I’ve spent most of my time in Mozambique exploring Maputo, a busy, interesting African city. After touring isolated Seychelles and South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal beaches, it was fun to be in a vibrant city again. There’s lots of history and culture in Maputo, and the diverse population is fascinating. I’ve enjoyed my time here, and after a month gained a better understanding of Mozambique’s history, culture, and people.
People come to Mozambique to visit its islands and archipelagos – Bazaruto and Quirimbas – known for their coral reefs and marine life. Since I’m leaving Mozambique this week, I decided to take a day tour of Inhaca Island, about 20 miles from Maputo.
Getting to Inhaca can be complicated. There are three ways to do it – ferry, plane, or boat, and all three are subject to cancellation, depending on the weather. The flight takes 15 minutes, the ferry (if it’s running that day) takes several hours. Boat options range from small crowded refugee-like vessels to wooden dhows and luxury yachts.
I decided to go with Maputo Yachting’s comfortable catamaran. The day trip was reasonably priced reasonably, and I only had to get to Porto de Pesca with a swim suit and sunscreen – no connections, transfers, or other complications.
Day Trip Catamaran Umoja
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. Although slightly overcast, the day was pleasant. A day of full-on sun would have been uncomfortable.
The European Captain – Wilhelm – was from Norway. Two of his friends – Norwegian and Dutch – 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. 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. The group was great company, and if I weren’t leaving Maputo in a few days, I would enjoy spending more time with them.
One woman is an artist collaborating with a local Mozambican sculptor – Lorenzo – to create a relief-like mural. Her husband works with African non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and had been on a project in Ethiopia, where they lived for several years. They talked about Ethiopian life and politics.
Ethiopia is in political turmoil. The government imposed a six-month “state of emergency” after prolonged anti-government protests and the resignation of the Prime Minister. Ongoing demonstrations prompted the release of political prisoners and have raised concerns about Ethiopia’s stability.
After listening to Europeans living in Maputo, I’ve learned that many have traveled extensively throughout the continent and accepted the abundant difficulties and inequities. Despite often-disturbing realities, they do what they can to make a positive difference and enjoy the excitement and unknowns that come with 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, and they have several children. A creative director, he told me about some of the successful performances he’s directed.
People I’ve 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 taken control of parts of the country “imposing Sharia (Islamic law) by threatening villagers, recruiting children, destroying schools, and beating villagers who engage in forbidden practices”.
The conversations were interesting, and I was glad to meet other people who share my fascination with Africa – but I’m digressing, so let’s go back to the boat trip…. As the wind picked up, we hoisted a sail and glided to our first stop, Portuguese Island (Inhaca).
Uninhabited Portuguese Island is less than 2 hours 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 narrow island is 4 miles long with low vegetation.
My hat blew off on the boat and is now somewhere beneath the sea, so 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 enough questions in Maputo!
There’s a kiosk on the beach for cruise ship guests. Although a ship anchored nearby, few came ashore, and there were no beach umbrellas or chairs. I talked to local vendors and almost bought another capulana (sarong), but came to my senses after thinking about an already bulging suitcase. I bought the only hat available – a baseball cap locally made with colorful Mozambican fabric – not much sun protection, but a fabulous 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, and we watched small pods of dolphins playing close to shore. I swam back to the boat, but others took the dingy.
We enjoyed lunch aboard Umoja, including the best bruschetta I’ve eaten prepared by Michael, a chef and friend of the captain. The meal was a delicious curry served with salad and rice.
After lunch we continued to Inhaca – pronounced “In-ya-ca”. Populated by locals, the island has a few restaurants and pristine forest and wildlife areas. I noticed several large, interesting birds but couldn’t get good photos. White herons with gangling long legs and necks were all over the trees. After months of travel, I’m burnt out on photos and have used 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 flying overhead pooped on me ; ( ! My companions assured me it was a sign of good luck – not sure about that…
Inhaca Island is popular for water sports. Locals and tourists enjoy diving, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, windsurfing, and fishing. If you don’t have your own equipment, it’s difficult finding rentals. We didn’t explore the “wild side” of Inhaca, a popular dive site known for “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 sunken shipwrecks.
Deep-water habitats in the Channel include mangroves, coral reefs, sandy beach, rocky shorelines, and sea grass beds. Five different types of threatened marine turtles nest along the Chanel, where they’ve remained safe and protected for years.
Vilanculos District is the gateway to Bazaruto Archipelago – a chain of four islands, Bazaruto, Benguerra, Santa Isobel, and Santa Carolina. Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP) protects the area’s marine life.
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 seasons on the archipelago:
- 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 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 more than willing to handle the logistics and plan pricey all-inclusive luxury 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!
Trip Back and Sand Bank Rescue
I wanted to keep swimming, but the others thought we should go back. We said goodbye to Inhaca and headed for Maputo. Tropical storms develop quickly in Maputo Bay, and thunderstorms with lightning, wind, and heavy rain were on the way.
As if our day hadn’t been indulgent enough, pastries were waiting for us on the boat! Some in the group sang their humorous versions of African and German songs. The only song left uncovered was Whiskey Leave Me Alone! The warm sun and swaying catamaran made us feel sleepy, and several of us fell asleep on the deck.
About an hour into the trip back, the captain received a distress call from a boat stuck in a sand bank 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 sand bank isn’t unusual in Maputo Bay. When it happens, boats have to wait until the tide rises to get free, and this can involve as long as a six-hour wait! Sharing Umoja with the boisterous group was fun but certainly a roust from our peaceful sail. We partied with them – they brought their own bass-heavy music – and made it back to the port at about 7:30 pm.
Our late arrival provided an unexpected surprise – beautiful views of Maputo city lights along the skyline! Clouds hid the sunset, but vivid scarlet pink streamed across the city skyline – a perfect ending to an idyllic day!