Saint Helena island: a tad off-the-beaten-track?

Not to be confused with other St. Helena’s, yes, Saint Helena (or St. Helena), a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean, is a little off-the-beaten-track, but if that’s what you’re looking for in a vacation, then this tropical island destination could well be ideal for you, especially if you want to get away from it all.

One of the most remote inhabited places in the world, Saint Helena, which is part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, is located about 1950 km west of the African continent and about 4000 km east of Rio Janeiro, Brazil. Not exactly close to home if you live in North America, let alone anywhere else in the world.

If you haven’t considered the volcanic island as a travel destination before, it’s likely because it’s been too difficult to get to (that’s if you’ve even heard of it, of course), but it started getting a whole lot easier to get to recently, and will get even easier by the end of this year.

Until 2017, the only way to get to and from Saint Helena, which has around 4,500 inhabitants, was via a 5-day boat ride on a Royal Mail ship from Cape Town, South Africa. After the opening of a new airport, which (according to the photographer of the above photo) won the Airport Awards’ Design Project of the Year for 2018, getting there recently became a tad easier. With one commercial flight a week from Johannesburg after the airport opened the journey time from the nearest continent was reduced to just six hours.

From December 2019 to March 2020, a second weekly flight will be available from Cape Town, making it even easier during the peak season. Of course, if you’re coming from North America, you need to fly to South Africa first, so an add-on after a safari adventure is a possibility, if time and budget permits. (Lonely Planet)

For such a small island (it’s only 16 km x 8 km), there is actually quite a lot to do, not least, enjoying the rugged volcanic landscape on hiking, walking or driving tours (there is no active volcano on the island however). There are also waterfalls and coastal bays to explore, you can learn about the island’s culture and colonial history, take boat excursions for dolphin & bird watching, fishing or diving, and there are plenty of cafes, restaurants and pubs to choose from (it’s British remember!), as well as a variety of accommodation options including B&B and self-catering, cottages and hotels. (Saint Helena Tourism)

However, don’t expect white sand beaches; the coast is markedly lacking in any beaches at all in fact, as most of the coast has vertical cliffs. You will find golden sand beaches at higher elevations, but not close to the shore. There are a few bays with volcanic black sand beaches, including one in Jamestown, but most of the water around the island is not swimable due to undercurrents (Saint Helena Island Info).

Also, be warned: while Internet is available, it is slow and expensive and mostly only available in the capital, Jamestown. There is landline and mobile phone service, but that too is very expensive. So, Saint Helena is definitely ideal if you want to get away from it all!

Tidbit

Saint Helena airport was named the world’s most useless airport after its construction as it stayed unused for a year! (The Atlantic)

Travel advisory

Be sure to take traveller’s cheques or sterling cash with you if you do travel to Saint Helena, as credit card and debit card use is very limited on the island.

If you’re 12 or over, you’ll need to pay a landing fee of £20 when you arrive and it’s recommended to check the visa requirements from your departure country.

Travel Insurance for medical and hospital emergencies is also a necessity so you can be medically evacuated in an emergency.

Pictured above is the new, award winning airport landing strip, by Hector Periquin via Unsplash.

Is Saint Helena now on your bucket list or will you give this isolated volcanic island a miss?

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