Ilhéu das Rolas, São Tomé and Príncipe

Photo: Pestana Group

One foot is in the Northern Hemisphere. The other is in the Southern. A line, usually imaginary, marks latitude 0° on an oversized world map. While a monument, which looks like it belongs on an even bigger chessboard, honors the Portuguese geodesist who first demonstrated that this spot is equally distant from both poles. Welcome to Ilhéu das Rolas.

Ilhéu das Rolas is a small island off the southern tip of São Tomé Island, the largest island in São Tomé and Príncipe. The second-smallest country in Africa sits in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. Most of the country’s two archipelagos lies just north of the equator. But that imaginary line runs right across the northern half of this little island.

Like the rest of São Tomé and Príncipe, Ilhéu das Rolas was uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century. They built plantations—to produce cocoa, coffee, and sugar—and imported slave labor from Central Africa. Since the country gained its independence in 1975, much of its land, particularly outside of São Tomé Island, is once again quiet and overgrown.

Ilhéu das Rolas is now home to less than 200 people. Its golden-sand beaches are lined with volcanic rocks and tall palm trees; a small geyser even shoots through the black rocks. There are pristine snorkeling spots just feet off the coast. Humpback whales pass between Ilhéu das Rolas and São Tomé Island as they migrate north this time of year. A small lighthouse, the Ilhéu Gago Coutinho Light, sits on the island’s highest point. Plus there’s a single resort, Pestana Equador.

Once you decide that you’re not ready to leave this beautiful, peaceful island, you head to Pestana Equador. The small resort sits on the island’s north coast. It has simple cabins with red roofs and wooden furniture. Bright green walls match the garden, where geckos roam, beyond your terrace. Butterflies seem to guide the way toward the center of the resort. The sprawling pool, whose hot tub is accessed by wooden bridges, is the largest on the west coast of Africa. Local beer is served at the swim-up bar. The smell of pizza, cooking in a big oven, wafts from the nearby Tartaruga Bar. While the open-air restaurant has views of the nearby Seven Seas Islet. This little spot along the equator is the perfect place to hang out and watch for those humpback whales.

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