This tiny island – just 47 square miles – may be just a drop in the ocean but it’s absolutely fascinating.
It’s a British Overseas Territory, the final resting place of Napoleon and a nature lover’s paradise. No wonder it’s on so many bucket lists!
The remote location, 4,901 miles from the UK and 1,200 miles from the west coast of Africa, means that it has remained beautifully unspoiled. The islanders, known as the Saints, are charming, welcoming and full of fascinating stories which they’ll happily share over dinner, an experience we highly recommend.
Until recently the only access was a 5 day voyage on the mail ship, however now there is a weekly flight from Johannesburg year round, and a second flight from Cape Town between December and February. We recommend a 7 night stay, which can be added onto your South African holiday, there’s plenty to do and see.
The only town on the island, and naturally the focal hub. Jamestown has narrow cobbled streets, colourful houses (all listed buildings) and a background of barren rock that contrasts sharply with the bright blue of the sea – plenty of photo opportunities, and the quirky humour of Basil, the guide, brings it all to life.
Leave room in your luggage for walking boots, St Helena is serious walking territory! The scenery is spectacular – sheer cliffs that crash into the ocean, barren rock and green oasis. There are walks and hikes for all levels, the gentler ones tend to be in the lush interior, the more challenging ones are around the coast. The hike up Diana’s Peak is particularly rewarding. Look out for the Post Box Walks, there are 21 in total, and don’t forget to stamp the visitors book at the end of each walk (you’ll find it in the post boxes).
You’ll find centuries-old military fortifications and of course there are the links with Napoleon to explore – Longwood House where he lived in exile and died, and his now empty tomb. We can also arrange a private tour of the Governor’s Residence where you might even see the island’s most famous inhabitant – Jonathan the giant tortoise lives in the grounds, he’s the oldest animal in the world.
See the island from the sea on a boat cruise and appreciate the rich marine life. Look out for schools of dolphins, turtles and rays. Between January and March you might also see whale sharks.
We recommend booking an activity package in advance as availability of guides and vehicles is limited. In addition to guided tours and walks, the package includes a boat cruise, a 4x4 island adventure, the coffee plantation, island distillery and an evening meal with locals.
Where to stay
There’s only one hotel, Mantis St Helena. It’s in Jamestown in a building dating from 1774, the original officers’ barracks of the East India Company. The 30 rooms are divided between the heritage building and a newer, more contemporary building. The hotel’s public areas include a restaurant and cocktail bar. The capital’s attractions are just a few minutes’ walk away and next door is St James’, the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere.
Best time to travel
St Helena is a year-round destination – the seasons are in line with the southern hemisphere, so the summer months from December to March are warmer. If you are interested in whale sharks, these are the best months to spot them.
Visa – British Citizen Passport Holders do not require a visa
Time difference – GMT