Roça Sundy is a unique and unusual place to stay on Príncipe, a tiny island in the Gulf of Guinea just north of São Tomé, its sister in this tropical archipelago. There are several beach resorts on Príncipe, but to really experience a slice of the incredible heritage here, you should spend at least a couple of nights in a restored plantation house.
We spent two nights at the Roça Sundy hotel as part of a longer tour of the islands, and felt it contrasted beautifully with a few days at the beach. Here’s our review of a stay at Roça Sundy on Principe to help plan your own holiday.
Introducing Roça Sundy – Staying on a Plantation on Príncipe
Hidden away on the remote tropical island of Príncipe, Roça Sundy is a restored plantation house offering unique boutique hotel accommodation and a great base from which to explore the island. There were once hundreds of roças (plantations) across São Tomé and Príncipe, and the country quickly became known as one of the world’s largest chocolate producers. Yet when the islands gained their independence from Portugal in 1975 the majority of these plantations fell into decline, and most have now been taken back by the rainforest.
The plantation house at Roça Sundy is one of the few that have been restored, staying true to its original fabric and decor, making it a great choice for anyone interested in history, nature and escapism.
Once a top producer of cocoa, coffee, coconut, banana and cassava, today the plantation is no longer in use and much of it has been left for nature. Wandering around the estate is quite an adventure, with lots of jungle-clad buildings and secret forest trails to explore. You can still see remnants of the old railway line that linked Roça Sundy to the beach down at Sundy Praia, where the products were loaded onto ships for exportation around the world.
A poor local community of around 400 inhabitants lives on the plantation in the decaying quarters of former labourers, across the green quadrangle from the hotel up at the main house. These people are descendants of the families who worked on the plantation back in the days when it was thriving, and with no-where else to go, they have remained.
Walking around the plantation you’ll meet some of them, which presents a unique opportunity to interact and ask about life on the islands. We found many of the older generations understandably a little wary of us as comparatively ‘wealthy’ outsiders, but the children didn’t hesitate in coming up for hugs or to say a shy olá. A large area of land not far from the centre of the estate has been set aside to develop new dwellings for the community to live in, and work was just beginning during our 2019 visit. It’s called the ‘Terra Prometida’ – the Promised Land – and undoubtedly will vastly improve the lives of those in this community.
Read More: What they don’t tell you about visiting Sao Tome and Principe
Roça Sundy Location
Hidden away in the far north west of Príncipe, the Sundy plantation is the second largest on the island. Just 20 minutes from the airport, it’s also close to the luxury beach resorts of Sundy Praia and Bom Bom (which are owned by the same eco-tourism company, HBD). The journey from the airport to Roça Sundy gives a glimpse into island life, journeying past stilted wooden houses, lush forests and cultivated farmland.
Rooms and Suites at Roça Sundy
There are 15 ensuite rooms at Roça Sundy, all with individual characteristics and views. There are two main buildings that make up the Roça Sundy hotel – the Colonial House (the main house with 6 rooms) and the Plantation House (with 9 rooms). The former remains true to its heritage and has been traditionally renovated and decorated, whilst the latter is more contemporary in design. Both buildings have views overlooking the forest or plantation grounds.
Perhaps most importantly, all rooms have air-conditioning, as it does get rather humid here on the island, and it’s nice to have somewhere cool to retreat to after a hot day out.
Personally, for your stay at Roça Sundy we’d recommend the Colonial House if you want to enjoy the original style and authentic decor. Even some of the pieces of furniture are original! We had the Colonial Master Suite (room 3), complete with four-poster bed, enormous bathroom and private veranda overlooking the lush grounds, and would definitely recommend this for the ultimate roça experience!
By staying at Roça Sundy you’re very much immersed in nature, so don’t worry if you encounter a few bugs in your room. We had some rather impressive ants trundling about the floor in our suite, but they didn’t bother us as we left them alone. The nature of the old building means there are gaps and cracks, but just relax as it’s all part of the experience.
