Princípe Island - Plantation Hotels

The charm of Princípe Island is that it's remote and unspoiled. It really does feel like a secret at the end of the world.  But this 'secret island' has hosted foreign tourists, and particularly the Portuguese in increasing numbers over the last decade, though it remains one of the least visited countries in the world. It has also attracted wealthy,  ecologically minded investors bent on developing a tourism infrastructure while retaining the beauty of this island nation. Because it is costly to get to Príncipe (on a small plane from São Tomé ) the model here tends towards  high value, low impact tourism. There are several locally run guesthouses but  the emphasis is on limited numbers of tourists in what are smaller,  luxury hotels with  strong environmental credentials. The full service hotel options on the island are limited and although they are foreign owned these are locally focused chains. There are two historic, inland plantation hotels, Roça Belo Monte  and   Roça Sundy Plantation and two beach resorts  Bom Bom and the Sundy Praia. The first, Roça Belo Monte , is owned by Africa's Eden who were some of the earlier  investors in Principe (they previously operated Bom Bom and Roca Sundy) and they also operate safari properties in Gabon and a local aviation venture. Roca Sundy and Bom Bom are now owned by venture capitalist Mark Shuttleworth's HBD Group which is updating them and has  developed the fabulously luxurious eco retreat Sundy Praia. IPrincipe it seem that the  foreigners who have been attracted to the island share African connections, deep pockets, a commitment to conservation and longterm horizons. 

On the steps at Roça Sundy
Depending on your interests the question will be plantation or beach and we opted for both. Your choice of hotels on Princípe will be determined by interest and budget. To my mind Bom Bom  offers the best situation and beach and Roca Sundy Plantation is  the most affordable of the luxury hotel options. However, for me, Sundy Praia was without parallel   on the islands, in terms of luxury and service and was my favorite. If money is no object this is THE place to stay, at least for a day or two.

We didn't stay at Roça Belo Monte  but we visited the property which is above the famous Banana Beach. Other travelers told us the food was excellent and  that they enjoyed their stay although as with most hotels on Principe the excursions and transfers were pricey. It has a beautiful historic charm and I'd certainly consider it on another visit.  Indeed Príncipe is one of those rare places you think about revisiting the minute you feel the plane wheels lift off the runway. You can see the view from the terrace above and the entrance at Roça Belo Monte below. They also have a lovely suite with a small plunge pool which I'd like to stay in.
Roça Sundy Plantation has also been beautifully restored and I think the rooms are a good value.  It's the kind of place you'll find old railroad equipment in huge barns, broad balconies to sit and read your book and beautiful views over the tree tops. They offer free transfers into town and to the beach, but if you want to do anything else you'll need to organize a tour.
We were charmed to discover this was the spot where on May 29th 1919 (during a total solar eclipse), Arthur Eddington the Cambridge astrophysicist, confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity. As he had hoped, Eddington observed a curve in the light and this was recognized as the first proof of Einstein’s theory. The discovery made front page news, splashed across newspapers the world over and it's clearly still a point of pride today, marked by several placards on the property. One of the things I love about traveling is stumbling upon these small local and yet global histories. It was such a pleasure to stay at here, learn about Eddington’s visit and to have Favorite Person try to explain the science to me over and over while I chuffed down several glasses of wine and admired the sunset!

One of the things to bear in mind about these hotels (Roça Sundy PlantationBom Bom and the Sundy Praia) is that they all have a strong underlying commitment to sustainability including hiring from the local community. At Roça Sundy in particular this meant  that communication was easier for those who speak Portuguese and it's worth bearing in mind that they have more Portuguese guests than any other group, though they do have some English speaking staff. The commitment to local employment, sustainable practices and the development is a hallmark of the HBD hotels and the Principe Trust with whom they are associated. We've rarely traveled anywhere where the villages are so neat and attractive and there's an absence of plastic litter which is really noticeable on the island where there is a strong commitment to ecological practices. 
Overall Roca Sundy is a fascinating place to consider the difficult history of the islands which were involved in coffee and chocolate trades. It's astonishing to see the extensive development of these colonial Portuguese plantations (or Rocas) which had their own railway lines and used forced laborers often brought from the mainland. We saw several ruined plantation houses on a tour of the island and saw the resurgence of artisanal chocolate production. 
See my previous post for more background on São Tomé and Princípe including its connection to the slave trade and a recent book written on the history of these so called "Chocolate Islands".  
Interestingly there is a  village and school located at Roça Sundy. I was curious to hear it is part of a UN Habitat project in which the community opted for  a voluntary resettlement  involving the creation of almost 140 modern homes at another site. 
This UN supervised projects (which is partnered with the HBD hotel group) used a participatory process and hopes to be a model for socially and environmentally sustainable urbanization on  São Tomé and Príncipe. At Roça Sundy you'll have the opportunity to learn about the history, culture and  community here in a way you might not at the beach resorts.  I took these photos on our island tour. The architecture was very reminiscent of the Caribbean or parts of Brazil. 

Getting back to the hotel there are lots of lovely spots to sit and read a book (see below)  In terms of rooms I would opt for the main section of the hotel, the Colonial House. We had a view room and I enjoyed the balcony. Overall the rooms are  fairly simple with  the exception of the larger rooms or master suite rooms. We enjoyed a couple of quiet days at Roça Sundy Plantation and  found it charming but if you are in search of full service luxury including lots of staff and a pool  you should opt for Sundy Praia which is by far the most luxurious option on on Princípe.
I'm sorry I didn't take a better picture of the  reception area below which is elegant and has plenty of place to relax.
Overall the hotel has an updated colonial style aesthetic which fits the building. In the main Colonial House the feel is a little more traditional but it has a modern spin too as you can see in the bar below. 
It was very quiet when we were there and with only 15 rooms it's never going to be too busy. We liked the food which had interesting local flavors.
Overall this is a good destination for a couple of days before the beach and the affordable rates helped us meet out budget. They offer free transfers into the small capital San Antonio but if you want to do anything else you'll probably end up  organizing a tour.  We enjoyed the tour we went on which took in some epic views and gave us a sense of the landscape of the island, Banana Beach below. Astonishingly we had it all to ourselves. 
Overall Roca Sundy was a place to relax and unwind. To me it isn't a destination hotel if you're looking for a lot of activity which for us (after a long trip through Algeria, Tunisia and West Africa) was exactly what made it enjoyable. However, I should say others may be more self motivated and we met several Portuguese guests who made extensive use of the transfers from the hotel to both town and the beach. 

More places to read your book, extra points if it isn't on an electronic device!

Partial Gift: We paid for our accommodation, food and excursions but  received a modest discount and an upgrade. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that bloggers should disclose anything that "materially affects" their experience including gifts. I paid for my stay and I hope you know I'll always give you my unvarnished opinion. But transparency matters and it's fair  to say that a discount, or upgrade could favorably impact  our impressions. I only  wish some of my fellow bloggers who are receiving fully comped trips would begin to disclose them.


Todd at Visit50 said…
I love visiting places that are unspoiled!
And those mountains in the background, wow!
Thanks Todd,
Glad you liked the photographs. The geography here and in the main island of Sao Tome is staggering. It's just an incredible destination.