I’ve spent most of my time in Mozambique exploring Maputo, a busy, African port city. After touring isolated Seychelles and South Africa’s Durban and laid back KwaZulu-Natal beaches, it was fun to be in a vibrant city again. Maputo’s volatile history, culture, and diverse population are captivating. I’ve enjoyed the time here, and after a few months, gained a basic understanding of the Mozambican people.
Most tourists visit Mozambique to enjoy its spectacular islands and archipelagos – Bazaruto and Quirimbas – known for their coral reefs and marine life. Since I’m leaving soon, I decided to take a sailing tour of some of the islands, including Inhaca – about 20 miles from Maputo.
Getting to Inhaca Island is complicated. There are three ways to do it – ferry, plane, or boat. All three are subject to cancellation, depending on the weather. The flight takes 15 minutes and the ferry ride (if it’s running that day) is several hours. Boat options range from small, cramped refugee-like vessels to catamarans, wooden dhows, and luxury yachts.
I decided to go with Maputo Yachting’s comfortable catamaran Umoja. The day trip was priced reasonably, and I only had to get to Porto de Pesca with a hat, swimsuit, and sunscreen – no connections, transfers, or other complications.
The day didn’t disappoint! Catamaran Umoja (meaning unity in Swahili) was fantastic, and the interesting people onboard were easy to talk with and fun. The day was slightly overcast but pleasant. Full-on sun would have been uncomfortable.
Our European Captain – Wilhelm – was from Norway. Two of his friends – Dutch and Norwegian – joined the outing and helped with various tasks. In addition to the captain and his friends, there were two crew members.
It was a fast-moving day. The diverse group of passengers included three young Mozambican women – twin sisters with a friend, German, Portuguese, and Belgian couples, and me. Except for the Germans, everyone was living in Maputo. They were great company. It’s too bad I’m leaving Maputo in a few days, I would enjoy spending more time with them.
One woman was an artist collaborating with locals to create a relief-like mural in Maputo. Her husband is involved with non-governmental organization (NGO) projects and had been in Ethiopia, where they lived for several years. They talked of Ethiopian life and politics, very interesting and educational.
Ethiopia is experiencing political turmoil. The government imposed a six-month “state of emergency” after prolonged antigovernmental protests and resignation of the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Violent protests prompted the release of political prisoners, but a series of ongoing demonstrations has raised serious concerns about Ethiopia’s stability.
After listening to Europeans living in Maputo, I learned that many had traveled throughout Africa. They accept Africa’s abundant difficulties and inequities. Despite often-disturbing realities, they do what they can to make a positive difference and enjoy the excitement and unknowns of living in Africa. It surprised me to hear Norwegians talk about the “boredom” of living in their country, rated as one of the most desirable places in the world.
A Dutch member of the group was married to a lovely African woman. They have several children. A creative director, he told me about performances he’s directed.
Several people I met in Maputo were regular visitors to Mali. They’re sad the country is no longer safe for travelers. Al-Qaeda and armed Islamist groups have overtaken parts of Mali “imposing Sharia (Islamic Law) by threatening villagers, beating those who engage in forbidden practices”, destroying schools, and recruiting children.
The conversations were interesting, and I was glad to meet people who share my love of and fascination with Africa – but I’m digressing, so back to the boat trip. The wind picked up, and we hoisted the sails and glided to our first stop, Portuguese Island.
Uninhabited Portuguese Island is less than a two-hour sail from Maputo at the end of Maputo Bay. At one time, the desert island was a leper colony. Now, it’s part of the Inhaca Marine Reserve. The island is 4 miles long with low vegetation.
My hat blew off on the boat and is now somewhere beneath the Indian Ocean. Instead of hiking with little sun protection, I opted to swim. The boat didn’t have equipment, so there was no snorkeling – never forget to ask questions in Maputo!
There’s a kiosk on the beach for visitors. Although a cruise ship anchored nearby, few people came ashore, and there were no beach umbrellas or chairs. I talked to local vendors and almost bought another capulana, but came to my senses remembering an already bulging suitcase. I bought the only hat available – a baseball cap made with colorful Mozambican fabric – not much sun protection, but a great memento.
Mozambique’s archipelagos are home to the only viable population of dugongs on Africa’s east coast.
