For years I thought Mozambique was too far, and with its international customs and irritation, too much hassle to visit.
Then we flew there in our Saratoga as part of the ‘Botswana Safari’ and I realised it’s not that far – and the beauty of the place and friendliness of the people more than makes up for the international border. I promised myself I would be back.
We chose Vilanculos as the ideal place, and it’s just 469 nm from Lanseria – for most singles an easy three to four hours’ flight. That makes it closer than Kasane or Port Elizabeth from Lanseria. The Vilanculos airport is new and welcoming – and has Avgas.
If you don’t feel like flying yourself, you can take Airlink’s affordable daily flight from OR Tambo in its ERJ. It departs OR Tambo at a very civilised 11h30 am, and takes just over an hour, with an attentive cabin hostess and a toilet on board, which beats most piston singles for comfort.
Why Vilanculos? Simply because it’s the Moz destination that caters for all budgets. From affordable family accommodation, to luxurious lodges, to over-the-top sybaritic indulgences of the exclusive island lodges. We sampled a luxurious but affordable mainland lodge and an over-the-top world class island lodge.
PERLO DO MAR – AFFORDABLE LUXURY
We were invited to sample the pleasures of the newly launched Perlo do Mar lodge on the mainland, just north of the town. With nine rooms sleeping up to 18 guests, Perlo do Mar is the ideal place for a large family holiday or a bunch of friends. The décor, by interior decorator Lisa Adams, is warm and friendly beach cottage style, the rooms are luxurious and airconditioned, and you can just kick back and chill. Or you can shop in the large market in the town and then relax back on the large deck around the pool overlooking the azure Indian Ocean.
The lodge has everything you need: great food prepared by chef Sarmento, water sports in the form of a HobieCat, jetski, scuba and canoes, and a large catamaran to explore the islands with their pristine white beaches, clear waters and coral reefs.
Two Mile Reef and beyond is rated as one of the best diving sites in the world. The dive sites are in a national park and so are not crowded, and spectacular marine life can be experienced up close. This protected area is home to whale sharks, manta rays, bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales, as well as the mysterious and rare dugong. Five species of turtle breed on the beaches, while offshore, sailfish and marlin in the deeper waters surrounding the park, provide spectacular game fishing.
Perlo do Mar’s manager, Alberto, will happily collect you from the airport, which is just a few kilometres away. Immigration formalities are easy and there’s plenty of safe aircraft parking on the apron for a very reasonable charge. The only catch in flying yourself into Vilanculos is that for our first visit we had to pay for Avgas in cash. Now I’m told they accept credit cards for fuel, which isn’t too badly priced at around R30 a litre. Landing fees were a reasonable R215.
At Perlo do Mar you can book out the whole lodge, which can be paid for in Rand. The Main House (exclusive use) can be rented at US$3,800 per night and sleeps 10 guests – or you can book a room from US$520 per night per couple. This includes three meals a day and non-powered water sports. High season rates are naturally more – consult the website.
For those who would prefer something cheaper than Perlo do Mar with its luxury all-inclusive offering, there are plenty of cheap and cheerful lodges on the beach, most with attached restaurants, where you can enjoy long lazy lunches of garlic dripping prawns and chips, washed down with Moz’s famous 2M beers – or be more riotous and climb into the South African favourite – R&Rs (rum & raspberry).
The a very special feature of Vilanculos is the Bazaruto Archipelago. This is a string of six islands that form the Bazaruto National Park and are known for their fantastic white beaches and large dunes, coral reefs, and rare marine animals, such as dugongs. The wetlands, forests and grasslands of Benguerra Island’s interior are home to many bird species.
The pristine coral reefs host more than 2,000 fish species as well as whales and dolphins. Needless to say, the diving and snorkelling in the Bazaruto Marine National Park is fantastic. The Mozambique islands have endless stunning and yet deserted white beaches, swaying palms and shallow turquoise waters, and the Bazaruto Archipelago is perfect for peace, solitude and taking time to watch the magnificent sunsets.
Visibility is fantastic in the clear waters of the warm Indian Ocean. Beginners can get their feet wet in the dive school while more experienced divers explore depths of up to 30 metres.
A number of super-exclusive world class lodges have opened on Benguerra Island. We had the unforgettable experience of two nights at &Beyond’s Benguerra Lodge. This is no-expenses-spared luxury, but within the impossibly beautiful and romantic setting of a hut on a perfect beach in a huge calm bay with nothing to disturb your reverie but the dhows passing a polite distance offshore.
This is where I would want to honeymoon, and it’s not surprising that couples come from all over the world to this most romantic getaway. There are just 12 rooms, so it really is exclusive.
Benguerra Lodge has perfected the &Beyond experience. The rooms are large, the food wonderful, and your personal butler as discrete or available as you want him to be. Our butler brought our lunches to our room to enjoy on the patio, next to our private rim-flow pool. For a truly laid-back time, there is a large and comfortable day-bed suspended beneath a palm-frond thatched roof. After a restorative nap, you can just slide off the day-bed onto the warm sand and spend hours strolling on the beach under the magnificent red sunset skies.
In pride of place on the beach outside the main lodge is a traditional wooden dhow, which has been converted to a large convivial bar where you can sip ice-cold cocktails or enjoy an unforgettable meal of fresh seafood. After days filled with discovery, weary muscles relax and recharge under the magical attentions of the masseuses in the massage sala.
Almost all activities, other than deep sea fishing, are included in the Benguerra Island Lodge tariff. We elected to explore the island from top to bottom by taking their Beach Picnic. A driver drove just us in a Land Rover through the acacia forests, past the villages to the southern point, where there was a picture-perfect tent set up with table and chairs and beach loungers for just the two of us.
Returning back along the eastern side of the island, I examined the grass airstrip which, while usable when we were there, is generally not well maintained and so the grass could hide holes. It is therefore seldom used. We flew from Vilanculos Airport to the lodge’s helicopter pad in one of Archipelago Air Charters’ AH130s. At US$386 per person for a ten-minute trip, this is not cheap by fly yourself-standards, but even as a plank driver I will acknowledge that it is by far the best way to travel! Looking down through the wide window at the million shades of blue water and the endless beaches made this a short flight best appreciated from a chopper.
I also explored chartering a boat or even a dhow to get from the mainland to the island, but the costs were not much cheaper than the chopper, and as we wanted to travel when the tides were out, we would have had a long splashing walk through the shallows to the beach, doubtless with porters bearing our bags on their heads to complete an authentic African experience.
&Beyond’s cost of running a lodge this remote with this level of service and luxury must be beyond comprehension, so the prices are also a bit out of the world, but only by our impecunious South African standards. The entry level Cabana room rate ranges from US$1,100-1,300 per person per night. So work on around R30,000 per night per couple. What price can you put on an unforgettable experience?