Príncipe is by far the most attractive island – tidy and unspoiled – and inhabited by just 7000 people. A canopy of green broken by spires of primordial rock, Príncipe is a magnificent lost world, offering fantastic beaches, jungle exploration, snorkelling, fishing and birdwatching. Príncipe is a magical land that time forgot. But it is not a desert island: Príncipe has its people too, living in the colourful main town, Santo Antonio, or scattered in pretty fishing villages along the coast.
The main islands in the Gulf of Guinea are Sao Tome and Principe. Both species-rich and botanically under explored, they have drawn attention from researchers since the late nineteenth century. In addition, the forests of Sao Tomé and Principe have been classified as the second most important in terms of biological interest of the 75 forests of Africa. Birdlife International included Sao Tome island in the top 25% of 218 “Endemic Bird Areas” (EBAs) worldwide and the forest of both islands have been included among the “Important Bird Areas” (IBAs) of Africa for their species richness.
Of the 700 local plant types, about 100 of these are only found in Sao Tome and Principe, including a begonia that grows up to 3m high, and unique orchids. With about 1001km2 of land, Sao Tome and Principe have 28 endemic birds species, and Sao Tome Island alone has 21 endemic species. This is an extraordinary number because islands with the similar dimensions usually have 1 to 2 endemic bird species. The rain forest of high altitude, Obô, contains the majority of the fauna and flora that gave Sao Tome and Principe its exceptional classification. The Obo Natural Park was created in 1993 to protect Sao Tome and Principe islands unique natural heritage.
São Tomé and Príncipe’s people and customs reflect the mixing of the various groups that have migrated to the islands since 1485. These differences can be seen in the traditional music and performances of local cultural groups. Listen to the Bulawe, a musical performance with drum instruments, watch the Puita, the Tchiloli or Conco dance. The people of São Tomé and Príncipe welcome visitors and are proud to show off their country.
The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were once known as “the islands in the middle of the world,” and in a way they really were. The Portuguese first landed here in 1470, back when most people thought the world was flat. If you think about it, the Equator runs right across the little island off the south coast, and the Prime Meridian is only a few degrees to the west. Certainly, São Tomé islands were in the middle of the world as it was known at the time of Portuguese exploration.