Tag - Africa

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

A panoramic view of Principe Island and the distant Caroço Island, a steep, rocky, wooded islet which rises to 305 metres elevation.

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

This is a São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide from taste2travel.com

Date Visited: April 2024

Introduction

A quiet, ideal paradise, the Central African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe has been blessed with a relatively peaceful independence, thus avoiding the stigma of tension and a bloodstained past worn by most countries of mainland Africa.

A young girl, relaxing on Principe Island.

A young girl, relaxing on Principe Island.

As a destination, this former-Portuguese colony is a relaxed, calm, safe and pleasant travel destination and much more affordable than its Central African neighbours.

A view of the east coast of São Tomé Island.

A view of the east coast of São Tomé Island.

The country consists of two main islands, the larger São Tomé (854 km2 / 330 sq mi), and the much smaller Príncipe (142 km2/ 55 sq mi), as well as several smaller islets.

A panoramic view of Principe Island from the <i>Terreiro Velho Plantation</i>, home to some of the world's finest cacao beans.

A panoramic view of Principe Island from the Terreiro Velho Plantation, home to some of the world’s finest cacao beans.

Both islands are heavily eroded volcanoes which are covered in verdant, undisturbed, rainforest, whose green canopy is pierced by ancient volcanic plugs.

The isolated Praia Grande provides one of the most stunning views of Pico Cão Grande.

The isolated Praia Grande provides one of the most stunning views of Pico Cão Grande.

The volcanic origin of the islands grants them a magnificent look and makes them perfect for exploration.

Downtown São Tomé features many fine examples of Portuguese colonial-era architecture.

Downtown São Tomé features many fine examples of Portuguese colonial-era architecture.

São Tomé, which translates in English as “Saint Thomas”, was named by the Portuguese in honor of Saint Thomas, as they discovered the island on his feast day, while Príncipe Island (Prince’s island) was named in honor of Afonso, Prince of Portugal, the favourite son of the then King of Portugal.

The islands were occupied by the Portuguese from their discovery in 1470 until 1975, when independence was granted by Portugal.

Artwork in the museum at Roça Monte Café shows coffee plantation workers collecting beans.

Artwork in the museum at Roça Monte Café shows coffee plantation workers collecting beans.

Once uninhabited, over the centuries, the Portuguese imported a workforce of slave labour, from other Portuguese-speaking African colonies, to work on the many plantations on both São Tomé and Príncipe.

After 505 years of Portuguese occupation, which was marked by a building frenzy that resulted in more than 100 sprawling plantations (“Roças” in Portuguese) being built, São Tomé and Príncipe have been left an abundance of charming, colonial-era relics for tourists to explore.

Laundry, laid out to dry on the 1st floor balcony of the abandoned Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

Laundry, laid out to dry on the 1st floor balcony of the abandoned Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

One of the highlights of a trip to São Tomé and Príncipe is being able to visit the many abandoned roças, many of which were closed down after independence in 1975 and remain frozen in time.

The once-productive roças of São Tomé and Príncipe supplied Europe with most of its cacao and much of its coffee.

Street art in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Street art in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Unlike in other countries, the treasure trove of architectural gems, which were left by the Portuguese when they hurriedly departed the islands’ shores in the 1970s, remain largely untouched.

São Tomé and Príncipe is a charming and engaging travel destination offering pristine nature, friendly inhabitants and a fascinating history.

A painting, by a local Principe artist.

A painting, by a local Principe artist.

Highly recommended!

Location

São Tomé and Príncipe is a small island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa.

The islands lie 300 km (186 mi) due east of Libreville, the capital of Gabon, and 443 km (275 mi) south-west of Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea (click to view my Travel Guide).

Located close to the true centre of the world (GPS coordinates: 0° 20′ 11.5″ North / 6° 43′ 38.4″ East), São Tomé is located slightly north of the equator, while Principe is located 140 kilometres (87 miles) northeast of São Tomé.

São Tomé (St. Thomas), the capital, and largest city, of São Tomé and Príncipe is located on the Atlantic Ocean.

São Tomé (St. Thomas), the capital, and largest city, of São Tomé and Príncipe is located on the Atlantic Ocean.

The islands are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. The coastline features sandy beaches, lush rainforests, and volcanic mountain ranges.

Due to its equatorial location, São Tomé and Príncipe has a tropical climate with high humidity.

The islands experience two main seasons: a dry season from June to September and a wet season from October to May.

People

A young boy on São Tomé Island.

A young boy on São Tomé Island.


Did you know? 

São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest and second-least populous African sovereign state after Seychelles.


The islands were uninhabited until their discovery in 1470 by Portuguese explorers João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar.

Relaxing in the main square of Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Relaxing in the main square of Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Gradually colonised by the Portuguese, and settled throughout the 16th century, they collectively served as a vital commercial and trade centre for the Atlantic slave trade.

Colourful artwork by a São Tomé artist.

Colourful artwork by a São Tomé artist.

The rich volcanic soil and proximity to the equator made São Tomé and Príncipe ideal for sugar cultivation, followed later by cash crops such as coffee and cocoa; the lucrative plantation economy was heavily dependent upon enslaved Africans.

The population consists mainly of Forros (from forro, Portuguese for “free man”), descendants of immigrant Europeans and enslaved Africans who were imported to work on the many plantations.

The Santomean today are largely descendants of former African slaves, which were bought to the islands from other lusophone (Portuguese- speaking) countries throughout Africa, notably Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde.

Young girls, relaxing on Principe Island.

Young girls, relaxing on Principe Island.

The largest city, with a population of 72,000, is the capital – São Tomé – which is located on the northeastern coast of São Tomé Island.

Portuguese colonial-era architecture in downtown São Tomé.

Portuguese colonial-era architecture in downtown São Tomé.

Having been a Portuguese colony from 1470 CE until 1975 CE, the people of São Tomé and Príncipe are a blend of African and Portuguese.

No shortage of smiles from the friendly locals on São Tomé and Príncipe.

No shortage of smiles from the friendly locals on São Tomé and Príncipe.

Culturally, São Tomé and Príncipe is a blend of African and Portuguese heritage.

You’ll find elements of traditional African music, dance, and art mixed with Portuguese language and Catholic religion.

No shortage of warm smiles from the friendly inhabitants of São Tomé and Príncipe.

No shortage of warm smiles from the friendly inhabitants of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The official language of São Tomé and Príncipe is Portuguese, due to its colonial history. However, many people also speak Forro, a Portuguese-based creole language that developed on the islands.

Almost no other languages are spoken, however French is spoken by the small community of Gabonese who have settled in the country for economic reasons.

The majority of the population is Roman Catholic, a legacy of Portuguese colonisation. However, there are also small Protestant and indigenous religious communities.

The people of São Tomé and Príncipe often lead a laid-back, island lifestyle.

Fishing is a significant part of the economy and culture, so you’ll see many locals involved in fishing activities.

Crime rates are very low, making São Tomé and Príncipe one of the safest countries in Africa to visit.

The people of São Tomé and Príncipe are known for their warm hospitality and friendliness toward visitors. It’s not uncommon for locals to strike up conversations with tourists and share their love for their islands.

Overall, the people of São Tomé and Príncipe offer a warm welcome to visitors, and their culture reflects a rich tapestry of African and European influences.

Flag

The flag of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The flag of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The flag of São Tomé and Príncipe consists of a red triangle situated at the hoist, with three horizontal green, yellow and green bands charged with two five-pointed black stars of Africa at the centre.

The flag of São Tomé and Príncipe, in a park in downtown São Tomé.

The flag of São Tomé and Príncipe, in a park in downtown São Tomé.

The two green stripes represent the lush vegetation of the islands, as São Tomé and Príncipe are known for their tropical forests and natural beauty.

The yellow stripe symbolises the country’s rich cocoa production, an important part of its economy. It also represents the equator, as the islands are situated just north of the equator.

The two black stars of Africa stand for the two main islands of the country, São Tomé and Príncipe. They also represent African solidarity and independence.

The red triangle evokes the “struggle for independence”, as well as equality.

Flag street art in downtown Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Flag street art in downtown Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

The flag was adopted on November 5, 1975, when São Tomé and Príncipe gained independence from Portugal.

The flag was designed by artist and poet Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo, who also wrote the national anthem.

The green, red, yellow, and black colours are known as the ‘pan-African’ colours and are found on the flags of other African nations, symbolising unity with the continent.

Currency

The dobra is the official currency of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The dobra is the official currency of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The official currency of São Tomé and Príncipe is the dobra, which is named after the Portuguese word for “dollar”, and has the international currency code of STN.

Locally, the currency is abbreviated as ‘DBs‘.

The dobra is divided into 100 units called cêntimos, but due to inflation, cêntimos are not commonly used anymore.

Following record inflation, banknotes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 dobra’s were issued in 2018 with the redenomination of the dobra.

My wad of one hundred, uncirculated, 10-dobra banknotes.

My wad of one hundred, uncirculated, 10-dobra banknotes.

The 5- and 10-dobra notes were printed in polymer, and all the banknotes featured various species of butterfly on the obverse side with local wildlife depicted on the reverse side.

In 2020, the Central Bank of São Tomé and Príncipe issued a new version of the 200-dobra banknote, to replace the previous version caused by the poor quality of the paper used to print the note.

At the time, the 5- and 10-dobra banknotes reverted back to paper, as the polymer versions of the two denominations were unsuitable due to the tropical environment of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The dobra is a restricted currency, with its import and export prohibited.

For those who collect currency, the only way to obtain crisp, clean notes is from a bank branch in Sao Tome. I was able to purchase a wad of 100, uncirculated, 10-dobra banknotes.

Throughout the country, bank notes are almost always old, stained, damp, torn, creased and in very bad condition.

In fact, some locals were keen to swap my new notes as they had rarely seen such clean notes.

Exchange Rates

The current (July 2024) dobra exchange rates are (click the links to view the current exchange rates):

Cash is King!

The dobra is the official currency of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The dobra is the official currency of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Like many other countries in Africa, cash is king in São Tomé and Príncipe!

Since you are unable to use credit cards or ATMs in the country, you should bring enough EUR/ USD cash to cover all your expenses.

Banks/ ATM’s

While banks in São Tomé and Príncipe offer the convenience of ATMs, and those ATMs display the usual promising logos – i.e. Mastercard, Visa, Cirrus and Maestro, ATMs are not connected to the international banking network.

ATMs operate only on the domestic network for domestic bank card holders.

Credit Cards

Apart from the top-end hotels, credit cards are not accepted in São Tomé and Príncipe.

Those establishments which do accept credit cards, such as the Pestana Miramar Hotel in São Tomé, normally only accept Visa card!

Costs

Compared to the high travel costs in neighbouring Central African countries, São Tomé and Príncipe offers much better value and is suitable for all types of travellers from budget to high-end.

Budget travellers should count on spending between EUR €50-100 per day, while a mid-range budget would be around double that.

For high-end travellers, and celebrities escaping the limelight, a one-bedroom villa at the very secluded Sundy Praia Lodge on Principe Island start from just US$1,350 per night. A bargain really!


Note:

Since ATMs and credit cards cannot be used in the country, you must bring all of the cash which you’ll need for your holiday.  

Booking, and paying, online for accommodation is one way to reduce the amount of cash you’ll need to carry.  


Sample costs: 

  • Cappuccino at Lá Bistrô in São Tomé: 40 DBs
  • Bottle of Coke/ Sprite (0.33L): 35 DBs
  • Bottled water (0.33L): 20 DBs
  • Domestic beer (0.5L): 25 DBs
  • Meal at Xicos’s Café in São Tomé: 180 DBs
  • Standard guesthouse room at Residencial Brigada, Principe Island: USD $38
  • Standard hotel room at the 5-star Pestana São Tomé Hotel: EUR €200
  • Car rental (daily): EUR €50
  • Return flight from Portugal to São Tomé and Príncipe with STP Airways: EUR €800
  • Return inter-island flight from São Tomé to Príncipe with STP Airways: EUR €260

WiFi

WiFi Symbol.

