Praia Lagarto, São Tomé and Príncipe

Photo: HBD

You’re always dreaming about freedom right now. It’s because you’ve been cooped up for way too long. You’d give anything to go outside. Not for necessities. Or a quick breath of fresh air. You need to absorb vitamin D, talk to other people, and play without restrictions. That’s still weeks, if not months, away.

With each passing day, you dream gets farther and farther away. Your thoughts are in Africa at this point. Not the places you’ve already visited, though. You’re well beyond popular and easily accessible destinations. You’re now focused on the Gulf of Guinea. São Tomé and Príncipe to be exact.

São Tomé and Príncipe lies 150 miles off the coast of Gabon. The second-smallest country in Africa straddles the equator. Its two archipelagos were 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, a leve-leve (softly-softly) vibe has settled over the islands.

Photo: HBD

São Tomé Island, the largest of the islands, is a massive shield volcano. São Tomé, its little capital, sits on the northeast coast. Nearly 96 percent of the island nation’s population lives in this area. Tourists spend their time touring old plantations, the Neo-Romanesque Our Lady of Grace Cathedral, and the Claudio Corallo Chocolate Factory. But the main draw is the beaches.

The most popular stretches of sand lie in between the capital and the airport. The beaches sit on Ana Chaves Bay, a shallow port capped with lighthouses. Casual restaurants, small hotels, and lots of palm trees line them. One of those hotels has the open-air vibe you’re desperately craving right now.

Omali, whose name fittingly means “source of life,” is set in a tropical garden across the street from Praia Emilia. Its modernist chalets have coral facades. The rooms inside them have exposed brick walls, candelabra-style lighting, and a slight retro feel. You can see the pool, its thatched-roof bar, and overflowing chairs from their porches. The restaurant’s terrace and the only tennis courts on the island are beyond them. While warm sand, crashing waves, and bright sunshine are just a few more steps away on the beach. Liberated.

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