I like to spend some time in Mozambique
The sunny sky is aqua blue…
And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek
It’s very nice to stay a week or two
And maybe fall in love just me and you
– Bob Dylan, lyrics from his 1976 hit single, Mozambique
Guy Hawthorne kicked back on Bazaruto Island to put Dylan’s words to the test…
It all began back in ‘75 when Bob Dylan decided to get away for a while. His destination of choice was Mozambique and, more specifically, the art-deco styled Santa Carolina Hotel on Paradise Island in Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago. His visit turned the hotel into an icon and it became the go-to getaway for royalty and the well-to-do. It’s now forty-something years later and life on the islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago has changed very little: the infrastructure is still time-warpingly basic and the character still astonishingly rural. No tarred roads, tiny villages dotted on hillsides. The only difference nowadays is that the two bigger islands in this archipelago, Bazaruto and Benguerra, are home to a few luxury resorts… and Dylan’s once-loved Santa Carolina Hotel is now nothing but an abandoned shell.
But let’s start at the beginning…
Mozambique was out of the limelight as a holiday destination for many years thanks to a civil war that raged there from 1977 to 1992. Post-war investors noticed the massive potential in this country’s tourism offerings, particularly along its palm treed coastline and on its pristine islands, and so some of the most luxurious and relaxing “barefoot breaks” resorts began to spring up. Surprisingly though, these resorts’ close proximity and idyllic settings have not yet enticed mass tourism from South Africa – and after a recent visit to a stunning island resort, I can’t quite understand why.
I flew out of Jo’burg and into the village of Vilanculos on Mozambique’s mainland. No problems there. Jumped aboard a speedboat and was whisked off to a 5-Star resort called the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort on the island of Bazaruto. This quick trip took me from the noise and bustle of Jo’burg – to pretty much the middle of nowhere in just a couple of hours. I was Robinson Crusoe’d before I could blink – although unlike Mr. Crusoe, I was welcomed on the beach by a band of local dancers and singers, further adding to the whole island vibe thing. After being golf-carted to the reception desk and shown to my bungalow, the week was mine to do as I pleased. So I dived into the pool and surfaced at the pool-side bar. And ordered a drink.
Now before I go into any of the resort’s other offerings, I must tell you that The Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort is just a short boat ride from Bob Dylan’s (now defunct) Santa Carolina Hotel on Paradise Island – and if you do nothing else during your holiday here, make sure to take the resort’s half-day trip to explore the graffitied shell of the once-famous-but-now-abandoned site. The hotel’s untimely closure came in the mid ‘90s, thanks mainly to the many years of civil war on Mozambique’s mainland, and then the death of the hotel’s owner being the final nail in the coffin. Locals and staff stole everything from light fittings to tiles off the floor – and the rest, as they say, is history. Paradise Island currently has two permanent residents at any one time, positioned there to “set up camp” for visitors from the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort. The trip here includes a lunch of braaied crayfish and salads, and optional snorkelling amongst hundreds of crazy beautiful fish. A real underwater aquarium around the reefs.
Bazaruto Island is a different story. This 37km long X 7km wide island seems almost abandoned but for the odd plume of smoke rising from a hill somewhere in the distance. But, surprisingly, the island is home to around 5000 locals (although I heard conflicting reports) living in reed-and-grass huts in small clusters throughout the interior. They fish and farm to eat, and congregate in tin “churches” on a Sunday. Not much else. And so, another “must-do” in order to get a taste of how the islanders live “beyond the walls of your luxury resort” is to take a horseback ride down the sandy tracks and through these small settlements. The Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort has its own stables with horses mainly brought in from South Africa. I jumped on to Fakkel and set off. Shy children peeped out from behind their huts and older folk waved hello as we trotted through their simple worlds. All roads lead to the beach and so your ride will culminate in a gallop along the shore. Not something you do every day!
Back at the resort and back to the bar. Then to a hammock on the beach outside my room. Then into the sea. And then back to the bar. Then back into the sea. Then the hammock. Tough life here.
On one of the days I indulged in a spa treatment. The spa is a little way up a hill, walking distance from reception but easier to take a golf-cart. Oooh-la-la, pampering on another level. The spa here is fitted out to the nines and is obviously geared to be the main attraction for guests. Besides the individual spa treatment rooms, there are open areas where one can take advantage of the views over the island. Order a “Couples Champagne and Sushi” in a private jacuzzi as you watch the sun go down.
Sundowners can also be enjoyed on a Dhow cruise. Book your spot on a traditional wooden sailing boat that takes guests out on a driven-by-the-breeze sailing trip along the coast – almost always accompanied by the type of red sunset that only Africa can deliver.
With all the other usual trappings of a Luxury Island Resort (fantastic food, full range of land and sea-based activities, beautiful rooms with in- and outdoor shower, personal service, etc.), I found that the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort had a few extra secrets up her sleeve. Starting with the offering of a trip to Paradise Island… and Bob Dylan’s Santa Carolina Hotel. And in his words, it really is very nice to stay a week or two. You may just fall in love.
And when it’s time for leaving Mozambique
To say goodbye to sand and sea
You turn around to take a final peek
And you see why it’s so unique to be
Among the lovely people living free
Upon the beach of sunny Mozambique
– Bob Dylan
PS. Many Mozambicans only knew of this song after Bob Dylan received the Nobel prize for Literature in 2016.