For most Americans, Mozambique is not the first place considered when planning an idyllic beach holiday, but with 1,550 miles of pristine coastline this is an ideal getaway for dive enthusiasts or anyone looking to relax on white sand beaches after safari. Our destination was Azura Resorts on Benguerra Island located 14 kilometers off of the mainland town of Vilanculos. Azura was built with honeymooners in mind, (secluded open plan villas, plunge pools, private beach dinners, and sundowners in the beachside gazebo) but this is also an ideal location for families, friends, solo travelers, and mother-daughter getaways, provided you follow Ernest Hemingway’s advice to “never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” I could not have had a better traveling companion for what we dubbed a mommy-moon after a friend suggested the name. There is limited interaction with other guests, but you will be spending nearly every waking minute with your travel companion(s), so you better enjoy their company.
There are a long list of activities to fill your days from horseback riding, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, to visiting the local island villages, but if you have time for only one excursion, book the island hop. While this does come at an additional cost, it was the highlight of the trip. We started by zipping over to Bazaruto Island in a speed boat for an easy walk up a dune. From the top of the dune, there were amazing vistas of the entire archipelago. Next, was a quick stop to Pansy Island named for the pansies or sand dollars that congregate on the island (really a sand bar that disappears and reappears with the tides). The castaway picnic lunch on North Point at the tip of Benguerra Island was next on our leisurely agenda. We had nearly an hour to relax, swim, or (in our case) drink white wine while sitting on the waters edge before being served a picnic lunch. Although picnic lunch conjures up sandwiches on a blanket, this lunch was a three course affair served at a proper table under a beach umbrella.
After our meal, some time was allotted to resting before braving choppy waters to snorkel in the relatively placid waters along Two Mile Reef, commonly referred to as the aquarium because of the density of tropical fish and coral. I have an irrational fear of fish as a result of a childhood visit to Mahoney State Park in Nebraska where the aquarium contained river fish bigger than me. This induced a reoccurring nightmare spurring my hatred and fear of fish. My prior attempts at snorkeling ended with me signaling to the boat and cutting my snorkel short after seeing what I deemed a large, ugly fish. Luckily, I only spotted small, colorful fish and was able to enjoy and appreciate the entire adventure. If you are lucky during the excursion, you may spot dolphins, sea turtles, or the highly endangered dugong (manatee), while island hopping.
Included in our stay was a 15 minute shoulder and neck massage at the spa, a sunset dhow (local fishing boat) cruise, and an island drive to local attractions, including the community school that was built with donations from the Rainbow Fund. The lodge appears to have formed an integrated relationship with the surrounding community, not only because it employs many of the local people but because of the community initiatives it sponsors. At the end of your stay, an optional $10 a night for the Rainbow Fund is added to your bill.
The other standout at Azura was the food – a particularly impressive feat considering we were on an island and most of the food was brought from the mainland. One night they surprised us with a meal in the wine cellar and on another evening they set-up a table and chairs surrounded by palm frond arches decorated with bougainvillea and lanterns on the beach in front of our villa. Every night a cocktail of the day was prepared to be enjoyed while watching the sun sink below the horizon. The kitchen is also incredibly accommodating. Since the waters off of Mozambique are filled with prawns, crab, and lobster, there were a number of dishes on the menu that I could not enjoy because of a recently acquired shellfish intolerance, but Azura always altered the dishes and event printed out a customized menu for me. It was a small detail that was emblematic of Azura’s approach to service.
Mozambique requires U.S and European visitors to obtain a visa in order to enter the country and while we had been advised this had to be done before arrival, immigration officials were issuing visas at the Vilanculos airport. In under 20 minutes we were through immigration, exiting the terminal, and boarding a helicopter that would take us to Benguerra Island. While it’s possible to arrive by boat, opt to go by helicopter because the aerial views of the turquoise waters and sand bars are stunning. When you arrive, reset your watch, as Benguerra Island is one hour ahead of the mainland. Actually ditch the watch and enjoy this small slice of paradise.