If you are planning to go to Sao Tomé and play disc golf, let me serve you with valuable information. You are welcome!
How to get here.
Easiest way to get here is with TAP, the portuguese airline operating from Lisbon. They have connection flights to many European cities and in the US they fly to Chicago and San Francisco. You can use other airlines to get to Lisbon, as well, and get on the TAP aeroplane to Sao Tomé in Lisbon.
Another way to get to Sao Tomé is directly from Cap Verde islands. If you can get a cheap flight to the island Sal in Cap Verde, you can continue from there to Sao Tomé.
TAP booking site: https://book.flytap.com/air/TAPSE/Search.aspx?market=SE&_l=en&
Moving around the island Sao Tomé is easy, but the roads are not good. So I can´t advise you to rent a car without also hiring a driver. This is as expensive as it sounds. Instead, you can rent a taxi from anywhere on the island and go to Agostinho Neto, where the disc golf course is located. Taxi cost around 200-250 Dobras = 8-10 Euro /9-11 USD. If you are a group of 3-4 people, this is a really good option. Tell the driver when to pick you up for a ride home, if you want to use the same kind of transportation home. There is no Taxis available in Agostinho Neto, so you have to make a booking with a taxi driver.
Another way to get around is to use ”collectivo” minibus. If you like adventure, this is your choice. These are yellow minibuses that locals travel around the island with. It is normally a 9 seated minibus that will be packed with 13 persons and go from the city Sao Tomé Capitol to each and every village on the island. In the city you get yourself to the market area where all yellow minibusses are gathered and you ask for ”Guadalupe”, which is the name of the village you want to get off. When you enter the minibus you tell the driver ”stop in Agostinho Neto” and he will nod (at least) to show that he understands you. The busride is not for the weak-hearted … people smell, it is crowded, you have to ignore your need for personal space. Nobody willl harm you or steal from you. Saotomeans are friendly and helpful. The minibus will stop at a crossroads in the beginning of the village Guadalupe, a cobbled road leads from the the crossroads up to Agostinho Neto. Make sure to pay the driver 20 dobras (less than 1 Euro / USD) when you get off the minibus.
From the crossroads you can walk to Agostinho Neto (1,5 km) or ride with a motorbike-taxi.
Motorbike-taxi … this is a another level of adventure for most people. You can use it in the city to get to the market and you can use it to go from the crossroad in Guadalupe to Agostinho Neto. Your place on the bike is behind the driver and you get no helmet. The bikes are mostly 100cc or 150cc, but in the countryside they also use 250cc. Usually, the bike drivers drive careful with tourists ”onboard”. The cost is 10 Dobras (50 cent) between Guadalupe and Agostinho Neto, 15 or 20 for longer rides. Video below, check it out.
To get an overview of the locations, use this map link to find the disc golf course and zoom in/out to find the city Sao Tomé, the village Guadalupe and the geographic relation to Agostinho Neto (also called Roça Agostinho Neto. Roça means ”plantation”).
Before you go.
To be allowed to enter the country Sao Tomé e Principe you need to be vaccinated against Yellow Fever. It is also a good idea to inform yourself what kinds of vaccinations you should get before you go, talk to a doctor about this. Most doctors will advice many vaccines, because they earn money on this kind of consultation. Googling for information is also a good idea. My tip here is that Malaria is very rare in Sao Tomé, since they have tried to eliminate the mosquitos that spread this desease, unlike the rest of western africa, Sao Tomé has a very small number of people getting sick from malaria. On the other hand, it is your decision, not mine, to protect yourself, so get malaria profylaxis if you want. I don´t eat malaria profylaxis, because my kidneys are weak and they may be damaged from the pills. It is ups and downs with most medicine, as you know.
