Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 1200 miles from the coast of Africa and 1800 miles from South America, the tiny island of St Helena is one of the remotest inhabited places on earth, with a population of less than 5000.
Ever since its discovery by the Portuguese in 1502 and settlement by the British in 1659 (it’s now a British Overseas Territory) the only way to get to St Helena has been a long journey across the ocean by ship, but the scheduled opening of an airport in 2016 means that for the first time ever a trip to St Helena will take hours rather than days.
St Helena’s greatest claim to fame is that it was here Napoleon was imprisoned until his death following his capture after the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The island is just ten miles by six miles and a population of around 3,000, it is home to some interesting endemic species, best explored by walking and for many it is a walker’s paradise to view the endemic flora and fauna.
- Must See & Do
- Practical Information
- Eat, Drink & Shop
- Top Ten Must See & Do
- Globe Trekker Itinery
- Useful Websites
Must See & Do
Today, there are three places on the island associated with Napoleon that are especially popular with visitors.
- Briars Pavilion: where Napoleon spent his first two months on the island under house arrest.
- Longwood House: where Napoleon was imprisoned for the rest of his time on the island until his death.
- Napoleon’s Tomb: where he was buried in 1821.
Other highlights of a visit to the island include:
- a stroll around the tiny but charming old colonial capital of Jamestown
- hiking the island’s mountainous interior and spectacular coastal cliffs.
- dolphin and whale-watching off the coast.
- When to Visit: The most popular time to visit is between November and March, when it is summer in the southern hemisphere and the days are usually sunny and warm. Tourists wishing to visit over Christmas should make sure that reservations are made a long time in advance, as the island’s few hotels can become solidly booked at this time.
- What to wear: Dress on the island is generally very casual. It’s advisable to take a variety of clothing as although in the capital Jamestown it is usually sunny and hot during the summer, inland in the hills the weather is often significantly cooler and rainy.
Getting There: For now, the only way to reach St Helena is by boat, on a long 2000 mile, 5 day voyage from Cape Town, aboard the RMS St Helena, a dual-purpose passenger and cargo ship which can carry a maximum around 150 passengers. The ship is due to retire from service in 2016 when the airport is due to open.
Getting Around: A popular way to see the island is to take an organised sightseeing tour with a local Jamestown tour company. Tours can be booked whilst on board the RMS St Helena, or via the St Helena Tourism website.
Alternatively, for visitors who prefer more independence, the most convenient way to see the island is to hire a car (hire companies are listed on the St Helena Tourism website). Public transport is extremely infrequent and not recommended.
Currency: The St Helena Pound (which is linked 1:1 with the British Pound Sterling). British currency is also accepted virtually everywhere.
Don’t forget to pack:
- Hiking Boots
- Sunglasses & T-shirt, Umbrella & Raincoat
- Plenty of Cash (Credit Cards are not widely accepted)
Eat, Drink & Shop
Eat & Drink: The highlights for the team were:
- Tuna Fishcakes (delicious!)
- St Helena White Lion Rum & Midnight Mist Coffee Liqueur
Shop: Highly recommended is checking out the seasonal items available during your visit at the St Helena Arts & Crafts Centre, Main Street, Jamestown and for the philatelist’s among you, St Helena Stamps (very collectable) from the Post Office in Jamestown
Top Ten Must See & Do
1. TOUR OF JAMESTOWN: with guide Basil George
2. JACOB’S LADDER: Climb the 699 step stairway up the sea cliffs above Jamestown for a great view
3. CHARABANC TOUR OF ISLAND: with Corkers Tours in an open-air 1929 Chevy Charaband
4. HIGH KNOLL FORT: biggest fort on the island, with a fantastic panoramic view of the island
5. HEART-SHAPED WATERFALL: pleasant walk to pretty waterfall just above Jamestown
6. LONGWOOD HOUSE: visit to the well-preserved house where Napoleon lived and died under house arrest 1815-1821
7. JONATHAN THE GIANT TORTOISE: living in the garden of the Governor’s official residence, Plantation House, he’s said to be 180 years old, making him quite possibly the world’s oldest living land animal
8. HIKE UP DIANA’S PEAK: the highest point on the island
9. DOLPHIN WATCHING: exciting boat trip with Anthony Thomas of Sub-Tropic Adventures
10. SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS (Possible: Depends on migration route, usually JAN / FEB only)
Globe Trekker Itinery
Zay Harding travels to St Helena from Cape Town aboard the RMS St Helena, a 2000 mile voyage which takes 5 days.
He takes a tour of St Helena’s tiny, historic capital, Jamestown, before heading out to explore the surrounding countryside in an open-top 1929 Chevy Charabanc.
Zay then visits the beautifully preserved Longwood House, where St Helena’s most famous resident Napoleon was exiled under house arrest following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, until his death in 1821.
Unlike Napoleon, St Helena’s second most famous resident is still alive, and Zay goes to see him – Jonathan the giant tortoise. At over 180 years old, he’s possibly the world’s oldest living land animal.
Finally, Zay takes a spectacular boat trip along St Helena’s coast, and is soon surrounded by a school of hundreds of pan-tropical dolphins showing off their athletic prowess by jumping high in the air.
1. www.sthelenatourism.com (Official Tourist Office website)
2. www.sthelenawirebird.com (Blog about life, news and events on St Helena)
3. www.sams.sh/L2_sentinel.html (St Helena Sentinel, the local government-funded newspaper)
4. www.saint.fm (St Helena Independent, local independent newspaper & radio station)
5. www.sthelenaonline.org (Blog about life, news and events on St Helena)
6. www.domainesdefranceasaintehelene.blogspot.co.uk (Blog of the French Honorary Consul who looks after Napoleon’s House and Tomb on the island
7. www.stsa.co.sh (Sub-Tropic Adventures, the island’s best marine tour and scuba diving company)
8. www.museumofsthelena.org (Museum in Jamestown)
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