Saint Helena

Photo © paulej4

Travel Guide Africa Saint Helena

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Introduction

Saint Helena: a place of exile. Not exactly a tourist brochure catchphrase, ey? Yet this is what Saint Helena is best known for, since it was the island to which Napoleon Bonaparte was banished for the final years of his life. And certainly, passionate fans of bad boy Bonaparte will rest assured knowing that Saint Helena is hardly a pit of desolation. With a gorgeous volcanic backdrop and a nice tropical climate, the emperor could have had little to complain about (besides that whole failure-to-take-over-Europe thing). Today, travellers are even attracted by the island's remoteness: situated more than 2,000 kilometres from the nearest continent, Saint Helena offers just the kind of getaway busy folk need.

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Brief History

Most historical accounts state that the island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova sailing at the service of the Portuguese Crown, and that he named it "Santa Helena" after Helena of Constantinople.
The Portuguese found the island uninhabited, with an abundance of trees and fresh water. Though they formed no permanent settlement, the island became crucially important for the collection of food and as a rendezvous point for homebound voyages from Asia.
In 1657, the English East India Company was granted a charter to govern Saint Helena by Oliver Cromwell, and the following year the Company decided to fortify the island and colonise it with planters. The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, and it is from this date that Saint Helena claims to be Britain’s second oldest colony (after Bermuda). A fort was completed and a number of houses were built. A new parish church was erected in Jamestown in 1774. Captain James Cook visited the island in 1775 on the final leg of his second circumnavigation of the world.
In 1815 the British government selected Saint Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was brought to the island in October 1815 and lodged at Longwood, where he died on 5 May 1821. During this period, Saint Helena remained in the East India Company’s possession, but the British government met additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon. The island was strongly garrisoned with British troops, and naval shipping circled the island.
The latter half of the 19th century saw the advent of steam ships not reliant on trade winds, as well as the diversion of Far East trade away from the traditional South Atlantic shipping lanes to a route via the Red Sea (which, prior to the building of the Suez Canal involved a short overland section). These factors contributed to a decline in the number of ships calling at the island from 1,100 in 1855 to only 288 in 1889. From 1958, the Union Castle shipping line gradually reduced its service calls to the island. Curnow Shipping, based in Avonmouth, replaced the Union-Castle Line mailship service in 1977, using the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Saint Helena.
The British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified Saint Helena and the other Crown colonies as British Dependent Territories. The islanders lost their status as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" and were stripped of their right of abode in Britain. For the next 20 years, many could find only low-paid work with the island government, and the only available overseas employment was on the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. The Development and Economic Planning Department, which still operates, was formed in 1988 to contribute to raising the living standards of the people of St Helena.
In 1989, Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS Saint Helena to serve the island; the vessel was specially built for the CardiffCape Town route and features a mixed cargo/passenger layout.
The Saint Helena Constitution took effect in 1989 and provided that the island would be governed by a Governor and Commander-in-Chief, and an elected Executive and Legislative Council. In 2002, the British Overseas Territories Act restored full passports to the islanders, and renamed the Dependent Territories (including Saint Helena) the British Overseas Territories.

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Geography

Saint Helena is one of the most isolated places in the world, located in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean and more than 2,000 kilometres from the nearest continent. The island is about 122 km2 big and is composed largely of rugged terrain of volcanic origin. The centre of Saint Helena is covered by forest, of which some has been planted. The coastal areas are barren, covered in volcanic rock and are both warmer and drier than the centre of the island. The highest point of the island is Diana's Peak at 818 metres above sea level. In 1996 it became the island's first national park. To add, there are also several rocks and islets off the coast, including Castle Rock, Speery Island, The Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson's Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady's Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), The Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, The Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast), all of which are within one kilometre of the shore.

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Regions and Dependencies

The island of Saint Helena is too small to really have any regions. However, politically and postally, the island of is split into 8 districts of roughly equal size: Alarm Forest, Blue Hill, Half Tree Hollow, Jamestown, Levelwood, Longwood, Sandy Bay and St. Paul's. Each one of these districts is much larger than the central settlement of the same name that it contains.

Dependencies

Two other islands make up the political entity that is "the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena and Dependencies", and fall under the authority of Saint Helena:

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Towns

Jamestown is the only town on Saint Helena, and is indeed known to locals as 'town'. Several other settlements are dotted around the island, some of which (such as Half Tree Hollow) actually have a larger population than Jamestown. However these are generally an unplanned assortment of houses spread over a fairly large area and have no focal point or centre as such and thus cannot be considered as towns. For more details, see the Regions section, above.

