Mozambique is the perfect destination for that African trip of a lifetime: a paradise where you can chill on the beaches and hunt lions on safari
Some African countries boast sweeping white sand beaches where you can bathe in idyllic, bath-temperature seas without another human in sight. Others offer wild safari parks where you can savour the thrill of a face-to-face encounter with the ‘big five’. Mozambique, my favourite destination in East Africa, is a country of remarkable extremes where you can savour both, in a compelling cocktail with culture, food and people that help make it one of the continent’s most rewarding destinations.
Mozambique was once a Portuguese colony, and today the country is sprinkled with the charmingly faded remnants of the Portuguese days. Although in the 1970s and 1980s a savage civil war ravaged through the divided nation, it is now peaceful and starting to open up to tourists with an appetite for exploring somewhere truly unique. One of Africa’s most intriguing countries is no budget backpacker destination, which helps to make it feel even more exclusive and unexplored.
Mozambique boasts what for me is Africa’s most impressive coastline. The Quirimbas Archipelago is a chain of 27 islands sprinkled spectacularly in the Indian Ocean. Its starched white beaches and crystal-clear waters are reminiscent of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, though the water is a lot warmer and instead of peat bogs and rugged hills there are lush tropical forests and offshore reefs. The local attitude to life here makes Spanish ‘mañana’ living seem stressed and rushed by comparison.
The first night in the Quirimbas I stayed at Medjumbe Private Island. There are only 13 lodges here, each complete with its own outdoor Jacuzzi and shower, swaying hammock and direct access on to your own slice of puffy white sand beach. There was little to do at the resort bar idle around the beach or relax in a hammock, but if you are feeling more active there is snorkelling and scuba diving in waters that few other humans have ever explored. The diving guide beamed that some guests had even been able to name their own reefs. Other watersports are available, but with all bar drinks and food included in the price, many guests just take it easy at the resort.
The flight over to neighbouring Matemo Island only takes 10 minutes, but it is a spectacular journey. Sitting right next to the pilot, I traced out the edges of the reefs and watched local fishermen swinging around on their traditional dhow yachts, before we bumped down on to the tiny landing strip. Matemo also boasts a hammock in all of its luxury lodges and direct access to the beach, and there is much more to do. I snorkelled on the beach just in front of the bar, before taking a guided boat trip across to the neighbouring island of Ibo.
Ibo is a world away from the luxurious resorts. The centuries peel back on arrival at this authentic local island. The shell of the Portuguese colony these days is alive with a splash of African colour, and the locals take what few tourists there are on guided tours around the main town. This is a real African experience and crowds of children followed me around. They whooped with delight at seeing photos of themselves on my digital camera. Some enterprising locals have started selling jewellery smelted from old Portuguese coins.
After spending the first half of my trip exploring this virginal coast, I headed back to the mainland and then continued by light aircraft into the Niassa Reserve, which offers an experience at the other extreme of Africa. This massive (43,000 sq km) bushland reserve is home to over 10,000 elephants, but as yet attracts nothing like the number of tourists that flock to the likes of Kruger in South Africa. Niassa is actually double the size of Kruger, but nowhere near as developed, which for me is all part of the charm.
With only a rudimentary slither of rough bush tracks breaking up one of Africa’s great wildscapes, you need to go with someone who knows what they are doing. The Lugenda Bush Camp not only boasts rangers who know the terrain like the back of their hands, but it also offers a suitably luxurious base where you can live out all of those Out of Africa fantasies.
Game drives are the highlight of any stay at Lugenda. The ‘big five’ (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino) are all found in Niassa, as well as wildebeest, wild dog, zebra and over 400 various species of birdlife. It is a unique feeling bumping around a corner to find yourself staring straight at a young bull elephant with his ears flared towards the safari truck. The first time this happened to me, as the driver reversed hurriedly away, I realised that being on safari is no zoo experience, as here you are a living and breathing part of the environment. This is the sort of humbling experience that makes a visit to Mozambique so special.
If you are looking for an exotic and luxurious holiday in Africa, but cannot choose between heading somewhere that offers a balmy beach or a country that is laden with safari parks, then think about heading to Mozambique. My favourite country in East Africa boasts the extremes of sweeping beaches and wild and undeveloped game reserves in a nation just recovering from its own manmade troubles, and it all comes with that impossible-to-put-a-price-on feeling that you are pioneering through Africa away from the tourist crowds.
I flew to Kenya and then down to Mozambique with Kenya Airways and Precision Air.