Setting Sail for the Quirimbas
08 February 2018
The Quirimbas Archipelago, a necklace of islets, reefs, baixos and bright white sand spits, is a little known treasure trove off the coast of Mozambique. There, natural beauty abounds. With its stunning beaches, incredible marine life, fascinating history and a host of luxury resorts, the Quirimbas Islands are paradise found for Africa expert, Sian. Here, she tells us why.
Mozambique’s northern archipelago, the Quirimbas, a cluster of islands surrounded by azure blue seas, is best explored on an island hopping adventure. Year round, the area is a haven for snorkelling and scuba diving, yet it is between the months of July and September, when hundreds of humpback whales migrate up the coastline that it really is an unmissable place to visit. Island hopping here offers the perfect combination of relaxation on deserted islands, exploration on board a traditional dhow and cultural immersion in the former capital city of Mozambique.
After arriving on Pemba Island, we took a helicopter flight to one of the islands of the Quirimbas closest to the Zimbabwean border, for a short stay at Medjumbe Island. Set on a beautiful white sand island, only one and a half kilometres long, the resort offers accommodation in charming beach villas, flanked by palm trees and overlooking the ocean – the perfect spot to watch ghost crabs scuttling in and out of the sea. The island may be small but it is certainly not lacking in things to do; you can spend your days snorkelling off the beach, diving on barely discovered reefs, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, diving and fishing. In my opinion, the most fantastic aspect of Medjumbe is their private island, only a 10-minute boat ride away. You can be dropped off there in the afternoon, along with a picnic and snorkelling equipment and left to explore the island on your own. You can even stay the night there and spend the night under the stars for a truly unique and exclusive experience in Mozambique.
From here, your next port of call is the island of Ibo, south of Medjumbe. The island used to be the capital of Mozambique and is much larger than many of the islands of the Quirimbas. Ibo Island Lodge is a beautifully restored building, which looks out over a bay studded with red mangrove trees. I quickly spotted its shaded verandas complete with swinging chairs, the perfect spot to read a book and watch the world go by, and was already in love with the place. Whilst there, we did a historical tour, discovering the avenues of flame trees and 18th century Portuguese forts of the city. Within the forts, artisanal silversmiths demonstrate their workmanship and we stood and admired them create incredibly intricate designs before our eyes. We learnt that silver making is an integral part of the island’s history, as the techniques were brought to Ibo in 600AD. Even if history isn’t your thing, taking a stroll through this beautifully, crumbly town is a photographer’s dream and really gives you a sense of place. Back at the lodge, take time to sit on the roof terrace to watch the sunset and people fishing for octopus just off the beach.
After waving goodbye to Ibo, we boarded a dhow to sail around the Quirimbas. Cosmo, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable and knew exactly where to find dolphins and seek out the best snorkelling spots. We stopped for lunch on a lovely sand island which is only exposed during low tide. There, we were spoilt by some seriously good snorkelling where we saw lion fish, rays and moray eels and enjoyed a barbecue of delicious fish kebabs and salad. In the afternoon, try your hand at kayaking through the mangroves, or get a feel for ocean fishing off the side of the boat. Your final stop for the day is a desert island, where a comfortable camp awaits. This is quite a rustic experience, accommodation is in dome tents with a bucket shower and a long drop loo but it’s a nice contrast to the previous nights to sit by the camp fire with a gin and tonic and do some fantastic star gazing listening to Cosmo’s fascinating tales of the region.
Our final stop was Azura at Quilalea. This is, again, a private island but much bigger than Medjumbe. With seven different beaches to explore, it is impossible to get bored. I spend the majority of my time snorkelling on the house reef, as it is truly impressive. Scuba diving straight off the beach is fantastic for beginners as it is very sheltered and isn’t exposed to big currents like much of Mozambique. If it’s the right time of year, take a walk down to Heron Point where you can watch whales breaching just off the coast or venture to nearby Turtle Bay to spot nesting turtles. The service is impeccable at Azura, and your personal host will ensure your entire stay is extra special (expect a daily cocktail special delivered to your villa each day). For this reason, I love Azura. From the moment you arrive, you are so welcomed, it feels like you’ve been there for weeks.