According to UNWTO, Mozambique is the 8th most visited country in Africa, receiving about 1.8 million visitors a year. What draws people to this country? Mozambique emerged from a protracted 15 year civil war in 1992, and since then, it has established itself as one of the top 10 most popular destinations in Africa, climbing up to the eighth position within 25 years. The country has some of the best remote beaches and resort islands in the world, actually they are the best beaches and islands you will ever find in Africa.
Located on the East side of Southern Africa, Mozambique is a coastal country facing the Indian Ocean with a coastline stretching almost 2500km. The mainland starts with mountain forests in the western and northern border, which then morphs into a low savannah plateau which covers much of the land until the coastline. A lot of the islands and coasts are covered in green woodlands and bushes encroaching the sand beaches which gives them a spectacular remote look and feeling that offers a sanctuary of tranquillity and uncrowded relaxation.
The beaches are some of the pristine you will ever see, with crystal clear water and soft white sand, rich in lagoons, brightly coloured coral reefs and marine life. Let’s be honest, it’s very hard to find naturally clean beaches nowadays, undefiled by human activity and development. The remote beaches of Mozambique are literally untouched, cleansed by nature and unpolluted. Visitors to the Mozambican coast will have a lot of things to do other than sunbathing on the beach and watching the shores. If you are into water sports and adventures, this is a perfect place for deep sea diving, snorkelling, surfing, water skiing, fishing from chartered boats, whale watching, yachting, ocean boat cruise or watching birds with your binoculars.
It’s very hard to choose which islands to visit because they are numerous in number, a whopping 36 islands, but to make it easier for you, there are basically two groups of islands. A group of islands is known as an archipelago. The two main archipelagos are the Bazaruto and Quirimbas archipelago.
The Bazaruto archipelago is the most popular attraction with 6 islands. The main ones are the Bazaruto, Benguera, Magaruque and Santa Carolina islands.
Santa Carolina also called the Paradise island, measuring roughly 3000mx500m is a dog-shaped island when seen from the skies. This island is nestled on a rock bed, with rocky and white sand shores as well as coral reefs on its perimeter. There is an abandoned three-storey hotel on its shores. Visitors come to snorkel , enjoy the views and flamingos.
Magaruque is a beautiful tropical island measuring approximately 2000m x 1000m wide. It has fine lodges for relaxing in a secluded area and surrounding blue fresh waters perfect for sailing, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Benguerra is a much larger island with a gross area of 11,000m x 5,500m. This is one of the most beautiful islands, and one of the top destinations for those visiting the Mozambican archipelagos. The island is thickly forested with woodlands and a sprinkling of palm trees on white sand beaches. Some terrains are covered with savannah and although the island is surrounded by salt ocean water, you will find wetlands and lakes with fresh water which are a natural habitat to crocodiles and other wildlife. Benguerra happens to be an official National Park because of the species of flora and fauna found on the island. Like many other islands on the Mozambican shore, what’s attractive about this island is its pristine white sand beaches, and crystal clean turquoise water perfect for swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, yachting and sailing. Benguerra has lots of high class lodges and guesthouses lined on the beachfront. The aerial and panoramic view of Benguerra is a magnificent scene that is irresistible for travellers and globe trotters.
Bazaruto is the biggest island in this region, measuring approximately 36km long and 8km wide (12,010 hectares).It’s also the island from which the archipelago derives its name. Located near the port town of Inhassoro on the mainland coast, Bazaruto has a lot to offer in terms of landscape scenes, adventure and accommodation facilities. There are thick green forests, stretches of sand dunes, bays, savannah, coral reefs and palm tree lined beaches. It’s a quiet and serene place to relax on pristine sand beaches under the shade of thatched pergolas and trees.
Bazaruto island is a popular destination for sport fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing and swimming with the dolphins. The ocean waters are crystal clear and clean . In July, August, September and October, you might get a chance to see humpback whales migrating past the island on their annual cycle.
The island is accessible by helicopter and light aircraft. Managed by Anantara resorts, visitors can help themselves to numerous high quality villas. There are about 44 villas. Choose between a villa overlooking the bay to get a perfect view of the ocean or get a villa on the beachfront. Families can book deluxe villas.
