Unlike Africa's better known island paradises off the east coast of the continent, the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe lies in the Atlantic—in relative obscurity. Although they were once the most bountiful sugar-producing area in the world, these beautiful little islands, separated from Africa by the Gulf of Guinea, are now among the world's least-known destinations. And that's the way some people would like things to stay.
Sao Tome and Principe (pronounced sow too-MAY and PRIN-sih-pay) is a haven for travelers looking for an offbeat tropical destination, where you can dive or snorkel in unspoiled waters, meet friendly people, camp on isolated beaches and explore pristine rain forests. There are even some beautiful old crumbling plantation houses. However, if those kind of laid-back attractions appeal to you, you'd better hurry: The islands have been eyed by international hotel chains that have visions of high rises. Fortunately, none have made a move yet.
Once you've made your plans, though, you won't want to be in a hurry at all. First, you'll need plenty of time to get to the islands—it will take you a few hops by air to reach them. And once you're there, you won't want to rush—you'll want plenty of time to settle into the slow equatorial rhythms. Time, in fact, hasn't meant much to Sao Tome and Principe: These islands look much the way they did more than a century ago.
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