we take a taxi to the port town of Porto Alegre. We continued south for a while on what was probably the only paved road, though it was still rough in places.
After passing through several villages, the road started to be engulfed in jungle-like greenery.
We often saw pigs roaming around freely.
After more than an hour’s drive from São Tomé city, we pass through a village. The locals were washing their clothes in the river.
Laundry was laid out to dry on the ground, just like in Madagascar.
Further along we spotted something interesting. Something that was clearly not a mountain, extending toward the clouds.
We are getting closer and closer. It’s quite high!
We were finally able to see it in its entirety. This is a rock tower called Pico Cão Grande, a volcanic rock plug formed thousands of years ago when high-pressure magma solidified in the vent of an active volcano. The rock tower is located in Obo National Park and rises 663 meters above sea level, higher than the Tokyo Sky Tree (634 meters). Sitting 370 meters above the foot of the mountain, the strangely shaped rock tower rises above the mountains looking like something out of a cartoon.
Pico Cão Grande is also known as a climbing spot. In February 1991, a group of three Japanese climbers, Yosuke Takahashi, Kenichi Moriyama, and Naotoshi Agata, were the first to successfully complete the climb. Surprisingly, they reached the summit wearing running shoes.
◆Standing on the Equator
After enjoying Pico Cão Grande, we headed for the Equator Monument.
We finally got the port town of Porto Alegre. It took us over 2 and a half hours.
We arrived at the boat ramp for Rolas Island.
The men are enjoying a card game.
They are frying bananas for lunch. It looks delicious!
We left by boat for Rolas Island. Life jackets were provided for the boat ride and the fee per person was 10 euros for the boat ride and 5 euros for the guide to the Equator Monument.
After 15 minutes on the boat, we could already see Rolas Island come into view.
We arrived at Rolas Island.
The sea and beaches are very beautiful.
According to our guide, there’s a small village on the island where 175 people are living.
We found a restaurant.
We walked through the village and along a jungle-like path. It was very hot, we wonder if it’s because we are right on the equator?
After walking for about 15 minutes, we arrived at the area where the Equator Monument is located.
There it is, The Equator Monument! It’s very strange to think that the earth is divided here into two hemispheres, the northern and southern. We walked on the equator line, trying to divide our bodies into halves, with one half in the northern hemisphere and one half in the southern hemisphere. It was a very long journey to get here, but it was worth the visit since there are only 14 countries in the world that the equator passes through.
◆“Diogo Vaz”, a São Tomé Specialty Chocolate Shop with Over 200 Years of History
We stopped by Diogo Vaz, a specialty chocolate shop that uses cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe.
It is easy to find on the road along Ana Chaves Bay and it has a very stylish exterior. Let’s go in.
The store sells a wide variety of chocolates and gelato.
There is a chocolate tasting area in the center of the store.
The cheapest chocolate bar is priced at 115 Dbs. Diogo Vez is an integrated company that handles everything from cacao cultivation to chocolate production on its own farms.
The café inside the store was also busy.
Cakes and cookies made with Diogo Vez chocolates were also available.
Chocolate souvenirs are on display, and everything looks delicious. Diogo Vez started the brand with the aim of reviving the cacao industry in São Tomé and Príncipe, which had been in decline since 1975. They mainly used the Amelonado variety, which has been cultivated for over 200 years. The brand produces high quality chocolates while working on community based initiatives such as improving local schools and hospitals.
◆What to Eat in São Tomé and Príncipe?
We stayed at the Pestana Miramar São Tomé, and for breakfast they served coffee made with São Tomé and Príncipe beans.
Fried bananas soaked in coconut oil were also served. Although they had the peculiar taste of fermented foods, they are supposed to be good for health.
There were also dried cajá-manga and mangoes. Cajá-manga is a fruit native to Polynesia and is called the Wi apple in Hawaii.
We visited the Papa-Figo restaurant in town for dinner.
Let’s toast with a São Tomé and Príncipe’s beer called “Rosema” (45 STN) and some kind of local cola (30 STN). What’s this? The beer is not labeled, is it? The waiter told us that all the beers served in the restaurant aren’t labeled.
We ordered simmered fish called “Vermelho Grelhado” (300STN), and fried small fish called “Maspombo”, with banana fries (100STN). All of them were delicious enough to suit our Japanese taste.
By the time we left, the restaurant was very crowded with customers, including groups of people that had made reservations. It seems to be a very popular restaurant.
◆Finding “.st” Around Town
We didn’t see many “.st” domains. This is “.st” used in advertisements for CST, a telecommunications company in São Tomé and Príncipe.
An advertisement we saw at the airport. Turbo is the name of the package plan provided by CST.
◆How to Purchase a SIM & Test the Internet Speed
We purchased a SIM card at the LOJA CENTRAL store, which is a 15 minute walk from Pestana Miramar São Tomé. We made it just in time for the 19:00 pm closing time.
A friendly female staff activated the SIM card for us. Thank you!
The speed of the local SIM was 74 Mbps.
■List of Places Visited
■For access to São Tomé and Príncipe here