The Quirimbas archipelago has 32 islands and isles most of which are uninhabited. The main islands include Ibo, Quilalea, Medjumbe, Quirimba, Vamizi , Matemo, Metundo, Quisiva, Rolas, Mogundula, Macaloe, Sencar and Situ islands. Remnants of old Portuguese and Swahili settlements can be found in Ibo, Quisiva and Matemo. The archipelago has rich and diverse marine life habitats which provide a perfect feeding and breeding environment for a variety of creatures such as turtles, dolphins, whales and birds. The spectacular coral reefs and steep gradients provide a paradise for deep-sea divers.
Ibo island is a historical site formerly used as a slave port by the Portuguese. It features ruins of abandoned Fortaleza (fort), churches and cemeteries left by the Portuguese in the 1600s and colonial era. There are ancient mosques built by earlier Muslim settlers who used the town and other islands as a trading port prior to invasion and displacement by the Portuguese.
Medjumbe island is one of the most gorgeous on this archipelago. This small island is shaped like a comma, forested with thick green woodland and surrounded by crystal blue waters. There is an airstrip for small aircraft to land and take off. It’s a peaceful and serene island resort with high quality lodges and white sandy shores to relax.
Quilalea is a private island owned by the Azura luxury resorts group. This is an outstanding island resort which has won about half-a-dozen travel awards such as the Safari Awards and World Luxury Hotel Awards. It’s nothing less than a 5 star resort, offering nine villas situated on the waterfront and various adventures and activities for visitors such as snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking and sailing. You will love the high class facilities and amenities such as the bar, pool, dining room, internet, satellite TV, crafts boutique and watersports centre.
Matemo is an attractive island that offers a crystal clean white sand landscape with palm trees scattered all over the place. It’s a perfect getaway for relaxing and sunbathing. There are high quality thatch lodges, shelters and pools where you can lie on your beach couch while sipping on your tropical cocktail.
Vamizi is known as the “cradle of coral” on television documentaries. Just like Quilalea, it is a luxury private island with pristine beaches and crystalline waters, offering not just high class villas and amenities but activities such as scuba diving, kayaking, snorkelling, boat fishing, sailing, ocean cruises and hiking trails. There is a massage parlour, spa and yoga class for those who enjoy massage therapy and mental relaxation. Visitors can enjoy picnics on desert-like sand beaches, and if you happen to visit the island in the months of July, August and September, you will get an opportunity to see humpback whales in the midst of their ocean journey, making their way past the island. The guest facilities at Vamizi include 24/7 internet, TV room, bar, lounge, pool and air transportation.
Quirimba is the island that gives the archipelago its name. Unlike other islands, it’s not a luxury resort, but a commercial hub and village which thrives on coconut plantations, fishing, sisal cultivation and production. The coconut plantation owned by the Gessler family has 70 employees, exporting 50% of its harvest to Tanzania. The Gesslers built a clinic which serves the community and drilled numerous wells for fresh water supply. When you walk through Quirimba, you will see children playing on the beach and villagers on their daily routines such as canoeing and fishing. Quirimba is a large island of sizeable length with pristine beaches enveloped by warm turquoise ocean water. During low tide, you can walk between Quirimba and Ibo passing through thick mangroves, extended beaches and tidal pools. A boat is needed during the high tide to traverse the waters. There is an airstrip.
Situ island is a luxury resort island with first class lodges and facilities offering privacy, relaxation and adventure for guests. There are spacious chalets with ensuite rooms facing the beachfront, and amenities such as bar, TV lounge, sun loungers, beach chairs, picnic areas, outdoor fireplace, outdoor dining and boat shuttle. There are generous catering services serving three full meals a day, so that you don’t stay hungry. The scenery at Situ includes a mix of pristine sand beaches, green grass lands, bushes and tropical palm trees.
Adventure activities include fishing, canoeing, scuba diving and snorkelling. The island of Situ is very close to the port town of Pemba in the mainland. Visitors can explore the coral reefs, canoe in mangrove ocean waters, relax on the white sand beaches, take a walk through the serene sanctuary or sit under the quiet shades of palm trees and thatched pergolas. There are special boats for ocean cruise sight-seeing and shuttling to and from Pemba.
