The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are Africa's second smallest nation, floating in the Gulf of Guinea, but what they lack in size they certainly make up for in ‘wow-factor’.
Here one finds a pristine group of islands, largely undiscovered by tourists (the country as a whole has only around 13,000 visitors a year!), with rich verdant rainforests supporting a multitude of endemic species, and soft white beaches that will take your breath away.
Recently featured in the How To Spend It magazine, the exquisite new five-star resort of Sundy Praia is found on the remote island of Príncipe, the smaller of the two islands that make up São Tomé and Príncipe.
Príncipe has dense tropical rainforest covering the majority of the island.
The entire island and surrounding marine habitats were designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2012, recognising the precious nature of the ecosystems here.
This is a destination to travel to that few have visited and it is certainly for the adventurous but also for those looking for a remote luxury destination packed with history.
The northern part of the island is gently sloping, but in the southern part there are dramatic mountains rising from the forest, which look like they’ve been plucked from a story book about a lost world!
This island has wonderful endemic species and I found the primary rainforest provided the perfect habitat for many species of insects, birds, bats, plants and trees, some not found anywhere else in the world.
You can also discover sea turtles that nest on Príncipe’s beaches and humpback whales that can be seen leaping from the ocean, enjoying the island’s waters as they move between summer feeding grounds and their calving areas.
An absolute overload of wildlife species for one to see. What’s more, the UNESCO Biosphere status means that Príncipe must develop in a sustainable way, and this is one of the founding principles of Sundy Praia.
Sundy Praia, the country’s first ever five-star resort, has just launched in the north of Príncipe Island.
Why I like this property is that it is small, just like the islands, with only 15 exquisite tented villas nestled in the rainforest on the edge of the ocean and a couple of 3-bed family villas (each have their own private pool), where you can unwind after a busy day of exploring. All the villas merge seamlessly into the forest in the style of the fisherman's huts that used to stand here.
As with its sister hotel Roça Sundy just a short distance through the forest, Sundy Praia was built with sustainability in mind and employing the local community where-ever possible. Most of the staff that worked on the construction were from the local area and were trained by the lodge, providing valuable employment to local people.
I found the hosts and staff at the resort to be fantastic. The majority come from the local community and have been highly trained in hospitality. In addition, the restaurant buys the produce that they don't grow in their own gardens at a fair price from the local producer - social responsibility is very important to Sundy Praia!
The dishes served are therefore in keeping with the season and inspired locally. Delicious locally-caught fresh fish and seasonal fruit and vegetables (the majority from their own organic garden) are the main ingredients. The chef Angelo calls it ‘making the most of what the island has to offer!’
Ongoing conservation is just as important as creating an ecologically friendly hotel, the resort is strongly committed to local conservation projects.
Between the months of September to April, a fantastic option is to spend time with local scientists and assist in the monitoring of female sea turtles laying their eggs on the Príncipe beaches. One can learn about the turtles, why they are endangered and what is being done to help.
Humpback whale season starts in July and the best month to see them is August although we saw fantastic whale sightings in September too.
I highly recommend that you also take part in some guided walks and treks in the protected Biosphere with one of the hotel’s fantastic local guides.
You can take in all the stunning wildlife and learn about the various conservation projects on the island. There are a range of nature experiences including bird watching where you can take in a range of endemic species that will satisfy most discerning bird watchers.
Why not also take a walk into the rainforest to an abandoned plantation house that is now teaming with wildlife (monkeys, orchids, native birds and medicinal plants) and on the way visit a local farmer and try his fresh produce.
You can also take a trail to Ribeira Izé, the ruins of the first capital of Príncipe, or hike through the rainforest to the beautiful Montalegre waterfall where you can take a refreshing dip to cool off.
The locals are very welcoming and I think an incredibly worthwhile visit is to the local villages taking part in community tasks such as assisting with water projects and helping to reduce plastic waste.
I highly recommend getting out on a boat trip along the coast to the Bay of Needles, do some scuba diving or snorkelling, or why not visit some of the pristine beaches that can be reached only by boat, where you have the sand all to yourself?
Boats can also take you out for dolphin or whale watching. It’s simply a breath-taking experience to see the magnificent humpbacks breaching and slapping the water with their tails and flippers.
The temperatures could vary from 23°C to 30°C but average around 27°C with a little variation. At higher altitudes, temperatures are around 20°C, and annual rains vary between 5,000 mm to 1,000 mm.
In January and February there is warm weather, no rain and blue skies. The climate at sea level is tropical and humid.
July and August are also excellent but not blue skies – mostly overcast and light grey but beautifully warm.
Green, Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles nest on the beaches of Bom Bom from September and October and then hatch eight weeks later.
The rainy season is between October and November and from April to May.
If you would like to find out more about the wonderful places to stay on this fantastic island, why not contact me for more information on suggested itineraries for a visit.
Images kindly supplied courtesy of Sundy Praia