Whilst staying on the small, little known African island of Principe, we split our time between Roça Sundy and Sundy Praia. Our nine nights allowed us to experience the seven signature experiences included in our package. These are scheduled by the activities manager, and the numbers participating varied considerably.
The CACAO ROUTE
This half day provided an initial introduction to our surroundings at Roça Sundy, a former cacao plantation. Whilst the house has been converted into a beautiful hotel, the surrounding buildings were run down and fairly derelict. However, this did not stop locals living in the former workers’ quarters, opposite the hotel and across the large tree-lined rectangle. We heard how the younger people are moving to Terra Prometide or “Promised Land”, 3km away as they prefer a modern house with kitchen and bathroom. However, the older generation want to remain because of their historic roots and community, and the fact they are nearer to the fish in the sea and the fruits of the forest. We passed Creche de Sundy, still an operational school, the church, former garages, and what looked like a fortress or castle, but with the horseshoe shaped windows and doors, indicating they’d been stables. The railway lines, which would have led to the beach were still visible: from here the cacao would have been exported to Portugal and a shed housed an old train. The large drying buildings were mainly derelict, but there is a small batch factory where we saw beans drying and tasted dark and bitter 70% and 80% chocolate and also cacao ‘honey’ made from chocolate and sugar cane.
BAY OF NEEDLES
We took a trip to the Bay of Needles on the east coast, which is only accessible by boat. The three of us on the excursion had to wade out to the boat, and clamber up the ladder, with the boatmen providing a helpful shove in the right place. The boat was simply like a big canoe with seating for around 16 in total with wooden benches running down each side. We took a slow route, passing several remote beaches, nearing the shore each time. They Bay of Needles is one of the island’s most unique places with two phonolite towers soaring up out of the skyline and as we neared, the boatman pointed out ‘father’, ‘son’ and the ‘table’ before we dropped anchor for snorkelling. Although there were few fish, the turquoise water was wonderfully cooling on a hot day and afterwards, the boatman was particularly good at hauling me back into the boat. Whilst we’d been snorkelling, lunch of wraps, nuts, vegetable chips and fresh fruit had been laid out which we munched on our way back.
OQUE PIPI WATERFALL
A 45-minute drive took us through the capital to Oqué Pipi Waterfalls in Obo National Park. Our trail was initially flat and easy although we had bees feasting on squashed breadfruit and roots to contend with. Our guide talked as we walked about various plants and bushes, and we stopped to see Mona monkeys overhead: there is only one species on the island and people eat the bush meat as the monkeys eat community fruits. After 20 minutes we turned off and I was given a ‘stick pole’ as the path became steeper and narrower with a deep gulley on one side, lots more roots to contend with and eventually, rocks to clamber over. As two silver travellers we were no match for the fit young Swiss couple who made up our group, and with humidity at over 80% it was hard going. After an hour, we reached the waterfall, which was really a dribble albeit from on high, and we felt the rivulets of sweat dripping down our faces were as impressive. Whilst the activities manager had suggested a swim in the pool, it didn’t look attractive, and our guide Wilibur said it wasn’t pleasant. We rested at the falls for around 20 minutes and retraced our steps. This was the most demanding excursion although it had been billed as ‘moderate’.
Principe is a small island (30km by 4km) and we didn’t expect our tour to take long, however, it had rained in the morning, and so we decided to leave the main town of Santo Antonio for another day. Instead, we drove to Praia (beach) Macoca in the north, with a telecommunications tower and views down below of the beach, before heading for Praia Banana, the beach made famous by a Bacardi Rum advert. The only access is by boat or via the Roça Belo Monte, a former plantation house which has been converted into a luxury hotel and we had a quick look around including the grounds and pool. The former workers’ houses have been transformed into a small, but beautifully laid-out museum with lots of information about all aspects of the island. A short drive took us to another viewpoint before we called it a day.
RIBIERA IZE LOST CITY TRAIL AND SANTO ANTONIO
Four of us once again set off on the Lost City Trail. Wilibur suggested driving part of the route because the previous day’s rain meant the path was muddy and slippery. After crossing a bridge, we were pleased to discover this hike was flat, as we hugged the Ribiera Izé beach. We quickly reached the ruins of the catholic church where the largest slave trading lady was said to have been buried. It was very atmospheric with roots and trees entwined with the building which reminded us of Ta Prohm in Cambodia. There were a couple of nearby ruins before we hit an uninhabited fishing village, with the sheds being used as working storage. We then found more ruins, but not as dramatic as the church, and eventually out at a viewpoint from Praia Coco of Bom Bom, a luxury resort undergoing renovation.
Having retraced our steps, it was a 30-minute drive to Santo Antonio. Here our first stop was Roça Porto Raal, where we saw the transformation of glass bottles into jewellery, ending our tour in the shop. Back in town, we took a walk around, taking in the new and old cathedrals, swanky bank, President’s House, Governor’s House and Square before heading for lunch at Beira Mar. The outside tables were taken, and we went inside, where eventually we were served sharing platters of a typical Principe dish of fish cooked in palm oil with aubergine, barracuda steaks, octopus, rice and boiled sweet potatoes.
A second boat trip took us to the island’s northeast beaches. This time there were 13 of us including the captain and two guides, so our boat was rather full. Our first stop was at Praia Boi where we had time to swim (and snorkel although we didn’t) and relax on the beach, which was gorgeous. We then set off again for Praia Banana which we’d seen from high on a previous excursion where we had 20 minutes to chill, and we found huge red crabs in the rock crevice. The final stop was Praia Bom Bom where bamboo mats with towels and cushions had been laid out, with snacks of nuts, vegetable crisps and fruit. This was followed by rice, salad and wonderfully grilled barracuda steaks. As this was our transfer day, we had left Roça Sundy, but arrived at Sunday Praia with our luggage going direct.
RAINFOREST TO BEACH
This was the final excursion, but having established it was essentially a walk from the rainforest to the beach, with a snack and time to swim or snorkel, we decided to give it a miss as by now we were ensconced on the beach at Sundy Praia for four nights.