Staying connected in São Tomé and Príncipe is made easy thanks to the two local telecom companies – Unitel and CST.

Both companies have recently converted to 4G wireless.

CST 

CST (Companhia Santomense de Telecomunicações) is the biggest mobile internet provider in the country and offers great service.

I was able to purchase a SIM card from their office in Sao Tome in under 10 minutes.

CST data packages start from just 10 DBs for a 24-hour, 100MB package.

My SIM card provided good network coverage on both islands for the entire duration of my stay.

Unitel

Unitel data packages start from just 10 DBs for a 24-hour, 100MB package – up to 200 DBs for a 200GB package valid for one month.

Shopping

I purchased this funky mask for just €15 from one of the mask sellers at the Boca do Inferno.

I purchased this funky mask for just €15 from one of the mask sellers at the Boca do Inferno.

There are many wonderful, affordably priced, souvenirs available for purchase on São Tomé and Príncipe.

Masks

At the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell) blowhole, there are many mask sellers who sell the funkiest of masks at very reasonable prices.

Quá Téla 

Located in downtown São Tomé, Quá Téla is a one-stop shop for all things Santomean.

Located in downtown São Tomé, Quá Téla is a one-stop shop for all things Santomean.

Located in downtown Sao Tome, Quá Téla is a one-stop shop for all things Santomean.

Locally produced chocolate for sale at Quá Téla in São Tomé.

Locally produced chocolate for sale at Quá Téla in São Tomé.

They sell a range of locally produced produce from coffee, chocolate, jams, liquors, spices and much more.

Chocolate, from the Diogo Vaz company, available for purchase at Quá Téla in São Tomé.

Chocolate, from the Diogo Vaz company, available for purchase at Quá Téla in São Tomé.

In addition to their produce range, they also sell souvenirs such as caps, t-shirts, wooden handicrafts, masks, woven baskets and much more.

This is a great place to shop before leaving the country.

Sightseeing

São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited prior to colonisation by the Portuguese in the 1490s.

Since then, much of the landscape has remained unchanged or, where former plantations once stood, reclaimed by the rainforests.

The islands are covered by lush rainforests and, with a small population, very little development, and very few tourists, they remain an untouched veritable tropical paradise.

Portuguese colonial-era architecture in downtown São Tomé.

Portuguese colonial-era architecture in downtown São Tomé.

Among the human-made sights on the islands are the many Portuguese-era colonial buildings.

Totally unrenovated, many of these former architectural wonders remain largely unchanged from colonial times.

Essential for every visitor is a tour of one of the islands’ colonial-era plantations – roçaswhich lie in many different states, from centuries-old buildings slowly being overgrown by rainforest, to lovingly refurbished ones operating as bed-and-breakfasts.

Tour Guides

On both São Tomé and Príncipe islands, I organised a rental car through my guest house.

In both instances, I was offered a driver/ guide which I willing accepted.

Touring the islands can be difficult due to a lack of signage and the poor infrastructure.

Dirt roads in many places are very rough, muddy and almost impassable.

However, with a local driver, who is use to the conditions, travel is made easier.

São Tomé Guide/ Driver

My guide on São Tomé, Elisio Nunes took me to this remote, hidden location which offered a spectacular view of the iconic Pico Cão Grande.

My guide on São Tomé, Elisio Nunes took me to this remote, hidden location which offered a spectacular view of the iconic Pico Cão Grande.

When I rented my 4WD through my guest house in São Tomé, it was delivered by Elisio Nunes who is the young, energetic and enthusiastic owner of Sãoto Tour & Cars.

His company can organise day trips to any part of São Tomé, including boat excursions, and rental cars.

Day trips start at EUR €60, while a rental car costs from EUR €40 per day

While I intended to do a self-drive of the island, I realised that paying a little extra to have Elisio do the driving and guiding would be beneficial.

As an added bonus, Elisio speaks perfect English which is rare for a Santomean. 

At the time of my visit, Elisio was busy organising a local delegation who were about to travel to Macau (a journey of three days) to attend a tourism summit. Elisio was acting as the head of the delegation!

Elisio is a very knowledgeable guide who managed to take me to some hidden places on São Tomé, including one remote beach which offered the best view of the iconic Pico Cão Grande.

Many of the more interesting sights lie at the end of unmarked, muddy, dirt, tracks which wind their way through the dense rainforest.

I can attest that having Elisio as my driver/ guide totally enhanced and enriched my experience of São Tomé.

Contact Details: 

I would highly recommend engaging the services of Elisio and his company for your trip to São Tomé.

Príncipe Guide/ Driver

My host, and guide, on Principe, Carlos Manuel, enjoying a drink at the Belo Monte Hotel.

My host, and guide, on Principe, Carlos Manuel, enjoying a drink at the Belo Monte Hotel.

While on Principe, I rented a 4WD through my guest house, Residencial Brigada, which is owned by the very busy, and highly entrepreneurial, Carlos Manuel.

A native of Principe, who lived for many years in Lisbon, Carlos is very active on the local tourism scene and can organise any aspect of a trip to Principe.

He offers airport transfers, comfortable accommodation, car rental, guiding, sightseeing trips by land and sea, plus his talented wife cooks the most amazing meals, using produce from the local market.

All meals are served with freshly squeezed fruit juices.

Exploring Principe with my rental car and my guide/ driver - Rodrigo Lopes.

Exploring Principe with my rental car and my guide/ driver – Rodrigo Lopes.

The cost of his one rental car is EUR €50 per day with an additional fee for a driver/ guide. 

Normally Carlos (who speaks English) would offer his services as a driver/ guide.

However, on the day I hired my car, Carlos was busy in the morning so he offered me another guide, Rodrigo Lopes.

After lunch at the guesthouse, Carlos then took over, providing me with an afternoon of sightseeing.


Video: 

Exploring Principe in my rental car with my driver/ guide Rodrigo Lopes.


There are many unmarked, muddy, dirt tracks on Principe and many of the best sights are to be found at the end of these tracks.

I was pleased that I had a local driver who knew where he was going. You could easily get lost in the dense rainforests on Principe.

Contact Details: 

São Tomé Island

São Tomé City

A view of the Atlantic coast in downtown São Tomé.

A view of the Atlantic coast in downtown São Tomé.

The capital of São Tomé and Príncipe is also called São Tomé, which in English translates as “Saint Thomas”.

Though a third of the nation’s total population lives here (about 72,000 inhabitants), it feels like a giant village, wonderfully lively and compact.

The Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral is located on <i>Praça do Povo</i> (People's Square) in the city centre.

The Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral is located on Praça do Povo (People’s Square) in the city centre.

Most buildings are Portuguese, colonial-era, relics which are in various states of decay which adds a certain amount of rustic charm to the city streets.

Praca da Independencia marks the centre of downtown São Tomé.

Praça da Independencia marks the centre of downtown São Tomé.

The city, which wraps around the waterfront, is easily covered on foot and is very relaxed.

Crime rates are very low and at no time did I feel threatened or unsafe.

The streets of São Tomé are lined with beautiful, and grand, Portuguese colonial-era buildings.

The streets of São Tomé are lined with beautiful, and grand, Portuguese colonial-era buildings.

I was able to walk around with my camera and take photos of almost everything – although the guards outside the Presidential Palace will not allow you to take photos of the palace.

A park in downtown São Tomé.

A park in downtown São Tomé.

The locals, who see very few tourists, are very friendly and welcoming.

Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral
Dating from the 15th century, the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral) is one of Africa's oldest churches.

Dating from the 15th century, the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral) is one of Africa’s oldest churches.

While fairly humble as cathedrals go, the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral (English: Our Lady of Grace Cathedral) is one of Africa’s oldest, and a testimony to persistence, as it has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times in its 400-year history.

A view of the interior of the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of São Tomé.

A view of the interior of the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of São Tomé.

Construction of the first church was started at the end of the fifteenth century. This original church was situated near the present cathedral.

A larger cathedral was constructed between 1576 and 1578, during the reign of King Sebastian of Portugal.

A view of the altar at the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral in São Tomé.

A view of the altar at the Nossa Senhora da Graça Cathedral in São Tomé.

In 1784, the cathedral was in need of renovation and, in 1814, was rebuilt at the initiative of the local population.

The walls of the cathedral are lined with Azulejo a form of Portuguese painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework.

The walls of the cathedral are lined with Azulejo a form of Portuguese painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework.

The last modification was made in 1956, when the church was remodeled in an eclectic revival style, with a neo-Romanesque main façade.

Given the limited opening hours, its best to visit whenever you see the doors open, which is usually for the midday mass.

San Sebastian Fort / National Museum
San Sebastian Fort houses the National Museum.

San Sebastian Fort houses the National Museum.

Built in 1575 by the Portuguese, Fort São Sebastião (San Sebastian Fort) was fully refurbished in 2006 and is now home to the São Tomé National Museum.

Built in 1575 by the Portuguese, Fort São Sebastião (San Sebastian Fort) was fully refurbished in 2006.

Built in 1575 by the Portuguese, Fort São Sebastião (San Sebastian Fort) was fully refurbished in 2006.

The fort is located on the waterfront, in the northeastern part of the city centre, at the southeastern end of Ana Chaves Bay.

The small museum contains religious art and colonial-era artifacts. This is the only history museum in the country.

Statues of the three Portuguese explorers who discovered São Tomé stand in the small praça in front of San Sebastian fort.

Statues of the three Portuguese explorers who discovered São Tomé stand in the small praça in front of San Sebastian fort.

Outside of the fort stand three statues of the discoverers of São Tomé – João de Santarém, Pêro Escobar, and João de Paiva.

Shortly after independence, the statues were relocated here from other squares in the city so as not to remind the residents of the colonial past.

São Tomé Island – East Coast

Clothes Washing
Clothes washing is normally done in the rivers on São Tomé

Clothes washing is normally done in the rivers on São Tomé

Clothes washing in the countryside in Sao Tome is mostly done in the rivers – along with dishwashing and sometimes bathing.

Clothes washing in the countryside in Sao Tome is mostly done in the rivers.

Clothes washing in the countryside in Sao Tome is mostly done in the rivers.

Once the clothes have been washed, they are laid out on the hot river stones to dry.

Laying out the wet clothes to dry in the sun on the hot river stones.

Laying out the wet clothes to dry in the sun on the hot river stones.

This is not an unusual practice in Africa, but the pristine, natural, environment of São Tomé is unique in Africa.

Roça de Água Izé
The residential area of <i>Roça de Água Izé</i>, which was once used to house the many thousands of plantation worker's.

The residential area of Roça de Água Izé, which was once used to house the many thousands of plantation worker’s.

One of the highlights of São Tomé is Roça Água Izé (Água Izé plantation), the first, and the most significant, of the cocoa plantations which were developed on São Tomé by the Portuguese.

A view of the main production facility at Roça Água Izé which today serves as an art gallery, library and community centre.

A view of the main production facility at Roça Água Izé which today serves as an art gallery, library and community centre.

Around the turn of the 20th century, there were some 150 plantations on São Tomé and Príncipe.

A former workshop at Roça Água Izé, has now been repurposed as a mechanic's workshop.

A former workshop at Roça Água Izé, has now been repurposed as a mechanic’s workshop.

Set up by the Portuguese for the production of cocoa and coffee, these estates were self-contained, self-sufficient universes, operating largely outside the colonial administration’s remit.

