The arrival at Vilanculos was epic despite the apparent impossibility to get lost or to go on the wrong route.
Mozambique has an only road that goes always straight on, you cannot go wrong, and if a bus from Maputo takes 9 hours, by car timings become variable. It matters little that the google map will show us the timings, most likely those will never match the harsh reality.
The idea, with a map in hand and hoping for a bit of luck, was to drive to the village of Vilanculos in a day departing from Maputo.
Unfortunately though when planning without knowing the country, being too ambitious does not always lead to the desired results. Especially there is the tendency to forget some X-factors that are likely to slow down the march.
First of all the risk of being halted every 3 kilometres by the traffic police positioned in the most unlikely places. At the stop, will follow the requested fine under various forms and in different currencies, generally preferred the South African rand, banknotes, that in a month in Mozambique are almost finished by dint of paying the strangest infringements at the most infamous places of block, some discussion and meanwhile 15 minutes have gone by.
Add on, the torrential rain too and the speed limits that had allowed us to drive with an average of 60km/hr, the picture is now completed and the very ambitious 700 km all in a go, stopped about 350 kilometers before that scheduled. The travel plan that wanted us to arrive in one go at Vilankulos has failed miserably. At sunset and a little concerned about the fact that it is best not to drive in the evening in Africa, especially because people have the habit of walking in the middle of the road and street lighting is nonexistent, I saw no alternative but to stay the night in one of the most squalid city of Mozambique: Maxixe that is pronounced Mescesc.
A KFK represents the evening meeting place of the population’s weekend, to move on then to the bar opposite the gas station, of the same man from whom I rented the room at Posada Maxixe; the weekend began under torrential rain in a shapeless city, without any charm and strangely populated or unpopulated, despite being a Saturday night and, sleeping only half the night since, at 4.30 am, when the sun was about to rise, a car with amplifiers worthy of a Berlin techno club began playing under my bedroom window. Speeding up the classical painful moment of awakening.
After the turbulent night but during which, given the high levels of fatigue, I still slept as much as I was granted by the street Dj, in the morning I was happy to leave, despite the rain and the sky that did not promise any good for the day.
It continued to rain and the estimated 4 hours became 6, among puddles of water and roads in which one has to proceed slowly.
Finally a huge baobab marks the arrival in the hostel’s car park or lodge as it’s called here (but for backpackers) which will be home for 7 days.
A bungalow overlooking the sea, a comfortable bed and a hammock. I could not wish for more after these days of endless travel.
The sun rises at 4.30, and this I had already discovered in Maxixe in a less happy context than where I am now.
In Africa, the rhythms change and I am easy to adapt to these, rarely waking up after 7 and going to sleep just as rarely after 22.
With the first light of morning the next day, I wake up to discover that, that, given the bad weather the day before, I didn’t get to see.
The windy night has, in fact, swept away the clouds and the bad weather. Tired from the days of travel, I drag myself on the terrace of the bungalow and discover Vilanculos for how nature wanted it to be: wonderful.
The tide is beginning to ebb, the fishing boats are already at sea. I put on the swimsuite and, barefoot, start to walk for a few hundred meters along this huge stretch of sand released by the waters that recede daily, to find a puddle in which to soak myself and float in a solitary and silent sea.
The surprises that Mozambique had in reserve went well beyond expectations, and I am referring only to the still almost uncontaminated beauty of those places as special as, for some reason, not yet discovered by mass tourism, but also for the authenticity of the people and the deliciousness of the food.
I, for example, adored being able to walk along the beach without being chased by someone who wants to sell me something by force, as for example, happens in Zanzibar on a regular basis.
Or that of the afternoons of the fishermen’s sorting out the fish on their return from the sea.
I add, since it is not a trivial matter, that I fully enjoyed the local culinary delicacies, especially fish and seafood cooked with creativity and variety not, as was the case in Tanzania ALWAYS, fried and grease-drenched, but instead sweetened with ingredients such as coconut milk, spices and nuts.
I knew that Mozambique would be special, but I did not know how nor why.
7 days in Vilanculo, of which name might conjure up something obscene, and I understood why, between markets, coconuts and kilos of mango, fresh fish and cashews, coral reefs and deserted and endless beaches.
Vilanculos, apart from the funny name makes you smile every time it is pronounced, is a unique and beautiful place that is worth, alone, a trip to this part of Africa not always regarded as the first destination of which you think about and that could, instead, turn out to be one of the most exciting destinations of the continent.
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So I stayed in Vilanculo for 7 days, letting myself be lulled by the cool evening breeze on the hammock, making boat trips to the islands and snorkeling in the coral reef, going to the market or eating excellent fish and seafood.
A destination of many potentialities and of the authentic spirit of the African villages. What to do in Vilanculo then if you have more days available?
