Country guides Africa
A picturesque volcanic island rising out of the South Atlantic Ocean some 1,200 miles (nearly 2,000km) from the west coast of Africa, the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena is one of the most isolated islands in the world. Ascension Island, 703 miles (1,131km) away, is its nearest landmass and forms part of the same British territory along with the island of Tristan da Cunha.
Despite its small size, tiny population and extremely remote location, St Helena is described as an emerald set in bronze, with lush subtropical forests and rolling hills enclosed by sheer volcanic cliffs. Instead of bright lights, sandy beaches and luxury shopping, the island offers tranquil beauty and centuries of a certain colonial charm. The local people, known as Saints, are as friendly as they come, and mostly made up of descendants from British settlers, African slaves and contracted workers from Asia.
St Helena was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 and quickly established as a strategic and valuable stopover for ships travelling between Europe, Southern Africa and Asia, providing fresh water supplies and much-needed fruit to crews on long voyages between continents. It became a British dependency in 1834 and for many years was used as a place of exile, most famously for Napoleon after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon lived in Longwood House for six years until his death in 1821, and the residence is now a museum owned by the French government. St Helena was also a prison during the South Africa War, and King Dinuzulu and about 5,000 Boer prisoners were held there from 1900 to 1904. The Boer Cemetery, located at Knollcombes, is a popular tourist attraction from this period.
St Helena's capital and only town is the Georgian seaport of Jamestown, nestled between towering cliffs and protected from the sea by 18th-century fortifications. Its most prominent feature is Jacob's Ladder, 699 steps embedded into the near vertical cliffs connecting the valley floor to the top of Ladder Hill. It's popular with energetic tourists, as well as runners who come from around the world to compete in a race up the steps every year. Other attractions in St Helena include the Heart-Shaped Waterfall, the castle and its gardens, Sandy Bay and the Central Peaks.
While not the typical island getaway, St Helena is certainly an experience with unique qualities and a distinct atmosphere, with its remote location and prehistoric natural wonders a sure draw for those looking for something off the beaten track.