A community library, and classroom, have been installed inside the abandoned production facility at Roça Água Izé.

A community library, and classroom, have been installed inside the abandoned production facility at Roça Água Izé.

Roça Água Izé is where commercial cocoa production first started on São Tomé in the mid 19th-century.

Art work adorns the wall of the former production facility at Roça Água Izé.

Art work adorns the wall of the former production facility at Roça Água Izé.

When the man responsible for introducing cocoa to the islands, João Maria de Sousa e Almeida, was made First Baron of Água Izé in 1868, he was the first mulatto nobleman in the Portuguese colonies.

The walls of the former production facility at Roça Água Izé have been converted into gallery space where local artists display their works.

The walls of the former production facility at Roça Água Izé have been converted into gallery space where local artists display their works.

Roça Água Izé once housed thousands of workers, many of whom were imported from Angola and Cape Verde.

A view of one of the former stove-houses at Roça Água Izé.

A view of one of the former stove-houses at Roça Água Izé.

The plantation used to be a large complex with warehouses, a production facility which housed steam-operated machinery, a railway and the best hospital in this part of the world!

A view of the main production facility at Roça Água Izé, which still houses the old steam-driven equipment.

A view of the main production facility at Roça Água Izé, which still houses the old steam-driven equipment.

The main production facility, which still houses the old steam-driven equipment, has been converted into a multi-use art gallery, library and community centre.

An artisanal shop has been installed on the old processing equipment at Roça Água Izé.

An artisanal shop has been installed on the old processing equipment at Roça Água Izé.

In 1884, Água Izé had 50km of internal railway lines running through its 80km2 territory and 50 European employees overseeing 2,500 Angolan contract workers.

During its peak production period, cocoa from the plantation was exported to Portugal, from where it was then shipped to all corners of Europe.

In its prime, Roça Água Izé had 50km of internal railway lines running throughout the estate.

In its prime, Roça Água Izé had 50km of internal railway lines running throughout the estate.

With independence in 1975, the world of the roças changed forever as some 200 plantations were nationalised.

While this move was widely supported, a lack of subsequent investment and dip in production saw many of the facilities fall into disrepair.

Today, the plantation has ceased production with many of the buildings now laying in various states of decay, slowly being consumed by the encroaching rainforest.

Most of the abandoned buildings are now occupied by squatters (descendants of the former plantation workers), who eke of an existence by cultivating the remaining cocoa and coffee plants.

Getting there: The roça appears on the roadside on the EN-2 just south of the km-16 marker.

Roça de Água Izé Hospital
My rental car parked outside the abandoned <i>Roça de Água Izé Hospital</i>, once rated as the biggest and best hospital in central Africa.

My rental car parked outside the abandoned Roça de Água Izé Hospital, once rated as the biggest and best hospital in central Africa.

Built by the Portuguese in 1928, Roça de Água Izé Hospital was once considered to be the biggest and best hospital in central Africa.

A view of the 1st floor staircase at the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

A view of the 1st floor staircase at the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

Known for its impressive entrance staircase, the most famous building in the Água Izé plantation is now abandoned and in a state of extreme disrepair.

A view of the upper, rear, section of the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

A view of the upper, rear, section of the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

The now dark, dank and unlit rooms of this once marvelous facility are occupied by dozens of poor, squatter, families who try to make a living from growing crops on the surrounding land and charging the occasional tourist a small fee to allow access.

One the day we visited, the residents were busy washing their clothes, laying their laundry out to dry one the 1st floor balcony.

A view of the, now roofless, male ward at Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

A view of the, now roofless, male ward at Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

The former hospital wards, which are located at the rear of the hospital are now roofless and totally abandoned.

A view of the, now roofless, female ward at Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

A view of the, now roofless, female ward at Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

The whole complex is truly impressive and it’s easy to imagine, in the not-too-distant past, nurses and doctors tending to their patients in the various rooms of this hospital.

A view of the rear of the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital, with the now roofless wards on the left side.

A view of the rear of the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital, with the now roofless wards on the left side.

The hospital is located on a hill which overlooks the entire plantation estate.

A view out to sea from the 1st floor of the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

A view out to sea from the 1st floor of the former Roça de Água Izé Hospital.

No doubt the elevated site was chosen as it receives a direct sea breeze which would have been beneficial to the many patients.

Praia Izé Viewpoint

A panoramic view of Praia Izé from the mirador snack shop.

A panoramic view of Praia Izé from the mirador snack shop.

Just in front of the abandoned hospital, a short garden path leads to a snack shop which affords spectacular views of Praia Izé and beyond.

Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell)
The Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), is a small blowhole on the east coast of São Tomé.

The Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), is a small blowhole on the east coast of São Tomé.

Immediately south of the plantation, a side road leads to Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), a small blowhole.


Video: 

A view of the Boca do Inferno on a calm day.


When the condition of the sea is right, water is pressed through the natural rock channel and through a hole, which sends a fountain of sea water many meters into the air.

A mask seller at the Boca do Inferno, who managed to sell me this mask for €15.

A mask seller at the Boca do Inferno, who managed to sell me this mask for €15.

There are several souvenir stands at the blowhole where locals sell hand carved, colourful masks, other wood carvings and refreshing coconuts.

A view of the east coast, near Boca do Inferno.

A view of the east coast, near Boca do Inferno.

Praia das Sete Ondas
A view of Praia das Sete Ondas, a popular surfing beach.

A view of Praia das Sete Ondas, a popular surfing beach.

Continuing south along the east coast road, the next stop was the popular surfing beach known as Praia das Sete Ondas (Seven Waves Beach).

A lonely volcanic boulder is a feature of Praia das Sete Ondas.

A lonely volcanic boulder is a feature of Praia das Sete Ondas.

This grey-sand beach is named after its sets of perfect waves which draws surfers from around the world.

Praia das Sete Ondas is a beautiful, volcanic sand beach.

Praia das Sete Ondas is a beautiful, volcanic sand beach.

The beach is located just south of the KM-20 marker on the EN-2.

Praia das Sete Ondas (Seven Waves Beach) is named after its sets of perfect surfing waves.

Praia das Sete Ondas (Seven Waves Beach) is named after its sets of perfect surfing waves.

Obô Natural Park
A painting of Pico Cão Grande by a local artist.

A painting of Pico Cão Grande by a local artist.

Obô Natural Park, also known by its original name Parque Natural Ôbo, is a natural, national and very important park which is located in the southern part of the island of São Tomé.

There are plenty of gorgeous features that Obo has to offer, however, the most famous is the Pico Cão Grande, a soaring volcanic plug of epic proportions.

In 2012, a section of rainforest on Principe was added to the park, increasing the area of the park to 300 square km (116 square mi).

Pico Cão Grande
The iconic i>Pico Cão Grande ("Great Dog Peak") is a landmark needle-shaped volcanic plug peak in São Tomé.

The iconic <>i>Pico Cão Grande (“Great Dog Peak”) is a landmark needle-shaped volcanic plug peak in São Tomé.

One of the highlights of the Obo Natural Park is the iconic Pico Cão Grande.

Located in the south of São Tomé Island, about a one-hour drive south of the capital, this iconic volcanic plug was formed around three and a half million years ago by magma solidifying in the vent of an active volcano.

A view of Pico Cão Grande from the main road - highway EN2.

A view of Pico Cão Grande from the main road – highway EN2.

Its summit is 663 m (2,175 ft) above sea level, and it rises about 370 m (1,210 ft) over the surrounding terrain.

Climbing the peak is technically challenging due to slippery moss growing on the volcanic stone and the presence of snakes.

Only a few teams of rock-climbing specialists have managed to summit the peak with one team sustaining snake bites. Ouch!

Praia Grande
The isolated Praia Grande provides one of the most stunning views of Pico Cão Grande.

The isolated Praia Grande provides one of the most stunning views of Pico Cão Grande.

Located inside Obô Natural Park, the isolated and lonely Praia Grande provides one of the most stunning views of Pico Cão Grande, with a river leading your view directly to the peak which lies in the distance.

While the view of Pico Cão Grande along the road, and from the view point, is very good, the view from Praia Grande is exceptional.

São Tomé Island – Interior

Roça Monte Café
Roça Monte Café (Coffee Mountain Plantation) is a coffee plantation located in the lofty interior of São Tomé Island.

Roça Monte Café (Coffee Mountain Plantation) is a coffee plantation located in the lofty interior of São Tomé Island.

Home to 684 souls, Roça Monte Café (Coffee Mountain Plantation) is a plantation located in the lofty interior of São Tomé Island, just 6-km inland from the town of Trinidade.

Artwork in the museum at Roça Monte Café.

Artwork in the museum at Roça Monte Café.

Situated in mountainous terrain, at an elevation of 670-metres (2,198 ft), the cool and inviting Roça Monte Café is perfectly placed for the cultivation of coffee.

Roça Monte Café was established in 1868, making it one of the oldest plantations on São Tomé.

Roça Monte Café was established in 1868, making it one of the oldest plantations on São Tomé.

Established in 1868, this coffee plantation is one of the oldest plantations on São Tomé, and, unlike most plantations, is fully functioning and thriving.

One of the cuter inhabitants of Roça Monte Café.

One of the cuter inhabitants of Roça Monte Café.

One of the main attractions of Monte Café is its visitor’s centre, coffee museum and the attached cafe.

A view of the coffee museum at Roça Monte Café.

A view of the coffee museum at Roça Monte Café.

Visitors can learn about the history of coffee production in São Tomé, where both Arabica and Robusta beans are grown.

Steam-operated equipment at the coffee museum at Roça Monte Café.

Steam-operated equipment at the coffee museum at Roça Monte Café.

The museum has a series of exhibitions that show the coffee production process, from the plantation to the cup.

Following the tour, visitors can relax in the adjacent cafe with a complimentary coffee. Very smooth and delicious!

Coffee heaven - the coffee shop at the Monte Coffee plantation.

Coffee heaven – the coffee shop at the Monte Coffee plantation.

While there are plenty of places to purchase coffee in São Tomé, the best place is direct at the source – the Monte Coffee plantation.

Locally produced coffee for sale at the Monte Coffee plantation.

Locally produced coffee for sale at the Monte Coffee plantation.

This historic roça has been producing the finest of coffee beans since 1858 and is especially known for its strong arabica beans.

Roça Monte Café - Coffee Mountain plantation!

Roça Monte Café – Coffee Mountain plantation!

In the village at Roça Monte Café, Firma Efraim is a coffee shop, guest house and restaurant, offering meals, accommodation and coffee tasting.

Firma Efraim is a coffee shop, guest house and restaurant, offering meals, accommodation and coffee tasting.

Firma Efraim is a coffee shop, guest house and restaurant, offering meals, accommodation and coffee tasting.

Getting there: The entrance to Roça Monte Café is located on the right about 6-km inland from Trindade on the EN-3.

A view of the village at Roça Monte Café, which is home to 684 inhabitants.

Cascata Sao Nicolau
The beautiful Cascata São Nicolau (Saint Nicholas Waterfall), an easily accessible, 60-metre-high waterfall.

The beautiful Cascata São Nicolau (Saint Nicholas Waterfall), an easily accessible, 60-metre-high waterfall.

The central highlands have many waterfalls, but Cascata São Nicolau (Saint Nicholas Waterfall) is probably one of the easiest to reach, as it’s right next to the road.

This 60-metre-high waterfall, is hidden by dense vegetation in the middle of a dense forest.

A natural pool at the base of Saint Nicholas Waterfall is an ideal place to cool off.

A natural pool at the base of Saint Nicholas Waterfall is an ideal place to cool off.

There is a natural pool at the base of the waterfall, where you can cool off.

Robusta coffee beans growing on the side of the road near Cascata Sao Nicolau.

