We spent three nights at Bom Bom beach resort on Principe island. It’s one of the few luxury eco-hotels in Sao Tome and Principe, and in our opinion one of the best places to stay. Here’s our honest and personal review of what it’s really like to holiday at Bom Bom Principe…
The waves lapped teasingly against the smooth sand, nudging tiny conical shells further up the beach towards the shady line of palm trees. As the sea retreated down the gentle golden slope these colourful shells suddenly grew legs and sprinted, as fast as a shell with legs can, towards the forest. Gathering in a small pile beneath a particularly tall palm, they settled down to wait out the heat of the day.
All except one.
The young hermit crab was too restless to sit still for long, and soon went trundling off along the sand in search of adventure. It was at that moment a lone coconut came plummeting from high above, narrowly missing the crab who wisely decided to beat a hasty retreat. Leaving a damp crater in the sand the green husk rolled merrily down to the sea where it was tossed around in the frothy white foam. Much more fun than being stuck up a tree.
The beach was deserted except for two pale figures walking along leaving their footprints in the shallows. As they neared the coconut the man adjusted his bandana in an effort to keep the sun at bay, before plunging through the swell and striking out towards the open ocean.
The female faffed about a bit, choosing just the right patch of sand to leave their towels and checking there weren’t any nearby crab holes. She tiptoed gingerly down to the water, ready to take on the seaweed and wondering whether she should’ve brought her wet shoes. You know, in case of rocks or those pesky spiny fish that lurk beneath the sand. Yet she needn’t have worried. The water was clear and pure with no weed in sight, and the sandy bottom was smoothest she’d ever known. As she swam out towards the horizon she realised that after 38 years of searching, she’d finally found her Eden.
It was called Bom Bom. And it was on the tiny tropical island of Principe which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Where is Bom Bom island resort?
Sao Tome and Principe are two small tropical islands in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. Together they make up Africa’s second smallest nation (after the Seychelles) and sit just above the Equator. To reach Principe you’ll need to fly into Sao Tome, then catch an internal flight up to Principe. It’s a real adventure but relatively easy to achieve.
Located up on the far northern tip of Principe, Bom Bom resort is without doubt the most idyllic place to stay on the island. Flanked by two beautiful arcs of golden sand stretching languidly between tropical forest and gently lapping ocean, Bom Bom is the quintessential Robinson Crusoe experience, just with a bit more luxury. The resort is so well hidden that you’d never know it was there if you weren’t a guest, and as a result it feels super exclusive.
The airport is just a 15 minute complimentary transfer away, and the at times bumpy journey down through the forested hills is just a taster of adventures to come.
The Beaches at Bom Bom resort
The two private beaches at Bom Bom are really what make this place so special, and coming from a girl who isn’t into sunbathing that’s saying something! To be honest, maybe the reason I’m not a beach-lover is because I just hadn’t found the right one. Until now. I seriously could’ve spent a week here doing nothing apart from walking along the sand and swimming in the sea. People can change, right?
Bom Bom beach for us was the star of the show, being slightly more scenic with the added intrigue of the wooden walkway out to a tiny islet. We often had the entire beach to ourselves, and loved strolling down to the far end to scramble around the rocky outcrop and enjoy the view back towards the resort. We thought it was actually the best beach on Principe (even better than Praia Banana, which is the one you’ll see in all the marketing shots of the island).
Praia Santa Rita on the opposite side of the narrow peninsula (it took about a minute to walk between the two!) was also impressive and felt even more secluded with views out towards the open ocean and fewer visitors than Bom Bom beach. We just thought Bom Bom was a smidgen prettier.
Bom Bom Resort
One thing we loved about Bom Bom beach resort was the complete lack of pretension. From the moment we arrived the whole experience felt effortless and laid-back, with a casual air that has you feeling right at home before you’ve sipped your first martini. Of all the hotels on Principe it’s the place to come if you want to relax whilst being immersed in nature, and like forgetting you even own a pair of shoes.
Bom Bom is the flagship property of HBD (which stands for ‘Here Be Dragons’, so cool!), a sustainable eco-tourism project on Principe owned by South African entrepreneur and space tourist, Mark Shuttleworth. Bom Bom was the first hotel in all of Africa to be awarded the ‘Biosphere Responsible Tourism‘ certification, and like all HBD properties on the islands (there are four), it takes sustainability very seriously. Staff are mostly local, produce is purchased from local suppliers and the resort operates as greenly as possible. There is a worry that such a small island could easily become overrun with tourist development as the place becomes more popular, but we left feeling quietly confident that on Principe, this wouldn’t be the case.
Between the beach and the pool there’s a communal relaxation area with hammocks and rustic garden furniture beneath the shade of the trees, as well as a snack bar which is handy if you just want a light bite for lunch. Personally we just spend all our time on the beach and the island.
Which Bungalow to Choose at Bom Bom?
