Double Happiness Carinè Müller falls under the spell of two enchanting islands in magical Mozambique
Mozambican islands have a charm all of their own. Carinè Müller finds herself entranced by Ilha de Moçambique and Ibo Island
You’ve heard the story a million times before: a tropical-island paradise – romantic, lush and beautiful. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that these two Mozambican islands fall into this category – Ilha de Moçambique and Ibo Island have a different kind of magic. Their allure catches you like a cool breeze, playing with your hair, making the corners of your mouth curl with a certain happy satisfaction and, before you know it, you’ve been captivated; you’ve fallen for these islands with their unique charm that you won’t find anywhere else.
Everywhere I looked, the astonishing melting pot of culture and history on Ilha and Ibo was apparent. I stood in awe of these little islands that time has forgotten, as well as the people who live there. Let me tell you about these secret places….
ILHA DE MOÇAMBIQUE
Would you believe that this little island off the central coast of Mozambique used to be the capital of the country? It’s a fascinating story – one that involves all of the goodness that makes this island so fascinating, culturally significant, historically important – and a pleasure to visit. Legend has it that the island received its name thanks to a communication error between the Arab and Portuguese sailors during Vasco da Gama’s
time. Ali Musa Mbiki was the sultan at the time, and the Portuguese kept referring to the island as ‘Musambiki’, which became the name of the entire country as we know it today. History is apparent as you walk down the streets through Stone Town; it feels as though everything has been left to its own devices, with the sands of time having breezed through the streets for centuries. Life is slow and innocent, and one can’t help but marvel at the many beautiful and derelict buildings. Walk a bit further and you arrive in Macuti Town – and the energy changes entirely. This bustling village is the heart of the island and the people are warm and engaging.
Fly Airlink to Nampula. Flights are direct from OR Tambo International Airport and start at about R3 800 for a one-way ticket, depending on when you book. Then take a taxi to Ilha de Moçambique, crossing the causeway that connects the island to the mainland. The drive takes about two-and-a-half hours, which is just enough time to effectively adjust to African time. You’ll catch your first glimpse of the majestic baobab trees and the Mozambican villages unfolding outside your window – clusters of colour in a mostly terracotta and dusty landscape. You’ll pass two lively towns on the way to the island and you’ll no doubt be sorely tempted to stop the car to buy some of the beautiful African fabrics on display. As you cross the causeway, you’ll effectively move from African time to island time. Time to relax!
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at a very special guesthouse called Terraço das Quitandas. This 400-year-old house is steeped in history and is magnificently located close to the Palace Museum at the Palace of São Paulo, the pier, local restaurants and a private beach. The architecture is reminiscent of old Moorish buildings with Portuguese and Arabic influences, echoing the cultural and historical influences of the island itself. We enjoyed slow, colourful sunsets on the roof terrace, interesting and enlightening conversations with our host, António, cuddles from the two Labradors, swims in the sea, restful nights in our palace of a room (with the biggest bath I have ever seen) and easy afternoons lazing around the cool, airy house after walks in the town and other adventures on the island.
Contact info: Visit www.terracodasquitandas.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT TO DO
Ilha Blue is the go-to company for all your island to-dos. They looked after us as though we were visiting family, and were more than happy to go the extra mile for us. We went on a dhow safari to Goa Island and had the most scrumptious lunch of fresh fish paired with local flavours under an ancient baobab tree – all prepared right there by our Unesco guides while we were discovering an underwater shipwreck in the warm ocean just off the island. ‘This is the life’ came to mind several times that day and it became the refrain for the holiday!
We also hired comfortable Ilha Blue bicycles to explore the island – something I will never forget. Cruising languidly around the island with your shadow chasing you around a joyful ghost town dipped in an orange-sunset glow is a magic that’s difficult to convey....
Contact info: Visit ilhablue.com or e-mail email@example.com.
Ilha de Moçambique has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical and cultural significance
Escape, relax, explore, find, indulge. These island treats are all in high abundance on mesmerising Ibo – an island that seemed to me like something special you would find in a treasure chest in the attic of some vastly interesting person’s house. Culture and history abound here too, and the little island’s ghost town of old ruined buildings is overrun with creepers and tree roots, while locals going about their daily, colourful lives shoot you curious, happy smiles. Ibo is all about escaping to a place lost in time. Relaxing on the shores, exploring the narrow roads and indulging in the smells, tastes, laughter and colour of the island – this is an Arabic, Portuguese and Swahili star in the Indian Ocean Quirimbas.
I felt like Karen Blixen coming in for our landing – we were flying over Africa! Local children ran to the plane as we taxied onto the little grass landing strip – and yes, we had an open-top Landy waiting for us…. Fly to Pemba (prices start at about R4 800 for a one-way trip from OR Tambo International Airport on Airlink), then take a small local plane to Ibo. (We flew CR Aviation, and paid R2 700 per person for a one-way trip). Wilfred, our knowledgeable, lovely and beyond amusing Ibo Island Lodge guide, gave us the lowdown on Ibo as we drove through the town in the Landy. That first tranquil and jovial taste of the island set a precedent – something that we came to know as the Ibo Island way of life.
WHERE TO STAY
Ibo Island Lodge has a fascinating history. The owners discovered the island in ruins, and built up the lodge from an old mansion. They’d heard about the island after a trans-African expedition and went in search of it on a dhow-sailing journey from Zanzibar. From its humble, adventurous beginning son a ghost island to an awardwinning, heritage-con serving and tourism-pioneering lodge, IboIsl and Lodge encapsulates all of the island’s authenticity, wrapped in luxury. The lodge is unique and remarkable: small enough to really lavish detailed attention on the guests, yet big enough to make a positive impact on the community. Our room was a haven, the food was phenomenal and we had the adventure and rest of a lifetime in this beautiful lodge.
Contact info: Visit www.iboisland.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT TO DO
Wonderful Wilfred took us on too many adventures to count. We had breakfast on a sand island, went on incredible dhow-sailing safaris, camped (okay, glamped) on the beach on Matemo Island with our own (and might I say spectacular) cook and sailor, kayaked around Mogundula Island – where the lodge is building a new eco-establishment – and then, the most memorable of all, we had the magical experience of a lifetime diving with dolphins in the wild. On the island itself we explored to our heart’s content, meeting João Baptiste – the island’ s oldest inhabitant( with Portuguese-accented stories that kept us glued to his stoep for hours!), marvelled at the most beautiful jewellery made by the silversmiths at the historical fort and enjoyed sights and sounds that we will never forget.
ABOVE: Floating in the Indian Ocean during a dhow safari OPPOSITE PAGE, FROM
TOP: Island treasures; we cycled on our Ilha Blue bicycles to the Fortim-Igreja de Santo António; our trusty steeds in the Terraço das Quitandas courtyard