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Sights and Activities

Historic Buildings

Saint Helena has a colourful history and is home to a number of significant buildings:

  • Plantation House (built 1792) is the home of the Island's governor. The building looks like a georgian mansion plucked right out of England and plopped down in the South Seas. The grounds are lovely, and there is a nature trail through the park. A number of Seychelles tortoises inhabit the lawn, and one, Jonathan, is said to be the oldest known vertebrate on earth! Jonathan is joined by David, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle.
  • Longwood House in the town of the same name, was the home in which Napoleon spent the great majority of his time on Saint Helena and also where he died. It has several wings and contains the type of furniture it would have when he lived there, though most of the originals have been carried off elsewhere. The house is run as a museum and maintained by the French government. It is set in a grounds filled with flowers, and the gardens are well worth some time on their own. Napoleon died at Longwood House.
  • Saint Paul's Cathedral (built 1856), the most significant religious building on the island and the seat of the Anglican bishop of Saint Helena.
  • The Castle was built by the British in 1659 shortly after they took over the island. It serves as the seat of government, and even if you are not on a tour, you can probably peek into the Council Chambers. The Archives and Administration of the island are also located in the Castle. Very near by is the Courthouse, which his a lovely building in itself and well worth a look. It houses the Magistrates and Supreme Courts.

Countryside Walks

The island has a range of interesting rambles including to Diana's Peak - the highest point on the island. There are a network of 27 "postbox" walks to scenic points and valleys, which are an excellent way to see the island for those who are reasonably fit and adventurous. Information is available from the Tourist office, the National Trust and the St. Helena Conservation Group (SHCG), though for safety reasons, you will not be permitted to take leaflets for any walks rated above 5 (on a scale of 10) unless you have first attempted them with a local guide.

Marine Life

The waters around Saint Helena are home to some pristine coral ecosystems with excellent visibility (20 metres). Fish include unique species of Pufferfish, Butterflyfish and Wrasse only found in the immediate vicinity of the island.