Robusta coffee beans growing on the side of the road near Cascata Sao Nicolau.

The falls are located along a winding, bumpy mountain road, just beyond Roça Monte Café.

The road is lined with Robusta coffee plants which were full of fruit at the time of my visit.

São Tomé Island – West Coast

A view of a west coast beach, with many traditional wooden fishing boats, on São Tomé.

A view of a west coast beach, with many traditional wooden fishing boats, on São Tomé.

As you travel along the north-west coast of São Tomé, just south of Roça Diogo Vaz, which is famous for its chocolate products, a magnificent stone beach comes into view.

A view of the west coast of São Tomé, near to the Santa Catarina tunnel.

A view of the west coast of São Tomé, near to the Santa Catarina tunnel.

Along this beach, and other beaches on the west coast, traditional dug-out fishing boats lie in neat rows.

The west coast of São Tomé is lined with many majestic Ceiba trees.

The west coast of São Tomé is lined with many majestic Ceiba trees.

These wooden, hand-carved fishing boats are made from the long, straight trunk of the Ceiba tree, many of which can be seen, standing like towering sentinels, along the coastline.

Wooden canoes on the west coast of São Tomé.

Wooden canoes on the west coast of São Tomé.

Santa Caterina Tunnel
A view of the very photogenic Santa Catarina Tunnel.

A view of the very photogenic Santa Catarina Tunnel.

Driving in Sao Tome is really spectacular and the northwest coast road isn’t any different.

For long sections, the road follows the sparsely populated coast, offering panoramic views of the many stone beaches.

The Santa Catarina Tunnel, the only road tunnel on São Tomé and Príncipe.

The Santa Catarina Tunnel, the only road tunnel on São Tomé and Príncipe.

Near the end of the road, before the village of Santa Catarina, is the only road tunnel in Sao Tome.

The Santa Catarina Tunnel allows the coastal road to pass through a narrow coastal mountain.

The Santa Catarina Tunnel allows the coastal road to pass through a narrow coastal mountain.

Built by the Portuguese, the 20-metre-long Santa Catarina Tunnel is the only road tunnel on São Tomé and Príncipe.

Principe

A view of the lush, green Principe Island from the Terreiro Velho plantation.

A view of the lush, green Principe Island from the Terreiro Velho plantation.

A volcanic island, which was formed 31 million years ago, Principe was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese on the 17th of January 1471.

Originally named “Saint Anthony”, the island was later renamed Príncipe (“Prince’s Island”) by King John II of Portugal in honour of his son Afonso, Hereditary Prince of Portugal (1475–1491).

Home to just 7,324 inhabitants, Principe Island is a small, sparsely populated, heavily eroded volcano.


The Chocolate Islands

Cacao plants at the Terreiro Velho plantation on Principe.

Cacao plants at the Terreiro Velho plantation on Principe.

As you travel around Principe, you will find cacao trees growing wildly throughout the rainforests on the island, especially at the very wild Terreiro Velho plantation which is home to Claudio Corallo chocolate.

Nicknamed, The Chocolate Islands  in 1913, São Tomé and Príncipe were the world’s largest producer of cocoa.

After achieving independence in 1975, their production saw a significant decline due to their lacking infrastructure.

Today, small boutique chocolate manufacturers, such as Claudio Corallo, are producing world-class, single origin chocolate, using cacao beans from plants which have existed for decades in this remote, pristine environment.

Besides cacao and coffee plants, Terreiro Velho plantation is home to many wild pepper plants.

Besides cacao and coffee plants, Terreiro Velho plantation is home to many wild pepper plants.

The old plantation grounds at Terreiro Velho have been taken over by the lush tropical jungle.

Throughout, coffee, cacao and pepper plants can be found growing in areas where the sunlight breaks through the canopy.

Video: 

Exploring the Terreiro Velho plantation in my rental car with my driver/ guide Rodrigo Lopes.

 


The southern part of the island is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which includes the entire emerged area of the island of Príncipe, and its surrounding islets.

Principe is the closest you will get to an untouched paradise, anywhere in the world.

A view of stunning Praia Banana (Banana Beach), one of the highlights of Principe.

A view of stunning Praia Banana (Banana Beach), one of the highlights of Principe.

This little-known island provides unspoiled beauty, covered in a canopy of green, broken by spires of primordial rock.

The island offers fantastic beaches, rainforests, snorkeling, fishing, birdwatching and a handful of interesting (if expensive) accommodations.

A typical, Portuguese-built, cobbled road on Principe.

A typical, Portuguese-built, cobbled road on Principe.

While both islands have their natural rewards, Príncipe offers an abundance of pristine nature and should not be missed!


Of the total number of visitors which venture to São Tomé and Príncipe, only 5% of them make the side trip to Príncipe. 

I highly recommend making the trip and spending at least a few days on this charming paradise island. 


Getting there:

Príncipe is located 173 kilometres (107 mi) north-east of São Tomé and can be reached on twice daily flights from São Tomé Airport.

Santo Antonio

The <i>Church of Our Lady of the Rosary</i> is the principal church in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is the principal church in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Located on the north-east coast of Principe, Santo António (Portuguese for Saint Anthony), is the main settlement, and only town, on the island.

Relaxing in the main square of Santo Antonio.

Relaxing in the main square of Santo Antonio.

The town was founded by the Portuguese in 1502, and was a centre of sugarcane cultivation.

A tiny house in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

A tiny house in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

From 1753 until 1852, it served as the colonial capital of Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe.

Portuguese colonial-era architecture in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Portuguese colonial-era architecture in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Due to its previous role as the capital, tiny Santo Antonio is a treasure trove of Portuguese colonial-era architecture – and some more modern, funky, street art.

Street art in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Street art in Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Santo Antonio is home to 2,620 inhabitants, which account for about 35% of the island’s total population.

Portuguese post box on the main square of Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Portuguese post box on the main square of Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

The town is known for its colonial architecture and for its two churches, the Church of Our Lady of the Conception and Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (Portuguese: Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário).

The interior of the <i>Church of Our Lady of the Rosary</i>, Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

The interior of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Santo Antonio, Principe Island.

Charming and relaxing, Santo Antonio is often called the “smallest town in the world” and is easily covered on foot.

Portuguese cannons and a memorial to <i>Marcelo da Veiga</i>, a local poet, graces the square, which is named after him, in Santo Antonio, Principe.

Portuguese cannons and a memorial to Marcelo da Veiga, a local poet, graces the square, which is named after him, in Santo Antonio, Principe.

Praia das Bananas

A view of Praia das Bananas, one of the best beaches on Principe.

A view of Praia das Bananas, one of the best beaches on Principe.

Considered to be the best beach, on an island which offers so many stunning beaches, Praia das Bananas (Banana Beach) is named after its curved stretch of golden sand, which is roughly in the shape of the yellow fruit.

This picture-perfect tropical beach is located on the grounds of Roça Belo Monte, a 15-minute walk from the front gate.

A painting, by a local Principe artist, depicts Praia das Bananas.

A painting, by a local Principe artist, depicts Praia das Bananas.

It is first seen from above, at a clifftop lookout, before descending to sea level, where you’ll find its golden sands, in the shape of a banana, beneath swaying palms.

The beautiful Praia des Bananas.

The beautiful Praia des Bananas.

Hidden beneath the trees are a small bar and lounge chairs.

There is snorkeling at either end, excellent swimming in between, and kayaks available from resort staff.

At the time of my visit, I had this amazingly beautiful beach to myself.


Photography Note: 

The only time to photograph Praia das Bananas is in the morning, when the beach is basking in golden sunlight. 

In the afternoon, the sun moves behind the beach which places the golden sand and turquoise water in the shadow (as can be seen in my image above).    


Praia Bom Bom

A view of Praia Bom Bom, one of a number of remote and secluded beaches on Principe and home to a deluxe resort.

A view of Praia Bom Bom, one of a number of remote and secluded beaches on Principe and home to a deluxe resort.


Deluxe Resorts of Principe

Principe is renowned for its deluxe resort accommodation, which comes at a (high) price!

There are three such resorts on the island, all of which are managed by HBD Principe, a company which is owned by South African billionaire Mark Shuttleworth.

Praia Bom Bom is home to ‘Bom Bom‘, which at the time of my visit was closed for a complete renovation. The resort is due to reopen in September, 2024. 

The other HDB resorts on Principe include Sundy Praia and Roça Sundy.

In addition to the Principe properties, HDB also offer Omali Lodge on São Tomé.


A view of Praia Bom Bom, and the small islet which is home to a deluxe resort.

A view of Praia Bom Bom, and the small islet which is home to a deluxe resort.

Praia Abade

A view of the very quiet Praia Abade which lies to the east of Santo Antonio.

A view of the very quiet Praia Abade which lies to the east of Santo Antonio.

Located 7-km due east of Santo Antonio, the very quiet Praia Abade is home to a rocky stretch of beach which is completely surrounded by lush, emerald-green, rainforest.

The El Farolito snack shop at Praia Abade.

The El Farolito snack shop at Praia Abade.

Snacks and drinks are available from El Farolito (translates as ‘The Lantern’), a small snack shop which lies in the shade of swaying palm trees, directly opposite the beach.

"Local

Also at El Farolito, a small souvenir stand offers locally produced crafts at totally reasonable prices.

A view of the fishing village at Praia Abade.

A view of the fishing village at Praia Abade.

Praia Abade is home to a small population who live in a picturesque fishing village.

Roça Belo Monte

The restored plantation manor house at Roça Belo Monte, Principe Island.

The restored plantation manor house at Roça Belo Monte, Principe Island.

Located in the north-eastern corner of Príncipe Island, Roça Belo Monte is a former cacao plantation which was established by the Portuguese in 1922.

The former plantation house at Roça Belo Monte has been converted into a deluxe hotel.

The former plantation house at Roça Belo Monte has been converted into a deluxe hotel.

The old plantation has been restored and is currently operated as a deluxe hotel.

The plantation grounds include the iconic Praia Banana.

The crenellated entrance gate at Roça Bela Monte Hotel.

The crenellated entrance gate at Roça Bela Monte Hotel.

Entrance to Roça Bela Monte is through a fairytale-style, crenellated entrance gate.

Roça Belo Monte Hotel

The drawing room at the Roça Belo Monte Hotell on Principe.

The drawing room at the Roça Belo Monte Hotel on Principe.

Roça Belo Monte is a luxury hotel offering a collection of renovated buildings which are interspersed with large courtyards and lawns.

The décor throughout is elegant and grand: high ceilings, leather armchairs and sofas, chandeliers and candelabras.

A renovated former plantation mansion Roça Belo Monte Hotel on Principe.

A renovated former plantation mansion Roça Belo Monte Hotel on Principe.

This former plantation offers beautiful gardens, a charming, old-world, hotel plus a museum dedicated to a famous astronomical event which occurred here in 1919.

A view of the balcony at Roça Belo Monte Hotel on Principe.

A view of the balcony at Roça Belo Monte Hotel on Principe.

Roça Belo Monte Museum

A plague at Roça Belo Monte, commemorating Arthur Stanley Eddington's experiment to test Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

A plague at Roça Belo Monte, commemorating Arthur Stanley Eddington’s experiment to test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

In 1919, Arthur Stanley Eddington and his team visited Príncipe to test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

They based themselves at Roça Bela Monte, and, during a total solar eclipse on the 29th of May 1919, they took photos of a star field around the sun.

They compared these photos to ones taken during the night, in Oxford, England, in February 1919.

The aim of the expedition to Principe was to measure the gravitational deflection of starlight passing near the Sun.

The value of this deflection had been predicted by Albert Einstein in a 1911 paper.

The expedition allowed the scientists to test Einstein’s theory which was proven to be correct – that star light is deflected by the light of the sun.

