Skimming over the Indian Ocean towards the gorgeous islands of Mozambique is like flying into a kid’s over-imaginative colouring book.
Water in zingy shades of aquamarine and turquoise washes over dazzling white sandy beaches fringed by vivid green palm trees. You’ll fall in love with these exquisite islands even before you land. Then after a few lazy days of downtime punctuated by water sports and sublime seafood you’ll almost look forward to leaving again - just for the stunning aerial views!
The most tourist-friendly of Mozambique’s endless islands are the Quirimbas to the north, a short hop from Pemba airport on the mainland, and the Bazaruto Archipelago further south, easily reached from Vilanculos airport. In the 2020 Conde Nast Traveller Readers Choice Awards, the Bazaruto Archipelago was named the Best Islands in Africa and the Indian Ocean, ahead of the Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius. I'm not going to argue with that.
For an extravagant island-hopping experience, take a look at these. Just don’t ask me which I prefer – I’d go back to all of them in an instant!
I feel faintly ridiculous as I instinctively lock my laptop, money and passport into the electronic safe. Especially when I notice that the door to the beach villa I’m settling into doesn’t even have a key. The only people on this tiny island are here to look after me, I realise, not to rifle through my undies in search of hidden gems. The mental adjustment comes as a relief, and I unlock the safe and leave the villa’s doors wide open to the ocean breeze.
Medjumbe Island Resort is a wonderful hideaway with 12 secluded villas, each with a private splash pool. The airy main building has a lovely swimming pool facing the ocean, large lounges with squishy chairs for lazing away the days, and a long terrace perfect for al fresco dining. You can eat lobster for every meal including breakfast, but after a few days of over-indulgence it’s perfectly ok to ask for cornflakes.
Activities include water skiing, snorkelling, wake boarding, a seafood picnic on a deserted island, lessons in how to sail a dhow and a Robinson Crusoe experience where couples sleep on a king size four-poster bed surrounded by lanterns under the night sky. There’s a spa too, so for an isolated island retreat, the days can prove pretty busy.
Way further down Mozambique’s 2,500km coastline lies the Bazaruto Archipelago in a marine national park. Again the sea is delightfully warm for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving, but Bazaruto also has the more unusual attraction of sand dunes perfectly shaped for dune boarding.
The Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort is luxurious but not ostentatious. It’s a sprawling but discreetly designed place where each thatched villa sits on the beach and has a large bedroom and living area, a massive bathroom with a sunken tub facing the ocean, indoor and outdoor showers and a complementary mini-bar. The resort has had an extensive make-over since I was there, so it’ll be even lovelier now.
There’s an impressively equipped gym and a separate spa with a Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean. Don’t miss the entertaining option of a rasul, an Arabian steam room where couples might get up to hijinks as the steam rises.
Breakfast is served in Golfinho restaurant, with chefs on hand to rustle up unbreakfasty treats like seafood stir fry to build up your energy for the day’s activities, like horse riding on the beach.
I discovered I’m better on a dune board than on a horse, mainly because it isn’t so far to fall. The dunes stand behind a fringe of vivid green palms, and when you climb to the top you find the staff have already set up a table and a picnic basket. You can also take a boat to Paradise Island, stopping to try and swim with dolphins on the way, then snorkeling before dining on grilled seafood and slurping cocktails. Paradise Island was a honeymoon hotspot decades ago, but now its hotel and villas are abandoned, adding a melancholy desolation that makes the excursion more intriguing.
If you forget to pack your shampoo on a trip to Benguerra Island, don’t worry. Just ask for one of the local guides to take you on an island tour and help you find a plant called Devil’s Thorn. Pour some water on it and scrunch it up, and it exudes a gelatinous goo that the locals use for shampoo. You could use the complementary toiletries in your five-star villa, or course, but where’s the fun in that?
The island tour is a great way to spend a few hours, learning about the flora and fauna and visiting the local school that's supported by Azura Retreat’s Rainbow Fund.
Azura designed its lodge here to be eco-friendly, with its own generator and water treatment plant, as befits a property in a national park. It’s also community-friendly, employing and training its staff from the island where subsistence fishing was previously almost the only chance of employment.
The resort is a great place for pristine, near-deserted beaches, snorkelling, diving or diving lessons, horse riding and dhow cruises. The 18 villas have gorgeous décor, your own strip of beach, a small pool on a deck and outdoor showers. There’s also a fully equipped spa and the funkily decorated Jellyfish restaurant that spills out onto the beach.
In the evenings, be sure to challenge the barmen to a game of Tsoro, the addictive board game involving strategy and seedpods.
Or click here for more travel ideas: https://www.tourismcorp.co.za/
Whichever island you choose, getting there is possible again now that borders have opened up for travel after the Covid lockdown. South Africa's regional carrier Airlink has revived its flights from Johannesburg to Mozambique, with twice-weekly services to Pemba on Wednesdays and Fridays and to Vilanculos on Tuesdays and Saturdays.