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Where to go in MozambiqueScroll

Where to go in Mozambique

MOZ Vamizi Island Mozambique Aerial Flight

Where to Go in Mozambique

A land of contrasts, a safari to Mozambique combines secluded beaches with untamed wilderness, a vibrant culture and incredible wildlife. Nature-enthusiasts and experienced travellers are drawn to the biodiversity hotspot of Gorongosa National Park, referred to as ‘the place where Noah left his ark’. The park is currently undergoing an ambitious conservation project which aims to restore it to its former glory, and populations of elephant, lion and zebra have recovered dramatically in recent years. For those seeking relaxation, Mozambique’s coastline offers 2,500km of pristine beaches, with the tropical islands of Quirimbas National Park and the Bazaruto Archipelago providing an idyllic destination for honeymooners. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean are also replete with wildlife, including sea turtles, whale sharks and countless species of colourful fish.

Gorongosa National Park

Gorongosa, meaning 'place of danger' in the indigenous Mwani language, was once one of the most prestigious and well-developed safari destinations in Africa, boasting the highest densities of game on the continent. The wildlife and infrastructure of the park were decimated during the Mozambican Civil War, which lasted from 1977 until 1992 and dramatically reduced the number of animals within Gorongosa; the zebra population was reduced from an estimated 3,500 individuals to just nine.

Since it was reopened in 1998 the park has undergone an ambitious restoration project, which has been widely hailed as a remarkable conservation success story. Herds of elephant, buffalo and zebra have been reintroduced, and the largest population of waterbuck in any of Africa’s protected areas can now be found grazing in the parks floodplains. Located on the southern tip of the Great Rift Valley and covering an area of 4,000km², the rich floodplains of Lake Urema in the centre of Gorongosa National Park have given rise to diverse ecosystems, from open savannah grassland to montane rainforests, which at one time supported the densest wildlife populations in Africa. During the 1960’s and 70’s, an estimated 200 lions, 2,200 elephants, 14,000 buffalo, 5,500 wildebeest and 3,500 hippo were recorded in the park, which was referred to by visitors as ‘the place where Noah left his Ark’.

Today, the scars of conflict are still visible in Gorongosa, but there are encouraging signs of recovery for many of the wildlife species. The Gorongosa Restoration Project was launched in 2004 by the government of Mozambique and the US-based Carr Foundation, with an aim to restore the park to its former glory while benefiting the local community through ecotourism.

Vilanculos & Bazaruto Archipelago

The sleepy seaside town of Vilanculos is the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, a series of five islands – Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Santa Carolina and Bangué – scattered along the southern coast of Mozambique. Known as the ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean’, the archipelago is the quintessential tropical paradise; renowned for its white palm-fringed beaches and warm, azure seas.

Most of the archipelago lies within the marine protected area of Bazaruto National Park, established in 1971 to protect the endangered dugong and its habitat. The coral reefs that surround the island chain offer unparalleled snorkelling and diving opportunities, with dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and over 2000 fish species inhabiting the crystal clear waters, while flocks of flamingos and pelicans fly overhead. he islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago offer the ultimate in barefoot luxury, with a number of exclusive resorts and laid-back beach lodges dotted throughout the archipelago. The town of Vilanculos itself has some stunning beaches nearby, attracting water sports enthusiasts from across the world, and is a great place to sample the regions traditional Portuguese-style cuisine.

Starting from Vilanculos, it is just a short dhow ride across the Mozambique Channel to the archipelago. Bazaruto Island, the largest of the islands, is somewhat of a microcosm of the African mainland, with several freshwater lakes frequented by crocodiles and flamingos and savannah grasslands that are home to the diminutive red duiker antelope. Giant sand dunes tower above the shoreline, gently sloping down towards clear blue seas. From here you can sail further on to the deserted island of Santa Carolina, often referred to by the locals as simply ‘Paradise Island’.