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving can be arranged through Dive Tribe who are based at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

Scuba Diving can be arranged through Dive Tribe who are based at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The one scuba diving shop I found on Sao Tome was Dive Tribe who are based at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The 'Dive Tribe' scuba diving shop at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The ‘Dive Tribe’ scuba diving shop at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

A single dive, including all equipment, costs EUR €55, while 4 dives costs €212.

Scuba diving price list, at Dive Tribe in São Tomé.

Scuba diving price list, at Dive Tribe in São Tomé.

At the time of my visit, visibility was poor so no diving trips were being organised.

Accommodation

The most inviting pool in the capital - the infinity pool at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The most inviting pool in the capital – the infinity pool at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The cost of accommodation in São Tomé and Príncipe can range from budget guesthouses to luxury resorts.

Budget guesthouses can cost around $20-$50 per night, while mid-range hotels can cost around $70-$150 per night.

Luxury hotels and resorts can cost upwards of $200 per night.

São Tomé

Pestana Sao Tome Hotel

The best hotel in the capital, the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The best hotel in the capital, the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

For those seeking more deluxe digs in the capital, the Pestana Sao Tome Hotel is a good choice.

A view of the garden at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

A view of the garden at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

Standard rooms at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel start at USD$220 per night.

The boardwalk, at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The boardwalk, at the Pestana São Tomé Hotel.

The only credit card which is accepted is Visa! 

Pestana Miramar São Tomé

The Pestana Miramar São Tomé offers comfortable rooms overlooking the sea from US$120 per night.

The Pestana Miramar São Tomé offers comfortable rooms overlooking the sea from US$120 per night.

A sister property to the Pestana São Tomé Hotel is the nearby Pestana Miramar São Tomé, which is located a short, 5-minute, walk from the former hotel.

Rooms at this older property cost from just US$120 per night. 

Hotel Central

The best mid-range option in town is the Hotel Central which, as the name suggests, is located in the heart of the old town.

Comfortable and clean rooms cost from US$50 per night on booking.com

Albergaria Porcelana
During my stay in São Tomé, I resided at the, less-than-ideal, Albergaria Porcelana which was recommended by some friends.

A standard room at this budget establishment costs US$30 per night.

I was flooded out during my stay and a truckload of chicken feed, which was stored in the basement, meant a foul stench hung in the air during my stay.

Very unpleasant. I would avoid this establishment.

Principe

The Belo Monte Hotel on Principe offers loads of old-world charm.

The Belo Monte Hotel on Principe offers loads of old-world charm.

Principe island offers some amazingly deluxe resorts, which are hidden away in secluded corners of this quiet island, and cost a small fortune.

Top of the list is the immaculate Sundy Praia Lodge, where a one-bedroom villa costs from US$1,350 per night.

More affordable, and oozing lots of old-world charm, is the historic Belo Monte Hotel and Museum where the cheapest room will set you back US$740 per night.

Residencial Brigada

A view of my spacious 'Queen Studio' room at Residencial Brigada.

A view of my spacious ‘Queen Studio’ room at Residencial Brigada.

During my visit to Principe, I chose to stay at the much more unpretentious, and totally affordable, Residencial Brigada which is tucked away in a side street of Santo Antonio.

The bathroom in my 'Queen Studio' room at Residencial Brigada.

The bathroom in my ‘Queen Studio’ room at Residencial Brigada.

The 3-star, Residencial Brigada features accommodation with a garden, free private parking, a terrace and a restaurant.

Owned by the enthusiastic and energetic Carlos Manuel, this cosy guest house offers spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms starting at EUR €57.50 for a single or EUR €70 for two people.

Rates include a delicious breakfast.

Services include airport transfers, free WiFi and delicious, locally-inspired, meals which are prepared by Carlos’ wife – who is an excellent cook.

All meals at Residencial Brigada, including this delicious breakfast, are prepared by Carlos' wife.

All meals at Residencial Brigada, including this delicious breakfast, are prepared by Carlos’ wife.

For a more comfortable stay, I recommend spending more to stay in the queen studio.

Also, through Carlos, I rented a 4WD with a local guide/ driver.

The car rental cost EUR €60 per day – plus extra for the driver.

A guide/ driver is essential on an island where many of the sights lie at the end of unmarked, muddy, rough tracks which weave their way through dense jungle.

The Residencial Brigada is a highly recommended option on Principe. 

Contact Details: 

Eating Out

Cuisine

The cuisine of São Tomé and Príncipe reflects both African and Portuguese influences.

Common ingredients include fish, seafood, tropical fruits, and vegetables.

Dishes often feature flavors like coconut, palm oil, and spices.

Being an island nation, fish is a staple of the São Toméan diet, often served with breadfruit and mashed, cooked bananas.

In spite of the abject poverty, São Toméans can always count on some sustenance from the wide array of tropical fruits which grow throughout the island.

The rich volcanic soil allows almost anything to grow in profusion.

São Tomé

Xicos’s Café

Xico's Café in São Tomé offers traditional local, and Portuguese, cuisine served in an authentic, old-world cafe/ art gallery.

Xico’s Café in São Tomé offers traditional local, and Portuguese, cuisine served in an authentic, old-world cafe/ art gallery.

Located in downtown São Tomé, the very popular Xicos’s Café offers local, and Portuguese, cuisine at reasonable prices in an old-world café environment.

Named after its owner, Xico, the walls of the café are lined with artworks by local artists, all of which is available for purchase.

A view of Xico's Café in São Tomé.

A view of Xico’s Café in São Tomé.

The café is especially popular with the expat Portuguese community who come to dine on Portuguese cuisine.

My lunchtime 'meal of the day' at Xico's Café - battered tuna, chips and salad.

My lunchtime ‘meal of the day’ at Xico’s Café – battered tuna, chips and salad.

The open kitchen is located at the front of the café, allowing you to watch your meal being prepared.

I recommend the ‘meal of the day’ which is served at lunchtime and costs 200 DBs. Standard fare at the cafe includes fresh, local fish with chips and salad.

Open every day except Sunday’s.

Lá Bistro

A view of the popular Lá Bistrô in São Tomé.

A view of the popular Lá Bistrô in São Tomé.

Around the corner from Xico’s Café, Lá Bistrô serves similar food with fish, chips and salad being the most popular dish.

For caffeine addicts, this is the one place in São Tomé where you can enjoy a barista-made coffee. The coffees are best enjoyed with one of their fresh cakes, which are baked next door in the bakery.

Highly recommended!

Principe

Armazem Restaurante

The Armazém Restaurante in downtown Santo Antonio.

The Armazém Restaurante in downtown Santo Antonio.

On an island with very limited dining options, Armazém Restaurante do Roça Porto Real (Warehouse Restaurant Roça Porto Real) in downtown Santo Antonio is housed in a former warehouse, with a seating capacity for over 300 people.

With helpful staff who speak Portuguese and French, the restaurant is busiest at lunchtime, with the most popular dishes being grilled meats and typical Portuguese dishes.

Principe Sightseeing Boat Trips

Boat sightseeing trips of Principe can be booked through the Armazem Restaurante in Santo Antonio.

Boat sightseeing trips of Principe can be booked through the Armazem Restaurante in Santo Antonio.

In addition to the wonderful food, the folks at the Armazem Restaurante can help to organise sightseeing boat trips around Principe Island.

Residencial Brigada

While on Principe, I stayed at the Residencial Brigada where the wife of the owner, Carlos, prepared the most amazing meals, using fresh local produce from the nearby market.

Visa Requirements

Visa policy map of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Visa policy map of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Many nationalities enjoy visa-free access (highlighted in dark green on the map above) to São Tomé and Príncipe for up to 15 days.

This includes most Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Russians, Japanese and South Koreans.

Other nationalities, such as Australians and New Zealanders, must first apply for a visa.

You can check your visa requirements by consulting the Visa Policy of São Tomé and Príncipe.

My visa for São Tomé and Príncipe.

My visa for São Tomé and Príncipe.

Those who require a visa can try applying through the online STP e-Visa website which I found does not work.

I tried twice to submit an application and at no stage did I receive an email or any confirmation that the application had been received.

I never received an e-Visa via the website. 

I instead applied in person at the São Tomé and Príncipe embassy in Lisbon where a visa application takes 1 week to process.

Getting There

Air

My STP Airways flight from São Tomé International Airport to Portugal which used a chartered plane from EuroAtlantic Airways,

My STP Airways flight from São Tomé International Airport to Portugal which used a chartered plane from EuroAtlantic Airways,

São Tomé is served by São Tomé International Airport (IATA: TMS) with regular flights to Europe and other African countries.

The airport is located 5 kilometres (3 mi) north-west of downtown São Tomé.

The very small, inadequate, and outdated terminal, is easily overwhelmed whenever flights of the larger airlines (STP Airways and TAP Air Portugal) arrive and depart.

Lining up, outside São Tomé International Airport at 4 am, waiting to pass through the security check.

Lining up, outside São Tomé International Airport at 4 am, waiting to pass through the security check.

In order to enter the airport terminal, all passengers must queue and wait to first undergo a security check in an adjacent annex.

If you are departing on the weekly STP Airways flight to Lisbon (which departs at 07:10), you will need to ensure you are at the airport at around 4 am to join the long line in the car park.

An old TAP Air Portugal advertisement in downtown São Tomé.

An old TAP Air Portugal advertisement in downtown São Tomé.

Only passengers may enter the terminal building.

The following airlines provide scheduled services to/ from São Tomé International Airport:

STP Airways

I flew from Lisbon, Portugal to São Tomé with STP Airways who provide a weekly service every Saturday.

The one, small, and very crowded departure lounge at São Tomé International Airport.

The one, small, and very crowded departure lounge at São Tomé International Airport.

Flight Schedule

The flight schedule of STP Airways is as follows:

Flight           Departure                                        Arrival
8F507           Saturday         LIS      00:05             Saturday      TMS    05:15
8F508           Saturday        TMS    07:10              Saturday      LIS      14:30

The airline uses an older Boeing 777 which is chartered from EuroAtlantic Airways.

Booking

Flights can be booked on the STP Airways website, with a round trip from Lisbon to São Tomé costing about EUR €800.

Airport Transport

Most hotels will provide a shuttle service.

An airport taxi into downtown São Tomé will cost EUR €10.

Getting Around

Taxis are the most popular form of transportation on the islands, with prices ranging from $1-$10 depending on the distance. Car rentals are also available and can cost around $60-$100 per day.

Inter-Island Flights

Flights between Sao Tome and Principe are operated by STP Airways, who use a chartered plane from SEVENAIR.

Flights between Sao Tome and Principe are operated by STP Airways, who use a chartered plane from SEVENAIR.

Carrier

STP Airways operate inter-island flights between São Tomé and Príncipe islands, daily, except Tuesday.

The empty waiting lounge at the very sleepy Principe airport.

The empty waiting lounge at the very sleepy Principe airport.

The airline uses a chartered, 19-seater, BAe Jetstream 32, plane from SEVENAIR – a Portuguese charter airline.

On both of my flights, there were no more than half a dozen passengers on board.

Inter-islands flights between São Tomé Island and Príncipe are rarely busy.

Inter-islands flights between São Tomé Island and Príncipe are rarely busy.

Schedule

STP Airways provide flights between São Tomé and Principe islands as per the following schedule:

Monday – Wednesday – Thursday – Friday – Sunday 

Flight             Departure               Arrival

8F211             TMS    09:00             PCP    09:40
8F212             PCP    10:20             TMS    11:00

8F213             TMS    15:00             PCP    15:40
8F214             PCP    16:20             TMS    17:00

Saturday

Flight             Departure               Arrival

8F211             TMS    08:00             PCP    08:40
8F212             PCP    09:10             TMS    09:50

My boarding pass for my inter-island flight from Principe to São Tomé.