Mogundula is a small private island with dense green woodland and 5 villas, a very beautiful scene when viewed from the skies. The side elevation also looks spectacular from a boat, canoe or yacht. The island is close to the port town of Pemba, accessible by boat or dhow. The whole island can be hired for private use, but there is also an option to book a villa for the duration of your stay.
How to Reach the Quirimbas Archipelago:
This archipelago is close to the port town of Pemba on the mainland. The town of Pemba, not to be confused with Pemba island in Zanzibar/Tanzania is the regional capital of the Cabo Delgado Province in Mozambique. The distance from the port town of Pemba to Quirimbas islands is approximately 149km. You can reach the islands by boarding a private light aircraft from Pemba airport. Inter-island trips are served by boats and yachts.
Isolated islands are those which are not part of an archipelago. They are on their own, separated by long distances from other islands, but they can be close to the mainland coast. The major ones are Inhaca and Island of Mozambique ( known as IIha de Mocambique in Portuguese).
The IIha de Mocambique described as the colonial Portuguese citadel is the largest historical site in the East African coastal region, awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status for its colonial historical architecture which includes a chapel and Fortaleza built by Portuguese settlers between 1500 and 1975. There are remnants of other ancient buildings built by earlier Arab, Indian and Chinese settlers. If you love ruins and archaeological vestiges left by historical settlers and civilizations, then this place will be of interest to you. The old dilapidated buildings, most of which are limestone and wood structures include a cluster of rectangular flat roofed dwellings, Roman Catholic chapel and church built in 1522 and 1635 respectively, hospital built in 1877, town mall built in 1887, mosque and Hindu temple built in the 1900s as well as the 1674 St. Paul’s Palace which was the seat and home of the governor. The palace is now a museum which displays among other items, treasure troves of ancient Chinese utensils from the Ming dynasty era, along with jewellery, coins and gold obtained from a shipwrecked Portuguese ship.
It should be noted that the Fortaleza de Sao Sebastio, although it’s now an abandoned wall, it was an impenetrable wall of defense that resisted invasion attempts by Dutch armies and Omani Arab pirates.
Despite the island being occupied by successive settlers from different cultures since the 10th century AD, this once forgotten island has retained its pristine nature consisting of unspoiled beaches and crystal clear waters.
The IIha de Mocambique is a small island, only 3km long and about 500m wide, with a population of approximately 15,000 people. It is connected to the mainland coastal town of Nampula by a 3.5km bridge. If the bridge was a dry land mass, the IIha de Mozambique would rightly be called a peninsula, but this is not the case.
The southern part of the island is where the town of Macuti is located. Most of the island’s population is concentrated in this town, which is a poor neighbourhood for native villagers living in thatched mud and brick houses, although mud houses are becoming fewer. The area is dotted with palm trees, street vendors, spazas and and an African mall. The Church of San Antonio faces the town of Macuti on the adjacent side of the island. The bridge to the mainland town of Nampula is located on the southern end, about 600 metres from the church and Macuti.
The northern part of the island is where Stone Town is located. This is an uptown location with signs of affluence and grandeur. The Fortaleza, St. Paul’s Palace and Chapel of Nossa Senhora are found on this end of the island.
Although the Portuguese were the last foreign settlers in this region, bringing with them their Christian influence, the modern community has reverted back to being a dominantly Muslim settlement.
The villagers in the town of Macuti earn a living by vending, selling fish, food, fabrics, clothes and other items. People are also self employed in trades such as ironsmith, shoe repair, motorbike repair, construction and repair of canoes locally known as dhows.
The best highly rated hotels and restaurants are found in Stone Town and northern end, ranging in style from standard to luxury and exclusive. Just by browsing a hotel booking site like Agoda, one can find at least 6 hotels that are located within the island.
Inhaca island is a medium-size island measuring 12km x 7m wide. This is one of the most popular semi-tropical islands situated right next to the Santa Maria peninsula on the Maputo Bay. The distance from Maputo to Inhaca is only 37 kilometres. Reaching the island is easy if you are already in Maputo. There is a government ferry (boat) that takes passengers to and from Inhaca as early as 6:30 am. It takes a little over 2 to 3 hours to get there. The ferry departure time is 7:30am, so you will be on the island around 9:30 or 10:30am. This leaves you with a fairly long time to explore the island before sunset. You can get return back to Maputo around 2:00pm with a boat.
