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Visitor Information

Come and discover our island

It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times
Asian Proverb

St Helena is approximately 1,900Km west of the Angola/Namibia border, in the South Atlantic Ocean.

 

One of the giant tortoises at Plantation House
One of the giant tortoises at Plantation House;
Read more about Jonathan…

15°58’48”S 5°45’0”W

On this site we are pleased to provide information for anyone considering visiting St Helena, one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands. St Helena’s environment is truly remarkable, from dramatic cliff tops to a sub-tropical interior, all of it surrounded by pristine seas. St Helena offers world class opportunities for activities such as walking/hiking, ornithology, marine trips, Diving and Fishing. Our incredibly clear skies also attract astronomers and you can explore our many forts, batteries, other military installations and other Historic Buildings. Maybe you’re interested in the darker parts of our history and you may also be interested in our Pictures pages. Read A Very Brief History of our island, and if the only thing you know about St Helena is that Napoleon Bonaparte died here, you may be interested to read some fascinating facts about him.

Below: How to get here • Can I bring my pet dog/cat/parrot/elephant? • Time Zone • Weather • Take a tour! • Where to stay • Tips and tricks when here • Environment • Money • Official Tourist Brochures • Visiting in the 1870s • Longer stay? • Read More

I had been told about how friendly a place it is before, but was still charmed by it when I got there. I was quickly smitten with St Helena even more so than I had already expected anyway. What a magical place!
Peter Hohenhaus, dark-tourism.com

All visitors require valid passports and will normally be granted an entry permit for a period of three months. The entry permit may be extended up to a period of one year. Visitors must have a return ticket and pre-booked accommodation is advised.
Do I need a Visa? Check and apply here.

The faintest flourish of green on the big blue canvas of the Atlantic Ocean, St Helena is one of our planet’s truly lonely lands. But for intrepid travellers that’s part of its eccentric charm. Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days here in grumpy exile, but modern visitors maroon themselves deliberately, to enjoy wild walking trails, welcoming locals and wonderful wildlife encounters. It’s not for nothing that St Helena is nicknamed the Galápagos of the South Atlantic; after 14 million years of isolation it boasts 500 endemic species and a coastline frequented by marine life including dolphins, whales and Whale Sharks. The journey - a 3,100km, 5-day-each-way boat expedition from Cape Town aboard iconic RMS St Helena - is part of the adventure. A long-awaited airport will open in 2016{3}, but St Helena isn’t expecting a revolution. Phone reception will remain a rumour{4}, cars will still be brilliantly behind the times, and life will continue at a similar somnambulant pace to Jonathan, the giant tortoise that started tottering around the island shortly after Napoleon died.{a}

How to get here

The many ways to get to St Helena are discussed on our Getting Here page, and they include flying here!.

Its appearance from the sea is very unpromising - inaccessible rocks and stupendous crags frowning from every side… but once you ascend Ladder Hill Road, everything changes, and all seems enchantment… fruitful valleys, cultivated hills and diversified scenery of every description.{b}

Artistic view from the air

Can I bring my pet dog/cat/parrot/elephant?

Gurrs with Stanley

It’s not impossible, but because of disease control the process is rather complicated - too much so to summarise it here. If you really can’t be separated from your furry/scaly friend, you are best to contact the Senior Veterinary Officer at the Agriculture and Natural Resources Division - Tel (+290) 24724.

Of course, Governor Gurr (2007-2011) had no trouble getting permission to bring his family dog, Stanley…(right)

Time Zone

St Helena is permanently on GMT (UTC). We do not use Daylight Saving Time.

Weather

The weather on St Helena is one of the island’s more unusual features. It can be sunny and calm in one place, and wet and windy only a few Km away. Read more on our Weather and climate page. Remember also that St Helena is in the Southern Hemisphere, so our summer runs from (roughly) November through to May.

How about St Helena at Christmas?
How about St Helena at Christmas?

