Bom dia (hello in Portuguese),
I wrote this trip report because the place where we vacationed is really unique in West and Central Africa, as the resort we stayed at, and this new destination from Accra should become a favorite one for many of us in Ghana.
Early March, we spent a week in Sao Tome and Principe, one of the smallest African countries, made of two islands about 250km from the coast of Gabon. Independent since 1975 after 500 years under Portuguese control, these islands feel different from any place in the region; especially Principe, the smaller of the two islands, an untouched, beautiful and remote jewel. I will start with our 6-day stay there.
Going from Sao Tome to Principe
With our flight arriving from Accra in the evening, we spent the first night at Omali Lodge, the exclusive boutique hotel of Sao Tome, and went for our morning flight to Principe. Discovering our small 18-seater old-style aircraft and taking off from Sao Tome was the start of our Principe adventure. After a short hour in the air, we descended towards the island. As the Principe lies northeast of Sao Tome and the airport is on the north, we flew at low altitude along the coast of the whole island. Great views: what a way to discover incredible Principe, covered by tropical forest, with these unusual mountain peaks. We saw the beautiful bays and beaches awaiting us and turned around right above the resort to get on the landing path before taxiing at the smallest airport ever. Unfortunately, it is under heavy work to extend the runway so 40 to 60-seater planes and private jets can land. We then embarked for the lovely ride to the resort, first through a village, then on a curvy earth road through the densely-forested hills with many red flowers and more.
Discovering Bom Bom Island Resort
We knew we were arriving when the sides of the small road changed from wild nature to manicured grounds: here we were, at Bom Bom Island Resort, not yet knowing how great it is and that this was going the place of the most wonderful days we ever had together on a vacation.
After the welcome, cold towel, drink in a coconut and quick presentation, we followed the person taking us to our bungalow, discovering and walking through the garden made of so many plants and flowers, mostly red hibiscus. Our attention was quickly drawn to the beach on which edge sat our bungalow and a couple of others: spacious, with a great bed, a living room, desk and nice bathroom; comfortable, with air-conditioning and a ceiling fan. The terrace is perfect to privately relax on the lounge chairs or at the table, right above the sand and close to the sea. Taking walks on beach extending toward a hill on the left or jumping in the water for a swim or play was so easy.
Some may prefer the bungalows on the hill overlooking the sea or those with garden views near the pool but we understood the beach bungalows are the most requested.
The welcome, the way gardens are maintained, the comfort and excellent condition of the bungalow, the two beaches, the clear and so clean sea, the service and personal attention and the overall feel: all were signs of how this unique resort is managed and that our stay there was going to be memorable.
Our days at Bom Bom Island Resort
The first two days
Relaxation and discovery was the unscheduled agenda. We simply made no plans and spent the days doing what we spontaneously felt like: enjoying our bungalow, the terrace and the view, jumping in the ocean, walking around, playing at the pool, taking naps and having good nights, being together with free time we rarely have, feeling so relaxed and away from our regular lives.
As a beach resort, swimming is a major activity for most guests. One can choose among two beaches: the one on which our bungalow was is in a fairly deep bay and long enough for nice walks hand in hand or playing. To swim, it took about 10 seconds from our door to the water, less when we ran! The other beach looks quite different: more open to the sea, whiter sand, clearer waters, rocks, forest all along.
Two different beaches with two different views for a variety of moments and fun.
The pool between both, in the middle of the garden, was great too, to enjoy fresh water and relax.
Enjoying the various areas of Bom Bom Island Resort
When not on the beach, swimming, resting or busy, we discovered the various sides of the resort and returned to our favorite ones: the pool area with the bar, the hill, the walkway to the bar/restaurant on the small island over an always different sea as per the tide of the moment, the reception lounge with the shop, the tropical gardens with its flowers, birds and butterflies, the lawn areas to lie under palm trees.
On the boat to remote beaches
The resort uses two boats: one for deep-see fishing and one for visits around the island.
One morning, the local style boat took us at slow speed for a few miles along the coast. The scenery was almost as wonderful as the two remote beaches we anchored at. Diving from the boat, swimming atop and under water, playing with the paddling board, racing each other on the beach, lying at the edge of the water and taking fun pictures and videos in the water: all simply made these hours a beach paradise.
This fairly-small boat had a pilot with a helpful helper (and an umbrella when anchored).
Our and other excursions/activities
Bom Bom Island Resort has an expat activity manager on site and offers a wide range of excursions and activities, many related to the life in Principe. The full-day Principe Explorer, in a good four-wheel-drive car, let us discover the different facets of the island. We drove through forests and various villages, stopped for a wonderful swim in the clear waters of another remote beach, then at the main fishermen village and visited two colonial plantations now owned by the resort where it produces coffee and cacao and grows most of the produce it needs. We were served lunch in the same dining room the plantation owner used to take his meals in a well-preserved Portuguese-style colonial house. On the way back, we discovered the island capital before enjoying again the drive through the hills towards our resort.
Snorkeling is a very nice and easy activity to enjoy right at the resort. Equipment is lent to you for the day or as long as you wish and the best spots indicated. We choose the beach we liked most, were alone there again, and snorkeled in two areas, around various rocks, enjoying the various types of fish, alone, in pair or in groups. Taking videos and pictures of them and us in these clear waters were part of the fun.