Inhaca is a beautiful island with coral reefs, white sand beaches and clear blue turquoise water to explore. Most visitors go there to enjoy the serene atmosphere, take adventure walks and indulge in leisure activities such as snorkelling, fishing, sailing, water-skiing, kayaking, wind surfing or just frolicking in the azure blue waters and relaxing on the quiet sand beaches. Those with extra time and money to spend can stay overnight in one of several nice lodges and guesthouses. There is plenty of restaurants offering appetizing cuisine and hotel bookers are rewarded with a 67% discounted fee for snorkelling. If you are a social explorer, there are villages to meet local inhabitants, and markets to buy local stuff such as fish.
Inhaca island is a highly rated leisure resort on TripAdvisor and Google Travel, so you won’t go wrong in deciding if it’s worth a visit. To appreciate the beauty of this island, you have to look at the aerial photos. Just like the Santa Maria peninsula next to it, the island is covered with dense green forests surrounded by white beaches on the shores. The coral reefs are rich in marine life and the ocean waters are graced with dolphins, whale sharks, kingfish, barracuda and other creatures.
Mainland Coast and Peninsulas
Besides the archipelagos and isolated islands, the other geographical attraction is the mainland coast, stretching 2500km along the Indian Ocean shore, which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches such as the Barra Beach, Macaneta Beach, Vilanculos Beach, Ponta do ouro Beach, Machangulo Peninsula, Santa Maria Peninsula and Tofo Beach. Tourists who are into scuba diving will smile with glee because once again, beaches like Tofo offer certified deep sea divers an opportunity to explore the deep turquoise waters rich in coral reefs, fish, manta rays and whale sharks.
The Santa Maria Peninsula is close to the Maputo Bay, located between the bay and less than 2km from Inhaca island. This remote and elongated peninsula is 20km long, with pristine sand beaches and coral reefs along the edges, enveloping the dense inner woodlands containing numerous lakes. There are about 12 lakes within the green bush forest. There are beach houses and lodges positioned on strategic locations of the peninsula.
Adventure and leisure activities include snorkelling, whale watching or just relaxing on the virgin white sand beaches and wading into the clear turquoise waters along the coast.
The peninsula’s close proximity to Inhaca island and Maputo Bay means that visitors can explore the surroundings such as the Maputo Elephant Reserve with ease. If you are on the mainland, you can get to Santa Maria by boarding a government ferry that runs on a fixed schedule from the mainland to Inhaca island. Once you are on Inhaca island, a boat shuttle can take you across the small distance to Santa Maria. It would be ideal to get a boat ride that takes you to Santa Maria straight from Maputo, but it comes with a cost.
There are many self catering lodges at Santa Maria which are much more affordable for budget travellers, but you can opt for full serviced lodges and guesthouses if you have a taste for luxury and high quality services.
Santa Maria can be reached by road from Maputo, but it’s not a quick straight line journey as you would expect if you are taking the ocean route by boat. Road travellers have to take the long winding way with a dose of patience and humility. It’s a whopping 6 hour drive that passes through the nature reserve.
Barra beach is one of the most popular coastal tourist destinations in Mozambique. The beautiful resort is situated on the Ponta da Barra peninsula about 25 kilometres from the city of Inhambane. Things to do at Barra include snorkelling, scuba diving, sailing, vacationing on the sand beaches, sightseeing and exploring the wreckage of an old ship that sank in 1949. There are numerous lodges, guesthouses, bungalows and self-contained apartments to stay overnight or on a rental basis.
The aerial view of the resort is amazing and stunning. Like most Mozambican ocean resorts, the landscape is a lush green mat of forests with pristine white sand beaches, and a scattering of lodges, bars and restaurants. The beaches are quiet and spacious, almost empty like a private estate and if you want to swim or wade in the ocean, the waves are calm and gentle.