Ilha De Mocambique

Despite its small size, reaching barely two miles in length and a few hundred metres in width, the small crescent-shaped island of Ilha de Moçambique is a hidden gem that is bursting with a vibrant history and culture. Located in the northern province of Nampula, the island is connected to the mainland by a narrow 3km bridge and in 1991 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For four centuries Ilha de Moçambique acted as the capital of Portuguese East Africa, but it had long been an important trading port along the Swahili coast. The resulting blend of European, Arab and Indian cultures is evident in the islands faded colonial architecture and eclectic mix of churches, mosques and Hindu temples. The island is now broadly divided into the historic Portuguese Stone Town in the north and Macuti Town in the south, a haphazard collection of colourful thatched houses and busy street markets. A visit to the narrow streets and elegant, if slightly weathered, Portuguese villas of Ilha de Moçambique’s Stone Town has been likened to taking a step back in time; the relaxed vibe of the island gives the sense that very little has changed here over the past hundred years. Now a quiet fishing town, this peaceful façade hides a tumultuous history stretching as far back as the 8th century.

On the northernmost tip of the island, the imposing fortress of São Sebastião provides an insight into the colonial-era conflicts that took place here. The forts 65ft thick walls have withstood attacks from British, Dutch and Omani naval forces and remain largely intact today. Hidden within the fort is the small chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte, believed to be the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere. Also worth noting are the palace of São Paulo, the former Portuguese governor’s residence, and the distinctive whitewashed churches of San Antonio and Misericórdia.

Niassa Reserve

Covering an area of 42,000km² - over twice the of Kruger National Park - the Niassa Reserve is the largest protected area in Mozambique, and one of the largest on the African continent. The reserve is located in the far northern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa on the Tanzanian border and is characterised by its striking granite outcrops, or ‘inselbergs’, that loom imposingly over the surrounding miombo woodland. Remote and untamed, the reserve has remained relatively unexplored by the outside world, and today only receives a handful of visitors each year. Like much of Mozambique, wildlife populations in the reserve were ravaged by poaching during the civil war, and are still wary of human presence. However, wildlife has recovered remarkably in recent years, and Niassa now boasts significant numbers of endangered African wild dogs, over 400 bird species and an estimated 16,000 elephants, as well as three endemic species – the Niassa wildebeest, Boehm’s zebra and Johnston’s impala.

While rivalling the Serengeti in terms of size and species richness, the landscape of the Niassa Reserve makes for a very different game-viewing experience to the typical East African safari. In contrast to the open savannah grasslands of Tanzania and Kenya, much of the reserve is covered in miombo woodland, which can make the wildlife considerably harder to spot. Niassa’s remote location means that visitors are few and trails are relatively free of vehicles, offering pioneering travellers a more peaceful and relaxed safari experience.

The diverse ecosystems found in the reserve, from the montane forests of the Mecula Mountain slopes to the meandering channels of the Lugenda River, mean that Niassa can support a wide variety of wildlife. Species you are likely to observe on safari include buffalo, baboons and antelope, and the reserve is home to approximately 16,000 elephants, 350 African wild dogs and 400 species of birds. Carnivores such as lion, hyena and leopard are also present, although sightings are less common. Unlike more prominent safari destinations, the focus here is not on ticking off the ‘big five’, but rather on diverse and rewarding wildlife encounters away from the tourist crowds.

Quirimbas National Park

Established in 2002, the Quirimbas National Park encompasses 7,500km² of mangrove forests, coral reefs and idyllic beaches along the northern coastline of Mozambique. While the park contains a significant inland area, which protects important elephant migration routes, it is perhaps best known for the postcard-perfect islands that make up the Quirimbas Archipelago. These islands are renowned for their natural beauty, with powdery white-sand beaches and turquoise waters teeming with diverse marine life. The 12 main islands and numerous atolls and coral islets of the archipelago provide essential habitats for sea turtles and migratory seabirds, as well as nursery areas for bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales. This, along with the abundance of tropical fish species that reside in the park’s rich coral reefs, make for some incredible diving experiences. Quirimbas is less developed for tourists than the Bazaruto Archipelago to the south, but offers a number of small, upscale beach resorts that are scattered across the islands.

While comparable in terms of natural beauty, each of the islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago has a distinctive character which sets it apart, from the coral beaches of Medjumbe in the north to the ancient baobabs of Quilaluia in the south.The archipelagos namesake and former capital, Quirimba Island, is carpeted in dense mangrove forest and coconut plantations, and is home to a sleepy fishing village that was once an important Arab trading port. During low tide, it is possible to walk across the sandbanks to the better-known Ibo Island. Seemingly unchanged since the 19th century, the crumbling colonial architecture is the only remaining indication of the turbulent history of this mysterious island, a melting pot of Swahili, Portuguese and African cultures.