Check Availability & Prices Here
Roça Sundy Facilities & Service
A holiday at Roça Sundy is all about soaking up the ambience, walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before, and learning about the island’s history whilst residing in comfort. There isn’t a long list of facilities, but everything you need to enjoy a stay here is provided.
In the Colonial House, there’s a vast entrance hall where you’ll find the front desk and concierge services with friendly local staff. When it comes to deciding what day trips to do, we recommend you do a bit of research prior to arrival, rather than relying on a comprehensive list of activities at reception.
Dining is out on the covered terrace, with views of the garden and sounds of exotic bird life all around. At night, the lanterns are lit, and bats flit about, catching their own supper. It’s really the perfect setting for an evening meal in the tropics. A small bar leads off the indoor dining area (which wasn’t used during our stay except to lay out the breakfast buffet), serving a decent array of international beverages.
There’s also a garden terrace area which is great for lunch, or just enjoying a cool drink in the afternoon.
Staffing at Roça Sundy is charming, and although it’s not quite as polished as what we’d expect at many other luxury hotels across the world in places where tourism has been long-established, this is perhaps its strength. Interactions feel truly genuine, and so what if you have to ask twice for a jug of water at dinner. These are people not robots, and the slight roughness around the edges when it came to service was refreshing rather than frustrating. The warm welcome is genuine, and everyone is always more than happy to help.
There is internet at Roça Sundy, although it’s not intended for heavy use (you should be out exploring anyway!). Be aware that the power does frequently cut out (several times each evening we were there), but they have a generator so it’s usually back on in moments. All part of life in the tropics!
Read More: First Timers Guide to Visiting Sao Tome and Principe
Food at Roça Sundy
Food is of course one of the most important parts of a Roça Sundy review. Príncipe cuisine is understandably quite fish-heavy, a food source that is readily available on both the islands. It’s expensive to export ingredients from abroad, which means meals truly are organic, fresh and locally sourced. Anyone with an adventurous palette will do well here, and although we found a few of the flavours a little bizarre (corn and turtle leaf soup, which tastes just like it sounds), it was all cooked to to perfection, and very inventive. We even tried our very first octopus here (the jury is still out on that one!).
The tropical fruit and vegetables at Roça Sundy were our favourite, such variety and colour, and prepared in ways we’d never even have imagined possible. Yum!
It did seem that less thought had been put in the desserts, and there weren’t any that we particularly loved, but who needs pudding anyway when you’ve feasted on everything else! Perhaps it’s not really a thing on Príncipe.
Breakfast and dinner are included in your stay, and lunches or picnics are available as required. We loved our picnic of burger sandwiches, fresh tropical fruits and coconut shavings which we ate on the scenic Praia Banana! Oh, and make sure you try the famous local Rosema beer!
Things to do at Roça Sundy
One of the joys of a holiday on Príncipe is that the island is so small you can stay at one hotel and still be able to visit everywhere. Once you’ve explored the plantation itself, with lots of intriguing and photogenic decaying old buildings, and visited the spot where Sir Arthur Eddington proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity back in 1919, there’s a whole island waiting to be discovered.
Whether you want to take a boat trip for snorkelling and picnics on hidden beaches, or go trekking through the primeval rainforest for spectacular views across the island, this can be arranged at the hotel. Activities at Roça Sundy are numerous, and really it’s up to you to just tell the staff what you fancy doing and they’ll make it happen. There are cocoa plantation tours, visits to the smallest capital city in the world – Santo Antonio, world-class scuba diving excursions, waterfall walks and so much more.
We’ve written a long and detailed guide about the best things to do on Sao Tome and Principe, so have a look at this post for more ideas.
Plantation-Beach Combination Stays on Príncipe
Most people like to combine a stay inland at Roça Sundy with a few days at a beach resort, and for this we highly recommend the rustic beach-front bungalows at Bom Bom, which has the most beautiful beach on the island, or Sundy Praia, for those seeking high-end luxury in paradise. Sundy Praia is on the Roça Sundy estate, just a 20 minute 4×4 ride through the plantation down to the shore, so if you have the budget, this is a perfect match. Bom Bom isn’t far either, just a bit further east around the coast, and easy to reach by car. All these properties are owned by the same enterprising and environmentally conscious company, HBD, so it’s easy to arrange transfers between them.