It’s a lovely, friendly, quirky, sunny, rainy, historical island and we’ve had a very special time here
Jack & Carolyn Long

Take a tour!

A tour is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

The way to go

The ride or drive along the mountain-tops, from Longwood across Sandy Bay ridge, and by Government House to Ladder Hill and Jamestown, is, for beauty of scenery, scarcely to be surpassed. The shady lanes, lined on each side with bright yellow blossoms of gorse, brilliant scarlet geraniums, and the deeper tints of the fuchsia mixing with the blue-green foliage and orange-coloured blossoms of the buddleia, and the pale-green leaves of the young oak trees, are very charming, and not less so when these suddenly give place to a rich meadow or sunny hayfield. The intricate nature of the roads, winding in and out of numerous valleys and ravines, sometimes making it necessary to travel more than a mile to reach a spot but a few hundred yards distant, conveys an impression of greater size than that which the place really possesses, and several days, at least, are necessary to obtain even a general idea of the Island.{c}

If you don’t want to explore the island yourself, or if you’d prefer to be guided, numerous tours are available. These include:{5}

Taxi tour, Robert Peters {1}
Taxi tour, Robert Peters{1}

Aaron’s Adventures
Aaron’s Adventures

The 1929 Charabanc
The 1929 Charabanc

 

To get the full selection and book onto a tour, contact the Tourist Office.

You will find our Tourist Office helpful in providing information and arranging tours, though you may find the tour guide’s knowledge of some of the more obscure parts of our history somewhat limited. Whether going on a tour or setting out on your own we recommend that you download to your mobile/pad the relevant pages from Saint Helena Island Info{6} and then you can have detailed information at your fingertips wherever you go! But note that we said ‘download’ the pages. St Helena’s mobile network is not reliable in all parts of the island so if you look for us online at the actual site you might only get ‘NO SIGNAL’.

Touring, 1939-style! {2}
Touring, 1939-style!{2}

Where to stay

We regret that we can’t provide a comprehensive list of accommodation providers on St Helena. We have provided lots of useful general rentals advice on our Where To Stay page.

You may say that we travelled a long distance to find a little fort, three pubs, some decaying houses, odd Europeans, nice islanders, a few historical relics, dramatic views, flowers and sunshine. We would not agree with you. Had we travelled twice as far and stayed half the time, we would still have been uniquely enriched.{d}

Tips and tricks when here

Here are some tips and tricks that may help you when you are here:

Dutch sail-training vessel The Gulden Leeuw, in 2016
Dutch sail-training vessel The Gulden Leeuw, in 2016
Walking St Helena
High Knoll Fort
Carnival
Blue Hill
Dolphin watching
Diana’s Peak
Christmas
Castle Gardens
Guns
Jonathan the tortoise

Below: Shopping • Transport • Entertainment • Law • In Emergency • Other

Shopping

Transport

Entertainment

The Law

In Emergency

Other

Environment

The world was not left to us by our parents, it was lent to us by our children
(African Proverb)

St Helena National Trust

St Helena’s natural history and unique flora and fauna are discussed on our Island Nature pages, in particular our Endemic Species page. The St Helena’s Nature Conservation Group (SNCG) and St Helena National Trust websites also have useful information.

Money

Local money - the St Helena Pound

The local currency in St Helena is the Saint Helena Pound (SHP) which is linked at parity to the British Pound (Sterling; GBP). The £ symbol is used. Notes and coins are similar in denomination and appearance to their UK counterparts. A currency converter is available from XE.com.

Most businesses on St Helena will accept foreign currency for payment, but usually only Flag of The United KingdomSterling, Flag of The United States of AmericaUS Dollars, Flag of The European UnionEuro and Flag of South AfricaSouth African Rand (these currencies are not Legal Tender). Sterling is accepted at par (i.e. 1:1) with St Helena Pounds; the rates at which the other currencies are accepted will be based on (but not necessarily the same as) those published weekly by our local bank. These may differ from rates advertised on websites and from other sources.

