The Essential St. Helena Travel Guide

The remote and mysterious island of St. Helena has recently opened its airport to commercial flights. The beauty and culture of the island is now available for all to visit. I had wanted to come to St. Helena for a decade but didn’t want to take the now decommissioned RMS St. Helena because it was 5 days each way on the ship. So the airport made it a no-brainer for me and I couldn’t have been more pleased with my visit! Here is the essential St. Helena travel guide in order to maximize your stay on the island.

How to Get to St. Helena

As of the time of writing there are only 2 ways to get to St. Helena: flying and via ship (cruise, cargo or private yacht). There are only a handful of cruises or repositioning ships that stop in St. Helena each year and they all involve 3+ week itineraries either from South Africa or South America to Europe or vice versa. There is also a non-frequent cargo and supply ship from South Africa but flying will be the main way people reach the island nowadays. Here are your options.

The Essential St. Helena Travel Guide, Airlink

The E-190 South African Airlink flight from Johannesburg on the St. Helena tarmac

South African Airlink flies to St. Helena every Saturday from Johannesburg. The flight isn’t cheap but for time value of money it’s well worth it. The flight will do a fuel stop in Windhoek, Namibia on the way to St. Helena and fly back direct because of the tailwinds. This means you will have to spend a full week on St. Helena.

The Essential St. Helena Travel Guide, St. Helena, St. Helena Airport

The St. Helena Airport view from the air

The second Saturday of each month the same Airlink flight does a very expensive continuation flight to Ascension Island-a further 2 hours from St. Helena. You must book this leg with the Ascension Island flight booking office via email. It’s annoying and time consuming but not that complicated once you get approved for the entry permit which you first need to buy the tickets. You also need proof of $500,000 in travel insurance coverage. This once a month flight gives you two options.

The Essential St. Helena Travel Guide, St. Helena, St. Helena Airport

St. Helena tarmac at dawn

First, you can get off on St. Helena on that Saturday and stay a night, as the flight to Ascension will spend that night on Ascension. Then you can board the flight back to Johannesburg via St. Helena and spend one night on St. Helena.

Ascension Island, Coming in for landing on Ascension Island

Coming in for landing on Ascension Island

The other option is you can take the Airlink flight all the way to Ascension Island and spend a night there. Then you can fly back to St. Helena the following day (Sunday) and spend six nights on St. Helena. This is the only option if you want to see both islands and don’t want to spend a month on Ascension Island.

Welcome to Ascension Island, Lee Abbamonte

Welcome to Ascension Island

Please note, at time of writing Airlink markets and sells a flight from Cape Town to St. Helena via Windhoek where you’re told you can meet the flight from Johannesburg. This is not currently possible because they haven’t been granted Fifth Freedom Rights by Namibia. This means that you cannot sell a flight from one country to a second country to join a flight to a third country. Basically, you must fly to St. Helena from Johannesburg as I learned the hard way when I was rerouted to Johannesburg from Cape Town at 5am; which made a very long day longer.

Where to Stay on St. Helena

Without question the best place to stay on St. Helena is the Mantis St. Helena Hotel in Jamestown (the capital). The Mantis St. Helena is beautiful, comfortable, has air conditioning, plus the best Wi-Fi on the island that’s unlimited as a guest. It’s also very well located on the main drag in Jamestown right off the harbor across the castle and near Jacob’s Ladder.  I’ve stayed at numerous Mantis properties around Africa and Europe and they’ve all been fantastic to be honest. I highly recommend them, especially on St. Helena.

Mantis St. Helena, Lobby of the Mantis St. Helena

Lobby of the Mantis St. Helena

If you’re spending 6-7 nights on St. Helena you’ll want to have a comfortable base to relax. Many of the activities on St. Helena are physical and having a great shower and comfortable room are essential in my eyes.

My room at the Mantis St. Helena

My room at the Mantis St. Helena

Finally, the Mantis St. Helena has an excellent bar, patio and restaurant. They have a decent selection and the food is pretty darn good. It’s probably the best restaurant on the island. It’s also the only sort of fine dining place on the island. Plus the prices are very reasonable.

Breakfast room at Mantis St. Helena

Breakfast room at Mantis St. Helena

There are other options of course like the Consulate Hotel up the road a bit and several guesthouses. But you’re not getting free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, excellent service or the comforts of the Mantis St. Helena. I will say the Consulate is a cool place to check out and have a coffee with a very charismatic owner.

Things to do on St. Helena

Here is a good selection of things to do on St. Helena. Of course there are a million ways to spend your time but these are pretty good options in my opinion.

Full Day 4×4 Tour of the Island – This should be done the first full day of your stay on St. Helena. It may be a small island, but there are a lot of roads and things to see and do. The roads can be confusing, steep and difficult to drive, especially with left shifting manual rental cars! So do a tour with Aaron. Just ask anyone at your hotel and they can connect you to Aaron. He was amazing and really gave us a sense of the island and how to get around on our own. Plus he off-roads a lot in his 4×4 which you’d never be able to do in your rental aside from the fact you’d get lost!

