When you think of Mozambique holidays, just imagine idyllic beaches, islands, a fascinating cultural melange not to mention impressive wildlife on land and sea.
For so long, would-be travellers considered Mozambique but were quick to dismiss it because the thought was “Australia has the best beaches”. It’s important to understand there is so much more to Mozambique than quality beaches – and indeed the quality of sand or size of the waves should be your last few criteria (can still get a big tick!).
Mozambique is very unique as it features beaches on one side, wilderness, lakes, rolling mountains and forest on the other that stems from the Great Rift Valley. It is an Indian Ocean Island paradise with beaches on the mainland and islands dotted around two archipelagos.
Bazaruto Archipelago is a protected National Park with pristine and undeveloped islands, no roads, no shops, no tourist attractions – just unbelievable natural beauty. Quirimbas Archipelago is laid back and boasts a rich marine world and crystal clear waters. Many of the islands are uninhabited so it’s easy to find empty stretches of beach to explore. Perhaps that’s why Mozambique has become a favourite honeymoon destination.
Coconut palms and powder-white beaches line small private islands like Medjumbe, Vamizi and Quilalea. Add to these bucketfuls of luxury and a fantastic range of activities – from thrilling scuba-diving to peaceful dhow cruises – and you’re looking at the perfect off-the-beaten-track escape.
Ibo Island is probably the most visited of the islands due to its unique blend of culture and architecture, and fascinating history.
Mozambique has a number of vibrant cities and a handful of wilderness areas worth exploring.
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This group of six islands in southern Mozambique was once connected to the mainland, and at low tide the retreating sea to this day still exposes millions of sand bars and tiny isles.
The Bazaruto Archipelago was the spice traders discovery centuries ago and today, it’s where wealthy westerners go for unspoilt beauty, diverse ecologies and Robinson Crusoe style holidays.
The islands sit within Bazaruto National Park and one can expect white-sandy beaches, epic tracts of sand dunes, impressive reefs, and marine life not to mention island wetlands, forests and grasslands.
Maputo is the capital of Mozambique and most visitors choose to skip over this chaotic city. It was previously named Lourenco Marques.
There are wide avenues lined with red acacia and lilac jacaranda trees and an abundance of historical, cultural and scenic spots to visit. The green and white railway station was built in 1910 with an impressive metal dome on top. It’s often voted one of the most beautiful stations in the world. There’s a number of museums like the Museum of Natural History, The Museum of the Revolution and the Art Museum. There’s a small botanical garden called Jardim Tunduru and here you can admire the fine cycad collection and other indigenous and exotic plants. It’s also a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Of course, it’s on the coast and so there are a handful of beaches surrounding it that may be worth a visit if you’re looking for a swim or surf.
The Quirimbas is a chain of 37 near-shore coral islands and atolls that stretch over 320 kilometres from the city of Pemba in northern Mozambique to the mouth of the Rovuma River which is on the border with Tanzania. Its trademarks are turquoise and emerald coloured waters, palm-fringed islands, coral reefs, mangrove forests and warm days year-round.
Previously inaccessible, the magical world of the Quirimbas Archipelago has opened up thanks to improved infrastructure and increased flight access. Only a handful of the Quirimbas islands have been set up for tourism, and the archipelago remains one of the last undeveloped jewels in Africa.
Here you’ll find a blend of cultural influences – Portuguese, Arabian and African. The primary industry is fishing, and tourism is growing steadily. It was the local population (and WWF) that demanded the area be deemed by Government as a national park so it could protect the waters from foreign fishing fleets who were pillaging the sea.
Quirimbas has some impressive dive and snorkelling sites with one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet. There are hundreds upon hundreds of colourful tropical fishes, sea turtles, marine birds and crustaceans galore. Dhow sailing is a wonderful experience, allowing you to explore the archipelago.
Spend long lazy days strolling along deserted white-sand beaches, sail in a dhow through mangrove channels, feast on delicious seafood, explore colourful reefs and relish the luxury and exclusivity of your accommodation. Choose between colonial villas or romantic, thatched chalets right on the water’s edge.
Special mention has to be given to Ibo Island, one of the 27 islands that make up the Quirimbas. It enjoyed a privileged position as one of the most important trading towns in Africa centuries ago when the Arabs arrived and spearheaded its transformation into a trading power. Here they used to trade ivory, gold and slaves. The Ibo site was fortified and the ruins remain to this day.
As ships got bigger, deeper ports were needed and so Ibo lost its port priority and the trade moved to Pemba, 70 kilometres away on the mainland. With it moved the wealthy and so Ibo was literally abandoned and forgotten.
Walkthrough Ibo and you’ll find eerily quiet and sandy streets lined with dilapidated buildings that were once colonial mansions. This fantastic island has been so isolated and protected from the modern world, it’s a hugely moving experience.
There’s a wonderful annual festival for locals called Kueto Siriwala. The festivities – moonlit discos, midnight bonfires and feasts of seafood washed down with vinho (locally brewed wine made from seasonal fruits and yeast left in the sun to ferment) is for Ibo Island residents, their sons and daughters.