Note also that you may see signs in shops for the ‘Bank of St Helena Debit Card Scheme’. Sadly this is a purely local scheme - you cannot use it with overseas credit and debit cards.

Banking services on St Helena are provided by the Bank of St Helena from whom further information may be obtained.

Please note that there are no ATMs on St Helena - cash has to be obtained manually at the Bank of St Helena during bank opening hours.

Official Tourist Brochures

Tourism Poster 2016
Tourism Poster 2016

See also the Tourist Office brochures on:

There are some videos posted on YouTube® on the Tourist Office channel. Here is an example:
{8}

Visiting in the 1870s

John Melliss, writing in 1875{9}, describes the voyage from the UK to, and arrival at St Helena:

The first week of the voyage is occupied in reaching Madeira, by which time the sea-sick voyagers, about whose sufferings so many accounts have been written, have sufficiently recovered to enjoy the enchanting break afforded by a few hours ashore in that lovely island. The next few days are occupied in steaming down amongst the beautiful islands of the Canarian Archipelago, with, generally, a fair view of the renowned Peak of Tenerife towering high above the clouds. A sight of Cape Verde, on the coast of Africa ; and a day or two, by way of change, of that intolerable damp, steamy, hot atmosphere so inseparably associated with equatorial regions ; and then a week or ten days amongst the fresh South-east trade winds, the deep blue seas of the South Atlantic, with bright sunny skies, and St Helena is reached ; the voyager looking back with pleasure to what has been in reality nothing more than an agreeable yachting trip, instead of the much-dreaded long sea voyage.

On landing, the stranger is beset by a whole rabble of dirty boys, each eager to get possession of his order to find him a horse or carriage to visit Napoleon’s tomb, to conduct him to an hotel, or in some way to make something out of him. Horses there are plenty of, and even carriages can be found for a trip to the tomb and back at the moderate charge of two or three pounds.

These days there is no rabble of dirty boys and no horses or carriages, but you will find taxi drivers at the wharf, ready to assist.

I can strongly recommend St. Helena to persons who do not enjoy good health, and to nervous folk who dread thunderstorms and snakes!
Governor Gallwey in ‘A Sojourn in St. Helena’ for the Journal of the Royal African Society, 1941

A longer stay?

Think you might want to stay here permanently? The island is idyllic, the people are friendly, the weather is warm, there are no snakes; what more could you want? Before you sell up, read our useful guide. Even if you are only coming here for a year or two, you will find useful information on our Could you live here? page, including a guide to What to bring (and what to leave behind).

Read More

Below: Something to discuss • Article: Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island • Article: Napoleon, tourists, divers and flu: flight opens up remote St Helena

Something to discuss

The following was written by two tourists departing St Helena after a two-week stay. Their views are interesting and should prompt discussion. Saint Helena Island Info does not necessarily agree with the views expressed.

We have spent the last two weeks on your beautiful Island staying at the Mantis Hotel. The experience has been broadly positive but there are areas which could be improved to enhance the tourist experience, perhaps attracting a greater number of tourists in the future.

The following were excellent experiences:

Less good but still interesting were:

ACCOMMODATION: - MANTIS HOTEL

Excellent rooms with air-con & WiFi. Staff friendly and helpful but on occasion there appeared to be more staff than necessary. The terrace areas would benefit from introducing potted plants/greenery. The provision of free WiFi is a big plus for tourists

AREAS THAT REQUIRE IMPROVING IF TOURISM IS TO BE SUSTAINED:

Name & email address supplied

Article: Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

By James Bainbridge, Round Trip Foundation, 17th February 2019{10}

Following the opening of St Helena Airport, the remote island is looking for ways to boost its economy through sustainable tourism.

