Explore the unexplored on St. Helena

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Jacob's Ladder goes up the side of Ladder Hill to Ladder Hill Fort in Jamestown, St. Helena.
Jacob's Ladder goes up the side of Ladder Hill to Ladder Hill Fort in Jamestown, St. Helena. Photo Credit: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock.com

St. Helena Island is one of the few undiscovered destinations left for travelers to explore in the world. Until recently, it was only accessible by ship, but since Oct. 14 this year, South African Airlink opened up the island by offering regular scheduled flights.

The new flight means that the island is reachable by air from South Africa in just six hours.

Located in the middle of the South Atlantic, almost exactly halfway between Africa and South America, this beautiful volcanic island is mostly known as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile and death.

There are many sites and locations on St. Helena with strong links to Napoleon. The three main sites that the French emperor occupied during his time on the island are Longwood House, his tomb in the Sane Valley and the Briars Pavilion. All three sites are open for the public to visit and enjoy.

Walkers keen to uncover Napoleon's legacy can include the Boundary Wall and the Nymph of the Valley trails in their itineraries. A commemorative Napoleonic guide titled, "In Napoleon's Footsteps" describes many of the points of interest along these walking routes.

However, the island has quite a lot more to offer than only its Napoleonic heritage. It is a 47-square-mile, subtropical paradise with rare birds, unusual wildlife and exotic flora.

Take time to explore the island to observe the rare and reclusive native moorhen, or the variety of naturalized songbirds. Or look for the 455 species of invertebrates that are found on St. Helena and which include the blushing snail, the spiky woodlouse, the vulturine and golden leafhopper and Janich's fungus weevil.

There are many walks around the island that will show travelers the diverse landscapes. Not to be missed are the Post Box Walks, devised by the St. Helena Nature Conservation Group. These walks cover some of the most scenic and untouched parts of the island and will bring travelers to a post box containing an ink stamp and a visitors book at the end of each walk.

For those not keen on walking, travelers can also embark on guided four-wheel-drive excursions to explore the wilder sides of St. Helena with its incredible landscapes and volcanic rock formations.

The island's underwater world is also definitely worth exploring with its 18th century wrecks and fascinating marine life. St. Helena is one of the best regions in the world to encounter Whale Sharks. From December to March these gentle giants are spotted around the island and during the peak season, usually around February, tours depart daily from James Bay. Humpback whales can be spotted from August to November while the island also has a resident population of Pantropical Spotted dolphins which can be seen throughout the year.

Even at night, St. Helena offers the most amazing experiences, as there is virtually no light pollution. The exceptional quality of the night sky makes this a world-class destination for stargazing. The Milky Way can be seen stretching from horizon to horizon in an arc overhead, and the heavens are studded with thousands of stars.

There are several places to stay on the island; St. Helena features three hotels on the island as well as a number of guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. But the most popular is without a doubt the Mantis St. Helena.

The hotel consists of a combination of restored historical buildings and a new contemporary building situated in the capital Jamestown, a few minutes' walk from the sea front, swimming pool and tourist information office.

The buildings originally served as an officer's barracks for the East India Company and later served as military accommodations up until the last garrison left the island in the 1900s. Although the buildings still resemble their original Georgina design, they house contemporary rooms with all the modern amenities.

Know before you go

How to get there?

SA Airlink operates a weekly service between St. Helena and Johannesburg and St. Helena and Cape Town (via a stopover at Windhoek Airport in Namibia).

Will I need a visa?

A St. Helena tourist visa is not required for U.S. citizens for a stay up to 90 days.

Money matters

St. Helena has its own currency, equivalent to the British pound.
The U.S. dollar, euro and rand are the most widely accepted foreign currencies. Credit cards are only accepted at a very limited number of establishments on St. Helena.

What is the climate on St. Helena?

St. Helena boasts a subtropical climate. The hottest months are between January and March, the coldest from June to September. For much of the year the temperature remains between 68 and 80 degrees. The rainy season is usually from late March to early May and then again from July to September.

Shopping

Shops normally open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6:30 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Driving

People drive on the left on St. Helena, as in the U.K. and South Africa. Most roads are single lane; etiquette requires the driver coming down the hill to make way for the up-coming traffic. Road signs are shown in miles per hour. The maximum speed limit is 40 kilometers per hour, about 30 mph. Strict drinking and driving laws apply.

Health

There have been no reported illnesses, such as yellow fever or cholera, on the island. Visitors coming from a yellow fever endemic area must have proof of vaccination.

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