Tofo beach is named after the town of Tofo, in the same region as Barra beach, and almost the same distance (22km) from Inhambane city as Barra. You can actually reach this resort by walking along the beach from Barra if the tide is low. Alternatively, you can travel this route by car, taxi or quad bike, which takes only 15 minutes.
Tofo is a spectacular site with a familiar curved beach that offers lots of space and wide expanses of pristine white sand on which to relax. The landscape scene is picturesque, with green gently-sloping cliffs overlooking the ocean and a line of lodges and hotels perfectly situated on top of the cliffs, to provide an undisturbed panoramic view of the ocean and shore. The inner coast is a terrain of green trees and bushes interspersed by accommodation facilities, bars and restaurants.
Visitors come to Tofo to indulge in scuba diving, exploring the coral reels harbouring manta rays, whale sharks, bright coloured schools of fish and other marine life. Originally a fishing village, the town has evolved into one of the most frequented tourist attractions in Mozambique, featuring lots of accommodation from budget to luxury rating.
The adventure diving expeditions provided by guided diving centres in the Tofo coral reefs are one of the most exciting because clients are taken into the deepest ocean beds (about 20 metres below) to make an encounter with manta rays and whale sharks. Other sports and activities include wind surfing, wading into the ocean currents and sun bathing on the white sand. Tofo receives a lot of visitors from South Africa during the school holidays.
To reach Tofo, you have to make a stop in Inhambane and then catch a ride to the beaches.
Macaneta beach is located on the Macaneta peninsula, which is separated from the Mozambican coast by the Inkomati river, and adjacent to the Marracuene district and Muemesa region. The precise location of Macaneta beach is on the narrow point of the peninsula just opposite the Muemesa peninsula. The distance from Maputo to Macaneta by road is about 44km. If you are in Maputo, there are tour companies, taxis and shuttles that can pick you up and drive you all the way along the EN1 route (or any other route) to Macaneta via the town of Marracuene. A 310m long bridge that passes over the Inkomati river is the only passageway connecting Marracuene to the Macaneta peninsula. Taxis will charge US$30 for the journey, and chopelas are usually cheaper at US$25. Shuttles run by lodges and tour companies are on the expensive side, about $40.
It takes approximately 1 hour and 23 minutes to drive from Maputo to Macaneta, so when you depart at 7:30am, you will have plenty of time to stay in Macaneta, exploring the beaches and enjoying yourself.
Macaneta is one of the resorts that are crowded and fully booked on Christmas and other holidays, being frequented by many vacationers from South Africa.
The macaneta peninsula has beach resorts such as Tan-N-Biki, Macaneta Holiday Resort and Jays Beach Lodge. You will enjoy the quiet atmosphere, pristine and untouched beaches which have been rated one of the cleanest by visitors. Since the resort is visited by many people over the holidays, there is plenty of cheap accommodation in the form of rustic chalets, thatched African style rooms with TV, air conditioning and hot water. If you like wave surfing, this is the best place for the sport because the waves are high and strong.
Vilanculos beach`is located on the coastal town of Vilankulo in the Inhambane province. There are approximately 24,400 people living in this town, with a radius of about 5km. The small town is served by an international airport located on the outskirts, which hosts several regional flights on a daily basis. Tourists in the Mozambican city of Maputo as well as those in South Africa (Johannesburg and Nelspruit) can take direct flights to Vilankulo.
The Vilanculos beach is 8 kilometres from the airport, and 4 kilometres from the village, so you can visit both places within a day. The beach is close to the Bazaruto Archipelago and hence, the coastal town has been dubbed the “gateway to Bazaruto”. In case you want to drive all the way from Maputo to Vilankulo, it’s a 715km journey which will take you a little over 9 hours.
The Vilanculos district as well as the Bazaruto Archipelago in its proximity is well served with transport, hotel accommodation, restaurants and other consumer services. If you are already in Vilankulo, you can visit the Bazaruto islands by boarding a helicopter or one of the many dhows (canoes) on the coast.