Read More: Best Places to Stay on Sao Tome and Principe
How Long to Spend at Roça Sundy
If you’re combining a stay at Roça Sundy with time at one (or more!) of the beach resorts, then we recommend 2-3 nights here is enough. However if you are spending your entire stay on Príncipe at Roça Sundy, then we suggest a minimum of 4-5 nights to give you time to explore the island.
Flights from São Tomé tend to arrive quite early in the morning, so on your first day on the island you’ll have pretty much a full day. Bear in mind that return flights from Príncipe to São Tomé also depart rather early, so your transfer will be straight after breakfast giving no time for activities on the final day.
Read More: The Ultimate 10-Day Itinerary for Sao Tome and Principe
Who Stays at Roça Sundy
Roça Sundy is perfectly geared up for couples, families with older children and small group tours. During our stay the other guests were mainly couples, plus one bird watching tour group from Nature Trek. The tranquil atmosphere and lack of big hotel facilities don’t really lend themselves to families with small children, although we have no doubt the youngsters would be doted upon by the friendly staff.
Roça Sundy is also significantly cheaper in price when compared to some of the high-end beach lodges, so if budget is a big consideration on this trip but you still want a bit of luxury, then staying here might be just the ticket. You can still access all the water activities at sister property Sundy Praia for your beach and snorkelling fix.
What We Loved
Besides our beautiful suite and being able to stay somewhere that just oozes history, the real highlight for us was our guide. Vanda (so sorry if that’s not the correct spelling!) is the ‘boss guide’ at Roça Sundy, and managed to achieve the perfect balance of imparting priceless local knowledge whilst making us feel comfortable.
We did a day trip around the island with him and it was probably the best part of our entire holiday in São Tomé and Príncipe. We learnt so much, had a whole lot of fun and he even went above and beyond by building us our own little table out of banana leaves and sticks for a beach picnic. Just so our sandwiches didn’t get sand in them. Now that’s service!
What Wasn’t So Great
Despite being lovers of peace and tranquillity, we did at times find Roça Sundy a little too quiet and lacking in atmosphere. We often felt like creeping around on the original wooden floorboards so as not to disturb any of the other guests, which meant we didn’t relax quite as much as we could otherwise have done. A bit of light background music in the dining room and bar would have helped a lot.
It would also have been good to have some written information available about the history of Roça Sundy, as the heritage of the plantation was the main reason we decided to stay here. There were beautiful photography books about the islands in the bedrooms, but nothing specific to this plantation.
Would We Return?
If we were to return to Príncipe (which we surely will!), we’ll probably just stick to one of the beach resorts and focus a bit more on the coastal activities and a relaxing holiday. Yet for a first-time visit to Príncipe, we were so glad we included a stay at Roça Sundy on our itinerary, as it contrasted beautifully with the other places we booked on the coast. And we’d highly recommend you do the same.
How to Book a Stay at Roça Sundy
To stay at Roça Sundy, we recommend booking half board (breakfast and dinner) as there’s nowhere else nearby to eat. You can arrange lunches when you are there and know what activities you’ll be doing.
You can check availability and prices for Roça Sundy here.
Top Tips for Staying at Roça Sundy
- Book a suite in the Colonial House if you can
- Do some research before you arrive so you have an idea of what Príncipe activities you’d like to do
- If you can’t eat fish, contact the team before your stay and they’ll make sure there are other options available
- Pack light clothing for the heat and humidity
- Take an umbrella for the short, sharp showers
- If there’s a tour group staying, don’t go to breakfast too late!
- Take a water bottle to refill for excursions
- Combine at stay at Roça Sundy with either Sundy Praia or Bom Bom
- Roça is pronounced ‘rossa’
Although this trip was a holiday, we received generous media rates through my role working for a UK tour operator. Huge thanks to the lovely folks at HBD for making this happen, and for giving us such a great time! We were not obligated to write this post, and as always, opinions are our own.