Getting to Vilanculos:
Its early winter and the sun had not yet risen as we motored our way from Pretoria to OR Tambo International Airport. It was time to visit Vilanculos with its host of holiday spots. We checked in and settled down at the Mug & Bean with a huge muffin and a latte to watch the sun rise. We flew on LAM, Air Mozambique, and due many previous “shame” reactions to taking this flight, I was expecting the worst. Delays, late departure and the like. Thankfully none of this happened and we arrived in Vilanculos bang on time. The only drawback using this flight was the 2h30 wait at Maputo Airport. Maputo airport was a pleasant surprise and not an ordeal. Clean toilets, air-con and nice little restaurant, even ATMs to draw a little local currency.
On the ground in Vilanculos:
When we arrived in Vilanculos, I knew that I was still in Africa. The airport, while small was typically African, poorly run. We could see the baggage guys rifling through the packed cargo hold for our luggage. The luggage eventually emerged and we were on our way, after of course, going through the obligatory scanner. How I was supposed to have acquired the means to harm anyone between the last scan at Maputo Airport, flying at 29000 ft, and arriving in Vilanculos? I really can’t figure it out. Of course I am not an master criminal, so how would I know?
1st Stop: Vila do Paraiso:
The lodge collected us in an open 4×4 vehicle and we traveled along the paved main road through what is still really an African village. Vila do Paraiso is situated about 15 min from the airport half way along the Vilanculos beach. The 6 luxury, self catering villas sit high on a dune overlooking the channel between the mainland and the Bazaruto Archipelago. While sitting on your patio, which has a huge dining table for 10 people, you look out over the tops of palm trees to the Islands.
The villas have 4 en suite rooms, aircon, fully equipped kitchen, lounge with DSTV, private plunge pool and full time Mozambican host. The kitchen is very well equipped. For those that have being paying attention, you may ask; Where are we supposed to get food to self cater?. Good question, you have been paying attention! Before you arrive, supply the lodge with a list of groceries needed, and hey presto they are in your villa on arrival. If you don’t want the schlepp of self catering you can get your host to cook for you or make use of the onsite restaurant and pool bar.
What’s is there to do?
Having arrived safely is one thing, but what is there to do? Well lots! Soak up the sun on the beach, swim in the sea and pool, hire a catamaran, cobra-cat or mono hull to fish or visit the islands Have a private picnic or braai the islands or on a sandbank, or snorkel the reefs, particularly those of Margaruque. Scuba dive or kite surf from the local KiteZone.
We were treated to an afternoon on the catamaran. The sea conditions were not ideal, but as we cruised through the azure waters we spotted dolphins and enjoyed the wind and spray in our faces. We arrived at a pristine, white sand bank, that just a few ago had been covered in a few metres of water. It was just the most awesome thing to be the only inhabitants on your own private sandbank. We wandered its pristine sands picking up pansy and many other beautiful shells that had been deposited on the sand or in the shallows. Today we, due to the wind, were served homemade pizzas, which were equally as good as having a braai or picnic.
We arrived back at Vila do Paraiso just as the sun was getting low in the sky. It was time to sit at the beach bar and watch the sun sink below the horizon, ushering in the balmy tropical evening.
Our host, a rather good cook, prepared dinner for us in our villa. We were spoiled with prawns, calamari, mackerel, freshly caught, with salads and potato chips, all topped off with a fridge cheese cake.
The Bazaruto Archipelago sits just a few km from the mainland at Vilanculos. This little group of islands, namely Banque, Margaruque, Benguerra, Bazaruto and Santa Carolina are true jewels in an azure sea. The channel between the mainland and the islands, is for the most part, very shallow. When the tide pulls out, sand banks pop out. These pristine, tide washed spits of sand, provide a unique and special flavour to this area.
One of the must do activities is a boat trip with a picnic or braai, on a sand bank. Combine this with snorkelling and sun bathing and you have the perfect beach day. The best islands to snorkel are Margaruque and Santa Carolina, but snorkelling around the islands is rather good.
On the way back from the islands were are accompanied, for a short way, by a group of three dolphins. The whale and dolphin season is typically from June to October. During this period, pods of humpback whales frequent these warm waters to calve and enjoy the abundance of food. This area is well known as one of the last places on earth to see Dugongs.
Another high adrenalin option in the area is kite surfing. KiteZone is then the place to be. As the winds here are not as constant as further up the African coast, it will never become a Mecca for the sport but it is a great place to dabble or learn.
2nd Stop: Vilanculos Beach Lodge
Vilanculos Beach Lodge was my next stop. Built on a dune, most of the rooms have some sea-view, but it is one of the few resorts that can claim to be directly on the beach. A large infinity pool is just a few metres from the beach, and when the tide is out, is the only place to swim for several hundred metres. The tropical gardens, under large palm trees, offer respite from the sun without giving up your sea-view. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and like most establishments in the area, it caters for walk-in patrons as well.
