Sundy, São Tomé and Príncipe

Photo: Sundy Praia

Leve-leve. Slowly-slowly. You started hearing the phrase being whispered as soon as you landed on Príncipe. You could see that the island is beautiful. Former plantations, a biosphere reserve, and a surprisingly clean little capital, Santo António, cover the heavily eroded volcano. You didn’t feel the vibe right away, though. It took a leisurely ride, on a dirt road, to the northwest coast for you to start to understand. Things finally clicked when you arrived at Sundy Praia.

Sundy Praia just opened last year on a spot that was once part of the largest cocoa plantation on the island. It was long overgrown with mango trees and fan-leaf bush. Fishermen’s huts used to line the golden-sand beach. The abandoned shacks were replaced with tented villas. An infinity pool, enclosed by black basalt rocks, now overlooks the turquoise water. A pole-thatched restaurant, which looks like a beehive, does, too. The air is heavy with the scent of tropical flowers, and the sound of chattering parrots and monkeys. Yes, it’s time to slow down.

You arrive at the luxury hotel to find genuine smiles—everyone waves as you pass—and a gorgeous carved desk in the reception area. Fifteen villas, with plenty of indoor and outdoor space, are hidden among almond and banana trees beyond that. Each one features a timber deck, weathered wood paneling, and a white tented roof. There’s a huge granite soaking tub inside. While a warm sea breeze makes it hard for you to decide whether to relax in the cozy space or run down to the beach.

Photo: Sundy Praia

For the moment, the beach wins. Roça Sundy lies in between a dense tropical forest and the Gulf of Guinea’s warm water. It’s on Príncipe, the smaller of São Tomé and Príncipe’s two main islands. Both islands off the coast of Central Africa were uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century. They brought slaves to build grand sugar, coffee, and cocoa plantations. After Africa’s second-smallest country gained its independence in 1975, much of its land, particularly on Príncipe, was reclaimed by the rainforest. It’s now filled with jaw-dropping scenery and species not found anywhere else in the world.

You plan to start exploring tomorrow. You’ll ride a four-wheel-drive vehicle to traditional fishing villages and organic farms that have taken over some of the old plantations. You’ll jump on a boat to see phonolite (fine-grained volcanic rock) towers and fish for blue marlin. You’ll hike to rivers, waterfalls, and the island’s first capital. You’ll climb Parrot Mountain to see Príncipe kingfishers, colorful orchids, and stunning views, too.

But not yet. Today is reserved for Roça Sundy. You’ll look for sea turtles as you paddle a see-through canoe, and then trade in your paddle for flippers to join them. You’ll sip a Jaja cocktail—made with jackfruit, lemon, and whiskey—in a shady cabana beside the pool. You’ll eat herbs and spices from the organic garden, passion fruit and pineapple from the surrounding trees, and tuna and wahoo from the sea during a long dinner. Then you’ll slowly walk along the quiet beach, where the moon is casting shadows across the sand, to stare at the sky that almost feels overcrowded with stars. You get it now. Leve-leve is the best way to enjoy Príncipe.


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