In Africa, where thrill-chasers seek out the Big Five and sunbathers swarm to unspoiled shores, there is a quiet beauty that few have savored. The verdant nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, the second-tiniest African nation, conceals a cocoa-rich past that history and chocolate lovers will both love. 

Back in the day, São Tomé and Príncipe ruled the cocoa kingdom. It was the world’s largest producer of chocolate, churning out cacao beans of unparalleled quality. From humble beginnings as a Portuguese colony, these two islands became synonymous with the world’s finest chocolate. Here, cocoa was king, and the aroma of cocoa beans hung in the air.

Chocolate, Labor, and Controversy

But like all stories worth telling, São Tomé and Príncipe’s chocolate journey had its dark moments. Slavery and forced labor cast a shadow over São Tomé’s cocoa production history, a sad chapter in chocolate’s unfortunate past that ultimately prompted reforms and a move towards more moral cocoa production practices.

Fast forward to today, and São Tomé and Príncipe has made strides in promoting ethical and sustainable cocoa farming. Organizations maintain high-quality cocoa production while ensuring fair wages and proper working conditions for the island’s farmers. Despite no longer being the leading cocoa producer, São Tomé and Príncipe maintains its chocolate heritage. 

two boats on body of water beside island
Photo credit: João Ferreira / Unsplash

If you want to experience life as it was during the Cocoa era, a trip to this remarkable destination is a must. Upon arrival in São Tomé, it will become immediately apparent that this is not your average island. The welcoming rainforests and fertile volcanic soil provide the perfect breeding ground for cacao trees. The island’s geography, with its steep slopes and terraced cocoa plantations, offers a postcard-perfect backdrop.

Exploring the cocoa plantations of São Tomé is educational. Take a guided tour through the plantations and learn about the art of cultivating and harvesting cocoa. You’ll witness local farmers’ dedication to producing some of the world’s most sought-after cocoa beans. 

Unspoiled Beauty

Beyond its chocolate legacy, São Tomé and Príncipe is a haven of natural beauty. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Obo National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in São Tomé. Here, you can embark on thrilling hikes through dense forests, discover hidden waterfalls, and encounter unique bird species, including the rare São Tomé olive pigeon. Príncipe also offers its share of natural wonders, with attractions like Bom Bom Island offering unparalleled opportunities for relaxation and exploration.