Adrift in the Gulf of Guinea, some 140 miles off the western coast of Africa, a primordial rock skyline pokes up through an impossibly green forest. This is the real-life island of Príncipe—tiny, raw, and awash in pristine nature. Scattered across the island are once-mighty cocoa and coffee plantations, now mostly reclaimed by the voracious jungle. It is the oldest of a string of three volcanic islands, and the entire place is protected as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
On the island’s fringes, just beyond the booming monkey calls and fragrant fruits of the rain forest, golden crescents of sand evoke a secret paradise. Here, cocooned among tropical almond trees and hanging vines on land that was once a vast cacao plantation, are the 15 tented villas of Sundy Praia. At once sumptuous and true to place, the wood-paneled structures stand as testament to the days when fishermen huts stood in this place at the edge of the sparkling sea. Nesting turtles take refuge here, and the jungle beckons tantalizingly, rich in endemic birds and hidden waterfalls.
After South African entrepreneur and millionaire Mark Shuttleworth became the first African to rocket into space, he returned to Earth with a new perspective on the planet’s fragility. He visited the remote, wildlife-rich island of Príncipe and fell under its otherworldly spell—and formed the company HBD Príncipe, an affiliated NGO, and a network of four luxurious eco-lodges with the stated mission of transforming Príncipe into a model of sustainable development. Engaging with the native community is integral to that goal. Sundy Praia gives the island its first five-star accommodations, run by a highly trained and eager local staff made up of the descendants of slaves and plantation workers.
When you reserve your space through National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, you’ll be invited to take an exclusive canoe tour with a local fishermen on a traditional wooden pirogue.
Responsible tourism is the driving force behind Sundy Praia and its sister resorts. The Príncipe Trust, an affiliated NGO, aims to shepherd the island’s emergence as a global model for sustainable tourism and responsible development. Builders followed a strict “no cut” policy for live trees, excluding invasive species, and sourced fallen timber from other African countries. Eco-friendly roofing mimics natural palm thatching but proves more resilient. Turtle-safe LED lights brighten paths without disturbing native wildlife. An on-site nursery grows more than 20 native species for use in landscaping.
The lodge is a pioneer in recycling initiatives and always looking for new ways to minimize its environmental impact, like turning recycled kitchen grease into cleaning products. With government support, an island-wide waste management program brings separated waste from 80 points around the island to a recycling facility run by HBD Príncipe, the private investment group that owns Sundy Praia. Another top goal of HBD Príncipe is to eliminate plastic from the island. To date, more than 800,000 plastic bottles have been collected and recycled, and the lodge is phasing out other items like plastic kayaks and paddleboards in favor of more sustainable materials.
Of the lodge’s 140 year-round employees, 92 percent hail from São Tomé & Príncipe, 75 percent of which are Príncipe natives. Staff underwent an intensive nine-month service training program prior to the lodge’s opening, along with English lessons. All guides have completed a local sustainable tourism certification course.
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