an uncharted, pristine tidal sanctuary
the stunningly beautiful bazaruto archipelago national park off the coast of southern mozambique is to my surprise still an unknown gem for those on the southern african tourist trail. with its six pristine islands, where locals still fish in dhows 'traditional sailing vessels' as their ancestors did, this is truly a picturesque area of the planet.
my journey to the archipelago saw me continuing my conservation work while also staying in some of the most luxurious hotels the world has to offer. never more than now has conservation & luxury eco / humanitarian tourism needed to be in cooperation with one another to help the world overcome the severe environmental & humanitarian issues that plague the world.
with direct flights from johannesburg & kruger in south africa, vilanklulos is the gateway to the archipelago.
while many tourists head to the island from the airport via helicopter i decided to stay for a while to see what this coastal town had to offer.
vilankulo, 'as it's known now' is named after local tribal chief gamela vilankulo mukok. it is a vibrant fishing town due to the abundance of sealife in the archipelago & the bustling town has many characters from local wood carvers 'daniel chivale' to the market stall holders that offer up fresh produce on a daily basis to eager shoppers bargaining for a decent price.
the best way to experience the local culture of the town is by tuk tuk, my hotel 'bahia mar' arranged this for me, it was such an enlightening experience to see how locals go about their day. the highlight was the market where vendors showcase the absolute best products the region has to offer, i just happened to be there during orange season.
swimming with horses
one of the highlights of the area is the opportunity to swim, yes swim with horses in the warm indian ocean with mozambique horse safari. the story of how the horses came to be here from zimbabwe is fascinating, it is a story of survival & triumph.
my morning with the horses was an extraordinary experience & although it was a rainy day the sun came out just in time to take some awesome videos. there are some experiences that are once in a lifetime, i can honestly say this is one of them, to relate to such an astute animal in the ocean makes you want to pinch yourself to see if you are dreaming.
mandy & pat 'the owners' are incredible people going above & beyond for all guests that come to this magical place. they also offer volunteer positions for those who are passionate about horses, i could not think of a more beautiful place to volunteer.
bahia mar boutique hotel
i had a feeling that bahia mar was going to be exceptional, i just did not think it would surprise me this much. just to the north of vilankulos on the cliff top above the bay lies the slice of paradise that is bahia mar. this luxury boutique hotel must be one of the finest boutique hotels that mozambique has to offer.
my sea view suite had a veranda twice the size of the room, here the outdoors is king. birds sing the day away & dragonfly's come to visit in the afternoon. the room was spacious with a super comfortable bed, large shower & views that blew my mind, especially at sunrise.
at the heart of the hotel is the cliff top garden, with a swimming pool, manicured flora & a spectacular view over the bay, you are sure to be dazzled by the beauty of the place. the main lodge built in a traditional thatched style is where you will find the fabulous restaurant that offers al fresco dining among the flora of the garden.
the included à la carte breakfast was a wonderful way to start the day. the quality of the food was sublime.
-breakfast; fresh coffee & juice served with homemade bread along with your choice of cooked dish, i had the eggs benedict every day.
-lunch & dinner; an extensive menu of meat, seafood & vegetarian dishes are curated beautifully, it's one of the highlights of the day to eat here. the peanut ice cream cake is a must try.
oodles of activities can be organized, from diving to dhow boat trips, horse riding in the ocean & my favorite the tuk tuk tour of the town that takes you around vilankulos exploring the area along with the people, it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet up with locals & experience the true mozambique.
wellness is a key focus of the hotels offering, its huge gym area with personal trainers that offer classes from one on ones to yoga this is a place where relaxation & fitness come together.
environmental, community & conservation credentials
bahia mar set up & support a myriad of projects. from opening & supporting a preschool to a sea horse conservation scheme with local villagers that stops the export of these majestic creatures to be used in chinese medicine, to a conservation tourism model. bahia mar also plants a tree in the local community for every four guests that stay with an ambitious target of over a 1000 a year.
rooms from: ($250) book here
conservation at BCSS
the bazaruto archipelago national park is home to one of the most remarkable NGO's in mozambique, the bazaruto centre for scientific studies more commonly known as BCSS. BCSS is an innovative platform hosting the first permanent ocean observatory focused on multi-ecosystem time series research in the region. they support environmental management at a local level, facilitating regional collaborations & contributing to international scientific programs.
a few years ago, i decided to focus my travels on entities that had environmental, humanitarian or conservation intentions at a core level. i came to BCSS to get a better understanding of our oceans. as a conservation pilot i recognize the impact on the landscape & wildlife, on land but this was the perfect opportunity to educate myself in ocean conservation.
