St Helena is an island you may have heard of as the place that the British exiled Napoleon to in 1815 but you also wouldn’t be alone in having no idea where it is or who lives here. It is an island largely unknown to the outside world but there are plenty of reasons to visit St Helena. Situated in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean and home to 4,500 people, it is currently only accessible by the last remaining Royal Mail Ship, or if you are feeling adventurous, a yacht from South Africa. I am lucky enough to be marooned on this intriguing volcanic rock. I’m going to tell you why St Helena is a fantastic place to visit if you want to go to somewhere very few others get to set foot on.
Reasons to visit St Helena
If you like beautiful islands, St Helena is one to put on your list. It's one of the most remote islands in the world, it's tropical and volcanic, and it's unlike any place else you may have traveled to. Here are 10 reasons to visit St. Helena this year.
1. St Helena is Unique
You may well have never heard of the remote and beautiful island of St Helena. Before I started working here, neither had I. The tropical volcanic island sits proudly in the middle of the ocean surrounded by pretty much nothing else. The nearest land mass (the African continent) is over 1000 miles away from it. Before I left, I took great joy in showing friends where the island was and then zooming out and out and out before finding the rest of the world. It is only 10 miles by 5 miles, so a tiny speck in the middle of the South Atlantic.
Read about another remote island: Easter Island and its giant, mysterious statues
2. There is a lot to do in St Helena
From boat trips to see hundreds of the most contented dolphins in the world (minimal fishing and plentiful fish supplies) to swimming with whale sharks. If you are a scuba diving or snorkelling fan, then St Helena island is perfect. There are ship wrecks to investigate and it is one of the cheaper places in the world to do your PADI course. If you like hiking there are a plentiful supply of incredible trails, to see another party out walking is a rare thing indeed. You have got these paths to yourself. My favorites have been Diana’s Peak (the highest point on the island) and South West Point. Stunning.
3. Visit St. Helena for the weather
The weather is perfect no matter when you visit St Helena. With temperatures of between 70-80F (20-27C) all year round, it is an ideal place to escape a northern hemisphere winter. The thing that is surprising about the weather here though is how much it can change between the different parts of the island. Due to the high hills and deep valleys, despite its small size, it can easily be hot balmy sunshine in Jamestown but tropical rain and misty in Blue Hill, and you travel between in a matter of minutes.
4. Last chance to sail on the RMS
St Helena is a British overseas territory and as such, it is serviced by the last remaining Royal Mail Ship which does a round trip from Cape Town to Ascension Island via St Helena every three weeks. This is a piece of history and a joy to take a trip on. It takes five days from Cape Town and I was lucky to be on board as 2016 turned to 2017. Seeing in the new year in the middle of the South Atlantic was very special indeed. The staff on board do a fantastic job of providing beautiful food, you never go hungry and retro entertainment such as deck shuffle board and highly competitive team quizzes. It is a special experience to be on board for that long, getting to know folk you would never normally meet before you arrive at your destination. A cruise with a difference!
5. Flights – The St Helena airport is coming!
Now currently, apart from a lifesaving medical evacuation, the RMS is the only way to visit St Helena. There is an airport but due to the wind shear problems larger planes have had during testing, there is no commercial service operating at present. This will change, as right now the St Helena government are considering the bids made by airlines to offer regular services to South Africa or the UK with smaller planes. Throughout the island’s 500-year history, it has only been accessible via the sea, so opening up the sky to St Helena island is going to mean massive changes for the local people, many of whom have families overseas, and the island’s ability to welcome visitors.
6. History buffs will adore it
Most people, if they have heard of St Helena, will know of it because French general, Napoléon Bonaparte, was exiled here when he lost the battle of Waterloo in 1815. If you are a history buff you should visit St Helena. The house where he lived out his days is wonderfully preserved and you can visit his initial tomb, before he was taken back to France. There is also the Boer War cemetery where Boer prisoners of war were buried if they did not make it back home after their time on St Helena. The museum in Jamestown is also worth a visit to give a fantastic overview of the 500 years of history of the island.
7. Test your driving skills
Do you like driving on the left-hand side of the road up steep inclines around hairpin bends on single track roads? If so, then St Helena is the place for you. There is also a fair few roads where a 4×4 is highly advised. I have tried to take my Ford Focus along the dirt tracks and it wasn’t happy. On the plus-side everyone you pass will give you a friendly wave and the maximum speed is usually 30mph.
Check out our list of the best road trips in the world
8. Eat some exotic food and drink
St Helena coffee is famous and outside of the island, extremely expensive so a wonderful thing to try if you like beautifully crafted mug of the black stuff. Tungi spirit is locally made from the ‘prickly pear’ found on the island. Traditional food of St Helena includes fishcakes, ‘plo’ (a stew) or the St Helena version of black pudding. Be wary when a Saint says the dish has ‘bite’, they mean that it contains a great deal of spice.
9. Make a close group of friends
Whether it is the people you meet on the ship, or friendly locals you meet in the street, you are bound to meet a great group of people to spend this unique experience with. Due to its relationship to the UK and the ‘proximity’ to South Africa, there is a strong contingency of both nationalities on St Helena. But you do meet a wide range of adventurous travellers from all over the world. The local population are warm with a great sense of humour and kind nature. You will feel very at home on St Helena, even if your visit if only for a few days.
10. Experience it as it is the cusp of enormous change
If you do get to visit St Helena this year you will experience it on the brink of an enormous change. Up until now the only way to come here was via the vast ocean, and St Helena is going to be whizzed into the 21st century. Mobile phones were only introduced last year and internet is still cripplingly expensive. To visit this island gives you definite travel bragging rights and amazing memories. 2017 is a perfect year to go somewhere very much off the beaten track.
Where is the most remote destination you've visited?