My boarding pass for my inter-island flight from Principe to São Tomé.

Booking

Flights can be booked on the STP Airways website, with a round-trip costing about EUR €260.

Airport

Príncipe Airport lies 3 km north Santo Antonio, with two daily flights connecting Principe to São Tomé International Airport on STP Airways.

Public Transport

Public buses operate on São Tomé, with buses departing from the central market in downtown São Tomé.

Taxi

Shared and private taxis are available on São Tomé, with shared taxis departing from a rank outside central market in downtown São Tomé.

Rental Car

Exploring the lush, green rainforests of Principe in my rental car.

Exploring the lush, green rainforests of Principe in my rental car.

I chose to rent a car on both São Tomé and Principe.

On São Tomé, I paid EUR €40 per day, while on Principe, I paid EUR €50 per day.

Exploring São Tomé Island in my rental car.

Exploring São Tomé Island in my rental car.

In both cases, I had the option to add a guide/ driver at an additional EUR €50 per day.

All car license plates in São Tomé and Príncipe are prefixed with "STP".

All car license plates in São Tomé and Príncipe are prefixed with “STP”.

With a lack of road signs and rough, muddy, treacherous roads, I was very glad that I paid for a local driver on both islands.

My rental car, at Cascata de Sao Nicolau on São Tomé.

My rental car, at Cascata de Sao Nicolau on São Tomé.


That’s the end of my São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide.

If you wish to leave any comments or contact me, you can do so using the form below or the via the Contact page.

Safe Travels!
Darren


Further Reading

Following is a list of my travel content from the region:

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide São Tomé and Principe Travel Guide

South Sudan Photo Gallery

A young Mundari boy.

South Sudan Photo Gallery

This is a South Sudan Photo Gallery from taste2travel.

To read about this destination, please refer to my South Sudan Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 

 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel.

I’ve been travelling the world for 36 years and, 238/251 countries and territories (189/193 UN countries), and seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


Follow me on Instagram: 

South Sudan Travel Guide

Mundari girls at a Mundari cattle camp.

South Sudan Travel Guide

This is a South Sudan Travel Guide from taste2travel.com

Date Visited: April 2024

Introduction

Welcome to South Sudan, the world’s newest country, a land of vast plains, vibrant cultures, fascinating tribes and untamed wilderness.

A Mundari cattle herder, covered in cow-dung ash.

A Mundari cattle herder, covered in cow-dung ash.

Nestled in the heart of East Africa, South Sudan is a country rich in diversity and history, offering travellers a unique and immersive experience like no other.

Sunset north of Juba.

Sunset north of Juba.

South Sudan boasts a tapestry of completely undeveloped, and untouched, landscapes, from the lush greenery of its swamps and savannas to the rugged peaks of its mountain ranges.

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

The concept of tourism is new to South Sudan and at this early stage there are many bureaucratic hurdles to visiting the country. All of these are outlined in the following sections of this guide.

Currently, the only sensible way to visit South Sudan is to engage the services of a local tour company.

Home to the Lotuko tribe since the 14th century, the very remote Ilieu village is nestled among giant granite boulders.

Home to the Lotuko tribe since the 14th century, the very remote Ilieu village is nestled among giant granite boulders.

I traveled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours who I would recommend (full details are included in the ‘Tour Company‘ section below).

As for the South Sudanese, I found them to be a kind, warm and welcoming people. They have much to be proud of and are eager to share their rich cultural heritage with curious travellers.

No shortage of warm smiles in South Sudan.

No shortage of warm smiles in South Sudan.

Corruption permeates every aspect of life in South Sudan and it would seem the main economic activity is government officials extracting bribes from the beleaguered population.

A Mundari cattle herder, surrounded by his cows.

A Mundari cattle herder, surrounded by his cows.

In this South Sudan Travel Guide, I provide insights, recommendations, and practical tips to make the most of your visit.

While the country is open to tourists, it is, currently, best suited to intrepid, adventurous travellers.

Birds, feeding off of bugs on a Ankole-Watusi cow.

Birds, feeding off of bugs on a Ankole-Watusi cow.

Location

Juba, South Sudan

South Sudan is located in East-Central Africa, bordered by six countries, making it a landlocked nation.

To the north, Sudan, from which South Sudan gained independence in 2011 after decades of civil war, shares a 1,900-kilometre (1,200 miles) border with South Sudan.

To the east, Ethiopia shares a 1,300-kilometre (810 miles) border with South Sudan.

To the southeast, Kenya shares a border of 232-kilometres (144 miles), while to the south, Uganda, shares a border of 435-kilometres (270 miles) with South Sudan.

The Ugandan border crossing in the town of Nimule, is the busiest, and most significant land border crossing to South Sudan.

Meanwhile, to the west, the Central African Republic shares a 682-kilometre (424 mile) border with South Sudan. The boundary between the two countries is relatively porous and has experienced some instability due to conflicts in the region.

Lastly, in the southwest, the Democratic Republic of the Congo shares a 714-kilometre (444 miles) border with South Sudan. This border is marked by the flow of the Nile River.

Views of the countryside in south-eastern South Sudan.

Views of the countryside in south-eastern South Sudan.

South Sudan’s landscape is characterised by vast plains, swamps, and savannas, as well as mountainous regions in the southeast and the far west.

The White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, flows through the country from south to north, providing water resources and supporting agriculture and wildlife habitats.

The south-east of South Sudan is characterised by large granite boulders rising up over green plains.

The south-east of South Sudan is characterised by large granite boulders rising up over green plains.

Additionally, South Sudan is home to significant wetland areas, including the Sudd, one of the largest freshwater wetlands in the world.

People

A Mundari cattle herder, one of 60 distinct ethnic groups in South Sudan.

A Mundari cattle herder, one of 60 distinct ethnic groups in South Sudan.

The people of South Sudan are as diverse and vibrant as the landscapes of their country.

Comprising over 60 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language, traditions, and customs, the population of South Sudan is a mosaic of cultures, beliefs, and identities.

Young Mundari girls.

Young Mundari girls.

Hospitality is deeply ingrained in South Sudanese culture, and I can attest that I was always made to feel welcome.

Family and community play central roles in South Sudanese society, with strong kinship ties forming the backbone of social life.

Elders are highly respected, and traditional values are upheld with pride, even in the face of modernisation.

Lotuko children, playing a game, in Ilieu village, south-eastern South Sudan.

Lotuko children, playing a game, in Ilieu village, south-eastern South Sudan.

Despite the challenges posed by decades of conflict and hardship, resilience runs deep in the spirit of the South Sudanese people.

In recent years, efforts to foster reconciliation and unity have gained momentum, as South Sudanese from all walks of life work towards healing the wounds of the past and forging a path towards peace and prosperity.

The incredibly photogenic Mundari adolescents tend to the cattle camps, sweeping them clean and collecting cow manure for the fires.

The incredibly photogenic Mundari adolescents tend to the cattle camps, sweeping them clean and collecting cow manure for the fires.

Amidst the challenges, the people of South Sudan remain hopeful, resilient, and proud of their rich cultural heritage.

Flag

The flag of South Sudan, bearing a tilted star.

The flag of South Sudan, bearing a tilted star.

The flag of South Sudan is a symbol of the nation’s identity and aspirations.

Adopted on July 9, 2011, when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, the flag embodies the hopes and dreams of its people for a future of peace, unity, and prosperity.

The flag was designed by Samuel Ajak, who was an artist and brigadier general for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army under revolutionary leader John Garang.

The flag was never formally defined in detail, which has led to many misunderstandings regarding its official colours or the rotation of the yellow star.

The flag of South Sudan bears similarities with the flags of Sudan and Kenya. It shares the black, white, red, and green of the Sudanese flag, in addition to having a chevron along the hoist.

One difference between the flags of Sudan and South Sudan is that there is a yellow star inside the blue chevron, representing the unity of South Sudan.

The horizontal black, white, red, and green bands of the flag share the same design as the Kenyan flag, and the Pan-African symbolism thereof.

According to the government of South Sudan, the colours of the flag represent the following:

  • Black: Represents the people of South Sudan.
  • Red: Represents the blood that was shed for the independence of the country.
  • Green: Represents the country’s agricultural, natural wealth, land, as well as progress.
  • White: Represents peace.
  • Blue: Represents the waters of the Nile River, which flows through the country.
  • Yellow: Represents unity (of the states), hope, and determination for all people.

Flag in Dispute

The flag of South Sudan, bearing an upright star.

The flag of South Sudan, bearing an upright star.

The Flag of South Sudan is still disputed about whether the yellow star is tilted to the right slightly or whether it is upright.

Both of these designs are commonly used.

Currency

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

The official currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound, which has the international currency code of SSP.

The currency came into being on the 9th of July 2011, at the time of independence.

The currency, which is issued by the Bank of South Sudan (BoSS), consists of just three bank notes – 100, 500 and 1,000 SSP.

The obverse side of the South Sudanese Pound banknotes features the image of John Garang, the founding father of South Sudan.

The obverse side of the South Sudanese Pound banknotes features the image of John Garang, the founding father of South Sudan.

The obverse side of each banknote features the image of John Garang, a former Sudanese politician and revolutionary leader, who is credited with being the founding father of South Sudan.

John Garang died under mysterious circumstances in 2005 when the Ugandan presidential (Mi-172) helicopter he was flying in crashed.

The reverse side of the South Sudanese Pound features wildlife and the River Nile.

The reverse side of the South Sudanese Pound features wildlife and the River Nile.

The reverse side of the South Sudanese Pound features Ostriches on the 1,000 SSP note and a lion on the 100 SSP note.

The 200 SSP note features a panorama of the Nile River, which flows through South Sudan.

Exchange Rate

My wad of 100 x 100 SSP bank notes.

My wad of 100 x 100 SSP bank notes.

Currently (May 2024), US$1 = 2,500 SSP which means the wad of 100 x 100 SSP pictured above is worth just US$4.

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

Exchange rates quoted on the internet are false since these are the official rates which no one in South Sudan uses.

Costs

One of the world’s poorest countries is one of the most expensive to visit! 

  • Return airfare from Dubai to Juba with Ethiopian Airlines: US$1,000
  • 4-day tour (all inclusive): US$2,150
  • Visa: US$120
  • Standard Room at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba: US$120 per night

Tour Company

I travelled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours.

I travelled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours.

With a lack of infrastructure and little public transport, plus many bureaucratic hurdles, it’s best to engage the services of a local tour company when organising a trip to the world’s newest country.

I normally travel strictly as a solo, independent traveller – without the aid of a tour guide or tour company.

However, I would highly recommend you engage a local tour guide / company for your trip to South Sudan. 

I will outline the reasons for this advice below.

There are many bureaucratic requirements for a visit to South Sudan, requirements which can only be completed by a local tour company.

The very organised, competent, and enthusiastic, Isaac Lotwal, the owner of Kinyeti Wild Tours.

The very organised, competent, and enthusiastic, Isaac Lotwal, the owner of Kinyeti Wild Tours.

I travelled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours who I would recommend.

The company was founded by Isaac Lotwal and is one of the very few tour operators in South Sudan – a country where the concept of tourism is still unfamiliar and tourists are (sometimes) viewed with suspicion.

Tour Costs

Tours to one of the world’s poorest countries are surprisingly expensive.

I paid US$2,150 for a 4-day tour which included visits to two tribes, accommodation, food, transport, guiding, photography permit, foreigners’ registration process and airport transfers.

During our visit to the Mundari tribe, I was told the tribe charges US$200 per visitor and are happiest when a group arrives since a large number of visitors is much more lucrative.