Other Sights and Activities

  • The Museum of Saint Helena is a great place to start your visit, though like most other attractions the hours are very limited. The museum is located in an early 19th-century warehouse at the foot of Jacob's Ladder in Jamestown. Ithas a variety of exhibits on the island's history and natural history. It was established in 2002, so the information is up to date and the installations are beautiful.
  • The Cenotaph on the wharf in Jamestown includes the names of all Saints who died in the two world wars, including those who perished in a German U-boat attack in James Harbour in 1941.
  • Broadway House is an 18th century building that used to contain the island's museum. (open M-F 08:30–16:00)
  • Jacob's Ladder is the somewhat misnamed staircase that rises from Jamestown to Ladder Hill Fort high above. It is said to have 699 steps. The "Ladder" was built in 1829 as an inclined plane to help Jamestown haul ammunition up to the post on Ladder Hill. Then it was used to bring goods down from the farming areas in the centre of the island, and manure up out of town. The planes are on either side of the steps, and the cart on one side was used to counterweight the cart on the other. The Ladder is a prodigious climb at over 900 ft (270 m) long, with a vertical drop of about 180 metres and with a slope in places of about 45 degrees and very few tourists can climb it in one go. In addition to its length, its stairs are somewhat high, making the climb all the more difficult. There are railings, but no landings for the entire length, and those who are afraid of heights may not want to look down. If you see a kid around, you might want to ask them to show you how to slide down the railings; they are reputed to have invented a way to do this scary feat without killing themselves. The Ladder is lit at night.
  • The Post Office is in a rather disappointing building, that looks as though it could be much more interesting with a little help. It was apparently once an Officer's Mess. This is the place where you can buy one of Saint Helena's most famous exports: postage stamps. The Post Office sends out the stamps of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha to philatelists all over the world.
  • The Castle Gardens is an oddly shaped park behind the Castle. In addition to a wide variety of relatively pedestrian tropical plants, tourists can also see some of the island's endemics here. It is also a good place to see swarms of the songbirds that have been introduced to the island over the years hanging around in the huge ficus trees.
  • Fortifications were built across the mouth of the James Valley where it meets the sea only after Napoleon was brought to the island in the 19th century. Apparently there was no entrance originally, but a lovely archway has since been built that frames the harbour in one direction and Jamestown in the other. Heading into Jamestown the coat of arms of the English East India Company can be seen above the archway. Upon exiting, you can see a plaque depicting the island's endemic Wirebird.
  • Heart-Shaped Waterfall. You might be excused for thinking that the water itself falls in the shape of a heart, but really this waterfall is so named because of the heart-shaped rock over which it falls. It can be seen from the north road out of Jamestown or walk to the foot of the 90-m fall, simply follow the valley up from Jamestown. Details at the St Helena National Trust.
  • Saint James Church, is a rather dark church just inside the fortifications of Jamestown and across from the Castle. It is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere, dating from 1774.
  • Mundens Battery - Overlooking James Bay and built on the opposite side of the valley to Ladder Hill Fort, Mundens was built to aid the defence of James Bay. Mundens Battery can be explored after a short walk along a slender walled path, several building to Explore including gun Victorian Gun emplacements, Magazine. A Rickety ladder leads to a lower gun emplacement, on the rocks directly below the Battery can be seen Several of the Guns from the Mundens Battery.
  • The Central Peaks include Diana's Peak (the highest point on the island), Mount Actaeon, and Cuckold's Point, and are home to the greatest concentration of endemic species. The Peaks are part of the humid cloud forest at the centre of the island, and are a must-see for those interested in native flora and fauna. Conservation efforts are under way to make sure that these species can survive the many changes that have taken place on the island over the years.
  • High Knoll Fort built in 1874, sits above Half Tree Hollow, at 564 metres (1,916 feet ) above sea level it was meant as a second line of defence and refuge for the local population, in the unlikely event that the gun batteries at Ladder hill and Mundens failled to prevent invasion of the Island. The Fort Housed several large Guns, cannonades and Numerous Rifle Ports covering Jamestown and the surrounding countryside. The fort has been used as a venue for several events including Halloween Celebrations.
  • Clifford Arboretum is a small, largely underdeveloped arboretum that is home to some of the island's native fauna and has medium-term germ storage facilities. There are self-guided hikes through it.
  • Sandy Bay is situated at the bottom of one of the deep ravines that cuts from the island's interior to the coast and is the only sandy beach on the island. Despite the rather dark grey sand and the fact that it is too dangerous to swim in the sea, it is a favourite destination for family barbecues, with children enjoying playing in the waves. It's also a good place to begin hikes.
  • Lot's Wife's Ponds are probably the best swimming spot on the island. They are large natural tide-pools, and though it can be a bit difficult to get there, it is well worth it. The walk starts from Sandy Bay and is described in the Post Box walk book.

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Events and Festivals

  • January 1 - New Year's Day Public holiday is the 2 January if 1 January is a Sunday; public holiday is the 3 January if 1 January is a Saturday
  • March or April - Good Friday
  • March or April - Easter Monday
  • 3rd Monday in April - Queen's Birthday (Elizabeth II's actual birthday is April 21)
  • May 21 - Saint Helena Day
  • May or June - Whit Monday
  • Last Monday in August - August Bank Holiday
  • December 25 - Christmas Day The public holiday may be on a different day
  • December 26 or 27 - Boxing Day. If the 26 December is a Sunday, then Boxing Day is held on 27 December; the public holiday may be on a different day

There are also a variety of festivals. The Walking Festival is held biennially and consists of a week’s programme of walks to suit every walker, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned hiker. The Festival of Running is also held in the same years as the Walking Festival and attracts many participants from overseas as well as locals. The Festival of Arts & Culture is also a biennial event and highlights St Helena’s people and culture with a two-week programme of activities and events. See the events page for dates. Church parades, where the Scouts and Girl Guides march in Jamestown, takes place every 4th Sunday in the month and on patron saint days, on Remembrance Sunday, these youth organisations are joined with the Church Lad’s Brigade, the police, and other societies/institutes. Scout’s Sports Day is a yearly event which raises money for the Scout’s group. It is hosted at the ‘Mule Yard’ at the seafront during the August Bank Holiday weekend (which occurs on the last week in August). Scout’s Sports Day organises activities for kids, food stalls, bar, music and side shows.

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Weather

Saint Helena has a (sub)tropical climate with no great extremes regarding temperature. The north coast has a very low annual rainfall, just over 100 mm in Jamestown for example, but this coast is sheltered from the southeast trade winds which bring much more rainfall along the southern coastline and also at higher altitudes more inland, roughly between 750 and 1,000 mm a year. Temperatures vary from around 16 to 19 °C from July to November (14 °C to 16 °C at night) and 22 °C or 25 °C from January to April (18 °C or 219 °C at night). Rainfall is pretty constant throughout the year with around 15-21 rainy days a month. The highest precipitation is in July and August, while May/June and November are driest.

