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Navigating Príncipe: community-led conservation amid the canopies off the coast of Africa

Written by Travel Adventures

Fishing near Cão Grande Peak

Fishing near Cão Grande PeakGraydon Herriott

I content myself instead with the other things it arranges for me: boat trips to remote and sensational beaches; a barbecue on the peerless and deserted Boi; snorkelling off the cinematic Bay of Needles; visits to healers, medicine men and rum-shack entrepreneurs; and a cocktail at Banana Beach below the Belo Monte roça, immortalised by a Bacardi advert.

HBD guide Wuilber Tavares

HBD guide Wuilber TavaresGraydon Herriott

Ultimately, conservation is all about community, and I know I am lucky, when Amadeu Vila Nova, the charismatic front-of-house manager and hotel driver, offers to take me to his church on Sunday. The congregation, in hats and finery, make room for me on their pews. Vila Nova tells me there is nothing to be gained from looking back at yesterday when you could be looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. Together we belt out praises to Jesus and Mary like there is no tomorrow.

Where to stay in São Tomé and Príncipe

Terrace at Belo Monte

Terrace at Belo MonteGraydon Herriott

Belo Monte

This former cocoa plantation house dates from 1922, with immaculate gardens and restored crenulated ramparts. There are two private villas, while the main building and former laundry and stables accommodate 15 bedrooms. Belo Monte is the epicentre of a wildlife conservation project, Forever Príncipe, and has a museum detailing the natural history of the island. There’s also a bar and kitchen for grilled fish lunches, and a pool. The trademark bell is back in situ, perched high over the mist-cloaked jungle canopy, and the property is within walking distance of the island’s most beautiful beaches. The most photogenic, Banana Beach, fringed by palms and bookended by granite boulders, is a 20-minute stroll away – a fantasy tropical beach safe to swim off and explore with complimentary kayaks. Doubles from about £425

Suite balcony at Roça Sundy

Suite balcony at Roça SundyGraydon Herriott

Roca Sundy

A stylish and romantic old Portuguese-style colonial plantation complex that has recently been redesigned as a hotel, with 16 bedrooms across two mansion houses. The cocoa-drying sheds and vintage machinery of the Victorian era still lie dotted around. A swimming pool is on the cards, along with a market, once the community has successfully been rehoused. Doubles from about £235

Villa at Sundy Praia

Villa at Sundy PraiaGraydon Herriott

Sundy Praia

The long drive past historic oka trees and jungle landscape to reach Sundy Praia is rough, but an incredible introduction to the island’s best asset: the natural world. The hotel is designed to feel more like a jungle sanctuary than a beach retreat – the crescent of gently shelving sand is not the main event and doesn’t attract the afternoon sun. Air-conditioned beach tents come with granite egg bathtubs and cocktail bars, some with deck pools. The spa is a slice of heaven, with cocoa body wraps and detoxifying coffee scrubs. The infinity pool and bar is a social hive, and the hotel has some of the best breakfasts on the island, with homemade granolas, fresh guava juice and jams. Excursions with knowledgeable guides, such as Vander Santo, are authentic and expert. Rooms from about £590 per person

How to get there

Nine-night private trip to São Tomé and Príncipe with Africa specialist Journeys by Design from about £6,230 per person; journeysbydesign.com


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