Swimming in the Indian Ocean is heaven! Small pods of dolphins came near us as they played close to shore. I swam back to the boat, while others took the dinghy.
We enjoyed lunch aboard Umoja, including delicious bruschetta prepared by Michael, a Dutch chef friend of the captain. The meal was a Mozambican coconut curry served with salad and rice.
After lunch we continued to Inhaca Island – pronounced “In-ya-ka”. Populated by locals, the island has rustic restaurants, wildlife, and pristine forests. I noticed large, interesting birds but couldn’t get good photos. White herons with long gangling legs and necks were hanging all over the trees. After months of travel, I’m burnt out on photos and use some media shots in this post.
We walked the island, enjoyed craft displays, and stopped for a cold drink at a pub. Much to my dismay, during our hike, a huge sea-bird pooped on me! My companions assured me it was a sign of good luck – not so sure about that…
Inhaca Island is understandably popular for water sports. Locals and tourists alike enjoy diving, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, and fishing. If you don’t have your own equipment, it’s difficult finding rentals. We didn’t explore the “wilder side” of Inhaca – a popular dive site known for its coral reefs, crashing surf, and deep blue sea.
Bazaruto Archipelago National Park was established to protect habitats and marine fauna.
Warm water currents in Mozambique Channel between Africa and Madagascar, encourage diverse marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, endangered dugongs, manta rays, and whales. I’ve heard that dive sites on Santa Maria Reef include mesmerizing underwater caves and shipwrecks.
Deep-water channel habitats include mangroves, coral reefs, sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, and seagrass beds. Five different types of threatened marine turtles nest along the Channel. They’ve remained safe there for years:
Vilanculos District is the gateway to Bazaruto Archipelago – a chain of four islands, Bazaruto, Benguerra, Santa Isobel, and Santa Carolina. The area’s marine life is protected by Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANFF).
The Vahoka people occupy Bazaruto Archipelago’s islands. Vahoka speak their mother tongue, Chihoca, and live in seven villages throughout the islands.
These are the archipelago’s four seasons:
- December to March – hot, humid, rain, cyclones
- September to November – dry days, cool nights
- June to August – fresh, dry, clear days, cool nights
- April to May – dry, clear skies, no rain
The Port of Pemba in northern Mozambique is the access point for Quirimbas Archipelago with 12 isolated islands and 20 coralline outcrops. Pemba is the capital of Cabo Delgado Province. There are remote lodges on the archipelago, but getting to them is costly and difficult. Local tour operators are willing to handle the logistics and plan luxury, all-inclusive holidays.
Pemba’s coral reefs are near the shore and “protrude into the Bay of Pemba.” It’s the starting point for Quirimbas National Park which is inhabited by endangered dolphins, whales, and dugongs. I would love to spend time exploring Quirimbas, but it’s beyond my budget as a solo traveler.
Back to Maputo and Sandbank Rescue
I wanted to keep swimming, but the others thought we should go. We said goodbye to Inhaca and headed back to Maputo. Tropical storms develop quickly, and thunderstorms with lightning, wind, and heavy rain were on the way.
As if our day hadn’t been indulgent enough, freshly baked pastries were waiting on the boat! Some in the group sang humorous versions of African and German songs. The only one left unsung was Whiskey Leave Me Alone! The warm sun and swaying catamaran made us sleepy, and several fell asleep on the deck.
About an hour into the trip back, the captain received a distress call from a boat stuck in a sandbank closer to Maputo. The passengers – 80 Mozambicans on a “drinks included” trip – were celebrating a birthday and partying all day. With everyone’s agreement, the captain proceeded to their rescue.
Getting stuck in a sandbank isn’t unusual in Maputo Bay. When it happens, boats wait until the tide rises to get free, and this can take as long as a six-hours! Sharing Umoja with the boisterous group was fun but certainly a roust from our peaceful sail. We laughed and partied with them – they brought their own bass-heavy music. We made it back to Maputo port at about 7:30 pm.
Our late arrival provided a delightful, unexpected surprise – beautiful views of Maputo’s city lights along the skyline! Clouds hid the sunset, but vivid scarlet pink streamed across the Bay and sky – a perfect ending to an idyllic day!
Looks idyllic but even more so to know that marine life is well protected. So good to hear about the dugongs too but sad to know how Mali is affected by terrorist upheaval. No wins for ordinary folk or nature with these groups.