Natural History of the Sao Tome and Principe
The natural history of the Sao Tome islands has fascinated visitors since their discovery in 1475. The islands were born from volcanoes erupting violently out of the sea. Plant and animal species traversed 180 miles of ocean to colonize the islands, leaving species isolated and evolving independently on different islands.
In the 500 years of human history, the islands have been used as hub for trans-atlantic slave trade, naval ports and plantation colonies. Since the late nineteenth century these species-rich and botanically under explored islands have drawn attention from researchers. At time, Júlio Henriques (1838-1928) and Arthur Exell (1901-1993), respectively a professor with the University of Coimbra and a scientist with the British Museum, carried out the most thorough studies on santomean vegetation – The first flora monograph of São Tomé e Principe published on 1886 and Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of S.Tome published on 1944.
Of the four islands on the Gulf of Guinea – Bioko, Príncipe, São Tomé and Pagalu -, the santomean archipelago presents the richest diversity of flora, with high rates of endemism. In fact, since 1988 researchers have classified the forests of Sao Tomé and Principe as the second most important in terms of biological interest of the 75 forests of Africa. The WWF research expedition to the country also classified the Sao Tome and Principe forests as one of the 200 most important biodiversity area in the world. Birdlife International included Sao Tome island in the top 25% of 218 “Endemic Bird Area” (EBAs) worldwide and the forest of both islands have been included among the “Important Bird Area” (IBAs) of Africa for their species richness .
The presence of Sao Tome and Principe in these lists testifies its exceptional nature. 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 flowers. With about 1001km2 of land, Sao Tome and Principe has 28 endemic birds species. Only the Sao Tome Island has 21 endemic species. This is an extraordinary number because islands with the similar dimensions usually have 1 to 2 endemic bird species.
The Atlantic 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 National Park was created in 1993 to protect Sao Tome and Principe islands unique natural heritage.
Sao Tome and Principe’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. Come listen to the Bulawe, a musical performance with drum instruments, or watch the Puita dance. See the tchiloli or Conco dance. The people of Sao Tome and Principe welcome visitors and are proud to show off their country.
Sao Tome and Principe has considerable potential for nature tourism. The geographic isolation from Africa of Sao Tome and Principe has resulted in high levels of endemism, notably among plants (87 species) and birds (28 species). Overall, Sao Tome and Principe has 895 species of plants, 143 birds, 15 mammals, 14 reptiles, and 9 amphibians. About 28 percent of the country is forested, of which 44 percent is classified as primary forest. Most of this remaining forest is found in the most inaccessible parts of the country. Nevertheless, commercial logging remains an important contributor to the economy, which has long been highly dependent on cocoa, the market for which has fallen in recent years. The country must import all of its fuel and most of its foodstuffs, putting it at risk of chronic debt, although it has gotten some relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program. An offshore oil deposit may help the fortunes of Sao Tome and Principe in the near future.
There are two rainy seasons; the short rains in October and November and the long rains from February to May. A dry season lasts from June to September and it is the time when the sky is always clear and the sun shines strongly.
Sao Tome and Principe is a place that can be visited at any time. Depending on what you’d like to do there are different times that are best for visiting the islands. December and January are wonderful for birding as birds adopt bright breeding plumage. Trekking is best in the long dry season. From mid-November to early February turtles nest on the beaches, and you can watch the eggs hatching 45 days later. Humpback whales, killer whales and dolphins can be seen off the northeast coast from August to October.
Sao Tome and Principe Island’s offers a wide variety of hotels, from family run guesthouses to 5-star world-class resorts operated by the best European chains.
Credit card use in Sao Tome is practically non-existent except in the large hotels and the majority of transactions are done in cash.
A vaccination certificate for yellow fever is required if traveling to and from certain areas. Passengers from Europe countries do not require vaccination certificate for yellow fever to enter the country. It is advisable to take anti-malaria tablets and consult your doctor or travel agent at least six weeks before travel, on what other precautions should be taken when traveling to tropical regions.
There are several hospitals and clinics operated by the Government and the private sector which provide both therapeutic and private health care.
It is advisable for visitors to take comprehensive travel insurance.
The dobra is the currency of São Tomé and Príncipe. It is abbreviated Db and is divided into 100 cêntimos
All persons entering Sao Tome and Principe must have a one year valid passport and visa. Visas are issued at Sao Tome and Principe overseas missions. Depending on where you are beginning your journey, you may be able to fly direct to Sao Tome and Principe main airport. If not, Sao Tome and Principe enjoys regular links with Europe and African main land which provide a plentiful supply of onward connections.
Capital: Sao Tome
Currency: São Tomé and Príncipe dobra
Official languages: Portugese