Sao Tome - Is a 4x4 car necessary?

How to visit Pico Grande

From Gabon it was only a 1-hour flight to get here and had 4 days to see the island of Sao Tome. The country is very small so it was easy to travel around on my own, especially with the possibility of a rental car. But the country is also very practical, as the trips can be divided into half days while having the base in the capital.

Google Maps showed quickly that there are not many roads and also the duration of the trip around the island is very limited.

The only thing that was not so clear to me and also research on the internet didn't fully clarify was the question, if it is necessary to rent a 4WD car or if a 2WD is enough.

Is a 4x4 car necessary in Sao Tome?

Looking at pictures of Sao Tome on the internet it seemed that the country has bad roads and since it often rains, these are also overflown with dirt and mud. So I originally planned to rent a 4x4 car, but only got a 2wd when I was there.

So it doesn't need a four-wheel-drive car or even a 4WD Jeep or something like that. There are some potholes but every car gets over them.

It turned out that a 2WD was absolutely sufficient and of course much cheaper. It is an advantage if the car has a little bit more ground clearance because it has some potholes or puddles on offroad, but these can also be done with a simple 2WD vehicle. 

Day 1 - Arriving in Sao Tome

The flight from Libreville with Afrijet took off on time and in Sao Tome, I was luckily one of the first to get off the plane. The airport is very small and a big plane in front of us came with a monster load of hundreds of people directly from Portugal, whereas all of them were standing in a queue at the immigration desk, which protruded from the airport.

For some reason, we passengers from the Gabon flight were put in the "National" queue and could bypass the hundreds of tourist-colleagues at the immigration desk.

The chauffeur from the hotel was already waiting and so I got to the hotel where I could make arrangements for the rental car tomorrow morning.

You will be able to start driving at 7am with a 4x4 car! Promised!

So I was promised that a 4x4 car would be waiting for me in front of the hotel at 7am. A 4x4! Promised with a handshake!

Day 2 – To the north with the rental car… but not a 4x4

I went up early with the assumption to pick up the car at 7am in front of the hotel - as they promised. 

But somehow I knew that it would not work (after all, I'm still in Africa). I waited and 1.5 hours later someone showed up with a car. It was not difficult to see that it was not a 4x4 car.

Sorry, we don't have a 4x4 car today! Only 2WD.

So after the big promise yesterday I was told they had none today. However, I knew if I really wanted a 4x4 they would get one but that will take another couple of hours. The first attempt to start the car failed. The battery was empty. Well, the car rental guy was still on the side and could organize a replacement car, which was also not a 4x4 and again took almost another hour to get it.

Also, the tank was completely empty and so time passed again to fill it up and instead of 7 a.m. it was almost 10 a.m. to start driving out from the capital.

Many boats in the center of Sao Tome
In the morning its still quietSao Tome in the morning as a touristPeople speak PortugueseNorth of Sao Tome is nice to drive with 4x4Green mountains all over Sao TomeLush thick jungle in Sao Tome

Driving to "Santa Catarina"

On today's ride, I planned to drive to "Santa Catarina", which is the road towards the north and then along the coast all the way to the far left side on the island.

From there I had to U-turn and drive the same way back to the capital. It was easy to find the way as there is only one main road.

The distance for one way was only about 40KM from Sao Tome but it took me around 2-3 hours for that distance.

I had a 2WD and it was sufficient to drive in Sao Tome
Old car on the island of Sao TomeWashing clothes. A womens job in Sao TomeNorth of Sao Tome is a defect port for boatsRural life in Sao TomeBucket challenge Sao TomeHillbilly life in Sao Tome

Via "Santa Amaro" and "Guadalupe"

There are many potholes on the road but none of them is so serious that it requires a 4WD.

A lot of people walking along the roads and the main difficulty is to keep them safe as they often didn't look left or right when crossing the road.

Santa Amara and Guadalupe have colonial houses
In Sao Tome are many small villages40 Minutes from Sao TomeGuadalupe is very colonial in Sao TomePeople life on the streetsSmall clothes storeColonial water station

Lagoa Azul

Nice beaches and bays all over the island. 

