Mozambique continues to open innovative and increasingly sophisticated lodges as well as a new airport in Maputo. One of our team recently returned from inspecting a number of lodges and here’s some notes on the top three.
Azura at Quilalea Private Island is open and looking fabulous! Remote and beautiful Quilalea Island is the most southerly of 32 lushly vegetated coral islands that form the Quirimbas Archipelago which stretch from Pemba to Mozambique’s northern border with Tanzania. Visit our page on the website here.
A small, uninhabited, private island surrounded by the pristine waters of a marine sanctuary Azura at Quilalea is an eco-friendly dream hideaway. Rich in birdlife the island is covered in indigenous vegetation, statuesque age old baobab groves, star-chestnuts and corkwood trees. A highlight is the spectacular house reef accessible directly off the islands main beach. Here guests can spend hours marvelling at the multicoloured under water wonderland. In addition to the house reef, and no more than a 30 minute boat ride away, there are at least 12 stunning dive sites that will thrill both the novice and advanced diver.
Not to eclipse the natural beauty of the island the attractive guest areas are laid back yet stylish. These include a swimming pool and deck where romantic dinners are served under softly lit trees, an open sided indoor/outdoor bar, chill out area, small TV lounge with internet access, fully equipped PADI Dive Centre, separate dining room with wine cellar, small boutique and an attractive cliff top spa which offers a variety of pampering treatments.
There are just nine sea facing villas built out of natural coral stone and makuti thatch. The villas comprise three Sunrise and three Sunset villas and the gorgeous Villa Quilalea with private plunge pool and commanding cliff top setting. Exuding African elegance the Sunset and Sunrise villas are very similar in design however the Sunrise villas offer a couple of extra features and faces the beach that offers superb snorkelling.
We have no doubt that it won’t be long before Azura at Quilalea is back on the map as one of Mozambique’s top island getaways!
The lodge is much more than a beach extension and far more of a destination in its own right. We were there 3 nights and didn’t even have time to start with traditional beach activities or flop in the sand, so 4 nights would be my minimum recommendation. Visit our page on the website here.
The history and culture is unique and everywhere – from the early Arab slave trading influences to the Portuguese, to the local Makua tribe that lives there and you become totally immersed in these cultures while there. Ilha de Mozambique is rightly a UNESCO site, dating back to the 1500’s, and while in need of some serious repair in certain areas, has incredible architecture and an enormous sense of undiscovered history amongst the faded buildings. This was the capital of Mozambique at that time and was a fabulously wealthy settlement. We made contact with a Spanish photographer living there and can now organise private photography excursions with her for our guests!
We visited Ilha de Mozambique (20 minutes by boat from the lodge), did a walking tour of the local village – with Arab roots dating back 500 years, discovered old ruins including the oldest church in the Southern Hemisphere in the backwaters of the mangroves, snorkelled in the lagoon in front of the lodge and made sushi with the head chef with tuna from the local fishermen and before we knew it, it was time to go. We didn’t get round to diving, or exploring the other islands which are also highly recommended: there are 28 known wrecks in the area, and finding Ming pottery, 400 year old coins and glass beads is the norm on a dive.
The lodge is exceptionally well run and managed and the owners, Bart and Alex will ensure that guests are occupied and busy the whole time. Dining was imaginative and excellent with emphasis on creative use of local ingredients and locations, including a picnic under the baobab and dinner alongside the lagoon.
The rooms are suite size and relatively simple, but charming with polished coconut-wood shutters and Arab-African fabrics. The bathrooms are surprisingly chic, with strong European influences in the smooth slate gray tiling, slick chrome plumbing and decent shower and cocoon bath – and well stocked with amenities. The 5 rooms facing the sea have the morning sun and sea view advantage, but at high tide have little to protect against the noise of very close crashing waves and it takes time to adjust your urban noise filter! The 5 suites facing the lagoon are quieter and have the later afternoon sun, with views of the mangroves and tidal lagoon.
