Richard Holmes explores the beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago.
I’d come to this scattering of islands of Bazaruto Archipelago, off central Mozambique in search of white sands, colourful cocktails and cerulean waters. The Nile crocodiles came, I’ll admit, as something of a surprise. And yet there they were, floating along like toothy submarines beneath the waters of Lengwe Lake in the heart of Bazaruto Island.
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“This island was once part of the mainland, which is why we have these freshwater lakes and crocodiles on Bazaruto,” explains my guide Lourenço.
However, there’s no shortage of life away from the beach. In the thick bush around the lakes, samango monkeys and duiker are frequently seen, while the night air in the coastal forests is often filled with the haunting ‘bush baby’ cry of the galagos. We’d also spent the morning identifying some of the 180 bird species that call these islands home: from black-winged stilts and greater flamingos to pelicans and a goliath heron fishing patiently on the edge of the reeds.
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Bazaruto Island is the largest in the Bazaruto Archipelago, a network of six islands, with Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Banque, Santa Carolina and Pansy Shell Island strung out along the gorgeous coastline of central Mozambique. It’s a land of ancient dhows and bright blue seas, waving palms and idyllic beach resorts. And yet, even better, it’s a mere 90-minute flight from the bustle of Jo’burg.
One of just three hotels on Bazaruto Island, Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort was my first stop. The welcoming atmosphere and laid-back approach of Anantara make it an ideal choice for those with children, or multi-generational groups.
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There’s a boathouse on-site for fishing, snorkelling and diving excursions, and a dedicated kids’ club to keep young ones entertained. A hilltop spa offers a superb range of treatments and facilities, you’ll also find an array of restaurants.
The next day a helicopter whisked us high above Bazaruto Island. Banking sharply over the towering dunes, a short hop takes us south to the island of Benguerra.
From the air, the scattering of islands is plain to see, the dark blue channels of deeper water rushing between sandbanks fleetingly revealed by the ebbing tide. If you’re lucky, you might spot whales, dolphins and even dugongs from the air.
THE ISLAND OF BENGUERRA
The skids touched down on the helipad at &Beyond Benguerra Island Lodge where just 12 secluded casinhas (little houses) line the shoreline on either side of the main lodge, with private plunge pools and spacious terraces as standard.
The next morning we’re up soon after sunrise for a snorkelling excursion. Further offshore, the reefs offer superb scuba diving, while the deeper channels deliver some of the finest big-game fishing in Mozambique.
But you don’t have to be of an adventurous bent to get the most out of Benguerra. Horse riding is popular on the islands, and a leisurely plod along the beach and into the nearby communities offers a fun way to get a sense of island life. Beach picnics are easily arranged, while long walks along empty sands allow you to stop, stare and catch your breath.
RICHARD’S TRAVEL TIPS
MUST-SEE SIGHTS The sundowner dhow cruises offered by most lodges are a good way to toast another great day.
SHOP UP A STORM While the lodges will accept most major credit cards, take cash for buying curios on the beach or at local markets. Rands, US dollars or meticals in small denominations are best.
NEED TO KNOW Although the Bazaruto Archipelago is a low-risk area, and the lodges run regular spraying programmes to control mosquitoes, Mozambique is a malaria area. Visit a travel clinic three weeks before departure for advice.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
WHEN TO GO With year-round warm weather, the dry winter months (May-November) are the best time to visit northern Mozambique.
GETTING THERE Airlink flies direct from Jo’burg to Vilanculos five times a week. flysaa.com. Flights via Maputo on Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique (LAM) are cheaper, but take longer. lam.co.mz
GETTING AROUND The lodge will usually arrange your transfer from the airport to the island. If you’re feeling flush, it’s worth splashing out on a helicopter transfer. If you’re not, the hour-long boat ride is also good fun.
CURRENCY Mozambican Metical
VISAS South African passport-holders don’t require a visa to visit Mozambique.