Lago Azul is on the north of the island
Nice to drive1 hour ride from Sao TomeParadise Sao Tome

Wonderful ride onwards from "Lagoa Azul"

There is so much going on along the road and the coast.

It's like a little zoo with dogs, pigs and chicken walking on the street. Fishermen carrying their fresh fishes (even sharks) on their heads. 

One fisherman was walking with a full-grown marlin on his head through the village!

No need for 4wd in Sao Tome
It starts to rainSao Tome has a mountain with a tunnelBest self drive in Sao Tome

Cocoa and alcohol production everywhere

Along the roads are many cocoa farms and almost all of them have some hidden alcohol production made of sugar cane.

Sao Tome has many illegal brewing station
Sugar cane is the method to produce alcoholSugar cane production is used to brew alcoholIn the north of the island 1.5 hours from Sao TomeIts used to press the sugar out of the caneSao Tome people are genious alcohol producersSao Tome has professional alcohol production

Typical Sao Tome Canoes and fishermen

All along the way, there were so many fishermen with the handcrafted Sao Tome canoes.

Many fishermen in Sao Tome
People life like 100 years agoThey have many canoesSao Tome fishermen are good fishersLot of fish in the shores in Sao TomeFish is distributed on the market afterwardSao Tome fishing industry is for self sustaining

Many villages along the way with names like "Neves"

I thought there will be many restaurants or other kinds of shops for visitors along the way, but there was almost nothing. I thought so because somehow I expected Sao Tome to be a bit touristic, many tourists will be driving around the island and explore every corner of the small villages, but, there weren't.

I saw a handful of cars with tourists today.

They are good housewifes
Self driving is the bestI didnt see any motorbikes to rent in Sao TomeMany people on the streetSao Tome people life hereSao Tome people life togetherThey dont have TV so they spend time outside

Wooden houses everywhere

Hundreds of these typical local Sao Tome houses.

They look different than other wooden houses in Africa or Asia and have somehow a colonial-style adapted.

Portugues houses still available for sale in Sao Tome
Wooden houses are not very stableHouse made of wood in Sao TomeTo get rid of snakes and spidersIts built on the mountainSao Tome church look colonialIts a fishermen house

The last village on the road was "Santa Catarina"

After the village Santa Catarina the road ends, solely a dirt track leads a few kilometers in the jungle but leads nowhere.

Towards Santa Catarina, the streets are narrow all the way and are very curvy. All the way is a similar scenery with island life along the road with many animals, fishermen, and women washing clothes in the river. The houses are all basic houses made of wood.

The more I drove along the more I enjoyed the scenery and as it is required to drive the same way back to Sao Tome Town, it was perfect to see the same scenery twice.

Its the remotest village in Sao Tome
They life like 500 years agoPeople walking in the streetSanta Catarina in Sao Tome is far awayIts poorly built but interesting to live inReal estate in Sao TomeWashing in Sao Tome is done by handPigs and pork beside the Sao Tome busNorth side of the islandRenting a car to drive around Sao Tome

Locals preparing sharks for the market at "Morro Peixe"

I expected to see many tourists but I was positively surprised seeing still some original behavior and authentic island people.

All of them I encountered were very friendly and I hope it stays like that, even when hundreds, maybe thousands of European tourists will come along every month in the very near future.

It was in the afternoon when I came to Morro Peixe (a beach) and saw the locals finalizing their fresh-caught shark.

In a fishing family like here in Sao Tome, the whole family was helping with disemboweling the 1.5-meter shark, while every family member from small to tall carries their own machete. It's their daily life and they were preparing it to sell it this afternoon in the market.

Morro Peixe in Sao Tome has good fishing
Morro Peixe village is niceMarlin fishing at Morro PeixeAt the Morro Peixe beachPraia dos Tamarindos is just next to itEvery canoe has an ID number in Sao TOmePraia dos Governadores is next to Morro Peixe

A swimming beach at "Praia dos Tamarindos"

There are many beaches in Sao Tome and many of them are indicated on Google Maps.

I pinned a few and drove to them. It's not that all of them look completely different from each other, but it's interesting to see at least a few of these different beaches.