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Getting there

By Plane

The Saint Helena Airport (HLE IATA) opened for regular traffic in October 2017. The South African carrier Airlink operates weekly flights to St. Helena from Johannesburg via Windhoek and there's also an onward flight to Ascension Island once a month.

In addition charter, taxi and ambulance planes operate there. ExecuJet, a charter and fixed base operator in Cape Town, is among the companies most experienced at flying to St Helena, weather permitting.

The airport and land-bridge air services to Ascension Island are operated by the Royal Air Force. Flights to Ascension Island are operated by a special RAF charter service who allow a limited number of civilian passengers on board. Note that it is not possible to book flights until you have proof of your onward sea passage. Departures are from the Brize Norton RAF airbase in Oxfordshire.

Cancellation insurance is highly advised as the charter flight is subject to changes in date according to operational requirements, whilst the RAF reserves the right to refuse civilian passengers without reason. Even with a confirmed booking, civilian access to the flight is also strictly subject to change at short notice if military requirements dictate it. More details on prices and schedules can be found through the Ascension Island travel agency.

By Boat

A freight ship, MV Helena transports goods to and from St Helena and has a few cabins for passengers. RMS St Helena, one of the last Royal Mail Ships, used to be the only way to get to and from the island. As St Helena became accessible by regular flights, the ship was removed from service on Wednesday 24 January 2018 and sold.

Moorings for yachts are available at James Bay. Contact the Harbourmaster (VHF channel 14, during working hours) to obtain access to the visitors' moorings; call St Helena Radio (VHF channel 16) to confirm your arrival and seek customs/immigration clearance.

There are also a limited number of cruise ships who call at Saint Helena a year, and who will very occasionally consent to leave passengers on Saint Helena, or to take them off (though this later course is almost always for medical reasons only). It should be noted that if the weather is not conducive, passengers are not be allowed to get off the cruise ships for safety reasons. An average of 150 private yachts also call at Saint Helena annually.

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Getting Around

By Car

Getting around Saint Helena is best done by car and with slightly more than 100 kilometres of tarred roads you will be able to see most sights and do most activities within several days. A few companies offer rental cars, all of which are bookable through the tourist office and cost £10-12 per day. Be aware that all are small private companies generally only offering 2 or 3 cars each and supply is limited, so that at busy times - such as Christmas when lots of Saints return home - it can be hard to find a car unless you book well in advance. Petrol prices are very high, due to the cost of importing fuel.

There are several taxis which are run by 3 firms, and there is a small taxi rank in Jamestown, although there are generally only taxis there during shopping/work hours. It is best to book in advance. There are no metres, and prices are agreed with the driver beforehand. Most can be pre-booked for the day with driver/guide for a small fee plus petrol.

Other modes of transport

Public transport is close to non-existent. There are a few minibus services, but they mostly provide journeys for islanders to get to/from Jamestown. Thus if you are staying in Jamestown whilst you can use the buses to get out and about, on most routes there are no return services.

Cycling is not a practical way to explore the island. The terrain is steep, and many roads narrow and twisting. It is illegal to cycle along many of the roads, including all 3 roads out of Jamestown. There are no bike-hire outlets on the Island.

Walking is wonderful, but mostly in the highlands in the centre of the island. The 21 Post Box Walks, a series of graded trails are a good way to explore much of the island. The walks and routes with maps are available in a book written by the island's Nature Conservation Group, available at the Tourist Office. The cliffs all around the perimeter make it impossible to walk along the coast at most points, access to the sea is normally by descent of the numerous steep valleys that cut through the volcanic landscape. Though small, however, don't be deceived, distances can be great for a walker. Bring water and sunscreen, but the Saints on the way will be happy to provide a refill if your water bottle runs dry.

It is very hard to walk out of Jamestown. The city is in a deep canyon coming from the highlands down to the shore, and there are three roads out, one up either edge of the canyon and the third, Barnes Road, an old track that leads to Francis Plain, perched on a plateau 500 m above Jamestown. The other way to get to the highlands is via the vertiginous Jacob's Ladder, an extremely tall 699-step staircase, built as an inclined plane to bring goods in and out of town. Walking on the roads out of town would mean sharing narrow switchbacks with cars, lots of dust, and no pavements. If you walk, even once you climb Jacob's Ladder, you still aren't halfway to the green spaces at the top, and have to walk through the beautifully named, but not so beautiful to look at, Half-Tree Hollow. A rental car or the bus are much better options.