If you want to leave with an in depth understanding of Mozambican history and culture, in a remarkable array of locations, there really is no better place for it. And the nearest other lodge is 4 hours away by road (Nuarro) so there is a sense of being amongst the first to discover it.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The direct flight from Johannesburg to Nampula is an easy 2.5 hours (4 days a week, Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri) and leaves at 11:05, arriving at 13:35 (the 07:50 flight from MQP to JNB, also on SA Airlink, connects with this for those pax coming from Kruger or Sabi sands). This is followed by a 2 hour road transfer, and a 30 minute boat ride to arrive at the lodge. It is pretty much a full day, although the drive is through some interesting scenery and local villages and the boat ride is from Ilha de Mozambique and depending on weather, can be by dhow. The journey should be seen as part of the experience: it isn’t as painless as flying directly to Vilanculos and a helicopter to Azura for instance. Also – although Australian citizens can get their visas on arrival, the Immigration staff are slow and with no sense of urgency, so rather get these beforehand or you could be delayed by up to an hour while the visa is processed. You can take a private charter from Nampula to Ilha de Mozambique, which is pricey and only cuts off about an hour: you still need to do the final bit by boat. Only an option if money really isn’t a concern. They are very child friendly and have two suites with en suite children rooms. The beach is tidal and at low tide can be a 500m walk from the lodge to the sea, although the lagoon always has water and low tide is actually the best for snorkelling. There is a small spa and treatments available in your room, and a full dive centre.
If market researchers had asked what Mozambique needed in terms of new properties, top of the list would have been an affordable, relatively easily accessible lodge that could combine effectively with safari, and offer all the aspects of a resort without being overly commercialised. They didn’t, but they pretty much got the brief spot on with White Pearl. Visit our page on the website here.
In the far south of Mozambique ( out of the cyclone paths), 30 kms from the South African Kwa-Zulu Natal border and an easy (and scenic) helicopter flight from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, it can be reached from both the Kruger National Park and the safari lodges of Zululand.
Built to five star specifications, it fits firmly in the 4 star price range, which gives allowance for the somewhat inconsistent service levels that make Mozambique endearing or frustrating, depending on your mood. It is good value for money: large, remarkably still very white suites, have all the mod cons: flat screen TV’s, air conditioning, butler service, in suite dining, indoor and outdoor showers, private plunge pool and own sunning deck. It is the views – certainly of the higher up suites – that finish off a delightful space, with an infinite stretch of beach, and the lodge tiered on the sand dune.
The lodge is one of the larger ones in Mozambique, with 22 suites, and despite the sophisticated approach in the rooms, is not precious about families and children, and so could be busy when in full swing. But with two swimming pools, a beach bar, and a beach deserted enough to be termed private, there is plenty of opportunity to find your own space. And of course there is your own room, which is good enough to hibernate it, whether sun or rain.
There were lovely touches that stood out: no buffet breakfast, but a private breakfast tray for each person – and a contemporary fire pit in white wood for evening sundowners to give an elegant boma feel. Lunches are best taken at the beach bar tapas style, or by the pool and dinner is a well executed set menu.
Low tide sees the calmest waters in front of the lodge which is protected by a shallow reef, but the waves do tend to roll in at high tide making for boisterous waters – this isn’t the flat seas of Benguerra Island, and may be a little rough for kids at high tide.
Activities include swimming with dolphins, snorkeling trips and diving, with a village walk planned for the future. Horse riding is available but seems a little haphazard at the moment as it is sub contracted by the lodge.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Getting here from the Kruger National Park is best done by taking a charter hop from the lodge to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport (as usual) and connecting with a road transfer to Maputo from here (3-4 hours depending on the Komatipoort border crossing). From Maputo, it is a 20 minute helicopter flight operated by the lodge to White Pearl across the bay of Maputo. Getting here from Kwa Zulu Natal can be done by road transfer or self drive to the Kosi border post, where White Pearl will collect for a 45 minute 4×4 transfer to the lodge. Visas can obtained at the border but the Komatipoort border is disorganised and can be very busy in season and so obtaining a visa prior to arrival is recommended – it can save up to an hour. The baggage limit for the helicopter is 15kgs per person in soft bags. The lodge can organise baggage storage for excess weight (bearing in mind that you will need to be returning to Maputo and not continuing to Zululand), otherwise bags can be taken by vehicle from Maputo at an extra transfer cost.