The beaches in Sao Tome are for swimming
Praia dos Governadores is a swimming beachNot many tourists come to Praia dos GovernadoresCanoe culture all over the country

On the mountain near Sao Tome is the "Sao Nicolau Waterfall"

It was about 3pm in the afternoon and I still had time to see the waterfall in Sao Nicolau, which is up the mountain road just outside of the Sao Tome center.

The drive was about 40 minutes up the hill and at the end of the main road the hiking trail begins, which is fortunately wide enough for a car.

The waterfall appears after a 10-minute drive on the hiking trail. This is not a very big waterfall but the atmosphere far up the mountain in the African tropical jungle was unique and the climate fresh and comfortable.

With the rental car to Cascata de São Nicolau
Cascata de São Nicolau is at the end of the roadRain on the mountain and sun in the townCascata de São Nicolau is in the jungleRainforrest just outside Sao TomeTravelsvenue in Sao TomeSao Tome is 1 hour away

Day 3 - Direction South to "Porto Alegre"

Today I started very early as I still had the car and knew it will be a long day of driving.

The ride towards Porto Alegre takes several hours on winding, confusing (almost) mountain roads and back down to the beach and up again. There is no circuit road so after visiting the south of the island, it was necessary to drive the same road back to Sao Tome.

But at no time it was necessary to have a 4x4. The roads are very good.

Among the stops were the places with names "Hellmouth", "Praia das Sete Ondas" and "Praia Colonia Acoriana"

But also along the road are many sites that are worth a stop and many don't have a name.

I marked so many places on google maps but I lost track because of the sheer amount of all the many unique places to see.

Hellmouth south of the capital
The streets are for Sao Tome peopleSao Tome is wonderful with green mountainsBeach next to Roça Água-IzéPraia Izé is on the way southSpearfishing localsMen and women in Sao TomeBoca do Inferno is not farRoça Água-Izé is for cocoaRoça Água-Izé has nice surroundings

Further places were "Praia Micondo", "Santa Cruz", "Praia Pesqueira"

Some random places along the way. They are all over!

Farmers of Sao Tome collect cocao
Praia das Sete OndasThe villages are nexted in the junglePraia Micondo restaurantsSao Tome self drivingLunch at the beach in Sao TomeSao Joao dos Angolares is a nice beach

The most spectacular thing to see along the road was "Pico Cão Grande"

This volcanic mountain is 663 meters in height and was formed by magma from an active volcano. 

That's what I have been told and can't really imagine how this should have worked as I can't see any volcano nearby.

The mountain is visible from far away and often when driving solely along the road without the necessity of any detours.

Cão Grande Peak is visible from far away
Self driving towards Cão Grande PeakGreat view onto Cão Grande Peak from the villageImpossible to not see Pico Grande

The fishing town "Porto Alegre"

Further down from Porto Alegre is mainly dirt road, but even here, no 4WD was necessary even road was full of mud and potholes.

There are not many restaurants in this area the few ones which had open took a long preparation time. At the beach was one stall which was cooking fish.

The area to get a canoe to the island
Downtown of Igreja Nova Apostólica Porto AlegreThere is no further village other than Porto AlegreRolas Island is the island south of Porto AlegrePraia Inhame Eco Lodge is the place to rent a canoeRolas Island is 10 minutes by canoeFrom Praia Inhame Eco Lodge to Rolas Island its only 10 minutes

The last destination on "Rolas Island"

To get to Rolas Island, I was told to drive down until the Praia Inhame Eco Lodge.

From there they transferred me in a canoe (for 10 Euro) to Rolas Island where the "Equator Landmark" is built.

To rolas island
Only 10 minutesIts a small island with local peopleNo good restaurants here as its all basic

Its the right on the equator, the "Marco do Equador"

The canoe waited for me at the bay of the island, I just had to tell the driver how long approximately I will need until returning to the beach.

I didn't plan to spend much time here and said I will be back in one hour.

The path to the Equatorial Landmark is not easy to find but the many locals in the village are friendly and don't hesitate to show the direction, as the way leads through the narrow path in the village up to the mountain.

The landmark in Sao Tome is on Rolas
People help showing the way to the Equator LandmarkRolas Island is made for touristsIn the jungle of Rolas Island

At the end of the path up the hill, there is the Equator Landmark.

