Standing on the equator in Sāo Tomé

1041 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

February, 2023

Product name

Sāo Tomé - Excursion 1

Product country

Sāo Tomé and Principe

Product city

Sāo Tomé

Travelled with


Reasons for trip


Whilst staying for five nights on the small African island of Sāo Tomé, we had a series of excursions organised by a local agency, Navetur. Our first trip was to the Ilhéu das Rolas (or Rolas Islet) where we could stand on the equator mark.

Our guide was Hamilton, with Nino behind the wheel of the white Landrover, which had definitely seen better days. The journey to the southern tip of the island was only 90km, but would take around 2.5 hours.

Setting off through the town of Sāo Tomé, it was hard to miss the 21 tall antenna towers of the Voice of America relay transmitter, which broadcasts to much of Africa. Whilst the paved coastal road was smooth, Nino had to negotiate a significant number of steep hills and hairpin bends. As we began bumping through potholes with grass growing in them, we took in the lush green, mountainous scenery, but my abiding memory was of washing left out to dry on the banks of the river it had been washed in, on bridges or the roadside.

At Santana we were held up to let a funeral procession, replete with brass band, pass by, but shortly after, we had our first sighting of Pico Cāo Grande, a landmark needle-shaped volcanic plug.

After an hour, the road turned into a bumpy cobbled track with huge, deep puddles from overnight rain, and we began to see palm nut trees, with the fruits being stacked at the roadside, awaiting collection.

Eventually, we reached Praia Inhame Eco-lodge where we walked down to the beach and waded out to a boat with six others. The 15-minute journey across the Canal das Rolas, was pretty smooth, and having disembarked, a local guide led us to the equator mark, passing through a sleepy tiny village, with various souvenir stalls. Whilst the path was reasonable, it involved a steep hill.

Finally at the top, we found a map of the world in coloured mosaics and a marble statue topped with a globe on top of the equator line. Having taken the obligatory photographs with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern, we were invited to leave a donation to the community who keep the site clean and tidy, with 50 Dobra (€2) being the suggested sum.

The island has a population of around 70, and at only 2km2, there is little to do apart from relaxing on the beach or swimming, so we took the boat back to explore more of Sāo Tomé. At Praia (the word is Portuguese for beach) Piscina, we checked out an artist selling paintings from a wooden shack, before wandering down to the fabulous beach, with two natural swimming pools created by rock formations.

We then set off for Praia Jale, where at the end of a rough track, we found a small eco lodge. Tables were set out overlooking the beach: another stunning location with crashing waves and sticks marking turtle nesting holes. We ordered the national beer which came with plantain chips and savoury biscuits. The beer, known either as Rosema or Nacional, came in pint-sized recyclable bottles and when we queried the lack of a label, we were told it wasn’t exported and everyone in the country knew what it was, which made sense. There was no menu and the food simply arrived on large sharing platters: octopus tentacles, chicken drumsticks in a curry sauce, rice and another variety of plantain chips, whilst pudding was papaya ‘boats’. Before leaving we wandered to a nearby large circular pool where young boys had been fishing, and we watched as some of their fresh catch jumped out of the basket.

On the return journey, we drove through rain, and having arrived back in Sāo Tomé, found the festival of Saint Peter taking place with lots of roadside food stalls.

It had been an interesting day, and we can now claim to have stood on the equator in three of the 13 countries it passes: Uganda and Ecuador being the other two. However, after the constant hilly hairpin bends and being bounced about on the unpaved section, we returned to our hotel feeling slightly nauseous.

Helen Jackson

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