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BEYOND COMPARE?

From castaway beaches to exquisite chocolate, the remote African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe has attractions to rival the world’s best
The needle-shaped volcanic plug of Pico Cão Grande rises high above the rainforest in the south of the island of São Tomé

IT HAS BEACHES AS IDYLLIC AS THE SEYCHELLES’

Rainforest cloaks 90 per cent of the island of Príncipe, tumbling down from its volcanic peaks to trespass on the coves that crease its northern coast. Where forest meets sea, palms protrude at opportunistic angles, as if to announce the empty beaches with an unbridled ‘ta-dah!’.

The island’s many beaches range from the blissfully remote to lively fishing hubs. On Praia de Santa Rita, snorkellers drift over a small reef, seeking out parrotfish, barracuda and Golden African snapper. To the west, on Praia de Coco, the prints in the sand left by lone wanderers are likely joined only by those of languid dogs. And aside from a pair of jostling tropicbirds, Praia Banana, which once starred in a Bacardi ad, is deserted. Turquoise water laps at basalt boulders and a coconut is tossed about by the waves. It’s all a bit much for one palm, which has crashed out from the sheer bliss of it all.

Further east, at Praia dos Burros, teenagers play cards on upturned boats while young boys perform back flips into the shallow water, shrieking with laughter and emerging plastered in sand. In front of the ramshackle stilt homes, flying fish are splayed out on rope beds, drying in the sun. ‘Bondja ô!’ calls a fisherman, whose wide smile reveals two premolars at the corners of his mouth.

He wanders over to share a few words of the local Forro language. Portuguese is the official language on the islands, but 85 per cent of people speak one of three creoles. ‘Bon-jow-ooh’ he sings, drawing out the vowels of his good morning greeting, and laughs, proving that a warm Santomean welcome is just as appealing as a day in the sun on the beach.

• All beaches are public except those of Bom Bom Island Resort (£17; bombomprincipe.com) and Praia Banana, accessed via Roça Belo Monte (belomontehotel.com).

The beach at Bom Bom on Príncipe, with its stilted walkway crossing the water to an island resort of the same name (p87)
Writer Jo Keeling at a ruined 15th-century church at the end of one of six new walking trails on Príncipe
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About Lonely Planet Traveller (UK)

In the November issue… Explore the east of Iceland, further from the tourist hotspots, but no less scenic; trace Australia's past along the rainforest-clad coast of northern Queensland; discover unsung wonders in the African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe; learn how to recreate some of France's most enduring recipes on a gastronomic tour; snuggle up in the finest selection of cosy cabins around the world; and much more
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