Sao Tome and Principe Travel Information

Photo Discovered and claimed by Portugal in the late 15th century, the islands' sugar-based economy gave way to coffee and cocoa in the 19th century - all grown with plantation slave labor, a form of which lingered into the 20th century. While independence was achieved in 1975, democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980s. The country held its first free elections in 1991, but frequent internal wrangling between the various political parties precipitated repeated changes in leadership and two failed coup attempts in 1995 and 2003. The recent discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea promises to attract increased attention to the small island nation.

GEOGRAPHY
The islands of Sao Tome and Principe, situated in the equatorial Atlantic about 300 and 250 kilometers (200 mi. and 150 mi.), respectively, off the northwest coast of Gabon, constitute Africa's smallest country. Both are part of an extinct volcanic mountain range, which also includes the island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea to the north and Mount Cameroon on the African west coast. Sao Tome is 50 kilometers (31 mi.) long and 32 kilometers (20 mi.) wide and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its peaks reach 2,024 meters (6,640 ft.). Principe is about 30 kilometers (19 mi.) long and 6 kilometers (4 mi.) wide. Swift streams radiating down the mountains through lush forest and cropland to the sea cross both islands.

HISTORY
The islands were first discovered by Portuguese navigators between 1469 and 1472. The first successful settlement of Sao Tome was established in 1493 by Alvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown. Principe was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. By the mid-1500s, with the help of slave labor, the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar. Sao Tome and Principe were taken over and administered by the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573, respectively.

Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years, and by the mid-1600s, Sao Tome was little more than a port of call for bunkering ships. In the early 1800s, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (rocas), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, Sao Tome had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, still the country's most important crop.

The rocas system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. In the early 1900s, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions. Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepa Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and the government officially observes its anniversary.

Important: Travel to Sao Tome and Principe may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Sao Tome and Principe visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe
Capital city: Sao Tome
Area: 964 sq km
Population: 183,176
Ethnic groups: mestico, angolares
Languages: Portuguese
Religions: Catholic 70.3%, Evangelical 3.4%, New Apostolic 2%, Adventist 1.8%, other 3.1%, none 19.4%
Government: republic
Chief of State: President Manuel Pinto DA COSTA
Head of Government: Prime Minister Gabriel COSTA
GDP: 379 million
GDP per captia: 2,300
Annual growth rate: 4.9%
Inflation: 14.3%
Agriculture: cocoa, coconuts, palm kernels, copra, cinnamon, pepper, coffee, bananas, papayas, beans
Major industries: light construction, textiles, soap, beer, fish processing, timber
Natural resources: fish, hydropower
Location: Central Africa, islands in the Gulf of Guinea, straddling the Equator, west of Gabon
Trade Partners - exports: Netherlands 29.4%, Belgium 27.5%, US 8.7%, Italy 4.9%, Nigeria 4.8%
Trade Partners - imports: Portugal 63.8%, US 6%, Gabon 4.7%, France 4%