Príncipe: an island paradise off the west coast of Africa

The remote island isn't easy to get to, but the journey is 'well worth it'

A photo of a beach at Bom Bom Resort on Principe Island
Príncipe is home to verdant forests, golden beaches and “glamorous” resorts
(Image credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Uninhabited until the Portuguese arrived in 1471, the equatorial African island of Príncipe has a dark history as a slaving hub and a "place of exile for the desperados of Portuguese society: convicts, heretics and outcasts". Today, it is "poor but paradisiacal", says Catherine Fairweather in Condé Nast Traveller, its verdant forests home to as many endemic species as the Galápagos, and its golden beaches free of tourist crowds. Just 19 miles long and four miles wide, it lies 150 miles off the coast of West Africa, and is the smaller and wilder partner in the independent nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. Getting here from the UK involves "a layover in Lisbon, a touchdown in Accra and a night in São Tomé", but the journey is well worth it.

The jungle has reclaimed some of the island's roças, or agricultural estates – "self-contained universes with hospitals, nurseries, lodgings and railway terminals". Most atmospheric is the ruined Ribeira Izé, the island's first settlement, ruled over in the 19th century by Maria Correia, a mestiza (mixed-race) woman who owned hundreds of slaves. Others have been sensitively restored as hotels. At Roça Sundy, the astronomer Arthur Eddington made the observations that proved Einstein's theory of general relativity in 1919. Today, locals still gather "to shoot the breeze" on its grassy square, and the mansion where guests stay is "an elegant time warp of slow-whirring ceiling fans and hardwood floors". It is owned by South African software mogul Mark Shuttleworth, who has invested heavily in conservation in Príncipe, and has three other hotels, including Sundy Praia, a beach resort of "glamorous" tented villas.

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