Hitch-hiking is almost perfectly safe (there has never been a recorded or known incident on the Island), and it is quite normal outside Jamestown for anybody in a car to stop and offer a lift to anybody they happen to pass walking. This is great, but can occasionally get frustrating if you are actually trying to walk somewhere!

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Red Tape

All visitors need a valid passport and an onward or return ticket. For stays of more than 48 hours, be sure to have proof of sufficient medical insurance. All visitors pay a fee of £11.

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Money

See also Money Matters

Saint Helena and Ascension Island use the Saint Helena pound, which is tagged 1:1 with the UK Sterling. Notes come in denominations of £20, £10 and £5, and coins are £2, £1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1pence.

Many outlets accept Sterling, and both the Bank of St. Helena and RMS St. Helena will exchange Sterling for St. Helena pounds (and back again) for free. Dollars can be used in some places on Ascension, and also at a few tourist places on Saint Helena at a poor exchange rate. The Bank of Saint Helena and the RMS Saint Helena will both exchange Euros, US dollars and South African Rands, though the rates aren't always great. Other currencies are generally not accepted, though Falkland Islands pounds can be exchanged at the bank. Try and dispose of all St. Helena pounds before leaving Ascension/St.Helena/the RMS, as exchanging them anywhere else is virtually impossible.

There are no ATMs, and Credit/Debit cards are not widely used. The RMS Saint Helena, Soloman's fuel station, the Shipping office and Cable & Wireless are the only places where purchases can be made with Credit cards, though cash advances can be made at the Bank of Saint Helena. Note all credit/debit card transactions are subject to being able to get a connection, and if the Credit card machine is out of order (as it was for several months in 2008), you can't use them at all. Don't rely on being able to use them and take a plentiful supply of cash, as you will need it for car hire and hotels as well as daily expenses. If accommodation is being booked separately, it is generally possible to pay for them using a bank transfer from UK accounts: contact the hotel/landlord for details.

Travellers cheques can also be cashed at the Bank of Saint Helena, as can cheques drawn from UK banks if supported by a cheque guarantee card.

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Work

Tourists shouldn't come to Saint Helena to work - it is illegal to do paid work on Saint Helena unless you have a work permit or are employed by the UK or Saint Helena Government. Wages are low - about a fifth of that paid for the equivalent work in the UK. A large number of Saints work off the island on the RMS St Helena, in the Falklands, or on Ascension. This is mainly to get a higher income.

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Language

English is the national language of Saint Helena, and very little else is spoke on the Island. However, Saints have their own dialect and local words and whilst most Saints will make an effort to be clearer when speaking to tourists, it can take a few days to get used to the accent.

Due to Napoleon, there is an honorary French consul on the Island and French speakers/translators can normally be found if required. Finding somebody who is able to speak/understand any other language can be very pot-luck and depend on who happens to be on the island at the time. There are native Swedish, Cantonese, German and Tagalog speakers living on the Island, and it is generally possible to find an Afrikaans or Xhosa speaker as well. Note, however, that these are all normal people leading normal lives, so don't expect them to be able to help out with your every query.

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Sleep

There are several places to stay on the island, including the Consulate Hotel, Wellington House Hotel and Farm Lodge. There are several smaller options and self catering places as well.

