Coast: Quirimbas Archipelago
This string of tiny islands in Mozambique’s far north is set in swirls of turquoise Indian Ocean. Ibo and Medjumbe are just two of the 30 idyllic tropical islands making up the Quirimbas Archipelago, with vastly different experiences to offer.
Just down the sand road from magnificent Ibo Island Lodge – a meticulously restored colonial manor house on a small island overlooking vast mangroves and the Indian Ocean – is Fortaleza São João. The white star-shaped fort named for the island’s patron saint St John the Baptist, has seen plenty of scuffles over the years. Now though it’s the day home of traditional silversmiths who sit cross-legged and craft intricate once-off pieces of jewellery which they delicately polish with lemon juice. Their work is true fine art and unique in the world.
The surrounding town of Ibo presents an unusual mix of ruin and renewal, and for its rich heritage and historical importance, is currently being considered for World Heritage Site status. Chickens and children play together on the grand pillared verandas of derelict houses, and some of the town’s old colonial buildings have gnarled fig trees growing right through them.
Excursions from Ibo will simply take your breath away. Mid-ocean picnics on secluded sandbars, or snorkelling with dolphins – it’s all possible here. You might fancy a stroll through the village’s sand streets, a visit to the cowrie shell house, fishing, or birding for over 700 species. A dhow safari aboard a traditional wooden sailboat is another unforgettable excursion from Ibo Island Lodge if you have a few days to explore the Quirimbas.
This 250km-long Archipelago is a fusion of vibrant Arab, Portuguese and African influences. Medjumbe is arguably the most beautiful island in the Quirimbas chain, privately owned and operated as an exclusive resort. It’s a sand comma sprinkled with palm trees and dusted with castor-sugar beaches. A kilometre long and only half as wide, here you’ll find twelve luxury villas with palm-leaved roofs. Medjumbe is an exclusive hideaway for lovers and modern-day castaways seeking refuge from the world.
Diving and snorkelling here is mesmerising with clouds of neon-coloured tropical fish darting beneath the water. Dolphins often swim beside you and a sea turtle may even paddle past. There’s every watersport you can imagine on offer, and land lubbers can walk the island to see the deserted lighthouse, marvel at huge conch shells and lucky beans in the shallows, or kick back in a hammock at your private villa or in the decadent spa. With the whole island to yourself, you can do as you please all day long.
Pemba, on the mainland, is a port town on Mozambique’s extreme northeastern coast. It sits on a peninsula jutting into the wide Pemba Bay, with coral reefs close to shore. The town is a jumping-off point for Quirimbas National Park to the north, which is home to dolphins, whales and endangered dugongs.
Stay at: Mequfi Beach Resort (https://mequfibeach.diamondsresorts.com)
Interior: Niassa Reserve
In far-northern Mozambique is a place so remote and so beautiful that it has to be felt to be believed. The vast Niassa Reserve is double the size of Kruger National Park – and love at first sight for nature lovers. The country’s biggest reserve, this wildlife sanctuary punctuated by granite inselbergs and rock chimneys, is rugged and wild.
For the two-hour flight inland from Pemba on the coast, there is only wilderness to be seen down below. Here, in Niassa, there are more sable than impala, elephant roam the miombo woodland and lion and leopard are present too. Endemic species include Niassa wildebeest, Johnstone’s impala and Crewshaw’s zebra. You might also be lucky enough to see wild dog which also inhabit the reserve.
The Lugenda concession is a sizable sanctuary with 300km of the Lugenda River running through it. The Wilderness Camp under giant sycamore fig trees runs entirely on renewable energy and has its own garden for fresh greens. Much of the reserve is inaccessible during the rainy season, adding to its exclusivity. Leisure time at Lugenda is completely unscripted; guests are able to tailor-make their schedules – with no vehicles from neighbouring camps to crowd wildlife sightings.
Coast: Bazaruto Archipelago
The Bazaruto Archipelago is a group of 6 islands off the coast of central Mozambique. They lie within the Bazaruto National Park and are characterised by beautiful white beaches and a few luxury resorts. Bazaruto is the largest island, Benguerra the second. The coral reefs around Magaruque and Santa Carolina islands, especially Two Mile Reef are a hit among divers and fisherman with dugongs, sailfish and marlin all part of the myriad marine life to be discovered off the islands.
Bazaruto Island’s forests, dunes and grasslands are equally impressive and home to many bird species. Accommodation at Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort is a barefoot luxury affair and once acquainted with the slow rhythm of island life, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing anything else but swimming, snorkelling, eating and sleeping.