In such a remote place and with early sunsets, one could think that evenings could feel empty. On the opposite, we came to look forward to them and they are cherished memories of our vacation. Dressing up a bit, walking across the lightly-lit gardens, then above the water towards the bar/restaurant, sitting on one of the comfortable coaches in the designer bar, ordering a bottle of bubbly and enjoying relaxed moments together at the end of another day in the island.
Each night, after a while, we would move to the wooden deck and choose a small table along the edge, on which staff would lit candles. Our bottle followed, fresh good food too, and we had the most wonderful times, each night, together, happy and with the feeling of having all the time in the world in paradise. Topping it off, that week was a full-moon week.
These were utmost romantic hours, night after night.
One night, as we ended dinner, the activity manager asked us and a couple other guests to follow him: a turtle had laid its eggs near our bungalow. We could see the trace on the sand of her coming from the sea and watched her lit by moonlight as she slowly found her way back. We helped in marking the area where the eggs were.
One important point about Bom Bom Island Resort is the feel of being by yourselves. With its small capacity, 21 bungalows only, most quite hidden, there is a continuous feel of privacy and quietness. Most times, on the two beaches, at the pool, in the gardens, we were and felt alone. We never saw more than a few people at breakfast and the outdoor dining area has few tables. This privacy, being just us so many times, was a great feeling.
Bom Bom Island Resort deserves the good reviews it receives, and although not an affordable resort, is well worth it. In my opinion, there might be no better resort in West and Central Africa. The Sao Tome & Principe destination is unique too – different than anything in the region – and so close to Ghana. With the start of direct TAP Portugal flights in 2014, a new destination was opened for expatriates in Accra who should definitely enjoy this vacation opportunity during their posting.
On departure, we thanked the manager for our wonderful stay in this amazing place and for the up-keeping, management and personalized service given to us. We then flew to Sao Tome and settled back in Omali Lodge, the hotel used by many for short-breaks from Accra.
Now, discover our vacation in pictures.
Practicalities - flights
TAP Portugal flies to Sao Tome and back on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Leaving Accra at 1545, one lands in Sao Tome within an hour and a half, in time for a first evening, relaxing at Omali Lodge and possibly out in the small capital.
The flight to Principe leaves at 0900 each day and allows an early arrival at Bom Bom Island Resort. The return flight leaves at 11am (there is an additional return flight at 1600 on Fridays, allowing an full extra morning of leisure and a full day in Sao Tome the Saturday).
The return flight to Accra on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays leaves Sao Tome at 1950 and lands at 2140.
Practicalities - visas
HDB, the company owning Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island resort, handles visas as a complimentary service (with a PDF copy of passport, home address and phone number) and sends you a document to print and present to Immigration on arrival when 20€ is paid (10€ for children). A departure tax of 20€ will be charged when flying back. Both payable in US$.
Holders of US and EU passports do not need to obtain visas in advance. Find more details here.
Practicalities - transportation
Airport transfers are provided, compliments of the hotels, and any transportation needs can be arranged at the reception.
The last day, Omali Lodge arranged a car with driver (40€/18€ with driver) for us to visit the south of Sao Tome.
Practicalities - money
The local currency is the Dobra (24500STD for one euro) but euros are widely accepted; major credit cards too.
The TAP Portugal flight from Accra is around $270 round-trip and is easy to buy online or through your travel agent in Accra. The ticket between Sao Tome and Principe is booked and bought through the company owning the hotels; we paid 440€ for two.
A night at Omali Lodge in Sao Tome is between 180€ (classic room) and 205€ (junior suite), with breakfast. Dinner may be included (30€ per person).
The stay at Bom Bom Island Resort comes with half-board and ranges from 290€ (pool view bungalow) to 420€ (beachfront bungalow) per night, with breakfast and dinner for two. See the various packages offered on the website.
Various packages including a mix of a couple of nights in Sao Tome and most in Principe are available.
For personalized quotes and answers to your questions, you can contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggestions for meals in Sao Tome island.
Besides the restaurant at Omali Lodge, one of the best in town, here are a few suggestions for lunch and dinner, Sao Tome style.
In Sao Tome
- Tete: simple but warm and homely in the garden of a home (quite difficult to find),
- Ya Zalda: basic but lively place with grilled fish in Praia Gambas village on the other side of the airport.
On the road to the south of the island
- Roca Sao Joao: about one hour after Boca de Inferno - ask around – the only place for lunch in that area.
More on Sao Tome, Omali Lodge, Principe Island and Bom Bom Island Resort
Sao Tome on video
Omali Lodge website and Facebook page
Principe Island on video
Bom Bom Island Resort
- the website
- the Facebook page
- video on You Tube
The company behind Bom Bom Island Resort and Omali Lodge
Bom Bom Island Resort and Omali Lodge Boutique Hotel are part of the Sustainable & Responsible Project that HBD is developing on the island of Príncipe in West Africa. HDB intervenes in Príncipe with great care in the areas of tourism, agriculture, education, forestry and infrastructure, always guided by our “PLUS+” motto: preservation of the biodiversity, local culture celebration, uplifting of the community and sustainability commitment.
I hope this trip report will take you to Principe during your posting in Ghana. It is the best trip I took in the region since I relocated here five years ago.