Is Sao Tome and Principe Safe? 5 Essential Travel Tips

While crime is low in Africa's second smallest nation, staying healthy might cause dramas in Sao Tome and Principe. Here's what you need to know to stay safe and healthy on the islands.

Houses on a gloomy day in Sao Tome and Principe Photo © Getty Images/Alexander Ludwig / EyeEm

Your first question will probably be, where is Sao Tome and Principe?

This is Africa's second smallest nation (after the Seychelles), and consists of two islands, Sao Tome and Principe, which are 87mi (140km) apart, and about 155mi (250km) off the coast of Gabon in equatorial west Africa.

More than 30,000 people traveled to Sao Tome and Principe in 2018, an increase of 7% in visitors from the previous year. Travel to Sao Tome and Principe now before everyone else does.

1. What language do they speak in Sao Tome and Principe?

English is not spoken on the island, as Sao Tome and Principe is a lusophone country (Portuguese speaking), so travelers who do not speak Portuguese may face communication difficulties associated with the language barrier.

There is an international airport with connections to Africa and Lisbon. Boat and ferry services run from several West African ports, but the vessels are often in a poor state of repair and with low safety standards, so choose carefully. Use flights between the islands instead of the ferry if you can.

2. Crime in Sao Tome and Principe

Sitting just a few above the equator, the pace of life in Sao Tome is laid back, but there have been isolated incidents of civil unrest in the capital city. Mostly these islands are very safe for travelers, and by using common sense you should have no issues. Keep your expensive belongings out of sight and don't leave bags or valuables unattended.

Leading up to the elections in October 2019, there was concern for political instability when two coup attempts in the space of two months occurred. If you are traveling during periods of civil unrest, here are our top tips to stay safe.

Crimes such as burglary, pick-pocketing and armed robberies in homes do occur on the islands, particularly around the winter holidays and are more prevalent in public places, such as in markets, on the streets, or near hotels. Just keep your belongings on you at all times, and be wary of anyone lurking close by.

But in keeping with it's laid back nature, crime is not a major problem for visitors, just remember the average income is low, so a DSLR camera left unattended would be too tempting to ignore.

3. How to stay healthy

Since 2014 there have been no deaths from Malaria in Sao Tome and Principe, but to avoid insect bites you should always apply insect repellant, and wear long-sleeved clothing at dawn and dusk to avoid mosquitoes. There are frequent outbreaks of cholera, so you should observe strict food and hygiene measures. Don't eat raw salad or vegetables and fruit that can't be peeled, ask for no ice in your drinks, and do not drink tap water. 

4. Local laws

Taking photographs of the Presidential Palace, military or other government buildings is strictly forbidden.

Same-sex relationships are not illegal, however LGBTQ travelers may face discrimination, and there are no laws against discrimination in place in Sao Tome and Principe.

5. Getting around safely

The streets in the city of Sao Tome are paved, but large potholes are common. Major roads outside of town are also paved, but there are no sidewalks or shoulders along the side of roads which means wandering pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and animals can be a major hazard.

In rural areas there is no street lighting, and drivers are expected to honk the car's horn periodically as a warning signal of their approach.

Some roads may be impassable without a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so ask around town before you set out in a two wheel drive.

Only a few miles of improved roads exist on the island of Principe.

Seats on the small aircraft that operate between the main island of Sao Tome and the smaller island of Principe need to be booked well in advance, or there is a risk that you could become stranded. Plan ahead if you want to get the transport you desire.

There are shared taxis on Sao Tome, but no other public transport in Sao Tome and Principe.

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  • Kamen said

    Is there someone who can tell me how can I get to Sao Tome

  • Shawn said

    R.V. Newadkar, you want tourist maps of Sao Tome and Principe? Lol. You don't seem to understand how less developed countries in Africa work. No tourist maps for you. Having been to Sao Tome myself just a few months back and seen most of the island (including three days trekking across Obo national park), I recommend you download the Sao Tome map on Maps.Me and buy the Sao Tome Bradt Guide which has lots of interesting and practical information... well worth the money.

    As for Kamen there are three ways to get to Sao Tome (maybe a fourth but complicated for you). You can fly through Angola on TAAG, direct from Portugal on TAP and Libreville on Afrijet or Ceiba airlines (Afrijet is much easier as you can buy their tickets online). I used both TAP and Afrijet and was happy with the experience. You can in theory take a boat there... let me know how that goes.

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