Payment Options

Credit cards are not accepted in South Sudan, nor are online payment methods such as PayPal.

There are two options for paying for tours – either a good old fashion bank transfer or you simply carry the cash with you and hand it to your guide on arrival (in a discreet setting of course!).

Bureaucracy

A visit to South Sudan requires a Letter of Invitation (which can only be issued by a locally-registered company), a Photography Permit (which must be obtained from the government, by a local company, before you arrive in the country), and a separate Foreigners’ Registration process once you have arrived in Juba.

All of these requirements will be completed by the local tour company.

Letter of Invitation

 

My Letter of Invitation (LOI) for South Sudan, which was issued by Kinyeti Wild Tours.

My Letter of Invitation (LOI) for South Sudan, which was issued by Kinyeti Wild Tours.

During the e-visa application process, visitors to South Sudan are required to upload a Letter of Invitation from a local South Sudan tour company.

Such a letter (pictured above) was issued to me by Kinyeti Wild Tours.

Photography Permit

Anyone carrying photography equipment (drones are strictly banned) will need to obtain a Photography Permit in advance of their arrival.

The cost for this permit is a whopping US$550 which is nothing more than a blatant tourist tax.

The only way to obtain this prior to your arrival is through a local tour company.

When I arrived at Juba airport, I was met by Isaac who had a folder full of paperwork for my visit. This also included the Photography Permit.

Isaac led me to a customs office where he handed over the permit and I handed over my Canon DSLR (EOS R6). A customs officer (who obviously had no idea what he was looking at), performed a cursory check of my camera and the permit before letting me go.

At no stage in South Sudan was my photography permit requested.

However, it was checked once again when I departed from Juba airport.


Note:

If you are travelling only with a smartphone camera, you do not need to apply for a Photography Permit.

Such permits are for large format DSLR cameras. 


Foreigner Registration Process

Upon arrival in South Sudan, all visitors are required to undergo a separate 'Foreigner Registration Process', which is stamped into your passport.

Upon arrival in South Sudan, all visitors are required to undergo a separate ‘Foreigner Registration Process’, which is stamped into your passport.

Upon arrival in the country, all foreigners in South Sudan are required to register at the Central Immigration office in Juba.

Isaac took care of this process while I relaxed at my hotel after my long flight.

The sticker from this process will take up half a page in your passport.

Conclusion

There is much in the way of paperwork to be completed by visitors to South Sudan. For this reason, it is imperative you travel through a local tour company.

There is also the issue of a lack of public transport and terrible infrastructure.

You will need a private car with driver and guide in order to explore beyond Juba!

Sightseeing

Juba

A sunken boat, in the middle of the White Nile River in Juba.

A sunken boat, in the middle of the White Nile River in Juba.

Juba is an unremarkable, gritty, chaotic, less-than-charming capital of dusty, (mostly unsealed) streets, lined with simple corrugated iron structures.

There are very few solid buildings in South Sudan, except for a small area in downtown Juba which is home to a collection of hotels, government ministries, the Presidential Palace, NGO’s and a few banks.

One iconic site in Juba is that of a sunken boat which lies just off the shore of the White Nile, near one of Juba’s most popular expat bars – the AFEX River Camp.

A large copper Rhinoceros monument at the AFEX River Camp in Juba.

A large copper Rhinoceros monument at the AFEX River Camp in Juba.

The story of this boat is that it had been damaged while unloading goods. The motor failed and the boat drifted downstream until it eventually became stuck in its current location.

Tribal Visits

During my stay in South Sudan, I visited two tribes – the Lutoko tribe and the Mundari tribe.

Lutoko Tribe

Ilieu Village Views

A view of the village of Ilieu. The Lutoko tribe have inhabited the slopes of this escarpment since the 14th century CE.

A view of the village of Ilieu. The Lutoko tribe have inhabited the slopes of this escarpment since the 14th century CE.

Located in Eastern Equatoria State, a 5-hour drive from Juba, along bumpy, heavily pot-holed, red-earth roads, the village of Ilieu is home to the Lotuko tribe, who have lived on the slopes of a steep escarpment since at least the 14th century.

Views of the surrounding plains from Ilieu village.

Views of the surrounding plains from Ilieu village.

Over the centuries, the tribe have moved large boulders into place to create laneways and stone fences. Inside these fences, small family compounds are kept neat and clean.

The entire village is kept spotlessly clean, unlike other urban environments throughout South Sudan.

The roof thatching is especially interesting since it’s made from bundles of tightly knotted grass which are then tied together in layers.

There are two water sources, neither of which are conveniently located in the village. Instead, villagers must hike downhill (20 minutes) or uphill to fill water containers which they then haul back to the village.

Due to the remote location of Ilieu village, a 5-hour drive from Juba, I camped overnight in the village school yard.

Ilieu village is located on the slopes of an escarpment in the remote south-east region of South Sudan.

Ilieu village is located on the slopes of an escarpment in the remote south-east region of South Sudan.

 

A view of Ilieu village, home of the Lotuko tribe.

A view of Ilieu village, home of the Lotuko tribe.

 

Views of the surrounding countryside from Ilieu village.

Views of the surrounding countryside from Ilieu village.

 

A young girl, on her way to collect water from a source high up on the granite boulder which overlooks the village.

A young girl, on her way to collect water from a source high up on the granite boulder which overlooks the village.

 

Laneways constructed from granite boulders and fences made from tree branches.

Laneways constructed from granite boulders and fences made from tree branches.

 

Walking through Ilieu village involves lots of clambering over giant granite stones.

Walking through Ilieu village involves lots of clambering over giant granite stones.

 

Laneways and fences in Ilieu village, constructed of granite stones and wooden tree branches.

Laneways and fences in Ilieu village, constructed of granite stones and wooden tree branches.

 

Over the centuries, the tribe have moved large boulders into place to create laneways and stone fences.

Over the centuries, the tribe have moved large boulders into place to create laneways and stone fences.

 

Constructing laneways in Ilieu village is very labour-intensive.

Constructing laneways in Ilieu village is very labour-intensive.

 

A village kitchen, with a fire below and food storage above.

A village kitchen, with a fire below and food storage above.

Grinding Grain

A young Lotuko girl, grinding grain.

A young Lotuko girl, grinding grain.

Grinding grain is an important activity which has taken place for many centuries in the village.

Evidence of former grain grinding sites can be seen throughout the village.

Remnants from centuries of grinding activity.

Remnants from centuries of grinding activity.

 

A grinding stone in a village compound.

A grinding stone in a village compound.

 

A large grinding stone and views of Ilieu village.

A large grinding stone and views of Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

One of many tribal groups in South Sudan, the Lotuko, are a Nilotic (of the Nile valley) ethnic group whose traditional home is the Eastern Equatoria state of South Sudan.

Their region is characterised by ranges and mountain spurs such as Mount Kinyeti, the highest mountain in South Sudan with an altitude of 3,186 metres (10,453 ft) above sea level.

Isaac named his tour company after this mountain, which he has climbed. Isaac is a native of a village which lies in the shadow of Mount Kinyeti.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Mundari Tribe

A sunset view of a Mundari cattle camp.

A sunset view of a Mundari cattle camp.

The Mundari are a small ethnic group of roughly 100,000 (very tall) people, who are renowned cattle-herders and agriculturalists.

A Mundari girl using her arms to imitate the curvy cow horns.

A Mundari girl using her arms to imitate the curvy cow horns.

They are one of the ethnic groups indigenous to the Nile valley (Nilotic). Their main homeland is located north of Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Mundari boys at the Mundari cattle camp.

Mundari boys at the Mundari cattle camp.

Nomadic cattle-herders, they move their cattle camps to areas which offer the greenest pastures where their cattle can feed.

Birds, feeding off of bugs on a Ankole-Watusi cow.

Birds, feeding off of bugs on a Ankole-Watusi cow.

Cattle are the Mundari’s primary source of wealth; the cows serve as a form of currency (these days, an attractive bride can “cost” as much as 100 cows) and, as such, have become a symbol of status and power.

A young Mundari girl, working in the cattle camp.

A young Mundari girl, working in the cattle camp.

Marriages are arranged by the prospective groom offering cattle to the bride’s family and husbands may take as many wives as they can support.

Ankole-Watusi Cows

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

The Mundari tend large herds of Ankole-Watusi cows, which are renowned for their impressively large and curly horns.

The cows are known as “the cattle of kings” because they were preferred by African kings.

A Mundari adolescent, who loved being photographed.

A Mundari adolescent, who loved being photographed.

A herd of Ankole-Watusi cows is still kept at the former Royal Palace in Nyanza, Rwanda (click to view these cows in my Rwanda Travel Guide).

The Mundari have an all-encompassing relationship with their cows, they sleeping alongside them, massage them with cow-dung ash and build fires to keep them warm and to keep the bugs away.

Their cows are treasured family members!

A happy Mundari cattleman, surrounded by his beloved cows.

A happy Mundari cattleman, surrounded by his beloved cows.

The Mundari tend to consume fish caught from the nearby Nile River. They do no eat their cows, but consume the milk which is produced by them.

Ankole-Watusi cows have the most incredibly curvy horns.

Ankole-Watusi cows have the most incredibly curvy horns.

 

A young boy posing with an Ankole-Watusi cow.

A young boy posing with an Ankole-Watusi cow.

 

Who's the odd one out here?

Who’s the odd one out here?

 

Because of their preference by African rulers, Ankole-Watusi cows are known as “the cattle of kings”.

Because of their preference by African rulers, Ankole-Watusi cows are known as “the cattle of kings”.

 

The Mundari sculpt the horns of their cows to make them curvier.

The Mundari sculpt the horns of their cows to make them curvier.

 

The Mundari live lives which are closely intertwined with their beloved cows.

The Mundari live lives which are closely intertwined with their beloved cows.

 

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

 

Young Mundari girls, imitating the curved horns of their cows.

Young Mundari girls, imitating the curved horns of their cows.

 

The Mundari build fires to keep their cows warm and the mosquitos away.

The Mundari build fires to keep their cows warm and the mosquitos away.

 

Tension in the camp!

Tension in the camp!

 

Each evening, when the cows return to camp, they return to the exact same spot where they are tied to a small peg in the ground.

Each evening, when the cows return to camp, they return to the exact same spot where they are tied to a small peg in the ground.

 

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Cow-Dung Ash 

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari collect and burn the copious amounts of cow dung which is produced each day in the cattle camp.

The ash produced from the dung is smeared on their bodies to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari also massage the ash into the hides of their cows to provide them with protection against mosquitos.

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

 

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

 

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

 

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

 

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

 

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

 

Gathering the ash from the fire.

Gathering the ash from the fire.

 

Cattle Camp Maintenance

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

Mundari cattle camps are kept clean by the Mundari children and adolescents who collect cow dung for the fires and who sweep the areas around the cattle camp.

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

Collecting cow dung in a Mundari cattle camp is a never-ending job.

Collecting cow dung in a Mundari cattle camp is a never-ending job.

 

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

A Mundari girl, gathering cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires. A Mundari girl, gathering cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

A Mundari girl, gathering cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

 

A Mundari boy, gathering fresh cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

A Mundari boy, gathering fresh cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

 

The collecting of cow dung keeps most of the Mundari children busy.

The collecting of cow dung keeps most of the Mundari children busy.

 

Collecting cow dung.

Collecting cow dung.

 

A young Mundari boy, with hair which has been treated with cow dung ash and washed with cow urine, collecting cow dung.

A young Mundari boy, with hair which has been treated with cow dung ash and washed with cow urine, collecting cow dung.

 

A young Mundari girl, collecting cow dung for the fire.

A young Mundari girl, collecting cow dung for the fire.

