Saint Helena Travel Guide
Sitting more than 1,950 kilometres from the African mainland, and 1,300 kilometres from Ascension, the nearest island in the South Atlantic, Saint Helena is one of the world’s most isolated islands.
Only Tristan da Cunha, located 2,400 kilometres to the south, is further separated from the everyday cares of civilization. Despite only having 121 square kilometres of space and little more than 4,000 people, this speck of human habitation is well worth a visit.
Dropping by has become easier in recent years with the opening of an international airport capable of receiving modern jetliners from Windhoek, Namibia, and Johannesburg, South Africa.
While the cost of travel here is on the high side, and modern banking and internet connectivity lag behind somewhat, the effort taken into planning a trip here will be well worth the effort.
Currency: Saint Helena pounds, British pounds
What To Do
Begin your time on this remote island by paying a visit to the Museum of St. Helena. Situated in a stone building dating from the 18th century, it used to play host to the island’s power station, but now it holds exhibits that chronicle this intriguing isle’s rich history.
Aside from this place’s most notorious aspect (being where Napoleon lived in exile during his final years), there is an assortment of displays that will open your eyes to the realities of daily life on one of the world’s most isolated islands.
As interesting as the previous attraction is, make certain to leave plenty of time to explore Longwood House. The second of two residences that Napoleon Bonaparte lived in during his time on Saint Helena, this well-appointed but humble home was where he drew his last breath, far away from the empire he once commanded.
Complete with a simple yet elegant garden, and dining and billiard rooms, you would think that he would be at least comfortable in his final days.
However, he complained constantly of the dampness, the inadequacy of his servants, and the smothering presence of the minders tasked with preventing him from engineering an escape attempt.
There is even a theory that his death was caused by arsenic poisoning, which was released from the wallpaper by the damp air.
Given that everyone was exposed to these threats in the 19th century, though, it is unlikely that he was a target of a slow-motion assassination plot by the British government.
If exploring old 18th-century British estates appeal to you, don’t miss Plantation House during your trip to Saint Helena. Built as the residence for the island’s governor in 1792, this palatial manor granted its resident a modicum of luxury in a place far from the amenities of mainstream civilization.
Don’t forget to pay Jonathan, thought to be the world’s oldest living giant tortoise, a visit. With four other companions that are thought to be the last of their subspecies, spending time with them in the backyard of Plantation House is nothing short of a surreal experience.
Looking to get in a monster workout? Don’t let the distance from the nearest gym stop you from ascending Jacob’s Ladder. A massive outdoor staircase that connects Jamestown to the ‘suburb’ of Half Tree Hollow at the top of Ladder Hill.
The height of this climb cannot be understated: there is an annual race that attracts athletes from around the world who are determined to conquer this staircase; the record time is over five minutes to get from the bottom to the top.
Take your time, drinks lots of water, and most importantly – don’t look down!
As you will see below, even the smallest places have food they specialize in. This also extends to drink as well, as you will see during a visit to the Saint Helena Distillery. This enterprise offers four standout products: a liqueur made from prickly pear cactus, one made from the local coffee plants, a spiced rum infused with nutmeg and cloves, and a gin made with Bermuda juniper.
If you forget to buy a bottle at the distillery to bring home with you, they are also available for sale on the RMS Helena, which is the ship that plies the Atlantic between the island and Cape Town, South Africa.
What to Eat
When you are dining out on the island, be sure to have some Saint Helena fishcakes at some point during your stay. Formed by combining fish meat (tuna, mackerel, wahoo, etc) with mashed potatoes, spices and herbs into a patty, it is fried in a thin layer of oil until it achieves a golden brown consistency.
Be sure to give some plo a try as well. A type of Pilau, it is made by combining the catch of the day or meat from local livestock with rice and curry. Hearty in consistency, it is a meal that will warm you up on a rainy day in Saint Helena.
At dessert, order some coconut fingers. Tracing its roots to Madeira cake, it is sliced into finger-shaped portions, drenched in icing and coated in coconut fibre.