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São Tomé and Príncipe - Calendar
Hiking is an excellent way to see the islands, and the magnificent Pico Cão Grande is a must © Marco Muscarà, www.marcomuscara.com
Big fish, colourful birds
Escape the grey winter skies back home and pick up a new skill: diving – if your New Year’s Resolution was a scuba baptism, this is your chance. Or go one step further and take the Open Water course over four days; very relaxing without the crowds. Going underwater also helps beat the high levels of humidity in January. At the end of the month in Ribeira Peixe, São Pedro’s, one of São Tomé’s biggest festivals, is a huge draw.
It’s still dry season on the islands, so make the most of the hiking (maybe with a refreshing waterfall swim at the end) and watersports options. You’re in the middle of the best birdwatching season now too – bring your own binoculars! The eco-conscious may consider joining a turtle patrol, or simply head out on a boat to brush up on dolphin identification skills and hear about the delicate turtle situation here while flying fish whizz past. Carnival festivities are a good chance to join in fun and dancing.
This month marks the start of the spring’s rainy season, so as hiking options are getting more limited, make the most of city life: join a tasting of the world’s best chocolate, find a dance instructor and learn the kizomba, browse the libraries and find a Portuguese-English conversation partner, book a visit to Voice of America or a cookery workshop at São João dos Angolares.
Choose the right activity
This is the height of the rainy season and you might have to quickly cut the occasional banana leaf to hide from a violent downpour. Plantation visits are always possible though. As the south receives more precipitation, consider spending more time in the north, a relaxing stay in the brand-new cosy chalets at Mucumbli eco lodge for instance, and checking out the savannah birds.
Banana tree near Porto Real © Marco Muscarà, www.marcomuscara.com
Mix and match
As the weather gradually starts picking up, book some shorter forest hikes around the Botanic Gardens – ideal for armchair birdwatching and exotic flower spotting – visit the new Coffee Museum at Monte Café and see where island life takes you. Leve leve!
Making tracks in Obô Park
June marks the beginning of the gravana, the dry summer season, which is the best time to go hiking. Consider the Caminho do Fugido around Bom Successo Botanical Gardens; the truly hardy can start thinking about tackling the Pico de São Tomé, or get organised for an exhilarating guided two-day trek along the isolated southeastern part of São Tomé, the volta a ilha.
Summer of culture
This is a good month for summer festivals on São Tomé, a good opportunity to catch traditional dances and much merrymaking, not least around Independence Day on 12 July. This is also a great time to catch a surfing wave in the south of the island.
Sun and spectacles
While prices in some places can be higher, August is another great dry month for hiking, and outside the couple of Portuguese-run resorts, you still won't hit any crowds – with only 12,000 visitors a year the concept is relative anyway. There is sure to be some kind of festivity on where you are; and a special treat awaits visitors to Príncipe around the middle of the month: the Auto da Floripes spectacle.
As the month is usually still nice and dry up until the middle of September and the start of the rainy season, there is a range of activities open to you, from rainforest hikes, snorkelling and diving to dancing the night away on outdoor dance floors. Your chances of seeing humpback whales on a boat trip have increased too. Just go with the flow!
Dancing in the rain
With the rainy season in full swing, take any downpours in your stride and enjoy shorter hikes around the plantations, learn how palm wine is made, and explore the capital’s cultural life and the day-to-day life of the Santomeans.
The Papagaio river with Pico Papagaio at the bottom in Príncipe © Marco Muscarà, www.marcomuscara.com
As grey skies cover most other parts of the world, November brings clear skies to the islands, great for photography, just protect your lens from the humidity and seasonal downpours. Maybe the Design Biennal or another festivity is on; word-of-mouth amongst the expat community and trendy spots such as the Pico Mocambo bar or the C.A.C.A.U. cultural centre always throw up something.
Consider coming over Christmas and the New Year – while prices can be a little higher, it’s an unforgettable way to spend the holidays. Enjoy the Christmas decorations and good cheer in São Tomé’s capital and join in beach revelry on New Year’s Eve. Release some baby turtles for charity, and before you leave, buy plenty of local foodstuffs and gifts to carry some of the colourful African spirit over into the New Year.