Ilha de Mozambique
Ilha de Moçambique is the tiny island paradise that time forgot. It’s a crescent-shaped coral island off northern Mozambique, between the Mozambique Channel and Mossuril Bay. It’s absolutely intriguing to visit with stunning warm waders, nodding palm trees, excellent seafood and the best historical heritage in the country.
Ilha de Moçambique was the capital of Mozambique for almost 4 centuries under the Portuguese rule and colonisation. It was a hub for Arab traders long before the Portuguese arrived and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason.
Tiny, just 1 square kilometres, Ilha de Moçambique is connected by a concrete bridge to the mainland. You’ll see dilapidated colonial Portuguese and old Swahili architecture as you wander around the island. Fort Sao Sebastiao sits at the northern tip of the island and Nossa Senhora do Baluarte, the church dating back to 1522 is the oldest surviving European building in the Southern Hemisphere.
Visit the local museum, wander the streets, take time out to talk to locals and you will be hugely rewarded.
Also known as Terra de Boa Gente (land of good people), Inhambane is a sleepy city in southern Mozambique. The architecture and atmosphere illustrate its diverse past dating back to the 11th century. Persian traders frequented the coastline town as did Vasco da Gama in the late 1500s. The setting is serene with wide tree-lined streets and faded colonial architecture. You’ll find a mix of Arabic, African and Indian influences. Inhambane is the gateway to three wonderful beaches including Tofo, The Barra Peninsula and the Linga Linga Peninsula.
Tofo is famous for its PADI diving and the star of the sea is manta rays and whale sharks (seasonal).
The Barra Peninsula is awesome for all ages with wonderful beaches lining one side and an estuary on the other. Activities abound from diving, snorkelling, fishing to waterspouts and estuary adventures.
Lastly, The Linga Linga Peninsula is the remotest and a real relaxing retreat. Only accessible by boat or 4×4 transfer, you’ll enjoy wonderful beaches and an estuary and a number of great dive sites and watersports activities.
Gorongosa National Park
Stretching across a floodplain at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley is Gorongosa, a 4,000 square kilometre tract of land with savanna, wetlands, woodlands and lakes that was once a hunting reserve. In 2004 the Gorongosa Restoration Project launched between the Mozambican government and a US-based foundation to return the wildlife and wilderness to its natural state. It was one of the greatest conservation-restoration projects in Southern Africa. Here you can see firsthand how rapidly and positively nature responds when nurtured.
These days, there’s healthy populations of elephant, lion, buffalo, hippos, wild dog and wildebeest. Other plains game call it home like orbit, reedbuck, waterbuck, warthog and sable.
Gorongosa safaris offer game drives, community walks and a visit to Mount Gorongosa to walk in the mountain forest and swim in the waterfall. The park is home to a diversity of wildlife from oribi, reedbuck, waterbuck, warthog and sable to elephants and lion.
Birding safaris are spectacular with exceptional quality and quantity of special and endemic birds. Lake Urema provides a home to a huge number of water birds, so one can sit for hours watching fish eagles swoop down, spoonbills forage, jacanas tiptoe across lilies and herons pluck fish.
Niassa Game Reserve
Niassa Game Reserve in northern Mozambique covers over 40,000 square kilometres of land and is the largest conservation area on the continent. Dominated by the Rovuma and Legenda rivers, crocodile and hippo filled waterways meander their way through the reserve. Perhaps the most striking feature is in the reserve is the granite inselbergs that rise imperiously from the surrounding bush.
The highest of these, the Jecula and Jao mountains are almost a vertical kilometre from top to bottom. Niassa is home to 370 bird species and endemic species including Niassa Wildebeest, Boehm’s Zebra and Johnston’s Impala. Other wildlife in the area includes some over 300 wild dogs, 12,000 sable antelope and 16,000 elephants.
There is also buffalo, eland, antelope, lion, leopard and spotted hyena. Plains game is abundant with kudu, bushbuck, impala, wildebeest and more.
Lake Niassa (Lake Malawi)
Mozambique shares a Rift Valley lake with neighbour Malawi and it’s the perfect setting to discover a lost world. This freshwater lake is an oasis of tranquility and the Mozambiquan shoreline is quieter and less developed so it feels authentically wild, wonderful and untouched.
It was officially declared a reserve by the Government of Mozambique in 2011, protecting the species and natural habitats of one of the largest and most biodiverse freshwater lakes in the world. The Mozambique part of the lake (estimated at 25% of Lake Malawi) spans an epic 1,363,700 hectares and is around 700 metres deep in parts. The tropical waters and shores are home to some 1,000 species of cichlids with only 5 percent found elsewhere. The area is also home to a significant population of birds, mammals and reptiles.
The Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park was one of the first formally established peace parks in Southern Africa and is some 35,000 square kilometres of wilderness. It links the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. It also incorporates Mozambique’s Banhine and Zinave parks that were changed from hunting areas to national parks.
The Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park is enclosed by Limpopo and Olifants river with the Lebombo Mountains as its backdrop. This region is home to more than 850 animal and 2,000 plant species.