Volta à Ilha Hike

  • Level - Hard
  • Cumulative Climb - N/A
  • Distance - 5,7km
  • Duration - 2/3 days

A two-day trek through nature and history down the rugged west coast of São Tomé.


Hike description

Disclaimer: the hike description and photos here presented is a contribution from Frederik Hammes who organized everything through Mucumbli lodge, given this, all details of the hike are based on that. This included two guides, catered (basic) meals and camping equipment. They had the pleasure of having the famous José Spencer leading the hike.

DAY 1: Ponta Furada to Sao Miguel The hike started at 07:00 in the tropical forest above Punta Furada (south of Santa Catarina). We sorted and divided gear and then hit an old colonial road that meanders gently through the forest down to the hamlet of Binda (+/- 45 min). We saw a couple of small monkeys high up in the trees. This is a nice warm-up to some hard hiking that is waiting ahead.

From Binda the hike follows the rough, rocky and very photogenic shoreline all the way to the impressive hole-in-wall rock next to the remnants of an old harbour where they used to load cacao (+/- 1.75 hours). Walking on this stretch is slow and careful on the slippery rocks and boulders.

Here starts the first moderate uphill past the ruins at Juliana de Sousa, where a super friendly dog lives and where nature is rapidly reclaiming what the Portuguese colonialists left behind. Uphill is followed by downhill to a refreshing mountain stream for the first serious break (+/- 3 hours).

Next comes arguably the meanest uphill of the hike - straight up through dense and beautiful tropical forest, with the guides finding path where none is visible, swinging machetes to clear undergrowth. It is hot, humid and seriously sweaty! The only way to go is ”leve-leve”, which is a popular phrase on the island, meaning slowly-slowly. The downhill is slippery and technically challenging at times, bringing you back to the coast at Burnay for lunch (+/- 5.5 hours). The latter was supplemented with exquisite palm wine sourced from local collectors.

From Burnay the seemingly invincible path again heads up the mountain for what feels like an eternity, going leve-leve, and then a long and slippery downhill to São Miguel to finish the day (10.5 hours). The tropical forest is dense and spectacular, with some trees showing the most interesting root structure.
São Miguel is a contradiction of impressions. An idyllic secluded sandy beach with three small rivers, a waterfall and small islets jutting out in the bay, and our campsite in the forest just off the beach. Previous inhabitants was the Portuguese plantation owner, and currently a few palm wine collectors inhabit some houses and make-shift cabins.

However, generations of humans have left different marks on São Miguel’s pristine environment: the Portuguese left bamboo and the current inhabitants and passers-by leaves glass and plastic. In both cases the impact is severe and long lasting. Unfortunately the beach and campsite was littered with trash, including broken glass everywhere. A dedicated effort is needed to restore and preserve this awesome beach, and we made suggestions to Mucumbli to use hiking tourism as the means to initiate and/or accomplish this.

For dinner the guides cooked a basic but delicious pasta over an open fire, and served it in generous portions, washed down with leftover (now heavily fermented) palm wine. The tents were hot and humid, and the forest floor hard on tired limbs. We woke at six and had strong coffee and slightly stale bread with jam for breakfast, while sitting on the beautiful beach of São Miguel.

Summary: Day 1 is technically a bit challenging (slippery rocks, rough path and tricky downhill walking) and requires decent fitness (serious uphill sections in hot and humid conditions). This is probably not for beginners, but was interesting and totally enjoyable.

DAY 2: São Miguel to Jale beach
Day 2 of the hike started latish at 08:00, with the trail following the São Miguel beach and entering the forest at the last house next to the waterfall, where a shy but friendly puppy greeted us.

From there it is a relatively easy cross over to the next beach at Jou (1.5 hours). The trail follows this beach past a couple of houses where many dogs lazely barked at the hikers, and includes two shallow river crossings. Walking with sandals made the river crossings easy and eliminated the need to take off shoes at every crossing.

After Jou you enter the forest again in a slow and steady uphill, passing some rusting horse-wagon wheels, and getting a view of Pico Cão Grande and Pico Cão Pequeno if the fast-growing vegetation allows for it.

This is followed by a vicious downhill to Santo Antonio beach (3 hours). Here we got fresh coconut juice and oranges (green ones, picked from trees at dwellings along the way) courtesy of the guides, that we enjoyed next to the old (and now very dilapidated) bridge at the far end of the beach. This is a fabulous spot for a morning break. It is also the last time that you see the ocean until Jale, so make the most of it!

From San Antonio the trail follows an impressive old colonial road uphill to a plantation where we had lunch (and a cool-down) next to a river. We crossed paths with one small black cobra (alive) and one giant black cobra (dead) - they are more apparently more scared of you thank you of them! The rest of the hike takes you down to Jale through industrial palm plantations. After the natural beauty of the last day and a half, the plantations are not much fun to walk through.

Summary:Day 2 was technically easy - this is a relaxed day of hiking. It took 7 hours and was nice, but not nearly as impressive as Day 1.

Overall impression: The hike is totally worth it. While the nature is not untouched (first colonialists, now palm wine collectors), it is impressive and beautiful. Day 1 is challenging and Day 2 is easy, which makes it an overall enjoyable hike that is highly recommended.

Credits
All text and photos were gently provided by Frederik Hammes!


How to Get There

Get a shared Taxi in the Capital to Neves to get to Mucumbli or directly to Santa Catarina.


Some thoughts/Trail Conditions

A proper guide is needed - the path is often invisible. While tents are probably needed (rain, mosquitoes), a sleeping bag is definitely not! There is lots of fresh water along the walk, so consider packing a filter or chlorine tablets if you are concerned about water safety, instead of taking bottled water. Take your trash with you - this beautiful piece of land needs to be protected and preserved. We hiked with proper hiking sandals, which worked really well for us. We had dry weather on both days of the hike - rain would make this considerably harder, particularly some stretches on day 1..


Contacts

Mucumbli(+239 9908736, mucumbli@gmail.com) offers accommodation, great meals and organizes several outdoor activities including the Volta a ilha Hike hike. They are also a good example of Eco tourism that serves as an example in the island.