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

The great primeval bulk of the Barn, part of the rocky coastline of this island formed by volcanic eruptions, towers above the crashing waves as the 100-seat aircraft shakily approaches St Helena Airport. It’s quite an entrance to one of the world’s remotest islands, located about a third of the way across the South Atlantic from Southern Africa to Brazil and accessible, since 2017, by weekly Airlink flights from Johannesburg. St Helena is so remote that the flight here takes six hours, as opposed to four hours on the way back, because the plane has to refuel in Windhoek before it crosses Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and the open sea: if the small Embraer aircraft is unable to land at the island’s wind-shear-prone airport, it needs enough reserve fuel to make it back to mainland Africa.

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

The sheer remoteness of this British Overseas Territory once inspired the Brits to banish Napoleon Bonaparte to the island’s green hinterland, where he died after five years in exile. Around 6000 Boers and a party of troublesome Zulus would also spend several years here, in a history that saw 1000 ships dock annually during the island’s heyday as an English East India Company outpost, before its fortunes declined when trade routes shifted north with the opening of the Suez Canal. Today, tourism is a key plank in the island’s economic development plan for the next decade, but transforming the sector into a healthy and sustainable industry faces challenges.

Firstly, there is the inevitable issue of access. The announcement of weekly flights, following the controversial airport’s construction, was welcomed by Saints, as the 4500 islanders are known. There are also extra flights around Christmas, partly catering to the many ex-pat Saints, who work in Ascension Island, the Falklands, the UK and beyond; a great leap forward from the five-night ocean crossing from Cape Town, even if Saints wax nostalgic about the RMS St Helena.

That said, the Embraer’s limited capacity is restrictive and, more significantly, so is the cost of flights, coming in at around £800 return from Johannesburg. Considering the wonderful Southern African destinations that can be reached for less from Johannesburg, including well-established tourism destinations from Cape Town to the Okavango Delta, it is unsurprising that planes to St Helena are rarely full. There is also the risk of not being able to land at the island’s windy airport, which could lead to a long wait in the Johannesburg Holiday Inn. A good illustration of these factors was the Fox family whom I met on the plane, six brothers and sisters who had emigrated to South Africa as children and were finally returning, 60 years later. They could no more afford to fly than they could face the sea crossing, and were finally visiting their birthplace thanks to a special on flights.

So how does St Helena build its brand and compete with the stiff tourism competition? Already, many Saints are frustrated that the airport has not provided the hoped-for boost to the island’s economy, which remains reliant on the UK, and tourism businesses receive low footfall. The island does, however, have strong appeal, both to adventurous seekers of a bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime experience of this remote British outpost and to niche markets. The Napoleon connection is a marketer’s dream, with sights including the French-owned Longwood House, where the Emperor spent his days drinking sweet wine and dictating his memoirs, his tomb (now empty) and his first residence on the island, Briars Pavilion. I met several French tour operators on a recce and one already specialising in St Helena, while St Helena Distillery, the world’s remotest distillery, is making a brandy to mark the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death, which is set to attract French pilgrim-tourists in 2021. Producing spiced rum, coffee liqueur, gin from the local juniper and schnapps-like Tungi from the island’s prickly pears, the distillery opened in advance of the airport and benefits from both souvenir hunters and local consumption. (In the pubs of maritime Jamestown, the Shipwreck, a mixture of spiced rum and Coke, has long been a Saint favourite, while beer drinkers generally choose between South African and Namibian lagers.)

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

In terms of niche tourism, the rich marine life and shipwrecks attract locally run boat, snorkel and dive excursions; St Helena is one of the best places to swim with magnificent whale sharks, the world’s biggest shark. There is also an 18-hole golf course and resort in the pipeline, but its slated development in the island’s pristine heartland has angered some locals and, as a bleak report on St Helena by British mogul Lord Ashcroft notes, the developer recently changed hands. For me, there was major appeal in the fascinating history of this 120-sq-km island, the quirks of life here and the friendly Saints themselves. In the era of Trump, BREXIT and terrorism, when the number of Brits and Americans emigrating to sleepy New Zealand has doubled, St Helena offers a safe and old-fashioned village atmosphere, where everyone knows each other (literally) and motorists unfailingly wave at passing cars. The mixed-race Saints trace their roots back to the settlers, soldiers and slaves who arrived across the ocean, including British sailors, African slaves, Chinese and Indian workers and Boer prisoners; not unlike South Africa’s ‘coloured’ population, whose mixed genealogy includes the slaves and Islamic dissidents brought from the East Indies by the Dutch East India Company.