  • Self-catering is a great option. On the island's tourism website you can download a whole list of people who have rooms or small houses to rent. This is a good way to meet the locals that you rent from and see a little bit of what it is like to live on the island.
  • Huxtable Accommodation, Napoleon Street, Jamestown, ☎ +290 24342, e-mail: info@sthelenahuxtable.com. Four independent flats in the centre of Jamestown. Details, prices and full contact information on the website.
  • Consulate Hotel, Main Street, Jamestown, ☎ +290 2962, e-mail: con.hotel@cwimail.sh. The Consulate Hotel is the largest lodging facility on the island. It has a restaurant and bar, and all bedrooms are en suite. The front porch under the wrought-iron balcony is a fine place to sit with a Savanna cider in hand and watch the world pass by in central Jamestown.
  • Wellington House Hotel, Main Street, Jamestown. The Wellington House Hotel is in a beautiful, cobalt blue Georgian building located on the main street in Jamestown. Rooms are comfortable, boarding options are available, and a bar can sell alcohol to guests. Bathrooms are not en suite. edit
  • Farm Lodge, Farm Lodge, Rosemary Plain, St Paul's. Farm Lodge is a wonderful Country House Hotel. It is in the highlands in a beautiful 17th century farm house with lots of antiques and wonderful food. The views are spectacular. If you don't have a car, it is good for a night or two, and is situated 5 mi (8.0 km) from Jamestown. There is a drinks cooler in the dining room that the owners claim belonged to Napoleon. It was built as an East India Company planter's house in approx 1690. It is set in its own 12 acres (4.9 hectares) of gardens and farmland. A hire car costs about £12 per day and there is a local bus service to and from town costing £1 each way. The trip is less than 30 minutes. The farm produces fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, eggs, coffee, etc., for the dining room table. All the 5 bedrooms are en suite, and full board is available. Dinner is 5 courses, and the majority is fresh organic food from the farm. The coffee is Green Tipped Bourbon Yemeni brought to the island in 1733 by the East India Company and was enjoyed by Napoleon during his years of incarceration. Guests have the option of B&B, half board or full board. The house is also open to non-residents for morning coffee, lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. A fully stocked bar is available.

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Eating and Drinking

Eating out

Saint Helena's size, allied with low local wages and limited tourism means that there are not an abundance of options for eating out. Having said that, prices are generally quite good and a large plate of food can cost under £5, and can be even cheaper at lunchtimes. The two main hotels in Jamestown, The Consulate and Wellington House both offer dinner if booked a day ahead, and they will also ask you to choose what you wish to eat when you book. The Consulate also offer lunch time braai's with a changing menu.

Other options include:

  • Anne's Place in the Castle Gardens have a changing menu depending on availability, but offer large portions of seafood, steaks, and other local specialities, as well as all day breakfasts. It's the largest restaurant on the Island and is popular with visiting yacht crews.
  • The Orange Tree oriental restaurant offers decent Chinese and Asian dishes, though it is the most expensive place in Jamestown. Book ahead, in case they are full (weekends) or closed (weekdays).
  • Donny's Place has recently reopened after a refit and serves a variety of dishes with outside seating
  • Sally's Sandwich Bar offers a selection of sandwiches, salads, soups, pasties and pizza's. She is open daytimes, plus Friday and Saturday evenings for pizza's only
  • The Coffee Shop offers breakfasts, toasted sandwiches and wraps, as well as being a good place to try Saint Helenian coffee.
  • Ardee's Cafe, in the Market is open during market opening hours and also offers takeaway
  • Cyril's Fast Food (in a window by the arch) is a basic takeaway open some lunchtimes and evenings only.

In addition, there is a burger van and an ice cream van outside the Castle, whilst Spar supermarket offer pies and pasties plus a daily takeaway lunchtime special.

Outside of Jamestown, Farm Lodge is the classiest establishment on the whole Island and offers a dinner party atmosphere and home grown/made food, but caters for a maximum of 12 and guests take priority so advance booking is essential. Oasis bar in Half Tree Hollow also serves basic meals/Braais at weekends.

Going out

There are only two 'pubs' in Jamestown: the Standard and the White Horse, which are virtually opposite each other by the Market. Both are mainly for drinking and mostly frequented by locals, although the Standard attracts some of the Expat community. The Consulate hotel bar, Anne's place (though it is more of a restaurant) and Donny's place on the seafront are the other options for a drink.

Bayside, next to Donny's, is the main club and has regular theme nights and at weekends sometimes charges a small entrance fee. Both pubs plus Donny's often have DJ's or live bands playing, whilst the Consulate Hotel and White Horse have pool tables, though sadly the very popular disco nights at the Consulate ended in November 2008 when the new owners took over. Traditionally, at weekends locals will start at one of the pubs, then head to the Consulate before ending at Donny's/Bayside, although this can vary and it is best to take the evening as it comes, and go with the flow.

There are a few places outside Jamestown, although as the landlords have other jobs they have limited opening hours often at weekends only:

  • Colin's Bar in Sandy Bay (generally open Saturday's only) is the only place on the Island which serves draught beer and on a clear day also has absolutely glorious views across Lot and down onto Sandy Bay beach.
  • Oasis Bar in Half Tree Hollow is open Fri-Sun and often has DJ's or live music on Fri & Sat nights.
  • Pub Paradise in Longwood has DJ's or live music on Fri & Sat nights, and is also open some Sundays and one midweek evening, and has a pool table.
  • Silver Hill Bar is a very basic bar that has some DJ's and live music on Fri & Sat nights.
  • The Rock Club in Half Tree Hollow has a small bowling alley, and regularly hosts Country dances at weekends.

