With its lush vegetation, pristine waters, many safe beaches, and ideal spots for scuba diving, São Tomé and Príncipe Island, situated in the Atlantic Ocean, offers the ideal location to fetter love nurtured abroad.
Many lovers have also nourished their love on this gentle twin tropical Island where its beaches are caressed by the gentle crystal clear waters of the ocean and brightened by sunlight throughout the year.
On a recent visit to the Island, which I now call home, I met Christa and Kareem Bobtoya, a Ghanaian-based couple, who were the first to actually have their wedding on the tropical paradise that appears like “a scar in the ocean” from the sky.
Christa and Kareem celebrated their union by holding their wedding on the Ilhéu das Rolas, an islet in São Tomé and Príncipe, the first of its kind by a Ghanaian-based couple.
The wedding was held in October 2015 and was an afternoon wedding with an evening reception.
“We had 70 guests and we were the first couple coming from Ghana to ever marry on the island. Over half of our guests came from Ghana with the remainder traveling from the US, Europe and other parts of Africa such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan. Needless to say it was an international destination wedding by all standards!” Christa explains.
I enquired why the couple chose this romantic Islet for their wedding, she said: “We chose São Tomé and Príncipe because of the amazing reports we had received from other travelers to the island back in 2013.
We traveled there for the first time in January 2014 for my father’s 70th birthday and simply fell in love with the country! We were stunned by its natural beauty -the incredible vegetation, pristine white sand and black stone beaches and the array of activities offered.
From snorkeling, scuba diving, water sports, hiking to sightseeing in São Tomé town and its outskirts, we were simply captivated by all we experienced. This is aside the the array of quaint restaurants offering fresh seafood and other local dishes.”
She explains that, as a bride to be, she had always dreamt of a destination wedding outside of Ghana and the United States–her home country although she has been a resident of Ghana for over a decade, and had often shared her desire to go to the Caribbean with her husband who is Ghanaian.
“However, when we realized there was an island only 1 hour 30 minutes away from Accra that had reasonably priced roundtrip flights and did not involve a huge hassle visa wise, we knew São Tomé had everything the Caribbean could offer and perhaps more! In our opinion, São Tomé and Principe remains Africa’s best kept secret! A natural paradise literally at your doorstep!” Christa said.
Asked what went into the planning and actual execution of the wedding, Christa explains that: “The wedding was 4 days of organized activities and events for guests which included special meals, sightseeing, and boat trip to Ilhéu das Rolas where the wedding ceremony took place.
There was also scuba diving for beginners as well as other water sports.
We left Ghana on TAP Portugal airline on a Thursday and the wedding took place Saturday afternoon. We experienced generally good weather while in São Tomé but the day of the wedding it began to rain! Obviously as a bride, I was nervous as the wedding was held outdoors and light rains are typical in the tropics.”
She explains further that the sun out after a few hours of rain to witness the special matrimony.
“About 2 hours before the wedding ceremony the sun came out and we had an absolutely picture- perfect, sun-kissed day! From my grand entrance over a wooden bridge adorned with tropical flowers to the “jumping of the broom,” a traditional African American ritual in weddings to our first dance and our parents’ first dance-the day was everything we could have ever dreamt of.”
Christa has fond memories of her special day on this very hospitable Island. “Our guests simply loved the location and built lasting relationships with those who attended given the small numbers and intimate setting. The scenery was spectacular and the sunset was unforgettable. We took so many pictures, drank champagne and danced through the wee hours of the morning under palm trees and ocean breeze. Some guests remarked it was the best wedding they had ever attended!” Christa said.
The main challenge in organising the wedding, she explains, was the language barrier. The main spoken language in São Tomé and Principe is Portuguese. Some residents, fortunately, understand Spanish and sometimes French.
We had to travel to São Tomé a few times for planning purposes. Fortunately, given the reasonable price of tickets offered by TAP Portugal, traveling back and forth between Ghana and São Tomé was not a problem. We went three times for that purpose over the course of seven months. We also had an incredible Sao-Tomean based wedding coordinator, Lucia Dias, from Portugal who is fluent in English and had planned numerous weddings on the island. She was a great support and helped us plan the wedding of our dreams!
Did the setting add to the romance between you and your partner? “Yes, absolutely!” Christa said. “The setting is ideal for a romantic getaway so naturally it was perfect for our wedding celebration. Exchanging our own vows amidst a backdrop of crystal blue waters and palm trees was magical and certainly heightened the romance!” she added.
Christa and Kareem’s romantic wedding has set the stage for other Ghanaian couples seeking a paradise-like setting for their wedding to consider São Tomé and Príncipe Island.
Edwin Lawson, TAP Portugal’s District Sales Manager told the B&FT that: “We have four flights between Ghana and São Tomé and Príncipe Island—Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. At just about US$300, Ghanaians can easily fly into this beautiful country for a romantic weekend getaway, or to have their wedding.”