Vilanculos beach is home to quite a few resorts, all very different in character, but with their own unique charm. Aguia Negra, an affordable 3* resort has recently been upgraded and offers value for money.
Bahia Mar is the most upmarket offering along the main beach. This slick, cool and sophisticated resort is very contemporary in feel and offers rooms and suites. The suites have a fully equipped self catering kitchen, sitting room, plunge pool and outside braai area. The main area boasts a large pool with sunken pool bar that offers guests access while still enjoying the coolness of its water.
Casa Rex offers a hint of olde worlde charm. With a more colonial feel, Casa Rex is the most well established of the offerings in Vilanculos. Its restaurant, arguably serves the best chocolate dessert in Mozambique.
Today I was off to Santorini. A Mediterranean style villa, set high on the hill overlooking the bay just north of Vilanculos. This 5 bedroom, 5* villa, is by far and away the most spectacular venue in Vilanculos. Dotted around the main villa are sitting rooms and little conversation areas, ensuring that you never will get bored with the spectacular view of the islands and bay. The villa is painted a traditional white and exudes sophistication, which is complimented by many interesting art works and influences from other lands. The property is also home to 2 other villas, The Chapel, a 2 bedroomed villa, and Villa do Praia, with its three bedrooms, offer other options, depending on the size of your group.
The complex has recently added a spa and is planning to offer private dinners in their vegetable garden, just to add a bit of variety and spice to your stay. On a three or more night stay, a trip to Margaruque with beach lunch and snorkelling is complimentary and an upgrade to Bazaruto with the additional inclusion of standup sand boarding is available.
The complex also has its own private beach access, even though it is a little walk down the hill, where you can just laze on the beach or enjoy kayaking or standup boarding.
I was sad to leave Santorini, but once on the banana boat en route to the San Sebastian Peninsula and Azulik, I was soon captivated by the different blues the water and the sea breeze on my face. The banana boat is the leisurely option. Azulik has since acquired a hovercraft, the first in Mozambique, for a more “time efficient” trip. Indeed it was quite a mission, according to Sandro, the owner and host of Azulik, to register the hovercraft as the authorities could not decide whether it was a car or boat?
We arrived at the pure white beach that is the landing point for Azulik, Sandro and his wife Charlene, stopped by a local resident to deliver some shopping they had done for her in Vilanculos. I was then wisked away in their 4×4 on a wilderness drive en route to the lodge.
Azulik Lodge, situated on the highest point on the Peninsula appropriately named “World’s View”, has the best views in Vilanculos of Banque & Margaruque islands and the surrounding ocean. Both Sandro & Charlene are passionate chefs and I was treated to some of the best food I have had anywhere. The mokuti thatch and tent rooms are connected to the main area by wooden walkways. An open plan main area has views of the ocean, an infinity pool, sitting areas and dining room. Much care has been taken in selecting all the furnishings and it comes together perfectly in a chic, African, boutique offering that is calming and goes perfectly with its awesome setting.
Azulik Lodge is available on an exclusive use basis and is perfect for a discerning group of friends or family. While the setting is special, it is the hosts that really make the stay unforgettable. Nothing is too much and I am not quite sure that the know the word “can’t”. If you can tear yourself away from the lodge you will be treated to nature drives in The Sanctuary (see below for blurb), boat trips to the islands, sand bar meals, snorkelling, trips to Vilanculos, sunset excursions and more.
All good things must come to an end, unfortunately, and so I must end this blog, but cannot do so without saying that Vilanculos surprised me on many fronts. The variety of options, both in style and to suit the pocket, the quality of the food, the cooperation between the lodges/resorts and the experience that is Vilanculos was quite impressive. I sincerely recommend that all consider it for a beach getaway sometime.
The Sanctuary sits peacefully at the tip of the San Sebastian Peninsula on the Indian Ocean coast of Mozambique. A product of the pioneering vision of the Mozambique government and a group of founding investors, The Sanctuary was established in 2000. Since then The Sanctuary has gained widespread respect in conservation and ecotourism circles as a leading example of the ideal cooperative alliance between government, private investors and local communities.
The Sanctuary is defined by its incorporation of both marine and terrestrial reserves into its 30,000 hectare space. The reserve features a rich mosaic of wetlands, mangrove swamps, coral reefs, small islands, tidal mud flats, salt marshes, fresh water lakes, estuaries, and tree and shrub forests alongside coastal dunes, tree savannah and Miombo woodlands.
In addition to the different habitats, The Sanctuary hosts 298 species of birds, provides safe breeding grounds for 5 marine turtle species and marine protected areas for the critically endangered Dugong and other marine life. The Sanctuary also boasts growing populations of large mammals including eland, blue wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and sable.
It is an area where some of the richest biodiversity in Mozambique is found and ranks amongst the top biodiversity “hotspots” in Africa.