Unlike South Africa, St Helena’s is an uncommonly non-racial and colour-blind society, but the comparison between the two carries through to language. Like Afrikaans, a creolisation of Dutch by the ancestors of today’s coloured people, the thickly accented, rapid-fire, slang-peppered English spoken by Saints is the unique legacy of the diverse people brought by the trade winds. Somehow managing to simultaneously echo Cornish, Irish, American and Australian lingo, the best description I heard of the Saints dialect was ‘like a cross between Yoda and a pirate’.

With this sociological interest in mind, the historical Magma Way tours run by Basil and Kevin George were fascinating, not just to see the sights but to hear their anecdotes of island life. Showing us Jamestown’s vertiginous 699-step Jacob’s Ladder, built in 1829 to haul up manure and send goods down, 82-year-old Basil demonstrated the technique he developed for sliding down the railings on his way home from school. The many historical sights range from capital-in-a-canyon Jamestown and the imposing 19th-century High Knoll Fort to the Boer Cemetery and the white stones in Ruperts Valley, a memorial to the slaves once buried in unmarked graves.

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

Culturally, tourism can help Saints to preserve their traditions - a concern for some with young people leaving in search of work while the airport, not to mention the forces of globalisation, brings in outsiders. Given the island’s small population, an influx of even just a few hundred people could have a profound impact; South Africa comes to mind with its high rates of crime and emigration, and one family on my flight was a case in point. Answering this issue was the hands-on cooking experience at Richards Travel Lodge, where Linda Richards taught us how to make island specialities including spicy fishcakes and Plo, a kind of curried paella.

Similarly, conservation of the island’s endemic flora and fauna, which most famously includes the plover, known locally as the Wirebird, has to contend with centuries of alien species. Notable incomers include African succulents, the termites that reduced Jamestown to dust in the 19th century and, most recently, the elusive simian-feline ‘Monk-Cat’, thought to be a civet that hopped off a boat from Namibia. There is now the 32-acre Millennium Forest Project to re-establish rare endemic gumwoods, while my walks with St Helena National Trust guides to Blue Point and Diana’s Peak (823m), the island’s highest point, were scenic highlights. The walks are two of the 21 Post Box Walks that explore this tropical island’s striking mix of barren, semi-desert coastline and pastoral interior, with its lanes winding between emerald hills and along windblown ridges like a chunk of Cornwall that went to sea. With more affordable air access - perhaps provided by competition on the route from Johannesburg and the option of flying straight from Windhoek - and continued marketing of St Helena’s considerable appeal, tourism can build on its positive contribution to St Helena’s economy, culture and conservation.


Based in Cape Town, James is the senior author of the Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Berlitz guides to South Africa and Cape Town. Magazine and TV assignments have taken him across Africa from the beaches of the Cape Peninsula to the heights of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, with plenty of stops in parks and reserves along the way. James runs travel writing day courses around South Africa, and works as a journalist, copywriter and copyeditor when he’s not on the road. Visit his website to find out more, and follow him on Instagram @james_bains and Twitter @jamesbains.

Article: Napoleon, tourists, divers and flu: flight opens up remote St Helena

By Ed Cropley, Reuters, 14th October 2017{10}

JAMESTOWN, St Helena (Reuters) - On St Helena, the remote volcanic outcrop in the South Atlantic where Napoleon breathed his last, big changes are afoot - well, big by St Helena standards.

