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Frances savours the beaches of Mozambique

I have always been a bit of a beach baby and relish the opportunities I get to research these areas on educationals. While the beach trips lack the excitement of elephant and lion sightings that safaris offer, I enjoy the gentle lapping of the Indian Ocean, the warm breeze and swaying of the palm trees. Mozambique was a trip that was a long time coming for me as it’s not a destination we talk to clients about every day. Expense and access are the main hurdles to overcome to get to Mozambique, but gosh, I can now see it’s all worthwhile when you get there.

I began my trip with two nights in Vilanculos, which is accessed by daily flights from Johannesburg (which means Mozambique works well as post safari R & R when combined with any Southern Africa destination). Vilanculos was warm, sleepy and charming. I spent a night at Santorini Mozambique, a stunning Greek themed lodge (think clean whites and bright blues) north of the town. The ocean views from the lodge would be the perfect complement to some time in the bush, and it’s small and personal so guests are very well looked after. I arrived and was promptly taken to the beautiful vegetable garden where I had a delicious meal, with most of the ingredients coming fresh from said garden. Later in the afternoon I took a very gentle sunset dhow cruise. Being out on the water, with just a sail silently propelling us along, watching the sun creep down over the horizon while sipping on a local Portuguese beer was a wonderful end to the first day.

I then moved into town where I stayed at the popular Bahia Mar Boutique Hotel, which has a different feel. The rooms are modern and comfortable and I stayed in a sea view room with a great big terrace overlooking the beach. There are lots of steps down onto the beach so you need to brace yourself for the ascent back up (the same at Santorini), but it’s a charming place to spend some R & R. The pool is large and surrounded by a sweeping lawn and I was lucky enough to try out the spa, which I can confirm was very satisfactory!

After Vilanculos, I spent some time on two different islands which form part of the Bazaruto Archipelago. A boat transfer took me to the biggest island, Bazaruto itself. Measuring 37km by 7km, it’s surprisingly big. I spent a night at Anantara Bazaruto which offers a very comfortable resort style hotel with plenty of facilities including an impressive spa, kids pool, horse stables and a wide range of activities. I sadly didn’t have much time to explore the island but did get a glimpse of the incredible sand dunes that flank the horizon. They seem otherworldly and I would have very much enjoyed an excursion to see them (one of the many activities on offer here).

The next day I was due to take the one hour boat transfer back to the mainland and then take a helicopter flight to Benguerra Island. However, as luck would have it, the Mozambican Minister of Employment was arriving on Bazaruto Island that morning by helicopter and I somehow managed to wangle a favour and use the helicopter for the very quick flight down to Benguerra – only in Africa!

My return journey from Benguerra to Vilanculos was also by helicopter and both flights flew by (excuse the pun). Flying over the mesmerising azure waters by helicopter is an epic experience and certainly adds the wow factor to a holiday arrival or departure.

Benguerra Island felt like paradise. The sea was calm, still and clear. I spent two nights on the island, staying at both andBeyond Benguerra and Azura Benguerra Island. AndBeyond had a very laidback feel with rooms (cabanas or the slightly larger casinhas) located right on the beach. You can choose whether to relax on your deck with private plunge pool and sun loungers, or take the few steps onto the picture-perfect beach where each room has its own shaded sala and more loungers. As soon as I’d had the orientation of my room I dipped straight into the sea – it was too beautiful to resist! A lunch of fresh calamari was then served on my deck, followed by chocolate ice cream. I could not have wished for anything else! Later, I went up to the main area to watch the incredible sunset from the sociable hub that is the Dhow Bar. The day ended with dinner on the beach under the stars, with sand between my toes.

The next morning it was time to check out the local marine life. We set off for a snorkelling excursion, visiting “Two Mile Reef.” It was brilliant, everything was so close, it almost felt like scuba diving. We were lucky enough to see blue spotted stingray, a loggerhead sea turtle, crocodile fish, dragon stingray and many other brightly colour beautiful fish.

It was June, which is winter in Mozambique, so the water was a little chilly, but I didn’t wear a wetsuit and was fine for the hour or so that we were snorkelling. Temperatures in the daytime were in the balmy mid-twenties, so slightly milder than UK winters! The nights were a little cooler, but even so, I wore a jumper on only one evening during my trip.

Following andBeyond, I moved a few kilometres down the beach to Azura Benguerra Island which has a different feel, being a slightly slicker resort with more contemporary decor. On arrival I was whisked to the Peri-Peri Beach Club for lunch. The Club is owned by Azura but situated just along the beach from the main resort and has a very laidback but trendy vibe. It is open two days a week and offers a nice change of scenery with its own pool and bar. I had a lovely dhow cruise in the evening, an end of day experience I was now getting quite accustomed to! On our return, the dhow dropped me back to the beach in front of my villa where they had set up a gorgeous private dining table with lanterns and candles – quite the dreamy set up for a couple, but also an enjoyable experience for a lonesome travel agent!

The next morning I took part in a really enjoyable island drive. We saw the freshwater lakes, home to crocodiles, and enjoyed seeing some birdlife including pied kingfisher, pelicans and Madagascar bee-eaters. I learnt about the flora and fauna on the island and tried a monkey orange (looked like an orange, tasted like a slightly citrusy banana). We drove past the island school and the medical clinic (both which were closed due to it being a Sunday) and gained a fascinating insight into island life.

I then helicoptered back to Vilanculos and flew down to Maputo for a night. Maputo has its own charm, situated right on the coast with Portuguese influences in the architecture, but it wasn’t a city I wanted to spend lots of time in. I was there to access the Machangulo Peninsula, located opposite Maputo. It is possible to drive around the peninsula from Maputo, but much quicker to take a boat transfer. The boat trip is far enough across the ocean to feel as though you’re arriving on an island, rather than still being on the mainland of Mozambique.

I spent two nights at Machangulo Beach Lodge and visited several other properties on the peninsula while there. The ocean here is fairly wild and in June, outside the peak season, conditions were a little choppy. The lodge is located right on the edge of the peninsula and there was a big swell where the currents meet. I’m sure in calmer conditions the ocean would be a little more inviting. To one side of the lodge is a huge stretch of endless white sands, wild crashing waves and absolutely no one around. It would be heaven for those who love long walks on the beach, interrupted by nothing but the occasional lone fisherman. To the other side of the lodge is a more sheltered bay with a couple of beach bars and some self-catering villas. It’s a very laidback and remote feeling beach destination.

Machangulo Beach Lodge itself is built on a hill so you get very used to going up and down steps, but worthwhile for the amazing sweeping views. I enjoyed some snorkelling around Inhaca Island and another lovely sunset dhow cruise. Machangulo doesn’t offer fine dining or sophisticated service, but it does offer a wild ocean feel and beautiful remote stretches of beach. You can see humpback whales from July through to September, visit a local village and enjoy picnics on the beach.

I absolutely loved Mozambique: the character of the country, the laidback feel, the gentle dhows, the fishermen and the fresh seafood. It is not as sophisticated as the polished hotels of Mauritius, nor as slick as the luxury resorts that you island hop between in the Seychelles, but it certainly has its own allure.

Frances stayed at Santorini Mozambique, Bahia Mar Boutique Hotel, Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort, andBeyond Benguerra Island, Azura Benguerra Island, Southern Sun Maputo and Machangulo Beach lodge.

Frances visited As Dunas Lodge, Kisawa Sanctuary, Colina Verde, Kilima Sanctuary, Leatherback Beach Villa, Loggerhead Beach Villa, the Monarch and the Polana Serena Hotel.