Visa is another important part of travelling. Many country´s citizens will be given a 15 day visa on arrival in Sao Tomé, I don´t know the price and it is changing from time to time. You can also apply for a 30 day visa at the consulate in Belgium, if you want to stay that long, but this is more expensive. Wikipedia will give more information about what is required: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_S%C3%A3o_Tom%C3%A9_and_Pr%C3%ADncipe
Money In Sao Tomé your VISA or Master Card is useless. Pre pay your hotel before you go, if possible. Bring cash to use when you are here. Only some currencies are accepted here, so bring all you need and make exchange at the bank or with the guys on the street around Praca de Independencia in the city Sao Tomé Capitol. They will not steal from you, but maybe you need to bargain about the rate. Here you can see how much money each disc golf tournament will pay out in prizes: CASHOMETER
Items to bring. Medical stuff you need, of course. But also some liquid to clean small wounds and band aid. Don´t forget sunscreen, at least level 30. Towels, bathing suite, a small backpack could be handy. Oh, discs … don´t forget to bring your discs and some extra to trade with me or with locals. I have no problem with foreigners selling discs and apparel at my course, you are welcome to do this at times announced in the tournament schedule. If you know that you will have 3-4 kg weight allowance unused on the airplane, please let me know so I can use that allowance to bring disc-golf-stuff from Sweden or USA to Sao Tomé, you will get compensated if you wish so.
At the arrival.
When booking your hotel you should ask them to arrange transfer from the airport to your hotel, you don´t want to look for a taxi at the airport on arrival. Trust me.
When it is time to pay your hotel, if you didn´t pay before your arrival, make sure to pay in the currency the hotel have asked for. If they ask for EURO and you want to pay in USD, they will rip you off blaming the rates for exhange. It is a standard trick most hotels use all over the world, and also in Sao Tomé.
Places to stay.
I would look at www.booking.com which is the best site for this, in my opinion. When ever I have recommendations or booking alternatives, I will put them up here. Friends of mine can stay at my place in Agostinho Neto, just ask me and I will tell you more.
Don´t worry, all is going to be fine. Africa is one thing, Sao Tomé another. Most travellers call Sao Tomé ”Africa light”, as in ”a softer africa”, referring to Sao Tomé as a mix between Africa and Europe. I agree 100%. Before I went to Sao Tomé I had the opportunity to visit some other african countries, such as Tunisia, Cap Verde, Seychelles and Egypt, the last one I lived in for 6 months. Compared to those countries, Sao Tomé is almost european. People don´t speak english, but portuguese is the native language and most Soatomeans also speak some french.
But Sao Tomé is a country where people struggle to survive. You will see beggars, homeless people, a few starving kids and you will hear that beating children is a part of raising them. It is sad. To me it is heart breaking to watch so many people live in such a hard environment. Some don´t have proper housing, just some metal sheeting on a few wooden sticks to hold it up. Others have palaces or masonry villas with 2-3 four wheel drive cars in their garages.
Don´t worry about this. You can´t help them. If you help one you should help everyone, I guess, and in other countries, such as Yemen, it is much worse. There is no war in Sao Tomé. There is no group of people that want to eradicate Saotomeans. They live in peace. They may ask you for 5 dobras and you can give them that or nothing or more. What they really need is tourists coming to their island and spend money on food, travel, souvenirs, guiding and everything else that creates new jobs and income. Video of my travel preparations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YULterI5mWk
What you will see in Agostinho Neto
The majestic construction of this plantation has cobbled roads that is hundreds of years old, still intact. The old mini-railway is still visable all over the mountain village. If you want to see other and older constructions than the Pretty Fly Park, the disc golf course, you can take a walk around the village with a local guide (it is free, but a tip is appreciated). You can look at the abandoned hospital and the garden behind it. You can see the areas where people live now and do their daily chores. There is also old abandoned houses for drying cocoa beans, the beans that is used to make chocolate. You can try locally produced destillates and beer. The former ”boss over the bosses” mansion is available to look at too, with it´s 19th century garden of luxurios dimensions. I also like to look at the surrounding mountains and the cloud forest that bring so much life to this planet.
1300 persons live in Agostinho Neto and they have a modern school and a not so modern kindergarden. Pigs, chicken and goats run around the village without supervision, but they avoid humans. In the industrial complex there is craftsmen making furniture, building material and there is also a metal workshop, who built the disc golf baskets for Pretty Fly Park. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQMNgiFkV7k
Agostinho Neto is the largest of the Rocas of Sao Tomé with the most intact history of all the abondoned plantations. If you don´t play disc golf, you still need to see Agostinho Neto to understand the history of the country Sao Tomé and Principe. Here you will also see the real life of the citizens of this country. It is a timeless journey, a place where history and the present live side by side.