Self Catering: Where to buy

All food items are subject to availability, and this can vary wildly depending on shipping schedules. It is not unusual for certain items to run out altogether, although you can never tell what will run out this time. Despite that, it is almost always possible to find what you want, or at least an alternative.

Bread in Jamestown can be purchased from Star (though not every day) or Musk's bakery (who will accept advance orders), and occasionally Thorpe's. Local meat products are generally very good, and can be bought from the Star, Tinkers (Thorpe's frozen store, across the road from the main supermarket), the Rose and Crown and in the market. Many locals fish themselves and supply friends and family with their catch but local fish can be bought from the market, although availability depends upon recent catches.

Finding fresh fruit and vegetables can be a major problem. Sadly, despite good soil and a conducive climate the island currently has to import a proportion of it's fruit and veg from South Africa and thus supplies can run out, especially just before the ship is due to return. Fruit and vegetables are also noticeable available much more in seasonal patterns. Many islanders grow some themselves, and trade surplus amounts amongst friends and families. Finding a friendly local happy to supply you with occasional local produce is a major advantage!

If that is not possible, Thursday mornings are the best time to get local fruit and veg, though you have to be quick as weekly supplies can run out within 30 minutes of opening. It is worth the effort, though, as local fruit is often absolutely wonderful, and much tastier - if smaller - than European equivalents. Bananas, avocados, mangoes and tomatoes are particularly recommended. The Market and Thorpe's stock solely island grown fruit and veg, whilst the Star and Rose and Crown also sell some imported stocks.

Many other small stores sell certain items of food and drink, though exactly what they sell at any time varies wildly depending on what they happen to have received a supply of. Browsing the eclectic variety of items in the shops of Jamestown is like going back in time to an English village store 50 years ago, and can rapidly become almost a hobby. Outside of Jamestown, there is a decent sized Soloman's supermarket in Half Tree Hollow, and dozens of smaller shops dotted all around the Island. Many are not always that obvious, but all sell a surprisingly wide variety of items.

Eating: Local specialities

Saint Helena food includes influences from a wide variety of different backgrounds: British, European, Indian, African and Chinese influences can all be seen. Local specialities to look out for include:

  • Tomato paste sandwiches
  • Pilau (pronounced ploe - a kind of rice and meat/poultry dish)
  • Curry (the goat curry can be particularly good)
  • Fish cakes (often spicy, and absolutely excellent)
  • Fresh fish, of which Marlin and Wahoo in particular are to be recommended
  • Pumpkin fritters
  • Coconut fingers (usually pink in colour)

Saints love their deserts, and baking sometimes seems to be almost a national sport. As well as the fritters and fingers, Cakes of all varieties are regularly baked, and together with home made ice cream are well worth a try.

Drinking: Local customs and specialities

Saint Helena coffee is grown in small quantities and is regularly considered to be amongst the very best in the world. It can be bought as a gift in the gift stores and from the coffee shop, and can be tasted at most cafes and restaurants on the Island. Possibly due to it's scarcity, many Saints drink it quite weak, so be warned and don't be afraid to ask for a strong one if you prefer it that way. Cheaper, Instant coffee is also available everywhere.

British rule and formerly being a stop off for ships heading to and from India has imparted a love of tea to the Island. Black tea is everywhere, and generally drunk and with some milk (and sugar if desired), whilst red (rooibos) and green tea are also regularly available. Most international soft drinks (including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Tango, Mirinda and Mountain Dew) are widely available, as are a variety of fruit juices.

Beer is always available and unlike in Europe, bar prices are generally comparable to buying in shops: At most you might pay 10p extra per drink in a bar. Due to the need to import all beer, variety is not that wide and generally restricted to the Namibian Windhoek (bottled, tinned draught and Tafel) and South African Castle (bottles, milk stout and small tins) brands, although it is often possible to also get bottled Miller and tinned Fosters. Apart from the milk stout, all beer is of the light lager/pils variety. In addition, Donny's and Bayside club sell tinned Guinness. Hunters Gold and Savannah Dry/Light Cider is also freely available. Expect to pay about £1 for a bottle of Windhoek, and £1.50 for Castle or Windhoek Draught tins.