Onlookers peer through windows shortly after the first ever commercial flight landed at St Helena airport near Jamestown, October 14, 2017
Onlookers peer through windows shortly after the first ever commercial flight landed at St Helena airport near Jamestown, October 14, 2017

In the heart of the capital, Jamestown (population 600), Constable Cowie is worried about the Christmas traffic; Craig, the dive-master, is checking his emails twice a day; and Lucille, the local taxi magnate, is introducing 24-hour shifts.

For the 4,500 residents of the island, separated from Africa by nearly 2,000 km (1,240 miles) of ocean, the arrival this past weekend of the first ever commercial flight was cause for celebration and marked another step closer to their inclusion in the 21st century.

Saints, as locals are known, only got mobile phones and the Internet 18 months ago, supplementing the five-day boat trip to Cape Town that represented their only connection with the outside world.

Now, there is a weekly flight from Johannesburg - via Namibia’s Windhoek - to the spectacular St Helena airport, perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Locals are hoping for a steady trickle of aviation thrill-seekers, French history buffs and whale-watchers.

According to Craig Yon, owner of diving company Into the Blue, a group of Swedish divers who had been contemplating a trip to see Whale Sharks next year booked within minutes of reading online that the inaugural flight had landed safely.

Things are really picking up, he said. Before, I’d only check my emails once a day. Now I have to check them in the morning and the afternoon.

FLU IMPORTS?

There has been talk since the 1930s of an airport on St Helena, the involuntary abode of British colonial adversaries ranging from French emperor Napoleon to the Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and 6,000 Afrikaners taken prisoner in the Boer War.

The current site was selected a decade ago after the prime location on the notoriously craggy 16x8 km (10x5 mile) island was ruled out because it was home to an important colony of the endangered wire bird, a type of indigenous plover.

Even after its construction, a mammoth engineering feat involving 8 million cubic metres (yards) of rock and 285 million pounds ($378 million) of British taxpayer money, the airport nearly didn’t happen.

The first test flights were buffeted by vicious cross-winds, making it too dangerous for large aircraft to land and leading to an 18-month delay in its opening, during which time the British press dubbed it the world’s most useless airport.

Saturday’s landing, in a 100-seater Embraer, involved a pre-touch-down briefing about emergency go-around procedures but passed off smoothly, to the cheers and delight of those on board and hundreds of Saints crammed into the glass-fronted terminal.

I was quite happy to see the plane land safely because there have been a lot of problems around that, with the wind shear, said 22-year-old police officer Sophie Cowie, whose beat is managing the traffic on Main St., Jamestown’s one road.

While some in Britain may question the value for money of the airport - more than 60,000 pounds per Saint - for the islanders it has already proved its worth, enabling several emergency medical evacuations, including a newborn child.

However, one possible unintended consequence of more arrivals is the increased spread of disease to an island whose animal and human inhabitants have been protected from many of the world’s germs.

In the past week, the island’s schools have been almost empty due to a bout of flu. Said to have been brought in on the boat from Cape Town, it has laid low 80 percent of pupils.

Our Comment: Mobile ‘phones came 18 months ago; the Internet has been here for 20+ years; and there are two principal roads in Jamestown, not one!

Laugh at funny Visitor Information humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} www.lonelyplanet.com/st-helena, downloaded October 2015{10}{b} Eliza Fay, Letter, 1817{10}{c} St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875, 1875{10}{d} Oswell Blakeston, in his book ‘Isle of St Helena’, 1957{10}

Footnotes:
{1} See his tour brochure: [Image, right]

Rober Peters’ tour brochure

{2} Visitors on the Viceroy of India.{3} The scheduled commercial air service actually started on 14th October 2017, but what’s a year in our 500-year history!{4} Um…no - the mobile service started in 2015.{5} This is a random selection. For a full list, contact the Tourist Office.{6} Since December 2018 this site has been fully-compatible with mobile devices.{7} Thorpes, Solomons or qms@helanta.co.sh.{8} Please first read this warning.{9} In St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{10} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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