i spent my days here getting a better insight into our oceans from going out counting the wildlife at sea with the dive team to beach cleanups with locals, the center is a great place for any budding ocean researcher. for those wanting to learn to dive, be that scuba with mauro or free diving with jason, i could not think of a better place to learn. the dive sites are teeming with life that have largely been sheltered from commercial fishing giving great opportunities for sightings of turtles, dugongs, sharks & during the season, humpback whales come to nurse their calf's here.
the best way for you to support the center is by joining them on one of the many internships or volunteer programs they offer. from marine research to dive master & local outreach you are sure to find a program that suits you. with all meals, cleaning & laundry included it feels like you are staying at an eco-resort.
although my time here was short it will be a period of my life that i will remember forever, the people & the place are exceptional especially the sunsets, there is nothing more beautiful than an african sunset.
azura benguerra luxury resort
as i awoke for sunrise in my private thatched beachfront villa, i made the few meters walk to the shoreline. with the sand between my toes, it took a few seconds to realize that i was not dreaming, this was the felling i had though-out my stay at the phenomenal ultra-luxury resort that is; azura benguerra.
well, firstly it's not a room. it is a luxury beachfront villa, made in-keeping with traditional methods such as the thatched roof that blends in perfectly with the local flora of the island. the villa comes with a large bedroom, a super comfy bed that looks out over the bay, perfect to view those awesome african sunsets.
the bathroom was huge. tastefully decorated with luxury toiletries, bathrobes & outdoor shower along with a scenic bathtub with views of the bay that will surely make your friends seethe with envy. outside you will find a terrace with chaise lounge, your very own swimming pool that is shaded by local flora teeming with wildlife from birds to tiny deer it is a place of privacy & serenity.
the large main lodge is home to a super comfy lounge area & library where you can while away the days reading a book or watching the boundless tide retreat before returning to the shore.
the bar features a high ceiling & large deck overlooking the bay, it is the perfect place to watch some of the best sunsets africa has to offer. i often found myself here for an evening aperitif before dinner.
adjacent to reception the open-air restaurant mainly features al fresco dining on the deck & on certain nights they set up the tables on the beach where the stargazing is at its best while sipping on a pre-dinner cocktail.
if you are looking for a more intimate experience then the private dining experience on the beach in front of your villa is the way to go, its offered complementary for each stay. your personal butler is sure to make it a once in a lifetime experience.
meals & drinks are all included in the stay. from breakfast to lunch & dinner they were all an absolutely heavenly experience. the quality of the food is near michelin star standards. the menus are sent to you daily with the freshest catch of the day.
-breakfast; fresh coffee & juice served with homemade bread & pastries as a side coupled with a few of my favorites from waffles to eggs benedict & a fresh fruit plate.
-lunch & dinner; i would receive the three-course menu a few hours prior to each meal with a choice of fish, meat, or vegetarian dishes for main along with starter & dessert. this preserves quality & cuts down drastically on the food waste that other resorts have with buffet dining. i truly had some of the tastiest & freshest fish of my life here.
the padi dive center with an activity area is where you can find the free kayaks & paddle boards that are perfectly suited to the shallow warm waters of the bay. if you are seeking a little more adventure then the dive centre with training pool has you covered. all the ocean based excursions go from here to, from whale watching, sunset dhow trips to snorkeling & isolated beach picnics you are spoilt for choice.
environmental, community & conservation credentials
not only did azura employ locals to build the resort, but they also utilized sustainable materials from the island. many of the furnishings were handmade by the local community, the solar showers & environmentally friendly detergents help keep their environmental impact to a minimum. azura also contribute to improving the education & healthcare on the island by building both the first school & clinic on the island with continued ongoing support for a fund that is supported for by guests.
rooms from: ($1400) book here
i could go on for days about what made my trip to mozambique special: the weather, sunsets, the awesome locals that have a smile as wide as the indian ocean. all of it adds up to a felling of richness of the heart, there is a lot of goodness here, more than enough to go around. while south africa may hold pole position in luxury lodges, mozambique is surely on its heels.
how to get there & costs...
this is an ultra luxurious trip & with that comes a cost, but what cost can you put on once in a lifetime experiences? that is up to you. i would budget for approximately ($10,000) for the trip, including airfare.
- budget ($10,000) for the whole trip.
- if you travel often get yourself a curve card. it's the best travel card around, i have saved thousands of $$$ using it. get a free card & $/€/£5 in credit here.
- need an international bank account or transfer money at the lowest rates? i use transferwise. i make all my transfers with then and have even opened a remote eur, usa, gbp accounts for free. click here to get your first transfer for free.
country travel tips
atm: most banks offer withdrawals for ($3). don't accept the on-screen conversion.
sim card: vodacom. 5GB is ($15) for 30 days. got an e-sim enabled phone, try airalo.
transport: hotel transfers & tours companies are the safest.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation her