Sundy Praia Lodge is without doubt the most luxurious of all Príncipe resorts. An indulgent haven offering the ultimate experience in tropical serenity and genial service, this imaginatively designed retreat is quite unlike anywhere we’ve stayed before. And that’s a good thing! We spent the last three nights of our São Tomé and Príncipe holiday at this elegantly relaxed hotel on Sundy Praia, living out the castaway island dream in supreme comfort.
This Sundy Praia review is written from first hand experience and whilst we did receive media rates for our stay, all opinions are entirely our own.
Introducing Sundy Praia – a Luxury Resort on Príncipe
Set sublimely on a secluded beach within what was once the second largest cocoa plantation on Príncipe, Sundy Praia is just 20 minutes down a bumpy forest track from its sister hotel, Roça Sundy. It makes a superb base from which to explore the island, and can be combined with stays at other hotels for a balanced experience.
Sundy Praia Location
130 miles off the coast of west Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are remote, lush and welcoming. Sundy Praia is located on the northern coast of Príncipe, the smaller of the two islands which is accessed by a small plane from São Tomé to the south.
Once famous for its vast network of cocoa and coffee plantations, today the islands are unspoiled tropical worlds offering immaculate beaches, mysterious jungle trails and a wealth of birdlife. Sundy Praia enjoys an enviable situation on its own beach fringing a sheltered bay, a tropical haven where life slows down and the island is yours to explore.
Read More: How to Get to São Tomé and Príncipe
Tented Suites at Sundy Praia
The 15 tented villas at Sundy Praia are scattered amongst almond and banana trees in the tropical forest, some with beach frontage, others hidden back in the lush foliage for maximum privacy. I was expecting something like the tented rooms we’ve stayed in on safari holidays, but despite having a canvas exterior, these Sundy Praia villas were as far removed from a camping experience as you can get!
Stepping inside our villa was like entering a 5* master suite in a top-end city hotel, with all the plush trappings you’d expect in an impeccably designed urban oasis. We almost forgot we were on a remote island just above the Equator! Outside the wood panelling and private deck blended seamlessly with the natural surroundings, whilst inside the stylish furnishings and calming tones gave a supreme sense of restfulness.
Like all decent high-end abodes, there were enough light switches to have us confused right up until the day we left, and we’d just about got the intricate curtain system around the enormous four poster bed sussed after a couple of nights. There was a comfy sofa to lounge around on whilst sitting under the superb air-con on hot afternoons, which we made full use of since we still hadn’t acclimatised to the heat even after nearly two weeks on the islands.
The vast mini bar was actually a ‘maxi’ bar complete with locally made Claudio Corallo chocolate and very moreish plantain chips. We loved the dressing area and bathroom too, with its evocative stone bath looking out over the forest, his and hers safari style sinks, and a separate shower room with locally produced organic shampoo and soap making it smell like an exotic spa.
Which Villa to Choose at Sundy Praia
There are three types of tented villa at Sundy Praia: one bedroom suites designed for couples (which we stayed in); and two and three bedroom villas for families and groups, the latter with private pools.
We were a little disappointed to find that single bedroom suites were all back in the forest rather than on the beach, which means if you want to be able to walk straight from your door to the sea, you need to book the multi-room villas. To reach the beach we had to walk all the way back towards reception to take the path down to the sand. Not exactly a hardship, but a fair way to return when you’re all wet and cold after a swim in the sea.
Yet in the end we actually felt we had a bit more privacy being set back from the shore, and there were glimmers of a sea view from our veranda through the thick foliage. Plus being surrounded by jungle meant constant wildlife encounters as we sat out on deck enjoying sundowners at dusk. Fruit bats came to feed in the nearby trees, parrots cackled at one another up in the canopy, and even kingfishers would flit past, flying high with bellies full of their daily catch.
Sundy Praia Facilities
One of the major draws at Sundy Praia is the best infinity pool in São Tomé and Príncipe! Overlooking the beach and ocean beyond, it’s a fabulous place to spend a hot afternoon keeping cool and relaxing on the private day beds dotted around the edge. As the lodge is fairly small, we always had the pool to ourselves, a real treat for somewhere so picturesque.
The pool bar is set back from the beach and serves up tasty snacks and refreshing drinks, with views through the trees down to the shore. There’s a spa too, with an impressive range of treatments using local products, but we didn’t have time to indulge as we were too busy exploring!
Hidden pathways through the forest connect the bedrooms with the public areas, and walking down to breakfast each morning surrounded by nature was fun. The giant foliage also came in handy when it rained!
Food at Sundy Praia
The Oca Sundy Restaurant at Sundy Praia is hands down the best place to eat in São Tomé and Príncipe. The food here was seriously quite incredible, and although most of the time we didn’t have a clue what we were eating, and the flavours were new and unusual to our palettes, the inventive way the fresh local ingredients had been put together was rather eye opening. And immensely pleasurable. It’s the sort of place where people who don’t like raw fish can try it and discover they love it!
Much of the food on São Tomé and Príncipe is heavily reliant on fish, fruit and herbs, all of which can be locally sourced from the sea, the forest, and HDB’s own organic plantation farm, which we visited on a day trip around Príncipe. Importing international ingredients is an expensive business for such a remote country, so you won’t find many western dishes on menus throughout the islands. Which is certainly no hardship, as tasting new things is a great way to discover a destination.
The restaurant at Sundy Praia is a work of art. Constructed from bamboo and inspired by the surrounding nature, it feels a little like a colossal upturned boat, with low hanging wooden lanterns and candles giving it a soft romantic glow at night.
Breakfast was a veritable feast, with heaps of choice and lots of new morsels to try which set us up for a day of exploring.
One night we arrived at the restaurant to find it was ‘Príncipe Evening’, complete with a six course tasting menu and a local musician who had come to play whilst we dined on sea snails, banana chips, crab curry, fish in 34 herb sauce (!), chicken stew and chocolate mousse. It made a lovely change from the usual menu, and with the tropical forest scents and gentle melodies dancing through the night air it was a pretty magical evening.
Eating here was such a treat that we felt it was probably the number one reason to come and stay at Sundy Praia! Staff were lovely and friendly, and it was never crowded so felt like quite an exclusive dining experience.
At breakfast on our last day the manager popped over and asked if the team could arrange a special surprise for us that evening.
Most normal people would have been delighted by the notion, then excitedly spent the day in eager anticipation of what could surely only be a positive experience. Not me. I hate surprises, and despite animatedly agreeing (because of course we could hardly refuse such a generous gesture!) I then silently stressed that it might be something we’d have to pretend we were enjoying, when actually all we really wanted was an early night as we were so tired at the end of our trip.
In the event I needn’t have worried.
After meeting the manager at the bar for an aperitif that evening, we found ourselves being escorted down to a beautifully lit private table that had been set up especially for us beside the glowing water of the pool. It was such a lovely gesture, and definitely the sort of surprise I could cope with, we were really touched. Apparently they had intended to set it all up for us on the beach, but the wind had picked up so it was decided the pool would be better. Nothing worse than sand in your dinner after all! It was a truly special evening, and the perfect way to end what had become probably our favourite holiday, ever!
Activities at Sundy Praia
Príncipe is so small that all activities and excursions are accessible from wherever you are based on the island. Having said that, one of the advantages of staying at Sundy Praia is its coastal location and private boat which can be used for a number of ocean adventures.
One of our favourite days of the entire trip was a half day boat excursion along the volcanic coast to the Bay of Needles (Baia das Agulhas), to see the dramatic rock pinnacles looming out of the swirling jungle mists.
We snorkelled from the boat off secluded beaches, waved to fishermen in dugout canoes, and gazed in awe as waves crashed against untouched volcanic shores.
Other activities at Sundy Praia include 4×4 tours, plantation visits, turtle and whale watching, hiking trails in the biosphere, diving and snorkelling, bird watching and community visits.
There are so many things to do on Príncipe that I’ve written a comprehensive post…all the activities on Principe can be done whilst staying at Sundy Praia:
Beach-Planation Combination Stays on Principe
To make the most of a holiday on Príncipe, we recommend staying at more than just one hotel, as they are all so different! We spent a few nights at Bom Bom Resort, before moving on to the Roça Sundy plantation hotel and finally ending at Sundy Praia to finish the trip in style. It felt like the perfect order and amount of time.
If staying at three places seems a little too exhausting (it’s really not, as they’re all very close together!), try and combine a plantation stay at Roça Sundy with a beach stay at either Sundy Praia or Bom Bom. Sundy Praia is more luxurious with amazing food, whilst Bom Bom is more rustic but has a better beach. Whichever you choose, it will be fabulous!
How Long to Spend at Sundy Praia
If staying at Sundy Praia is your only beach accommodation on your São Tomé and Príncipe holiday, I suggest a minimum of three or four nights at this lodge. If you’re combining it with Bom Bom or another beach hotel on the island, a couple of nights at the end of your trip will offer an incredible experience without breaking the bank.
Who Stays at Sundy Praia
Sundy Praia is ideal for honeymooners, couples and families wanting to splurge on a few days in total luxury in a tropical island paradise. The lodge does welcome younger children, but we did feel that it was more geared towards adults and families with older kids, which suited us just fine.
As most flights are via Portugal (the islands used to be a Portuguese colony until 1975) the majority of the clientele were European.
What We Loved
With our materialistic hats on, we have to admit we were totally in awe of our tented suite! It far surpassed what we’d expected to find on this tiny remote island, and was in fact one of the plushest rooms we’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping in. We may have spent a sneaky afternoon lounging around watching ridiculous US TV shows on the Discovery Channel, just so we could maximise the enjoyment of our room. And the air-con!
But you didn’t hear that from me!
