Sao Tome and Principe
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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited until they were discovered by Portuguese explorers, around 1469. Over the next century, the islands became an important producer of sugar, then cocoa and coffee, cultivated by slaves brought from the African mainland. After slavery was outlawed by Portugal, in 1876, contractors and forced workers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde filled the labor vacuum. Wretched conditions and forced labor continued well into the 20th century, ultimately igniting a violent uprising in 1953 known as the Batepa Massacre, which is commemorated with a national holiday.
Because São Tomé and Príncipe lacked a native population in the same sense that African mainland countries had one, its “independence” movement took longer to develop than those in nearby nations. Eventually, a group of workers formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tom&eacut
e; and Príncipe (MLSTP), based in Gabon. When Portugal’s right-wing dictatorship was ousted in 1974, the moderate democracy that replaced it was determined that it not be perceived as colonialist, and it negotiated a peaceful transition of power from the islands’ Portuguese rulers to the MLSTP. Since opposition parties were legalized, in 1990, the MLSTP has become a minority party.
São Tomé shares large, mostly untapped, offshore oil fields with Nigeria. Plans have been made to drill there, but it is unclear at this point where the capital will come from or how the revenue will affect the local population.
The Top 10: What to Do in Sao Tome and Principe
1. The currency used on the islands is the dobra, issued in colorful notes that resemble the euro. There are no ATMs on either island (although there are rumors that some will be installed soon), and the use of credit cards is largely limited to big hotels. On the other hand, as in much of Africa, the cost of living here is much lower than what American and European travelers will be accustomed to. Take cash with you at all times.
2. Portuguese is the official language of São Tomé, although the local accent and vocabulary are rather different from those of European Portuguese. French is the reliable lingua franca; don’t expect locals to speak English except at high-end hotels.
3. São Tomé’s relatively mild climate (temperatures hover around 85 degrees year-round and rarely go higher) and humid haze disguise the risk of a nasty sunburn for careless visitors. Sunscreen of as high as SPF 30 is available at hotels and the supermarket, but if you plan on snorkeling, consider wearing a T-shirt over your bathing suit.
4. Most of São Tomé town’s nightlife revolves around its restaurant and bar scene. Locations like Café é Companhia serve as social centers for expats and locals alike, but they are also good places to connect to the Internet and find a newspaper—to say nothing of sampling the island’s famous seafood. The excellent São Toméan website Turismo-STP has a list of recommended spots
5. Portuguese culture remains influential here, and Europeans will find that social customs are generally similar to those at home: shaking hands is expected, and casual attire is acceptable for both men and women. Still, beggars are more persistent than those you’ve encountered before, and children will often ask for doce (candy) or trinkets you are carrying rather than cash. A firm rejection will usually suffice to discourage them.