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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2019 (85) > The Galapagos of Africa

The Galapagos of Africa

Príncipe is a tiny island in the Gulf of Guinea, punctuated by towering basalt peaks, dense with rain forests and fringed by perfect white beaches. Once home to pirates, slaves and cocoa barons, today it’s being transformed into a model of African conservation. This is how we wish tourism operated everywhere. By Justin Fox
Pristine beach at Sundy Praia

The aircraft banked through low tropical cloud and there it was: an emerald island in luminous, azure water. Oddly shaped volcanic peaks thrust from the forest canopy, forming an other-worldly skyline. Swooping lower over reefs, beaches, palm trees… our wheels squeaked on tarmac: we had landed in the ‘Galapagos of Africa’. The twin islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century and transformed into a network of roças (plantations), becoming the centre of the world’s cocoa production.

After independence in 1975, the islands suffered economic collapse and many roças fell into disrepair or were abandoned.

Príncipe is a smaller version of São Tomé, with a port capital in the north and vast, wild forests in the south. Due to its smaller population, it’s more unspoiled and feels more remote. Nature rules on this enchanted isle. Recognising its natural bounty and high density of endemic species, UNESCO declared Príncipe a World Biosphere Reserve in 2012.

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