Unspoiled, uncrowded specks of land with china-white beaches of sand so fine to squeaks and turquoise waters dotted with some of the world’s most pristine unbleached reefs – this is the magic of Mozambique. After two decades of war and instability, the mainland is still struggling to restore its image as a safe place to experience the safari days of old. But spectacular lodges have been appearing in the northland Quirimbas Archipelago (32 undeveloped coral islands) and the five more-accessible islands of the southern Bazaruto Archipelago. They lend the surroundings a seductive ambience that’s part tropics and part Mediterranean, with a whiff of the country’s days as a Portuguese colony.
Both Quirimbas and Bazaruto offer a marvellous variety of marine beauty, and the snorkelling and diving are spectacular. Shallow reefs protect schools of brightly coloured fish, including Moorish idols and lionfish; sharks, rays, and turtles find safe harbour among reefs farther out; and deep channels serve as a playground for whales, whale sharks, dolphins, and dugongs (pale, voluptuous rare sea mammals that are related to the manatee and fabled to have made bygone mariners believe in mermaids). Both archipelagos also boast some of the world’s most diverse flora and fauna, with samango monkeys, nesting turtles, and over 100 species of tropical birds.
Protecting all this is the mission of the Maluane Project, which recently opened Vamizi Islands Lodge in the Quirimbas. Each of its 13 exceedingly private, open-air villas of wood, wicker, and thatch features its own secluded stretch of perfect beach backed by dense bush. Dive kayak, or lounge the day away, and dine on fresh seafood under tiki torches at night.
Benguerra Island, a national park and the second largest island in the Bazaruto Archipelago, is home to the Bazaruto Lodge, set in athick, shady forest and featuring two beachside cabanas and ten larger casitas. In addition to dives, you can enjoy leisurely dhow cruises, nature hikes, and visits to villages. Also located on the 21-square-mile island is the newer, eco-vigilant Azura, the most elegant lodging in the archipelago. Amenities include a private infinity swimming pool for each of its 15 villas, which resemble modern boutique hotels suites fused with traditional Mozambican design: the structures have old-style thatch roofs but are missing a wall, the better to let in cool ocean breezes.
WHERE : Quirimbas Archipelago is 300 miles/500 km southeast of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Benguerra Island is 454 miles/730 km northeast of Maputo.
BEST TIME : Beautiful year-round but especially in Apr – Oct; Jul – Sep for humpback whales; Sep – Oct for exceptional diving.