The capital of Príncipe – the smallest city in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records – has a population of around 3,000 and is a dreamy, somnambulant kind of place.
The city is marked out by overgrown vegetation and a collection of dilapidated but pretty pastel houses slowly crumbling in the salty sea air. The appropriately sluggish Papagaio River flows along the southeast side of town, across which you’ll find the massive, perpetually chugging diesel generator responsible for powering the city.
What to see and do in Santo António
In the town centre, only the church, the government building and a handful of other pretty 19th-century colonial buildings found around the central square have been restored. Pay a visit to the new Centro Cultural opposite the Mercado Municipal, it has a library and offers a chance to meet ambitious and educated locals.
In the centre of town is the Nossa Senhora da Conceição church. Restored in 1940 and recently repainted, it has a light-blue wooden ceiling and yellow-painted walls. Look for the baptistery font when you come in and the beautiful stone-carved St Anthony to the left of the altar. On the square outside the church is a little stone pillar with a tile showing Santo António. St Anthony is the patron saint of the poor and helps ward off shipwrecks and starvation, and find mislaid items. Close by, at the cemetery, tamarind shrubs with bright red and orange flowers grow among the graves.
Outside the festivities around St Laurent’s day in mid-August and other saint’s days and public holidays, there is not a lot of entertainment here, but at Príncipe discotecas you can often find a good party, mainly at the weekend and mainly playing kizomba, zouk or kadence music. You have to rely on word of mouth to know where the festa is. On Saturdays there is sometimes a dance on at the plantations.
Given the size of the island and the central location of Santo António, no settlement on Príncipe is more than about 10km from the capital by road. It’s therefore quite possible to explore (even on foot) using Santo António as your base, but owing to the paucity of public transport, the relatively high cost of private transfers, and the charm of the outlying roças, most visitors who can swing the expense will spend at least a night or two away from the capital during their time here.