Being located right on the shore, it was incredible to be able to walk barefoot from our room, all along the beach, and scramble over the rocks to explore yet another slice of pristine sand with no-one else on it. The small rocky outcrops were home to shoals of colourful fish, and whilst this wasn’t the best snorkelling we’ve ever experienced, it was fun to keep popping into the ocean to check out the marine life at different points along the bay.
The staff balanced professionalism with friendliness, making interactions genuine which was quite refreshing when compared to a lot of places around the world where staff and service feels too highly polished for interactions to seem natural.
Most staff are local, and it was lovely chatting to them about their unique lives here on Príncipe. We were extremely well cared for by everyone, from the ladies and gentlemen serving in the restaurant and housekeeper who kept our room spotless, to our guide Ofreu who was always on hand with a fluffy towel when we climbed back on board the boat after a spot of snorkelling.
What Wasn’t So Great
Whilst we were made to feel very welcome by staff, and nothing was too much trouble for them, we did feel on one occasion that preference was given to a larger family group. No doubt because they had paid for one of the more expensive multi-room pool villas, and possibly because we were staying on media rates, so this scenario was ultimately inevitable and perhaps understandable.
It wasn’t a huge thing, but at the time we were frustrated.
We were heading out on a shared boat trip with the family group, and 10 minutes into the excursion the heavens opened and the relentless rain meant we were drenched and wouldn’t be able to see any of the views. Everyone, skipper included, decided it would be best to return to shore, wait out the deluge and try again later.
Already soaked, Hubbie and I stayed on the beach and went snorkelling, so that we were ready to reassemble when the time was right. The family retreated to their beach-front villa.
The sun soon came out again and we were raring to go, but the family had decided they now wanted to spend the morning in their pool and instead go out on the boat after lunch. We didn’t really get a say in proceedings and were pretty cross that we were now missing out on the sunny weather for the trip. Needless to say after lunch the clouds rolled back in, and although we managed the tour, saw some mist-enshrouded views and had a great time, it would’ve been much better had we gone back out earlier.
It can be an almost impossible task for staff to keep everyone happy, and no doubt I’d have done the same in their situation. What we did love was that our cheerful guide Ofreu wrote the new agreed time of the excursion in the sand for us to see once we emerged from snorkelling, now that’s cool!
The only other gripe was about umbrellas.
It rains a lot on Príncipe (and we were there just before the wet season), but there were no umbrellas in the bedrooms. Instead we had to ring reception and someone would come and escort us wherever we wanted to go, umbrella in tow. I’m sure they thought of it as an elevated service, but really it was completely unnecessary, made us feel less independent than we’d have liked, and wasn’t always that practical trying to walk closely beside a stranger whilst staying dry. The other HBD hotels on Príncipe all had umbrellas, so I have no idea why they don’t at Sundy Praia.
Is Sundy Praia Value for Money?
There’s no getting away from the fact that Sundy Praia is very expensive, and at face value, it’s perhaps difficult to justify spending so much on what equates to just bed and half board. In fact, we found it almost comparable to the price of staying at an upmarket safari lodge, yet without the included excursions!
However, at Sundy Praia you’re paying for the location, as well as the super-luxurious lodging. Where else in the world can you stay on such a remote tropical island within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, in such luxury and privacy? Remembering that makes the price tag a little easier to swallow.
Would We Return?
We absolutely loved our stay at Sundy Praia lodge, and decided it was the perfect end to a luxury holiday on São Tomé and Príncipe. Yet when we next visit the islands, we will probably choose to return to Bom Bom Resort rather than Sundy Praia. Sure, money is a huge factor in this decision, but if we’re being super honest, we actually felt a bit more relaxed at Bom Bom. The vibe there was more laid back and perhaps as it was less luxurious than Sundy Praia our expectations were lower. We also thought the location and beaches at Bom Bom were slightly superior to Sundy Praia.
If it’s your first trip to São Tomé and Príncipe and you have a healthy budget, we highly recommend you include a stay at Sundy Praia at the end of your visit. Those that want to spend a little less will be more than happy with a stay at Bom Bom, just along the coast. Both are fabulous places to stay on Príncipe, and if you can, we urge you to spend a few nights at each resort.
How to Book a Stay At Sundy Praia
At Sundy Praia guests book on a half board basis (there isn’t anywhere else to eat unless you go out on a day trip), with lunch available from the pool bar if required.
You can check availability and prices for Sundy Praia here.
Top Tips for Staying at Sundy Praia
- Take a small travel umbrella for the rain showers
- Pack a pair of wet shoes for scrambling over the rocky sections of beach
- For boat trips, be aware that depending on the tide, landings and embarkation will be either wet (wading out to the boat) or dry (using the small jetty)
- Take a water bottle to refill for excursions
- There are regular power cuts (which also seem to affect the water in the shower) but these don’t last long so just be patient and wait for the generator to eventually kick in
- Fish makes up the majority of food here, so if you can’t eat it, make sure the team are aware in advance so they can offer alternatives
- Combine a stay here with Roça Sundy for a rounded experience
Although this trip was a holiday, we received generous media rates and complementary excursions 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.