The islands off the coast of Mozambique offer an enticing mix of adventurous water sports, intimate resorts and a complete escape, writes Michelle Colman.

Of the Indian Ocean islands within easy reach of Southern Africa, the islands of Mozambique could be said to be most like the image of the typical deserted island.

They are largely uncommercialised, sparsely populated, and lay claim to pristine beaches, healthy coral reefs and clear waters where it is possible for the visitor to spot a whale shark, a manta ray or even a rare dugong.

Says Lylie Moolman, General Manager of Giltedge Ocean Islands: “The islands have an African feel with warm, friendly people. There are no large, soulless resorts. The diving, snorkelling and fishing are great and the seafood excellent.”

Mozambique has two major island groups, the Quirimbas and Bazaruto.  The Quirimbas chain is made up of some 30 islands, stretching from Pemba to Palma, and includes Ibo, Matemo, Medjumbe, Quilalea and Vamizi islands. 

Bazaruto consists of six islands, to which the gateway is Vilanculos on the mainland. The islands are Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Santa Carolina (or Paradise Island), Bangué and Shell. The archipelago is a marine reserve.

Bazaruto Archipelago

The beach at Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort in Mozambique.

Benguerra and Bazaruto are the most popular choices among this group of islands.

“These are larger, inhabited islands but you won’t see many people about – just the occasional fishing dhow sailing by – unless you choose to visit a village,” says Moolman. “There are large stretches of wide, white-sand beaches. The surrounding waters are protected by a marine reserve established way back in 1971, so the diving and snorkelling are superb with well-known sites such as Two Mile Reef.”

On Bazaruto, Welcome Tourism Services offers the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort. The property has 44 boutique villas, constructed with rustic appeal yet balanced by understated luxury.  Its spa was recently voted the best in the country. Six unique culinary experiences tempt the palate here, and there’s a conference room for up to 60.

The island boasts all the usual beach holiday activities – swim, laze, snorkel, fish – along with towering coastal sand dunes great for dune boarding. Welcome Tourism Services recommends horseback riding on these dunes, which are also suited to private picnics and sunset drinks.

On Benguerra Island, Giltedge Ocean Islands offers the intimate &Beyond Benguerra Island. “A great choice for honeymooners as each chalet is very private with its own plunge pool, thatched sala with daybeds and outdoor shower big enough for two,” says Moolman. A wide range of activities is included in the cost.

Both Giltedge and Welcome Tourism Services promote Azura Benguerra Island, built by hand in partnership with the local community.  Operated by Azure Retreats, the resort has 20 spacious villas, each with its own private pool stretching out to the ocean. A Presidential Villa, sleeping six, has its own beachfront location.  Activities include scuba diving from the Padi five-star dive centre, island drives, island hopping by boat or helicopter, and massages at the resort’s spa.

Adds Moolman: “The food is excellent and the wine list is impressive, with wines flown in from the owner’s chateau in France’s Loire Valley.”

An interesting day trip from both islands is a boat trip to Paradise Island to explore the ruins of the old Paradise Island Hotel. According to Moolman, it takes just under an hour to get there, includes snorkelling off the island as well as a barbecue lunch. There is no longer any accommodation on this island.

Quirimbas Archipelago

The Quirimbas Archipelago

This set of islands is suited to the private island experience, with accommodation options on the islands of Medjumbe, Vamizi and Quilalea.

“Being uninhabited with small beach lodges, it’s easy to find your own cove of footprint-free sand,” says Moolman. “Once again, the diving is excellent with unspoiled and largely unexplored coral reefs.”

On Medjumbe, a 1km-long island just 300m wide, the 12-villa Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort “offers a paradise escape that is naturally exclusive,” says Welcome Tourism Services. The island is a prime haven for dolphin and whale-watching boat trips and turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, often right in front of the beachfront villas.  The resort also offers a star-bed sleep out.

Then, there’s a second Azura Retreat property on Quilalea, the Azura Quilalea, with nine beach chalets. Moolman says it’s great for walks around the island, kayaking in the mangrove swamps or a sunset dhow cruise.

&Beyond, too, has a second island lodge on Vamizi Island, with just six beach villas. “You have your own butler who can organise champagne picnics and sunset drinks on deserted beaches,” says Moolman. Mountain biking is one of the activities offered, along with the usual water sports.

Well worth the experience is a visit to historic Ibo Island with its old forts and crumbling colonial mansions, where a guided walking tour tells a fascinating tale of pirates, slaves and ivory trading.  For those who want to stay over, Ibo Island Lodge is an option.  Here guests can recline on a rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean watching passing dhows, or snorkel off a nearby deserted sandbank.

In the ancient port town of Pemba, the gateway to the Quirimbas Archipelago, the 185-room Pemba Beach Hotel and Spa offers suites, villas and apartments, conference facilities for 200, and an assortment of entertainment, sports and dining options.

Thompsons Africa is selling the full range of Mozambique product, says CEO, Linda Pampallis, including Anantara Bazaruto Island Lodge, Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort & Spa, Azura Benguerra, Azura Quilalea, Dugong Beach Lodge, Villa Santorini, andBeyond Benguerra Lodge, Avani Pemba Beach Hotel and Spa, Massinga Beach and White Pearl Resort.