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Monday, January 30, 2023

The Enticing Waterfalls of Sao Tome

Many of the waterfalls in these islands are nourished by the mountainous terrain of the islands

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Raghu Gururaj
Raghu Gururaj
Ambassador of India to the Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: Anyone who visits the charming islands of Sao Tome and Principe feels genuinely close to nature. The stunning landscape of Sao Tomé and Principe includes numerous waterfalls.

Many of the waterfalls in these islands are nourished by the mountainous terrain of the islands and the abundant rainfall, which lasts for about six months.

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The central highlands of Sao Tome are replete with many waterfalls, all of which are embedded in a dreamy environment of lush forests.

Cascata Sao Nicolau waterfall

The most popular and frequently visited waterfall is the Cascata Sao Nicolau (St. Nikolaus waterfall), which is reasonably accessible from the main road. This beautiful waterfall, which is about 60 metres high, is hidden by dense vegetation in the middle of a dense forest.

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The waters are not so thundering, but its setting is enchanting, surrounded by lush greenery and unique tropical flowers. 

The clear waters flowing through the green forest not only refresh the surroundings but ultimately end up as rivulets, providing much-needed running water to the communities in the area. 

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The gateway to this waterfall is through the famed Roca Monte Café, which is the oldest coffee plantation in São Tomé. This converted coffee museum, situated in the old plantation site, stands testimony to the time (1850) when arabica coffee was grown in substantial quantities for export. 

Roca Monte Café. Photo Credit: Unsplash

The museum offers an interesting glimpse of the entire chain of coffee processing in the manner it was done during the 1850s. 

A coffee trail through thick coffee plantations leads up to the Cascata Sao Nicolau. On the trail, it is common to see local boys and girls selling freshly plucked berries from the area in a banana leaf to visitors. 

Vale Do Rio Waterfall

The Vale do Rio Waterfall (Valley of a river) is located about 15 km from Monte Café. This tall waterfall in the depth of the forest is accessed after a moderately challenging 15 km trek. It passes through some of the country’s most fascinating tiny villages, narrow paths and dense cocoa plantations. It is also punctuated with small farms of porcelain rose and honeycomb flowers. 

Though the trek is long, it is easy to get overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia for the coffee and cocoa plantations of the colonial period. The sounds of the many small water cascades and rivulets in the vicinity accompany the visitor until the trail’s end. 

Bombain and Angolares waterfalls

The Bombain waterfalls are in the centre of some of the untouched primary forests of the world, located in close proximity to the others in the area. Not as tall as the San Nicolau Cascate, it is deeper and surrounded by the lush greenery of the rainforest in the tiny village of Bombain. 

The Angolares waterfalls, on the rugged Southwestern coast of Sao Tome, are one of the best waterfalls in the country. At 17 meters tall, it is easy on the eye. It is different from the others as it is located between two water tunnels on a friendly mountain trail.

Other waterfalls in Sao Tome

While Sao Tome and Principe are known for their natural beauty and biodiversity, travelling deep inside the country offers some fascinating insights into the local culture of community life in these regions, which is wholly authentic. Small houses, fenced by tin sheets and thick shrubs located inside the plantations, punctuate the entire region. 

The scene is completed by villagers carrying water from nearby natural water sources, community washing of clothes in the river stream by local women, chirpy children eager to engage in conversation with guests and likely making their way gaily to their schools, and vendors selling regional fruits.

There are several waterfalls in other parts of Sao Tome. The Cascata de Praia Pesqueira in the South is a unique place where the river meets the sea. The blending of the clear waters flowing from this cascade on the isle near Ribeira Peixe with the bluish turquoise Atlantic sea is a delightful sight.

Superstition surrounds the Guegue Waterfalls, one of the lost and virgin waterfalls of São Tomé Island. People somehow believe in a tradition of bathing in these cool waters in the first week of each new year to wash away the bad memories of the old year.  

The Oque Pipi waterfalls are set almost in the middle of the rainforest, not far from Sao Tome’s premier cocoa plantations that produce the most famous chocolates of Sao Tome.  

Oque Pipi waterfalls. Photo Credit: Multiple sources

Though not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to such subterranean waterfalls is usually through rugged walkways. Not many tourists would like to undergo a gruelling trek to reach them.

The numerous wild water cascades of Sao Tome are a welcome getaway and escape from daily city life. But several of them are either hidden or inaccessible because of the wild terrain of Sao Tome. Unlike in other countries, a visit to any of these falls involves quite a bit of trekking through dense vegetation and plantations, but in the end, the grind is rewarding.

Also Read: Ilhéu das Rolas: The Equator Island of Sao Tome


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