Southern Mozambique is popular for its warm ocean, gorgeous beaches and many lively holiday resorts. Things can get pretty festive and frenzied over peak periods, so if you want to escape the crowds and the hustle, try these quieter spots along the southern coast.
Far from the madding crowd
Ditch the crowds at Vilanculos, the northernmost town of southern Mozambique – and head for Azura Benguerra on Benguerra Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago. Think Crusoe couture and you’re on the right track. This eco-lodge has a series of light footprint beachfront villas that offer you luxury island solitude – there’s no motorised watersport apart from scuba diving and deep-sea fishing. There’s a spa, a Star Bar near the impressive wine cellar and the food is sublime. Each of the villas has a private pool, just a few steps from the beach. azura-retreats.com
Peace, quiet and charm
While the more famous Barra resorts (nearest town Inhambane) have beach clubs, timeshare, cruise boats, quad bikes, happy hours and relentless curio hustlers, Tofo, around the bay, moves to an entirely different groove. Think wide, white beaches and the warm Indian Ocean. No resorts or shopping centres, just a good smattering of bistros, coffee shops and cocktail bars, plus a small mercado (market) where you will find fish and other supplies. Tofo is a laid back spot known for its diving, surfing and marine conservation ethos. Head for the self-catering Casa Algodoal, which is an elegant wooden villa with canvas walls that roll up like a tent. Mediterranean and nautical décor give you the feeling of being on a boat, heading out to sea. casaalgodoal.com
For a compelling combo of ocean and lagoon, plus perfect sunsets, head for Lagoa Poelela, near Quissico, which is north of Xai Xai and south of Inhambane. From Quissico it’s a 40km drive down coconut lane (Inhambane province has more than 3 million coconut trees) to Lagoa Poelela. Facing west, this eco-lodge is set on the shores of Lagoa Poelela, a lagoon that never reaches the sea. The lagoa covers around 76km2and is surrounded by wetlands, mangroves, estuaries and coconut groves. It’s low in salinity (you could mix it with whisky at a push) and high in birdlife. There are no motorised activities here, but you can snorkel, dive, arrange a 4×4 trip, or go kayaking on the lagoon. Lagoa Poelela is self-catering but there’s a restaurant for lunches and dinners. The chalets all face the lagoa with front-row seats for the sunset. lagoapoelela.com
There’s always been a party spirit to Bilene, a friendly town some 180km north of Maputo, especially over New Year. For a quieter option, head for the more relaxed village vibes at Villa N’ Banga in Nhabanga Village, 20 km from Bilene, on the Uembje lagoon. The tented chalets are set in jungle greenery and there’s a restaurant right on the beach with fish tanks and excellent island-style kitsch. You can while away entire days here watching the passing show: dogs with curly tails, children, goats, tourists, fishermen and villagers going about their daily life. Take a boat trip to the mouth of the lagoon, which is blocked by a sandbar for most of the year. Around April every year the rains flush out the mouth and you can sail out to sea. The beach at the mouth is called Turtle Cove – expect leatherback turtles and flocks of flamingos. villanbanga.co.za
Blue water beaches
With the Indian Ocean on one side and the Incomati River on the other, Macaneta Bay is the charmer of Maputo province – a glorious 170km-long arc of white sand beaches and blue water with assorted cottages, guesthouses, lodges and getaways. Think thatch umbrellas, cold beer, spicy prawns and lazy days. Macaneta feels so sleepy and unspoiled, yet you can get there from Maputo in about half an hour, now that there’s a bridge over the river between Macaneta and Marracuene and a new dual-lane highway that bypasses Maputo’s traffic. Maputo’s beaches tend to be murky since the city sits on the estuary of five rivers, so Macaneta is the postcard spot. Head for Praia do Peixe, which is an Afro chic place centred sensibly around a pool, bar and tropical garden with the beach a short trot away.
Maputo is one of Southern Africa’s hippest cities. There’s a skip in its step, a smile on its face, a frivolous wave in its palm trees. Modern Maputo is a heady mix of African and Portuguese, along with French, Arab and Oriental influences. It’s been dubbed Little Havana thanks of its retro charm and tropical attitude. Stay at the new Stay Easy on the Avenida Marginal, the city’s main beach road. It’s hip and affordable and gives you easy access to the city’s delights.
For some local flavour, head for the main market, the Mercado Central, whose building dates back to 1901 and features row upon row of stalls selling fresh fish and seafood, fruit and vegetables, spices, clothes, curious, baskets, cashew nuts and more – it’s lively, pungent, vibrant. Try the signature peri peri sauce to take home. It’s made from chilli and lime and is just heavenly. Diagonally across the road from the mercado is Casa Elefante,a fabric shop with rooms filled from floor to ceiling with printed cloth. You can buy excellent local, Tanzanian and Indian fabrics at bargain prices.
For a quiet escape head into the green heart of Maputo – the city’s botanical gardens, Jardim Tunduru. Designed by Thomas Honney in 1855, the gardens have reflected the rise and fall of the city, and its rebirth since the civil war. The gardens have recently been upgraded and given a good dose of TLC. There are ancient trees, subtropical pockets, gentle pathways and a small restaurant with a pleasant menu and great atmosphere. For more information about exploring Maputo visit danatours.com
Read more: City Guide: Maputo
WORDS: Bridget Hilton-Barber