This landmark is exactly on the Equator
From Rolas Island to Porto AlegreWalk back to the Canoe which waitedPestana Equador is a place hidden in the woods

In the afternoon back to the capital Sao Tome

It was already late afternoon and wanted to get back to Sao Tome as long there was light.

Along the streets are no street lamps and sometimes the cars on the road drive like crazy. So it was better to be off from the narrow, curvy roads as long there was daylight.

Cascata de Praia Pesqueira is near from there
Storm is showing up in the afternoonBoca do Inferno has a restaurant on the topWonderful landscape in Sao TomePeople of Sao Tome are farmersSmall yellow buses in Sao TomeNo need for a 4 wd

Day 4 - In the city

On my last full day in Sao Tome I walked around the capital. Already early in the morning, it was very hot.

The market around "Igreja da Conceição"

Today was Sunday and except for this market and a bigger supermarket, everything is closed.

Interestingly enough people here in Sao Tome have no problems with photos. They are even very happy when you take pictures and laugh and wave and jump into the pictures.

Mercado Municipal in Sao Tome
Sao Tome Mercado MunicipalUgly taxis in the islandEvery fish is available in Sao TomeMany fresh fish in the market of Mercado MunicipalIgreja da Conceição is a church in Sao TomeEveryone buys fresh fish in Sao Tome

The Sao Tome "Old Town"

Not a huge town and not spectacular. But interesting in its own way. Especially with all the colonial buildings.

Rue de Mocambique in Sao Tome capital
Rue de Angola in Sao TOmePetrol is not cheap in Sao TomeAt the boulevard of TomeColonial Architecture in Sao TomeWoman carries a bucket through the streetsSao Tome capital is pure colonial

Boulevard "Avenida Marginal 12 Julho"

It's the boulevard along the bay of Sao Tome towards the National Museum. It wasn't a touristic place in regards to "many restaurants" but it was an interesting place to watch locals spending their time.

Avenida Marginal 12 Julho has a broken bridge
Poor people with poor dogs in Sao TomeAvenida Marginal 12 Julho is nice to walkMany people have jeeps but 4wd are not necessary for touristsSao Tome has young generationSao Tome locals meet at the boulevardAt the Avenida Marginal 12 Julho

Around the "Parque Popular"

Rich Sao Tome people live here
This is the Arquivo Histórico de São Tomé e PríncipeStatue in Sao TomeAfrican Art on the islandHappy locals in Sao TomeAround the Praça Ex-Gago CoutinhoIn the middle of the center

Around the president's palace "Palácio Presidencial"

Palácio Presidencial in Sao Tome capital
A wedding in Sao TomeAll buildings are in colonial styleIgreja do Bom Despacho is right next to it

Around the church "Catedral de São Tomé"

Igreja Messiânica Mundial is nice
People are singing loudAvenida Marginal 12 Julho leads to the National MuseumSmall bridge in the capital of Sao TOme

Every Sunday a public party at the "National Museum" and "Youth Square"

Every Sunday evening in Sao Tome there is a huge party for all citizens.

Tourists are also welcome. From far away it's possible to hear the music.

Found out that it must be an event at the National Museum and went there. It was late in the afternoon and there were a lot of people eating and drinking and bathing.

At the barbecue stalls, they sold Sao Tome alcohol and species of fish that I had only seen while scuba diving and never thought I would ever face them on a BBQ grill to eat them. 

But here everything that moves under the water surface gets spat out and put on BBQ grill.

Party outside the Avenida Marginal 12 Julho
Every sunday evening is a party in Sao TomeEvery local comes here to eatForte de São SebastiãoSao Tome is a fish countryCheap and high percentageComes in black bottles
Locals go swimming on sundayForte de São Sebastião is where every Sao Tome local isSao Tome residents meet at the Forte de São Sebastião

Day 5 - Departure after Midnight to Cap Verde

The hotel allowed me to keep the room until late in the evening and was then taken to the airport. Right now, at 1am, the 4.5-hour flight from Sao Tome to Cap Verde leaves.

At this time it is the only flight from Sao Tome and the airport is accordingly empty.

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