One of the amazing views I saw on my full day 4x4 tour

One of the amazing views I saw on my full day 4×4 tour

Play 18 Holes on the Worlds Most Remote Golf Course – While Tristan da Cunha may argue their “golf course” is more remote, I’m told it’s not nearly as good as St. Helena. The St. Helena golf course is a brilliantly constructed 9-hole course that you play twice per round with two different tee boxes per hole so it feels like a real 18 holes. It is challenging for obvious reason like the course maintenance isn’t Pebble Beach. Plus it’s atop the island and can be very windy. However, we played the course twice and it was one of the highlights of the island. The 5.5-mile walk will surely get you your steps for the day! Just have the hotel call and make sure someone is there to let you on the course and get you your rental clubs. 18 holes plus clubs only costs 15 pounds!

Golfing the worlds most remote golf course on St. Helena

Golfing the worlds most remote golf course on St. Helena

Longwood House and Napoleon’s Tomb – Longwood House is where Napoleon lived in exile on St. Helena before he died on the island in 1821. Longwood House costs 10 pounds to visit and that includes an audio guide if you choose. It’s a fascinating place to see how and where he spent his last days. The audio guides give you some interesting historical facts and puts the items in the house into perspective. The grounds are beautiful as well and worth a walk around.

Longwood House was Napoleon's home while in exile on St. Helena

Longwood House was Napoleon’s home while in exile on St. Helena

Napoleon’s chosen burial place is where his tomb still stands to this day. He was buried there from 1821-1840 when his body was eventually exhumed and brought back to Paris where it now lies at Invalides. The tomb is located down below the road to Longwood and is a 1km return walk downhill and back up. It’s a stunning setting to be honest. It’s surrounded by beautiful nature including a Norfolk Island pine. It’s a very peaceful place and shouldn’t be missed.

For Napoleon's tomb look down

For Napoleon’s tomb look down

Cliffside Hiking by the Airport – For an island loaded with incredible views, my favorite was off the cliffs just before the runway approach. You get amazing views of the runway and the gnarly cliffs surrounding it. You also get great views of some of the coral below. Bring hiking shoes as you’ll be on an angle much of the time.

Cliffside hiking by the St. Helena airport is awesome

Cliffside hiking by the St. Helena airport is awesome

Jacob’s Ladder – Jacob’s Ladder is an imposing staircase that’s essentially straight up; hence ladder. It’s 700 steep steps. There are handrails on each side to help you up and down. It’s not a terribly difficult thing to do but it’s not easy either. Elderly people will have trouble. I also suggest doing it first thing in the morning or after sunset when it’s cooler. You will sweat and the midday sun in St. Helena can be brutal. So take precautions and be smart. Oh and I was told 10 minutes or under is a good time to get up! I was 10 minutes on the dot but felt like death afterwards!

Looking up Jacob's Ladder at dawn

Looking up Jacob’s Ladder at dawn

Strolling Around Jamestown – Jamestown is a very pleasant place to be. It is long and skinny as best seen from the mountainside roadways above. The main part of town is by the harbor. This is where all the government buildings are at the Castle. The Castle Gardens are also lovely to walk around. The biggest shops and the tourism board office are in Jamestown. It’s not going to blow you away but it’s a lovely place to have a stroll, coffee or beer.

Downtown Jamestown, St. Helena

Downtown Jamestown, St. Helena

Rent a Car and Hike – After doing a full day tour you’ll likely want to return to a few places and spend more time or do some hikes. There are several to choose from. For me, getting out to Sandy Bay and seeing Lot and Lot’s Wife are mandatory. They are so beautiful. You can also hike up to Flagstaff and Diana’s peak, the highest point on the island.

Lot and Lot's Wife

Lot and Lot’s Wife

High Knoll Fort – This fort is visible from much of the island. You can drive up to it and it gives amazing view of the island. It gives a perspective that’s hard to beat. It’s nearly a 360-degree view of the water world that St. Helena is.

Amazing view from High Knoll Fort

Amazing view from High Knoll Fort

Plantation House – Plantation House is where the Governor lives. It’s essentially their White House. It’s a lovely old mansion with 30 something rooms. You can get a tour for 10 pounds and it’s very interesting. Also included in the tour are the 4 giant tortoises on property. Jonathan, perhaps the worlds most famous tortoise is said to be 187 years old. He’s very friendly and loves selfies!

Jonathan the 187 year old tourtoise

Jonathan the 187 year old tortoise

Where to Eat

There aren’t a ton of options on St. Helena in terms of restaurants but there are some good ones. I could only eat at so many places so obviously not every place is included here.

Mantis St. Helena – This lovely place had the best food on the island for my money. We ate there multiple times aside from the breakfast included. I recommend the Mantis burger, the tuna salad and the steak. You can’t go wrong with any of those. My friend got the curry multiple times and really liked it as well.

Tuna salad at Mantis St. Helena

Tuna salad at Mantis St. Helena

Rosie’s – It is a recent addition to the food and bar scene on island that does excellent food. The pizzas were good and I had them twice. The burgers are said to be excellent and I must say their fries were McDonald’s quality good!