If you want to stay in a beach bungalow on Principe, this is the place to come! There are just 19 bungalows dotted around the grounds and along the shore of this remote peninsula at Bom Bom, some surrounded by tropical forest and others right on the beach. If you have the budget, we recommend going for a Beach Bungalow. Yes, they’re the most expensive, but you’re paying for what is possibly the BEST beach bungalow location not only on Principe, but the entire planet! And I don’t say that lightly.
The interior decor is traditional beach bungalow style with white walls, practical tiled floors and an emphasis on outdoor living. It’s simple but effective. The private decks all have daybeds, drying racks and water basins strewn with flower petals. I only figured out they were for washing our feet in on our last day! The ensuite bathrooms have local organic products, hand made on a plantation that we visited during our stay. I was disappointed they didn’t have conditioner, so ladies make sure you bring your own.
All bungalows have air conditioning too, which is a must as it does get quite sweltering here!
Beach Front Bungalows
There are seven beach bungalows at Bom Bom, five along Bom Bom beach and two on Praia Santa Rita (‘praia’ means beach by the way!). We much preferred the ones on Bom Bom Beach because they felt more private (the two on Praia Santa Rita are either side of a small concrete slipway at the entrance to the beach). Bom Bom beach is slightly more scenic too.
We stayed in bungalow no. 12 which was right on the end of Bom Bom beach near the wooden walkway, and in our opinion the best located of the bunch. The sand was a couple of steps from the balcony, and the sea just a few more. Falling asleep to the sound of the gently lapping waves was absolute bliss. And what a view from that veranda!
This is one of the Beach Front Bungalows on Praia Santa Rita…
Sea View Bungalows
These bungalows are perched higher up on the ‘hills’ of this rocky peninsula, with dramatic sea views, some with more privacy than any of the other bungalows. It is a bit further to walk down the wooden walkways to the beach, but you’re not in a hurry, so that doesn’t really matter.
Garden View Bungalows
Tucked away in the tropical gardens these centrally-located bungalows are great for nature lovers – you never know what birds you might spot from your balcony. Perhaps a brightly-coloured kingfisher or a sunbird?
Pool View Bungalows
These are the largest of all the bungalows and with interconnecting rooms they’re great for families or groups travelling together. Yet we felt they were the least private, being directly around the pool and snack bar area. They don’t have sea views and unless you’re really trying to keep an eye on the pennies, I wouldn’t suggest staying in one of these.
Dining at Bom Bom
One of the reasons we chose to stay at Bom Bom was the Ilheu Bom Bom, a tiny islet that is accessed by a rather romantic wooden walkway over the sea.
The islet is home to the restaurant and bar, and quickly became our favourite place to spend a hot afternoon, sipping cocktails with a view back to Bom Bom beach. There aren’t many restaurants on Principe, and it’s not the sort of place where you eat anywhere other than at your resort or hotel, unless you’re out on a day trip. That’s not a problem though, since the food in all the restaurant hotels we tried was divine.
This was our view from the bar most afternoons…
Breakfast was a great way to start the day with cold meats and cheese, lots of different types of bread, and a whole range of seasonal tropical fruits that we’d never heard of but tasted delicious. The dinner menu was simple but tasty, with dishes inspired by the islands themselves, using fresh local produce and introducing us to the unique flavours of Africa.
Keep an eye out for Chaplin, the semi-tame grey parrot who likes hanging around the restaurant!
Activities and Things to Do at Bom Bom
You don’t need to go far to have fun here. There are kayaks, snorkels and stand up paddle boards available at the beaches, as well as a dive centre and walking trail around the restaurant islet. There’s a spa and gym too, and of course the pool if you want a break from the sea.
There’s a lot to see and do further afield on Principe, and all excursions can be arranged here on site. From rainforest hikes and cacao plantation tours, to turtle watching and community visits, nothing is very far away from Bom Bom. I’ll be writing about all the best things to do on Principe very soon so watch this space!
Who are the Guests at Bom Bom?
Bom Bom is one of those rare places that actually suits quite a wide range of clientele, from families to honeymooners, although during our visit it was mainly couples. It is such a romantic place after all! The resort wasn’t at full capacity whilst we were there in September, but even when it is we can’t imagine it would ever feel crowded. We barely saw another guest except at meal times, and occasionally they’d appear as specs in the distance at the other end of the beach. Bliss.
The Staff at Bom Bom
The staff were all very welcoming, and their natural warmth and friendliness made for a very pleasant laid-back atmosphere where we really felt we could relax. I was actually quite poorly during our stay here, and they did everything they could to make me comfortable and get well again, from cleaning the room whilst I was out for the count, to feeding me soup. If you’ve got to be ill, there are certainly worse places to do it!
We stayed at three resorts on Principe, but Bom Bom was our favourite since we just felt so emotionally comfortable there, surrounded by some of the most pristine scenery we’ve ever seen. Regular readers will know we rarely return to a country, yet alone a hotel, but several months have passed since our trip and we’re still talking about Bom Bom as if we were there last week. It’s safe to say that one day we’ll be back!
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!