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One of the bungalows at the lush Praia Inahme Eco Lodge, the star in recent Santomean tourism development © Marco Muscarà, www.marcomuscara.com
To be honest, there’s not much in this large and very poor fishing village to detain you; consequently, most people just drive through on the way to Praia Jalé. There are, however, a couple excellent lodges which are worth checking out.
If you’re headed to the ecolodge, drive through the village, hugging the left, carry on straight and drive across the central square – surrounded by crumbling colonial buildings, such as the old army barracks, with painted figures and ‘Jesus Saves’ messages – and head for the path to the right at the back.
Praia Inhame Eco Lodge
Situated within walking distance of Porto Alegre, in the area of the former Alto Douro and Sao Josefina plantations, the Praia Inhame Eco Lodge (12 chalets; mobile: 990 4312; email: email@example.com; www.hotelpraiainhame.com) is the star in recent Santomean tourism development. The quiet, beautifully appointed wooden chalets on a slope by the beach cost between €50 & €60; solo travellers pay €40. A couple of them have kitchen facilities. The chalets are made with local materials, beautiful wooden floors and pretty African fabrics. Bathrooms are spotless and breakfasts excellent. Open to nonresidents, the restaurant is not cheap but has fine food and a fabulous wine selection. While not the best swimming beach in the area (Praia Piscina is a 15-minute walk away), Praia Inhame is a prime turtle beach.
True to its eco-friendly philosophy, the resort is solar-powered and uses a coconut-waste-burning oven to heat the water.
Owners Nazare and Luisa proudly display a photograph of a huge ambulância turtle that took shelter below the restaurant one Christmas, deposited 200 eggs – and couldn’t get out. In season, a member of staff patrols the beach at night for egg-laying activity, and will wake you up if you request it. A short walk up Morro Chapa hill at the back reveals fine views and an interesting historic surprise: a huge rusty Soviet-era radar station, picturesquely entangled in the forest. The lodge hires out bikes (€5/day) and snorkelling equipment, and half- or full-day fishing trips can be organised.
The ecoresort supports the local community; for instance, half the fee for hiring a guide (€15/day) or for taking a mangrove boat trip (€10) is donated to an old people’s home in Porto Alegre. Boat trips on the traditional barco cost €40, if you find enough people to join you, a Volta a ilha tour can be organised, too. The resort is solar-powered and uses a coconut-waste-burning oven to heat the water. Wi-Fi was being installed at the time of writing. Note that the owners live primarily in the city (Nazare owns the Padaria Moderna bakery), so make sure you have everything you need, and be aware that things might not run as smoothly when they aren’t there. I’ve heard that sometimes email bookings from outside the island can be difficult, so if you don’t hear back and are planning to stay in high season, book through an agency.
Praia Jalé lies in the buffer zone of Obo National Park and is a famous turtle beach © Marco Muscarà, www.marcomuscara.com
Praia Jalé Ecolodge
Bed down next to the crashing waves in the southernmost corner of the island. This popular ecolodge (3 en-suite bungalows, 1 suitable for groups & families, tent spaces; mobile: 991 7009 (for reservations); email: firstname.lastname@example.org) reopened in 2014, the former coconut-wood bungalows giving way to new lodgings and an eating area that follow the principles of eco-architecture: using bamboo, local stone, clay and vegetable fibres. Meals are taken at the beach restaurant (vegetarian dishes can be arranged) or you can use the kitchen. The restaurant is open to non-residents, but it might be best to book ahead.
In season, you can see all the island’s species of turtle laying eggs, or the release of hatchlings to the sea. Outside the season, at night, you’ll have hundreds of crabs for company.
You can also wash your clothes here. The ecolodge is powered by renewable energy, and uses river and rain water, and there is an educational area explaining the local heritage and ecosystems. Praia Jale lies in the buffer zone of Obo National Park and is a famous turtle beach; Malanza mangrove is also just round the corner. In season, you can see all the island’s species of turtle laying eggs, or the release of hatchlings to the sea. Outside the season, at night, you’ll have hundreds of crabs for company; bring flip-flops & don’t worry if you step on them as they are very resilient. Bring your own board if you want to be sure of catching equatorial waves.