SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: Obo Natural Park, also known by its original name Parque Natural Ôbo, is a natural, national and very important park which is located in the southern part of the island of Sao Tome.
Not visiting the Obo Natural Park, in the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, is like skipping Taj Mahal when touring Agra or missing out on Disneyland when visiting Orlando.
This 300 sq km natural park is so immense that it accounts for 30% of the entire area of the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. It is located in the Southern part of the island.
Obo Natural Park: Home to virgin rainforests
Spread across the two islands, this enchanting and wild wilderness is a hybrid of lush primary rainforests, self-washed mangroves, swamps, savannah grasslands, lowland and mountain forests. This unique eco-system also supports a secondary rainforest, known to locals as capoeira, which contains abandoned plantations.
The Obo Natural Park occupies a special place not just in Sao Tome, but in the entire African continent. According to international scientists, of the 4 islands on the Gulf of Guinea, the Sao Tome archipelago contains the richest diversity of flora, with very high rates of endemism.
In 1988 scientists classified the forests of Sao Tome and Principe as the second most important in terms of biological interest of the 75 forests of Africa. The flora in Obo Natural Park includes over 100 kinds of orchids, and over 700 species of flora overall.
Naturally, such a diverse floral wealth supports a vibrant bird community. More than 230 bird species are found in the national park. Some of the birds in the park include sun birds, parrots, grey shrike, waxbill, Sao Tome Grosbeak, dwarf olive ibis, pigeons, Sao Tome Scoop owl, sun birds, waxbill etc.
What is interesting is that half of the bird population is endemic to the Gulf of Guinea and 28 species to the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. This has intrigued scientists and ornithologists, who feel that this is an extraordinary number, considering the fact that small islands typically have just 1 to 2 endemic bird species.
The high rate of endemicity in the forests of Sao Tome and Principe, prompted Birdlife International in the 1990s, to include it in the top 25 of “Endemic Bird Areas” (EBAs) of the world. These forests have since been included among the “Important Bird Area” (IBAs) of Africa.
The Obo Natural Park is also home to 14 unique and endemic animals. Scientists have for long studied a rare species of shrew and three species of bats. Snakes, monkeys, turtles, wild cats and a wide variety of frogs. geckos make up the rest of the endemic animal species.
The Obo Natural Park is about 3 hours from the city. The road to the park is interesting and a challenge in itself, going through the coffee farms and small villages. One will encounter some botanical gardens with a lot of plant species.
After a few kilometers of amazing views of thick plantations, tourists are greeted by beautiful highlands and waterfalls. There are plenty of gorgeous features that Obo can offer visitors, especially the village of Bombaim, overlooked by the nation’s tallest summit, Bom Successo.
Bombaim is a couple of hours drive from the city centre. From Bombaim to Bom Successo is a 10 km trekking trail to the natural park. Though the trail is difficult primarily used for hiking and nature trips, it is still an excellent starting point to explore Obo.
A 6 km walk to the high altitude (1500 metres) crater lake of Lagoa Amelia can be highly educating, as the path is full of endemic plants and birds.
Other points of interest on the descent of the trail are the high altitude primary forest, rivers, waterfalls, abandoned plantations and four dozen dwellers.
The Pico Cão Grande which is in the central part of the park is among the most well known landmarks. Also known as the Great Dog Peak, it is a solitary volcanic spire that rises high above the surrounding landscape. At 370 feet and looking like a natural skyscraper, it seems to rise eternally above the park area, which is surrounded by lush green forest.
The drive towards Pico Cao is smooth and the roads are empty enough to get amazing views of the Pico. However, to get to ground zero of the peak, it would require 6 to 8 hours hard trekking across some thick vegetation. Climbing the peak is best left to professional climbers.
The park is a perfect place for bird watchers and sturdy trekkers. The best season for both these activities is from October to March. Though the park initially attracted more interest among the scientific community, its’s designation as a nature reserve in 2006 sparked a touristic interest.
All in all, the Obo Natural Park, with the iconic Pico Cao Grande in it, is a real treasure to be preserved and promoted, and which can put Sao Tome and Principe on the world tourist map.
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