The heart of Mozambique can be found on a small island just off the coast of Nampula province, in the north of Mozambique. Ilha de Mozambique is a vibrant combination of Mozambican, Portuguese, Arabian and Indian traditions that bring to life a special, magical atmosphere that seeps into your skin from the moment you arrive.
The island was a well-established major port well before the famous seafarer, Vasco da Gama, arrived on the island in 1498. Realizing the potential of the island, a port and naval base was established by the Portuguese in 1507. The Fort São Sebastião was constructed during the 16th century and protected the Portuguese settlement from Dutch attacks in 1607 and 1608. The ancient Fort still stands, with its rusting canons pointing out across the bay waters. Visitors are left awestruck by the scale of the Fort and one can only imagine the tales the walls could tell. Constructed in 1877, the hospital is a majestic neo classical building which was once the largest hospital south of the Sahara. It is one of many beautiful buildings that can be viewed.
The Portuguese settlement of Stone Town was constructed through the mining of coral rock out of the centre of the island. The excavated area below ground level became home to the local residents and is referred to as Mokuti Town after the Mokuti thatch used to create roofs for the houses. With the island only being 3 kilometres in length, and roughly 500 meters wide, it is amazing to think that well over 7 000 people call the island home today. This number having peaked at approximately 14 000 during the civil war period. The island was the capital of the country until 1898 when this was moved to Lourenço Marques, now known as Maputo.
But enough of the facts, Ilha de Mozambique has a special charm that is hard to put into words. It is one of the most unique historical highlights in Africa, acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. Walking along the winding roads, it is easy to imagine the grandeur of the bustling little port in its prime when trade with slaves, spices, ivory and gold were at its peak. Its friendly inhabitants lead a poor yet such a carefree and simplistic life that leads you to wonder exactly who is the poorer person at the end of the day. Local markets and informal traders are mixed with more established little restaurants and cafes where fresh sea food and cold drinks are the order of the day.
Ilha de Mozambique has an authenticity about it that is hard to find elsewhere in the country. It is a must do destination for those that wish to learn more of the country, to experience its history and culture and be delighted by an off the beaten track adventure. It works well as a two night stop over before travelling onward to one of the beach lodges in the area – such as Coral Lodge, Ossimba Beach Lodge and Nuarro Lodge. Or combine it with the islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago further north.
The nearest airport is Nampula Airport at the moment with Nacala Airport set to offer more routes and international flights in the near future. From Nampula Airport it is approximately a 2.5 hour road transfer to the concrete bridge that connects Ilha de Mozambique with the mainland. Alternatively, a private charter flight can be arranged to nearby Lumbo airstrip.
Accommodation options on Ilha de Mozambique:
Villa Sands Boutique Hotel is family owned and managed. Guests are welcomed as friends by Gisela, the co-owner of the hotel that was transformed from old warehouses. Space and understated elegance is seen throughout the property with the sunset terrace being the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset and a refreshing drink. We recommend booking the Atrium rooms (note some only have an alcove for natural light, no window due to the historical building’s original construction) or the Superior Rooftop Rooms for those that want a view and have no concerns about stairs. The hotel offers breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a swimming pool in which to cool off from the heat of the day.
Terraço das Quitandas Guest House is located near the Vasco da Gama museum on Ilha de Mozambique. The Guest House has an eclectic atmosphere with its thick walls and diverse furnishings paying homage to the island’s historical seafaring influences. The six suites are spacious and comfortable. Guests can also relax during the heat of the day in one of the three recreational rooms or one of the two balconies. Breakfast can be enjoyed at the Guest House whilst lunch and dinner can be enjoyed at one of the local restaurants on the island. The manager, Antonio, is happy to assist with recommendations.
* Experience the island in the company of a local guide.