 

Mundari Beauty Treatment

Mundari men of South Sudan rub cow-dung ash into their hair and then bathe their hair in cow urine.

Mundari men of South Sudan rub cow-dung ash into their hair and then bathe their hair in cow urine.

A unique Mundari beauty treatment involves massaging cow-dung ash into the hair of Mundari men.

The hair is then washed with cow urine. The uric acid gives the hair a copper-colour tint which the Mundari regard as beautiful.

A container of cow urine, ready to be used as a hair rinse treatment.

A container of cow urine, ready to be used as a hair rinse treatment.

 

A Mundari beauty salon.

A Mundari beauty salon.

 

Massaging cow-dung ash into the hair of a Mundari man.

Massaging cow-dung ash into the hair of a Mundari man.

 

Portraits of the Mundari

Two Mundari cattle herders on a motorbike.

Two Mundari cattle herders on a motorbike.

 

A Mundari man in a sudden gust of wind.

A Mundari man in a sudden gust of wind.

 

A Mundari cattle herder, sitting among his herd.

A Mundari cattle herder, sitting among his herd.

 

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

 

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

 

Young Mundari girls.

Young Mundari girls.

Accommodation

Clocks at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

Clocks at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

Juba

During my stay in South Sudan, I stayed at the very good Royal Palace Hotel in Juba which offers three different room types, with a Standard Room costing US$120 per night (including a buffet breakfast).

My comfortable and spacious 'Standard room' at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

My comfortable and spacious ‘Standard room’ at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

The Royal Palace Hotel is located a short walk from the Nile River, in a neighbourhood of dusty, dirt streets and a mish-mash of buildings and businesses. This is downtown Juba!

The bathroom in my room at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

The bathroom in my room at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

Located in a secure compound, behind high security walls, the calm and relaxing ambience of the Royal Palace Hotel is a welcome respite from the dusty and chaotic streets of Juba.

The Royal Palace Hotel claims that their swimming pool is the largest in South Sudan.

The Royal Palace Hotel claims that their swimming pool is the largest in South Sudan.

The hotel boasts the largest swimming pool in South Sudan which strangely is the same depth throughout at almost 6 feet (183 cm).

The cafe at the hotel serves some of the best Barista-made coffee in South Sudan.

Camping

Our campsite, during our visit to the remote Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Our campsite, during our visit to the remote Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

I have to admit – I’m not a fan of camping!

Despite being a boy scout in my childhood, who did lots of camping, I have definitely become accustomed to comfortable hotel rooms.

Due to the remote location of Ilieu village (home to the Lotuko tribe), which is a 5-hour drive, along atrocious dirt roads from Juba, we had no option but to camp the night at the village.

Setting up our campsite, which was in the school yard of Ilieu village.

Setting up our campsite, which was in the school yard of Ilieu village.

Isaac has invested heavily in good camping equipment which he has sourced from South Africa.

The tents, bedding, food and everything else was very comfortable.

If you plan to spend time visiting the different tribes of South Sudan, you should be prepared for some nights of sleeping under the stars.

There are very few facilities outside of the capital, Juba. 

In the morning, after our night of camping, Isaac and our driver where packing away one of the tents.

When they moved the tent (which they had slept in), a startled, large, black, scorpion came out of its burrow and started running around with its tale fluttering in the air. He was quickly stomped on!

Eating Out

The cuisine of South Sudan reflects the country’s rich cultural diversity and its agricultural heritage.

It primarily consists of grains, vegetables, fruits, and meat, with significant regional variations influenced by the availability of local ingredients and traditional practices.

Especially popular is fish from the Nile River which flows through the country.

Restaurants

Hotel Torit

My lunch stop at the Hotel Torit, which is the main hotel in Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria.

My lunch stop at the Hotel Torit, which is the main hotel in Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria.

While in Torit (the regional capital of Eastern Equatoria State), I stopped for lunch at the Hotel Torit, a tired and run-down hotel which happens to be the best in town.

A view from the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

A view from the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

The rather forlorn, Hotel Torit, is a government-owned, tired, dirty, run-down establishment, where rooms cost US$60 per night.

A view of the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

A view of the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

I was the only guest in the hotel restaurant which offers one set meal at lunchtime.

Chicken and rice for lunch at the Hotel Torit.

Chicken and rice for lunch at the Hotel Torit.

I was served chicken and rice which gave me a bad case of diarrhea. Not recommended!

Bars

Chicken and rice for lunch at the Hotel Torit.

“South” – the very quaffable beer of South Sudan.

“South”, the beer of South Sudan, is widely available at hotel bars throughout the country.

Visa Requirements

Visa policy map of South Sudan, with those nationalities which require an e-Visa highlighted in yellow.

Visa policy map of South Sudan, with those nationalities which require an e-Visa highlighted in yellow.
Source: Wikipedia.

Almost all nationalities (yellow on the above map) require an e-Visa to visit South Sudan.

You can check your visa requirements by consulting the Visa Policy of South Sudan.

eVisa Process

My South Sudan e-Visa.

My South Sudan e-Visa.

You should only use the official government website when applying for a South Sudan e-Visa.

The eVisa website can be accessed at – https://evisa.gov.ss/

There are many steps (10 in fact!) and many documents which need to be uploaded when applying for a South Sudan e-Visa.

You are required to supply details regarding your next of kin, current employer with full contact details and much more!

It’s a very thorough and detailed application process. Too many questions!


Note: 

Documents need to be uploaded in JPG format and the size limits are small at around 300-500kb per file. 

PDF format is not accepted. 


Applicants should follow these steps:

  • Open the official e-Visa page of the Republic of South Sudan.
  • Create an account using the option on the homepage.
  • Fill out the account with all the required information.
  • Choose the type of visa you want to apply for.
  • Fill out the application form.
  • Attach the required documents to support your visa application.

Required Documents List (all in JPG format):

  • A passport photo with the dimensions 2×2 inch (5x5cm)
  • The copy of your passport photo page
  • A copy of your Letter of Invitation (LOI).
  • A negative Covid-19 test. (Is this still 2020? I uploaded my Covid-19 vaccination certificate which was accepted).
  • A copy of your Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. (This is also checked upon arrival at Juba Airport). 

  • Pay the e-Visa application fee of USD$120 using a credit card. Note: The payment failed the first time for me. I simply tried again and it was accepted.
  • Within 72 hours, your approved e-Visa should appear on your account where it must be downloaded and printed.

Note:

You will not receive any email notification regarding the status of your e-Visa application.

Instead, you must login to your account and check the status of your application on the e-Visa website. 

Once your e-Visa has been approved (within 72 hours), it will be posted on the official website from where you should download it and print it.   

A printed version of the e-Visa must be presented upon arrival at Juba International Airport. 


Getting There

My boarding pass, from Addis Ababa to Juba with Ethiopian Airlines.

My boarding pass, from Addis Ababa to Juba with Ethiopian Airlines.

Air

All international flights arrive at Juba International Airport (IATA: JUB) which is located a short drive from downtown Juba.

The following airlines provide scheduled flights to/ from Juba International Airport:

  • African Express Airways – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • Egyptair – flies to/ from Cairo
  • Ethiopian Airlines – flies to/ from Addis Ababa, Entebbe
  • Fly540 – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • flydubai – flies to/ from Dubai–International
  • Kenya Airways – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • RwandAir – flies to/ from Entebbe, Kigali
  • Sky Travel and Aviation – flies to/ from Gulu
  • Turkish Airlines – flies to/ from Istanbul
  • Uganda Airlines – flies to/ from Entebbe

Addis Ababa Skylight In-terminal Hotel

My very comfortable room at the Addis Ababa Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

My very comfortable room at the Addis Ababa Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

On my trip to South Sudan, I flew with Ethiopian Airlines, via Addis Ababa International Airport.

Ethiopian Airlines are one of the largest airlines in Africa, providing daily connections to 63 African cities from their hub at Addis Ababa International Airport.

As one of the main aviation hubs in Africa, many travellers spend time transiting through Addis Ababa International Airport.

Located in a quiet, remote, corner of Addis Ababa airport, the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel can be found by following the green signs inside the terminal. 

Located in a quiet, remote, corner of Addis Ababa airport, the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel can be found by following the green signs inside the terminal.

If you have a prolonged layover at the airport, I highly recommend checking into the excellent Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The hotel is located in a quiet corner of the airport, away from all the usual airport noise such as boarding announcements.

You can find the hotel by following the green “Skylight In-Terminal Hotel” signs on the airside of the terminal.

The reception desk at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The reception desk at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

Eventually, you’ll reach a reception desk where friendly and efficient staff will assist you with a room.

Current rates (May 2024) at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

Current rates (May 2024) at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

Rooms can be booked in different time bands from 1-3 hours; 4-6 hours; 7-12 hours; 13-24 hours or 24 hours.

I booked a Standard room for 7-12 hours at a cost of US$100. Totally worth it!

Payment can be made with credit card!

The beautiful bathroom in my room at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The beautiful bathroom in my room at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The hotel offers 97 tranquil havens in five different categories.

At no stage do you exit immigration or customs.

You do not need any entry documents for Ethiopia to stay in a room on the ‘airside‘ of this hotel.

If you are staying in Ethiopia, the hotel also offers 1,024 comfortably modern rooms and suites on the ‘landside‘ of the terminal.

The restaurant at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel serves meals around the clock.

The restaurant at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel serves meals around the clock.

The restaurant at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel never closes, with hungry transit passengers arriving 24 hours a day.

Breakfast is especially good and flight departure boards ensure you won’t miss your flight.

Road

Uganda

Currently, the main land border crossing into South Sudan is in the town of Nimule, Uganda.

A heavily pot-holed road connects Juba to Nimule with a total driving distance of 193 km (120 mi), with a driving time of 4.5 hours.

Possibly, this road was built during the British colonial period and has not been maintained, in any way, since.

As this is the only (terribly) paved route into the country from the south, this busy road serves as the main route for all goods entering land-locked South Sudan from Mombasa port.

The road is very busy with Kenyan and Ugandan trucks delivering all manner of goods into South Sudan.

Adding to the chaos, totally unnecessary police checkpoints add considerable delays to the journey. These checkpoints are nothing more than a place for corrupt officials to collect bribes from passing motorists, especially the many truck drivers.

One checkpoint, on the southern outskirts of Juba, sees trucks queued for 5-10 km in each direction, waiting to pass through the checkpoint (once they have paid the required bribe!).

Kenya

The South Sudan border town of Nadapal, lies across the border from Kenya’s Turkana Province.

The 375 km (233 mi) gravel road between Nadapal and Juba is due to be upgraded to an international standard bitumen road. This project was approved in 2008 and has yet to start.

A bitumen highway will allow trucks to travel more directly from Mombasa port to Juba, rather than through Uganda as is the current route.

Currently, the bad roads make this a 2-day, epic, journey.

Getting Around

A very good stretch of red-earth road in Eastern Equatoria state.

A very good stretch of red-earth road in Eastern Equatoria state.

Public Transport

There is little in the way of public transport in South Sudan.

If you plan to visit different tribes, they tend to inhabit the remote back-corners of the country and are only accessible with a private car, driver and a guide.

Taxi

The best taxi company in Juba is RABA Taxi.

You can book taxis via their website or via their app:

Rental Car

The only good road in South Sudan is this one Chinese-built highway which runs north of Juba.

The only good road in South Sudan is this one Chinese-built highway which runs north of Juba.

Forget it!

The poorly maintained roads are unmarked, diabolical and you have many corrupt officials to contend with.

Better to leave the driving to locals who know the roads.

 


That’s the end of my South Sudan Travel Guide.

If you wish to leave any comments or contact me, you can do so using the form below or the via the Contact page.

Safe Travels!
Darren


Further Reading

Following is a list of my travel content from the region: