Difference between revisions of "São Tomé and Príncipe"
Revision as of 17:33, 14 November 2007
São Tomé and Príncipe (often called just "São Tomé" for short) is a small island nation off the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, located in the Gulf of Guinea, straddling the Equator, west of Gabon. Discovered and claimed by Portugal in the late 15th century, the islands' sugar-based economy gave way to coffee and cocoa in the 19th century -- all grown with plantation slave labor, a form of which lingered into the 20th century. Although independence was achieved in 1975, democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980s, and the first free elections were held in 1991.
São Tomé - Capital
This small poor island economy has become increasingly dependent on cocoa since independence 26 years ago. However, cocoa production has substantially declined because of drought and mismanagement. The resulting shortage of cocoa for export has created a persistent balance-of-payments problem. São Tomé has to import all fuels, most manufactured goods, consumer goods, and a substantial amount of food. Over the years, it has been unable to service its foreign debt and has had to depend on concessional aid and debt rescheduling. São Tomé benefited from $200 million in debt relief in December 2000 under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program. São Tomé's success in implementing structural reforms has been rewarded by international donors, who have pledged increased assistance in 2001. Considerable potential exists for development of a tourist industry, and the government has taken steps to expand facilities in recent years. The government also has attempted to reduce price controls and subsidies. São Tomé is also optimistic that substantial petroleum discoveries are forthcoming in its territorial waters in the oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea. Corruption scandals continue to weaken the economy.
There's a weekly flight with the Portuguese airline TAP  from Lisbon to São Tomé, on Saturdays this stretch is flown by Air Luxor . On Sundays TAAG Angola Airlines flies to São Tomé from Luanda. TAAG also serves São Tomé from Cape Verde.
The official language is Portuguese, and due to the comparative lack of English-speaking tourists, the visitor should assume that it will be necessary.
São Tomé and Príncipe uses the Dobra, which is a restricted currency (the import and export of local currency is prohibited). The import of foreign currency is unlimited subject to declaration, and you may export only up to the amount you import. Travelers' cheques are generally not recommended. Some establishments require payment in USD or XOF (the CFA franc).
Fish is a staple of the São Toméan diet, often served with breadfruit and mashed, cooked bananas. The variety of fish is wide, including flying fish at certain times of year. Inland, many São Toméans get their protein from buzios, large land snails. Sea snails are also quite common along the coast. In spite of the abject poverty, São Toméans can always count on some sustenance from the wide array of tropical fruits. The hotels in the capital offer European-style fare at European prices.
Beer is readily available everywhere, though São Toméans are not known as big drinkers. Inland, palm wine is available very inexpensively from vendors along the road. Palm wine is best consumed in the morning. In the capital, whiskey and other spirits are popular among the elites.
A small handful of hotels exist in the capital. Near the town of Santana lies an idyllic bed and breakfast with stunning views. Opulent resorts have been built at the very northern and southern extremes of the country, on the small island of Ilheu das Rolas, and at Ilha Bom Bom off the coast of Principe.
The Obo national park is a national reserve in the south-west part of the country. Local guides offer trips with bird-watching, observation of marine turtle nesting and ascension of Monte Pico.
The waters around Sao Tome are clear and rich with life. Consequently, diving, fishing and boat tours provide much to see. One of the few operators that offers these activities is Club Maxel.
Safety is not an issue in São Tomé and Príncipe, though the roadway traffic is hazardous as in other parts of Africa. Violent crime in public is almost unheard of.
Malaria is extremely common and sometimes lethal, making malaria prophelaxis, bed netting, and mosquito repellent essential for the traveller. Water must be boiled before drinking, or purchased and consumed from bottles. Food sanitation is perfectly acceptable as long as the traveller has no problem with his anus becoming a fire hose for the next few days.