Pete, one of our Africa Consultants, recently visited Bom Bom Island Resort, an undiscovered gem on the northern shore of the volcanic island of Príncipe, West Africa.
“Here Be Dragons” (HBD), the name South African millionaire and space-tourist, Mark Shuttleworth, selected for his ambitious sustainable eco-tourism project on the tiny African island of Príncipe. Príncipe is the smaller sister island to São Tomé, the two make up the republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, four hundred kilometers off the coast of Gabon in the heart of the Gulf of Guinea. Here Be Dragons – what an apt name: “All that’s missing are the dinosaurs!”
Príncipe is an island with just one ATM – local cards only, and a ‘weekly’ supply boat from São Tomé – with no schedule. In western terms it’s a very poor part of the world. Local people rely on the ocean for fish, and the forest for everything else. There’s no police force. Why? Well there’s no need for one. This is not the easiest place to get to: TAP Portugal fly via Lisbon to São Tomé three times a week and then there’s a short hop in a twin engine Dornier over to Príncipe. But WOW, the journey is already worth it as the forest clad peaks of Príncipe appear through the window.
The only hotel at the moment is Bom Bom Island Resort, a nineteen individual villa lodge on the northern tip of Príncipe, the mainland is linked to the tiny Bom Bom Islet by a two hundred meter footbridge. Bom Bom itself is the location of the lodge’s bar and restaurant, it boasts a spectacular deck, the perfect spot to enjoy spectacular equatorial evenings. The sun plummets into the Atlantic sucking the light from the sky and leaving a perfect bowl of stars.
What brings people here? Well, in the history of Bom Bom it has been the lure of the mighty blue marlin. The Gulf of Guinea, and particularly the big drop-offs around Príncipe are home to one of the greatest volumes of this queen of fish. Captain Bert Bouchard has revived the marlin fishery and all is set for Príncipe to be the “hottest blue-marlin bite on the planet”. A number of fish over 800lb were caught last season and Bert is sure the grand prize 1000lb + fish are out there in the deeper water. Besides the big fish, turtles use the beaches of Príncipe to lay their eggs, humpbacks migrate through these waters, often breaching spectacularly right off Bom Bom itself. On land the forest is alive with endemic species of birds, and monkeys peer curiously down from the canopy. Hikes through the forest reveal untouched, pristine beaches, perfect for snorkeling and a lunchtime picnic. There is a sense of mystery about Bom Bom, it’s like being on a frontier, who knows what you might discover!
HBD has plans to develop three new ‘carbon-neutral’ lodges across Principe. Preparations for Sundy Beach Lodge are underway, with an opening date of July 2015. The luxury safari-style tents of Sundy will sit right on the sand. Behind them the forest rises to a magnificent colonial plantation, a place symbolic of Shuttleworth’s vision. Sundy Plantation will be renovated and through close work with the local community the cacao and coffee plantations will be regenerated, bringing employment and a high quality crop. Italian Claudio Corallo, with his 40 years of experience producing coffee and chocolate in Africa already supplies his award-winning Principe chocolate to Harrods!
A brand new runway leads one to wonder the implications of larger aircraft than the current 18 seater. However, this is not an ambition towards mass-tourism. As Shuttleworth says: “It’s a very difficult thing because what we’re trying to do is figure out how we can bring people here, how we can give them a great tourism experience, how that can create great economic activity, but how that economic activity doesn’t turn around and then destroy the quality of life, the environment.”
On the same time zone as London, a place free of tropical diseases and enjoying the climate typical of an island lying bang on the Equator. If you’re looking for a vacation with a difference, one that will provide memories that will last a lifetime, or just after some winter sunshine, Príncipe is pretty perfect!