This lavish resort is a flawless showcase of one of Mozambique’s most extraordinary islands, offering lavish accommodation, world-class dining, spa treatments and authentic local discoveries – both at sea and on terra firma.
The easiest way to reach the islands is to fly into Vilanculos Airport (from Johannesburg).
A little way south of Vilanculos lies Inhambane, still 470 km northeast of Maputo. Notable sites in the surrounding areas of Inhambane and Vilanculos include Bazaruto National Park, the Praia do Tofo, Praia dos Cocos, Ponto do Barra and Guinjata Bay. Scuba diving in Inhambane is particularly popular in locations such as Manta Reef and Gallaria. Giant manta rays, whale sharks, turtles and other marine life are regularly seen around these parts and there are many professional scuba diving operations throughout the province. Book a sea-safari or scuba diving excursion to explore some of the many reefs in the area. The easiest way to reach Inhambane is by road from Maputo, or fly in to Inhambane Airport from Maputo.
Stay at: Bay View Lodge, www.bayviewlodgemoz.com
Interior: Zinave National Park
Vast, verdant and remote, Zinave National Park – on the Savé River deep in Mozambique’s interior – is fast becoming one of Africa’s premium safari destinations. A large-scale rewilding programme is currently underway with the aim of drastically restoring wildlife to the 400 000-hectare park, which is a favourite among camping enthusiasts keen to get off the grid.
Zinave’s beauty lies in its vastness. Think fever trees, mopane forests and lily-covered twinkling lakes visited by long-legged birds.
It looks like God’s own garden; poachers and loggers have been driven out, making way for the wildlife that called this their home first. Operation African Ark – one of the biggest wildlife relocation projects ever to be undertaken on the continent – continues for another two years, bringing elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and other species back home to Zinave.
If you love utter isolation, look no further than this Mozambican wilderness experience and revel in the nearest town being more than 250km afar. Accommodation is camping; either at Covane, with its dome tents and communal kitchen, or at two 4×4 bush camps. The park has some epic 4×4 trails, but it’s also suitable for leisurely drives as well.
Coast: Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve
Standing on a golden-sand beach at Dobela with only your footprints in the sand, watch humpback whales breach and belly-flop offshore. A herd of elephant browses quietly in the thickets right behind you as a fish eagle calls from the beach. This idyllic 100km stretch of coastline is carefully monitored by marine guards to ensure it stays pristine. It’s wild, beautiful, and balmy all year round.
In and around Ponta do Ouro are plenty of accommodation options, as well as diving and dolphin encounter operators in the town. You can camp along the beach at Millibangalala or stay at Anvil Bay at Chemucane. At Anvil Bay there is the sense of having the entire coast to yourself, and aside from the resident whales and dolphins, it’s indeed all yours to enjoy.
In the summer months, loggerhead and leatherback turtles flop ashore and make the arduous trek up the beach to nest. It’s an old ritual of Mother Nature that is magnificent to witness – first the lumbering mother turtles dutifully digging holes to lay their eggs, and then some months later the hatchlings scurrying back into the ocean to start their lives at sea.
Interior: Maputo Special Reserve
The park was proclaimed back in 1932 to protect the coastal elephants that live here. In the 1960s its purpose was expanded to include the protection of other large mammal species, and again in the 1990s, thanks to the growing recognition of its wider biodiversity importance and numerous endemic plant species.
This is an evocative and interesting park. With the reintroduction of more than 4 000 animals since 2010 by Peace Parks Foundation, and more to come, coupled with uplifting community projects, both the animals and local people are benefiting. The wildlife species have been increasing steadily. This is thanks to the sterling work by Mozambique’s conservation managers, field rangers and the communities protecting the animals. Now, as you drive the grassy hills and thick sand tracks here, you’ll see elephant, zebra, wildebeest and antelope at the least – and excellent birdlife too. Communities mostly live around the park, farming vegetables and chillies, and doing beekeeping. Everyone is thriving – and tourist numbers are too.
This is a definite 4×4 country, not so much for its ruggedness but the thick sand that needs to be traversed in the park. The reserve is accessible if driving from Kosi Bay or with a fly-in to Maputo and a comfortable drive from there. MSR is the terrestrial ‘butterfly wing’ of Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve, so accommodation options are the same – top end lodges and self-sustainable camping. And driving the park’s roads is at your leisure, preferably with a GPS to find your way back to base for the night. Here you’ll feel like you’re a million miles from everywhere, yet access is easy and quick – even for a bush and beach weekend getaway.
Story by Keri Harvey