One of the best resorts on this coastal beach are the Vilanculos Beach Lodge, Villas do Indico, Casa Cabana Beach and Casa Jules. These are beautiful high class resorts with nice thatched guesthouses and bungalows, squeaky clean pools with clear blue water, lounges, spas, restaurants, full service bar and catering. The scene is a picturesque villa dotted with palm trees, thick forest and overlooking the pristine white sand beaches and Indian ocean. You will love the red expanses of amazing sand dunes by the ocean, providing you with a quiet and untouched place to explore.
Things to do at Vilanculos beach include relaxing by the pools, taking a walk in the coastal dunes, enjoy the ocean view and peaceful gardens, visit the spa or take a boat cruise. Of course, you can always visit the nearest Bazaruto islands to partake in adventures such as snorkelling and scuba diving.
Ponta do ouro beach is located on the coastal town of Ponta do Ouro. This town is located on the southern tip of Mozambique close to the border with South Africa at Kosi Bay. The road from Kosi Bay Border post to Ponta do ouro is an N-shaped 16 kilometre route that takes 16 minutes to complete. If you are coming from the western border post at Lebombo, Komatipoort in South Africa, it will take you 3 hrs 26mins to complete the 240km journey by road. This route bypasses the city of Maputo on the right. From Maputo to Ponta do ouro, it’s only 167km, a journey which takes about 2hrs 27mins.
Ponta do ouro is a very popular beach, frequented by locals as well as many visitors from South Africa. Here, you will have a chance to relax and do sports on the pristine beaches, take a plunge into the azure blue ocean with your scuba diving gear, swim with the dolphins, go on whale watching tours and sunbath on the C-shaped beachfront. It’s an angler’s paradise for deep-sea fishing. There are extremely wide beachfronts filled with dune sand and dotted with thatched pergolas. Many people bring their compact shelters and tents to shield themselves from the sun while lying on the sand. The C-shaped beachfront is encircled by a rising green forest terrain with several accommodation facilities dropped in between. You will find a mix of luxury and budget-friendly resorts, modern and classic lodges to suit a variety of tastes and needs. Whether you want a self-contained apartment, chalet, camping site, hotel suite, bungalow, motel, bed & breakfast or hostel, you will find it.
If you need to something to buy during your holiday, the town has small shops, kiosks and liquor stores, including a market mall for fruits, vegetables and other stuff. However, don’t expect fancy shopping malls and supermarket chains like Pick n Pay. There are lots of bars and restaurants at various resorts.
The most highly rated places are the Paraiso do Ouro Beach Front, Ponta Beach Bar, Ponta Beach Camps, Pintos Beach Bar, Coco Rico Resort, The Point@Ponta, Kaya Kweru, Mar e Sol Beach Complex, Dolphin Encounters Research Center (for whale watching tours), Motel Do Mar, Golden Beach Village and Lar Do Ouro.
The Machangulo Peninsula is located in the southern coast of Mozambique, in the waters of Maputo Bay area, just 40km away from the bay.The peninsula is attached to the Maputo Elephant Game Reserve in the south, and it faces Inhaca Island in the north. To get to the peninsula, you have to get a boat ride or ferry from Maputo. The journey is at least one hour. There is a government ferry that takes passengers to Inhaca island. From there, you can take a dhow or boat to cross over the channel to Machangulo, which is just 5-minutes away.
There is only one resort lodge on this peninsula, the highly rated Machangulo Beach Lodge, offering 4-star luxury rooms, private pools, spa and diving centre. There are 17 self-contained en-suite rooms equipped with air conditioning, coffee making equipment, mini-bars and decks. If you intend to stay around for a few days on the peninsula that’s the only option you have. Otherwise, your only other option is visiting for the day, and heading back to the city of Maputo which has plenty of hotels, lodges and guesthouses to stay overnight.
The Machangulo peninsula is a beautiful scene when viewed from the skies. It’s a gorgeous thick green forest dotted by luxury villas overlooking the ocean, and surrounded by pristine white sand dune beaches. From the northern end of the peninsula, you can see Inhaca island across the channel. Venturing southwards deep into the peninsula forest will lead you to the Private Nature Reserve.
Things to do at Machangulo Beach Lodge include scuba diving, fishing, snorkelling, kayaking, SUP board surfing, adventure sailing with dhows and relaxing on the quiet beaches. The lodge offers a shuttle service for picking up and transporting guests to and from airports.