An area of about 30% of both islands was designated as a conservation area in 1993 and as the Obô Natural Park in 2006.
Primary forest (obô) still covers about a quarter of the islands, and the Obô Natural Park was established over 300km2 (on both islands) to protect this sensitive and species-rich habitat. (You may note, that depending on the source, Obô is referred to as either a ‘Natural’ or a ‘National’ park – Natural is the official name, but the park’s function and conservation status is no different to what would more commonly be called a national park.)
Containing populations of every endemic species, this type of forest is now restricted to small areas in southwestern and central São Tomé.
What to see and do in Obô Natural Park
Hike from Bom Sucesso to Lagoa Amélia
Bom Sucesso is a relaxing, if basic and not particularly easy-to-organise base where you can really feel close to nature, as well as an excellent starting point for walks in the Obô Natural Park: the most popular is an easy walk to the dried-up crater lake of Lagoa Amélia. In theory, you could do this walk on your own; however, taking a guide not only enhances the experience – learning about the trees, plants and birds you encounter on the way – but also supports the local economy.
After about half an hour’s walk, you enter the Obô Natural Park, its wooden marker sign fallen down. One of the aims in creating the park in 2006 was to stop agricultural land from encroaching further on the important forest habitats around the crater lake.
Continuing up, the path is strewn with beautifully coloured leaves, jasmine-scented kata de obô flowers, and discarded monkey nuts; ask the guide to point out the most distinctive trees, such as the cubango (used to ward off the evil eye), for instance, or the quebra-machado, whose ‘machete-breaking’ wood was used for railway sleepers in colonial times. The mussiníca tree, also known as the African stinkwood, is believed to cure prostate cancer – you’ll notice they are often missing bark for just this reason. Most of the identification plaques have fallen down or are covered in moss.
Take your time exploring, as the beauty of this walk lies less in the Lagoa itself as in the rich bird-and plant-life encountered on the way; it might be a good idea to make clear early on that you will be stopping frequently. Apart from the common endemics, such as the tomé-gaga paradise flycatcher, ask your guide to look out for the maroon pigeon, the São Tomé scops owl, the giant sunbird, the São Tomé oriole, with its soft plaintive song, and the São Tomé white-eye.
‘Amelia Lagoon’ itself is not a lake anymore, but a filled-in crater surrounded by trees and giant begonias. There is a sign asking you not to step on the spongy grass, topping a 3m layer of rainwater, which most visitors ignore, of course. Your guide will tell you the sad story of how Lady Amélia met a sticky end here, and treat you to a performance with a long wooden stick to show you the depth of the swamp. This is the best place to see the giant begonias in situ, well worth the steep descent. You may see some São Tomé spinetails flitting across, hunting flying insects.