Colin's bar in Sandy Bay is the only place on the island to serve draught beer, and normally has Windhoek draught and Guinness on tap, although as Colin has a day job, they are generally only open on Saturdays.

Wine is freely available and is normally pretty good and imported from South Africa. Note that the "St. Helena wine" is actually grown and bottled in South Africa, though entirely for the St. Helena market.

Spirits are distilled on the Island by the Tungi company who currently produce 3 drinks from the small distillery on the sea-front in Jamestown: White Lion (a Spiced Rum), Midnight Mist (a Coffee Liquer) and Tungi itself - a strong tasting local speciality distilled from Prickly Pear. All are packaged in a distinctive step shaped bottled. Other spirits are imported, widely available and good value. Most spirits cost 90p-£1 per 25ml, and even a Gin and Tonic will only cost £1.10 in most bars. Certain better known brands are priced as "luxury" spirits and cost slightly more.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Saint Helena.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Saint Helena. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

There is a hospital with trained staff available, however, there are no facilities to deal with very serious health issues. Any complicated medical issue must be dealt with off island, and that is a bare minimum of three days away if the boat to Ascension and the plane is just right. More likely you will have to wait several weeks for the boat to Cape Town. Visitors are required to carry medical insurance that will cover the full cost of their evacuation back to their home country.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

This island is one of the safest places on earth. Crime is practically non-existent, though there is a jail with a few inmates. You can feel comfortable walking at night anywhere on the island. There are no bugs or animals of concern (with the exception of scorpions). The only safety issue might be falls for those who want to do some climbing. Law, order and security on the island is provided by the St. Helena Police Service.

Summer heat provides the only common safety issue. Take a bottle of water if climbing Jacob's Ladder or doing a walking tour. Plan in advance as 24-hour shops do not exist and little is open on a Sunday. Traffic is limited to 20 miles per hour in the entire Jamestown area, so road accidents are also rare and rarely cause injuries. Rockfalls can occur, due to the steep sided valley in which Jamestown sits. A catch-fencing scheme has been implemented but is not expected to stop all rockfalls. No practicable avoidance measures are possible.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet access came to Saint Helena ten years ago, and Broadband was rolled out in 2008. However, due to the logistical issues, it is still reasonably slow and quite expensive, and the entire bandwidth of the Island is less than some European providers offer to individuals.

The Consulate and Wellington hotels offer wireless internet access for guests only, and there are public access wireless points in Anne's place and in the Market (buy credit through Ardee's cafe) which cost £6 an hour. There are two coin operated Internet machines at Anne's place. A third hotspot at the harbour (based around either the St. Helena yacht club or Donny's/Bayside, or potentially, both) is due to be launched in 2009.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Post

Island post is quite rare due to it's physical size, and the fact that everybody knows everybody else and thus delivers items like Birthday cards by hand. The only exceptions are bills and government correspondence, which are collected from the front desk in the main post office (ask to check your local mail) or sub post offices if they remain uncollected.

There are no door to door postal deliveries, but if after a week or two you haven't collected mail, it is not unusual for you to be phoned up or stopped on the street in Jamestown to be told there is mail awaiting your collection.

The main Post Office in Jamestown will hold items marked 'Poste Restante' for 3 months, or longer if they are pre-warned or know the person it is addressed to.

There are no parcel or courier firms on the island, but the Post Office can arrange to send registered post.

Note that Saint Helena now has it's own post/zip code of STHL 1ZZ: This was brought in to (a) allow people to shop online and order goods mail order, but more importantly (b) to try and solve a long term problem whereby post marked Saint Helena often ended up in Saint Helens (a town near Liverpool in the North of England) or Saint Helier (the capital of Jersey in the Channel Islands).

Saint Helena produces its own stamps, which are well regarded and first day covers in particular are well sort after in Philatelic circles, and the sale of them is a small but significant contributor to the Islands economy.

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Quick Facts

Saint Helena flag

Map of Saint Helena

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Capital
Jamestown
Population (St. Helena)
4,008
Population (including Dependencies)
5,500
Government
Overseas territory of the UK
Religions
Christianity
Languages
English
Calling Code
+290
Nationality
British overseas (most Saints are also British citizens)

Saint Helena Travel Helpers

  • Gelli

    I live here, and a it's a small place I should be able to answer most or all of your queries (or at least be able to ask somebody who does know, and get back to you)

    Ask Gelli a question about Saint Helena

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