This barren and uninhabited island was discovered and named by the Portuguese in 1501. The British garrisoned the island in 1815 to prevent a rescue of Napoleon from Saint Helena and it served as a provisioning station for the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron on anti-slavery patrol. The island remained under Admiralty control until 1922, when it became a dependency of Saint Helena. During World War II, the UK permitted the US to construct Wideawake airfield on Ascension in support of trans-Atlantic flights to Africa and anti-submarine operations in the South Atlantic. In the 1960s the island became an important space tracking station for the US. In 1982, Ascension was an essential staging area for British forces during the Falklands War, and it remains a critical refuelling point in the air-bridge from the UK to the South Atlantic.
The climate on Ascension Island is subtropical. It is arid and lacking in vegetation until the elevation increases where lush forest and fertile soil exists.
The main settlement is Georgetown where the tourist information office is in the Obsidian Hotel (see Sleep).
Visitors require entry approval from the Administrator's office, requested in advance in writing. They must also have full medical insurance which will cover the expense of medical evacuation, if needed.
Ascension Island is expected to be without regular flights until at least 2019 because of potholes on the only runway.
Formerly, it was possible to purchase a seat on the military charter flight from RAF Brize Norton close to Oxford in the United Kingdom. Individual return tickets cost around £920 (June, 2010), booked at least 28 days in advance. Group and students discounts were available. Contact Ascension Island Travel Agency, Tel: +247 6500, Fax: +247 6827
- The Royal Mail Ship Saint Helena sails through Isle of Portland, Tenerife, Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Cape Town, and sometimes Walvis Bay. Contact Andrew Weir Shipping, +44 20 7816-4803, to make arrangements.
There is no public transport (including taxis) on Ascension. Obsidian offers car rentals for £15/day.
- Fort Hayes, Georgetown (There are signs pointing to it near the port). M 5PM-7PM, Sa 10AM-noon, or by special arrangement if possible (call 2326(W) or 2455(H)).
- Fort Thornton, Georgetown (Across the port from Fort Hayes).
- St. Mary's Anglican Church, Georgetown. It's part of Diocese of Cape Town along with its counter-part in St. Helena. Built in mid 19th Century as the Naval Church. Has much history laid on the Wall Tablets inside
- , Green Mountain National Park. Built in 18th Century in a subtropical forest which covers the Green mountain, and have a very nice clock-tower. Starting point for many trails and "letterbox" walks (which are special because the climate on the mountain are noticeable cooler than on other desert parts of the island)
- The Dew Pond, at the Peak of Green Mountain, Green Mountain National Park. A destination of a noticeable "letterbox" walk. See how climate zones change during your short 1 mile trip to the 2817ft peak
- Exiles Club (Marine Barracks). Historical building, dates back to 1830. There are now some shops in it.
Sport fishing is the main attraction for visitors to Ascension Island. There are also some beaches and ocean swimming in certain coves, such as Comfortless Cove and English Bay. Long Beach, as inviting as it looks, has a very hazardous undertow and is not suitable for sea bathing. However, it is a sheer delight for wildlife fans as this is where sea turtles go to nest. There are a few paths (such as Rupert's Path) suitable for hiking into the more lush highlands, as well as mountainside lava tubes to explore. The British pastime of letterboxing - hiking to a destination that contains a "letterbox" containing a log book and a rubber stamp pad - is possible here.
Ascension Island features what was at one time reputed to be the world's worst golf course. Located between the settlements of Two Boats village and Georgetown, the course has 18 holes and the greens are in fact 'browns', a reference to the sand and oil mix used to make them. The rest of the course is made up of volcanic ash and rock, which makes for some interesting rounds.
There is some terrific Scuba Diving in the waters surrounding Ascension Island. At present, however, there are only local enthusiasts and no recognized Diving Operation. Some of locals are often willing to take experienced visitors with them
There are Fumaroles and Lava Tunnels to explore (at Command Hill, near the Catholic Grotto)
Exchange rates for Saint Helena pounds (£)
As of January 2017:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Ascension Island uses the Saint Helena pound (₤) as its currency, which is fixed to the British pound at a value of 1:1.
The grocery store and almost every other business on the island have really odd hours of operation (for example, the petrol station on Tuesdays is open 2-3 in the afternoon), so make sure you write up the times on the first day.
The Obsidian Hotel has a nice gift shop with some good books and beach vacation-style T-shirts are very famous.
Because everything is imported, prices for food are very high on the island. If you get the chance to go out fishing with the locals, you may walk away with a bag of tuna. Sometimes the community hosts a fish fry that is open to everyone.
There are very few places to eat, with odd opening hours
- The Restaurant, in the Obsidian Hotel, Georgetown. Breakfast 7:30AM-9AM; dinner 7PM-8:30PM. For dinners bookings are really required.
- Snack Bar, at Volcano Club at the US base. Tu-F 5PM-9PM, Sa 4PM-9PM (last orders at 8:50PM). American-style fast food.
- The Anchor Inn, in the Obsidian Hotel, Georgetown. 6:30PM-11PM daily.
- The Saints' Club, Georgetown. The bar opens in evenings.
- Two Boats Club, Two Boats village. The bar is open from 7:30PM.
- Volcano Club, at the US base. From 5PM. Seems to be the most crowded venue on the island and has the best selection of alcohols.
Visitors are accommodated by the Obsidian Group Accommodation and Tourist Services, +247 6246, which maintains a hotel (the Obsidian), two hostels, and two cottages (7 night minimum). Hotel rates range from £45 for a single to £79 for a VIP double. Hostel and cottage rates range from £25-£50 per night.
The country code for Ascension is 247 and the population is too small to need area or trunk STD codes.
The International Prefix is 00.
Subscriber numbers are typically 4 digits long and start with a 2 for the US Base, 3 for Travellers Hill or Airhead, 4 for Two Boats and a 6 or 7 for Georgetown.
Numbers starting with 0 or 5 have been reserved for future Mobile service.
There is a Wi-Fi hotspot in Obsidian Hotel's lobby and patio for £10/day. The Post Office in Georgetown offers a vast array of Philatelic items for sale from the three islands of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha. Airmail is possible, thanks to the airfield.
Saint Helena (island) is obviously the only reasonable destination you can visit from Ascension Island. See Get in/By sea