The ocean view at Rosie's, the pizza wasn't bad either

The ocean view at Rosie’s, the pizza wasn’t bad either

Anne’s Place – Located in the beautiful Castle Gardens, Anne’s Place is a nice change of pace. It is very colorful place with a good size menu. I had the spicy tuna steak that I enjoyed.

Anne's Place is located in the beautiful Castle Gardens

Anne’s Place is located in the beautiful Castle Gardens

Consulate Hotel – They don’t do them everyday but when they do, the pizzas are very good. They also sell little cakes and coffee accompaniments that are tempting. It’s a great place to sit outside at watch Jamestown stroll by on the patio.

Main room in the Consulate Hotel

Main room in the Consulate Hotel

Pub Paradise – This place is up in Longwood near the golf course and Longwood House. It’s a very local kind of place. I didn’t love the pizza I had as they put corn on the meat pizza-who knew?! So order sans corn as corn, like pineapple, should never be put on pizza!

Pub Paradise is just near Longwood House pictured here

Pub Paradise is just near Longwood House pictured here

Orange Tree Oriental Restaurant – Located in the back courtyard next to the Mantis is this little Chinese restaurant that did pretty good food. The portions of chicken and noodles were large and the spring rolls were good. There’s not much to the place but I’d eat there again for sure if you want something other than pizza, tuna or meat.

Quality Dining Mates on St. Helena

Quality Dining Mates on St. Helena

Where to Drink

There are bars dotted around the island that I didn’t go to. We stayed in Jamestown more or less in terms of drinking, as we didn’t want to drive those roads at night or after drinking. The main beer is Windhoek Lager or Draught on St. Helena plus they have the usual spirits and wine. They even have their own homemade booze from the Tungi Distillery on island. We actually couldn’t go there unfortunately because the owners had the flu while we were there.

Mantis Bar – Certainly the best bar in Jamestown with satellite TV for sports, specialty cocktails and cold beer. Ian is a great bartender!

Standard Bar – Kind of the old pub in town for older men. Not much of a vibe there at all but you can stand on the stoop for a beer.

White Horse Bar – Similar to the Standard but livelier and they have people playing dominos. There’s also a lovely painting of two white horses on the wall.

Consulate Hotel Bar – It’s a pretty standard older hotel style bar with beer and booze but I never saw another person in it the two times I popped in.

Donny’s Bar – This is the nightclub style place on the harbor. When we popped in on our last night, a Friday at 10pm, it hadn’t gotten going yet and we were tired so didn’t stick around long enough to see it go off. It isn’t Vegas but was a cool setup and I’m sure would be fun.

Anne’s Place Bar – It’s a small bar in the restaurant. They have a good selection of spirits but they measure them by the 25cl or whatever measurement they use. I hate that!

Driving

The people of St. Helena are amazing. They are so nice and helpful. First everyone waves to everyone at all times. It’s quite amazing actually! We were driving in town and actually got a flat tire. Within a minute someone was there to help us change the tire and we were on our way. It was kind of surreal.

Jamestown, St. Helena

Jamestown, St. Helena

The driving takes a bit to get used to because the roads can be treacherous and narrow. There is etiquette that the person coming up the hill generally has right of way. Also, at times you have to beep around blind corners although many have those fisheye mirrors so you can see around the corner.

St. Helena views

St. Helena views

All rentals on the island are manual and the shift is left-handed as I mentioned earlier. It takes a few minutes to get used to. If you don’t feel comfortable you can take taxis everywhere. Most fares will be between 5 and 10 pounds depending where you’re going.

Finally

Having an audience with the Governor of St. Helena

Having an audience with the Governor of St. Helena

I loved my time on St. Helena and am glad I waited as long as I did to visit. It’s a nice place to hang out for a week and enjoy a slower pace of life. It’s a fascinating place in the middle of nowhere. So put yourself out there, talk to people, check out the different places and you never know-you may even meet the Governor! If you do tell her I said hi! I hope the essential St. Helena travel guide helps you out when you visit St. Helena!

Comments

  1. Lee, I loved folllowing your trip on Instagram and hope to make it to St Helena one day. Thanks for making the big world small for us.

  2. This is some epic info thanks! I was thinking of going later this year and had no idea where to start.

  3. Erik Madsen Canada says:

    Hello Lee

    I am taking advantage of some downtime in Reunion island! I am finally able to take a look at your article on St Helena! Great Pics! Brings back lots of fond memories of the island and it’s most friendly inhabitants!

  4. Hi Lee – great article. It was possible for you to be \”more pleased\” with your visit to St Helena. But that would have involved a voyage on the RMS. She was a significant cultural asset for the island. Not simply because I say so. But because she would have offered you a glimpse into the \”old\” St Helena; without which the \”new\” St Helena could not now exist. She was a cultural icon for the island. And an integral member of our family. This was due to the huge investment of time we all made in being aboard her – with friends we hadn\’t met yet.All the best – Stewart

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