Fishermen returning from fishing
The best time of day is when the tide begins to rise and the fishing boats return, times vary depending on the tide but from Baobab it will be easy to see and just as fast to reach them on foot.
The beach is crowded with women, children and men.
The fishermen unload kilos and kilos of fish on the sand, I tripped distractedly on a pretty huge one, and sell them.
Once the fish is bought, weighed I do not understand how, perhaps by hand since there are no scales, they are put in basins that are placed one after the other, with the typical African mystery, on the head to make return home and head out then to sell in the market.
This delightful show is performed every day, I suppose the times vary depending on the tides. Then suddenly the beach empties again. And I remain like the women waiting for the dhow. Looking at the sea in silence.
The return of the fishermen depend on the tides, the times are variable. From the hotel it will, in any case, be easy to imagine when it will happen. As soon as the tide begins to rise it is time to take to the beach..
Cooking class with Zita
Zita is a young girl who has recently opened an inexpensive restaurant where you eat well. One evening, waiting for my delicious dish of chicken cooked with coconut milk and peanuts, I went into the kitchen while she was at work and asked her if she could teach me how to cook the delicacies of Mozambique that, in memory of a good part of African cuisine, has amazed me.
As in all cooking classes the afternoon began in the market to buy the ingredients to then get down to work and cook two local dishes from which I had happily had indigestion during the weeks in the country: Matata with roasted squid, but which is often served with crabs, only that the fishermen had great fresh squid that day, and the chicken with coconut milk and peanuts, obviously accompanied by rice.
Cost paid: 1000Meticais
In truth, Zita had asked for a lot less but I had a vague feeling that she had not done the calculations well, since the request was cheaper than what I would have paid for ordering these same two dishes. So I doubled the blow to repay her for her time and the wonderful day.
I urge you to consider these details when you ask for something from the locals who do not always ask the right price, at times out of shame, others because unconsciously, and to leave them a tip.
Around the Vilankulos market
Africa is teeming with markets, that is where the social life takes place and for this I consider it an important milestone in every town or village wherever I go.
However small it is, the Vilanculos market is worth a visit. In this area of the country, unlike the south where the cultivation seems to be more varied, are produced in large quantities, and being surrounded by palm trees it could not make me think otherwise, coconut and also mango.
There is the area with the benches of fish and that of meat too.
Whoever comes to Vilanculos does so especially to discover the Bazaruto islands, in the exclusive Bazaruto Archipelago, where the cost of lodgings exceeds the unthinkable, about $1,300 per person per night. Fortunately, there are alternatives for ordinary mortals, like myself, so I booked a full day tour to discover the seabed and the incredible reefs of these islands.
The island of Bazaruto is located about 80km from the coast, and what makes it unique is that it is a sandy island reminiscent of the desert.
Desert dunes emerging from the middle of the ocean, if that in itself is impressive to see arriving from the sea, it becomes even more amazing when you scale the main dune and position yourself exactly on the crest to have two different spectacles on both sides: from one the sea and the spits of sand, from the other a lagoon and a green area, rather difficult to imagine given the apparent absence of green.
But if the desert in the middle of the sea is not enough, this island also offers a very special place where to do snorkelling and diving, the well-known two miles reef. With luck, it is right in the crystal clear waters, full of nutritions you can see the dugong, that boasts here the greater number of specimens, about 120, and with a high chance you might be able to see dolphins on the way to or from the island to Vilanculos.
Magaruque island in Dhow
Another day of excellent snorkelling but in a dhow, the typical African sail boat. An exceptional tour that starts in the morning when the tide is gradually retreating and to return when the tide is already high. The motor navigation has made us reach
The motor navigation has made us reach Mapapay in about one hour, and here I saw unfolded in front of me one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Solitary and completely empty, kilometres and kilometers of beach that, at low tide offers natural spectacles that Africa does not want me to get used to.
The walk around the island takes approximately 1 hour and a half, and during this there was no shortage of meetings with dozens of flamingos that, in this scenario, seem to have been put there by a painter, an excellent coral reef to do snorkeling in which, despite the jellyfish, and so in fact, is how it is done, surrounded by hundreds of colorful fish. Lunch on the beach with fish, rice and salad to make one last snorkelling before returning sailing to Vilankulos (and getting, not a little, wet!).
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2 days Bazaruto Safari
Though apparently the Bazaruto archipelago is for the wealthy few, in truth, the options to visit this corner of paradise is also for mere mortals like myself who cannot afford to pay €1,300 per night to sleep in a wonderful spot, but would like to :).
And that’s where the good saying he who seeks finds, made me discover an alternative option, wilder and less luxurious than the lodge on an island but ideal for those who love adventure.
Departure is in the morning as soon as the tide begins to rise, to reach Bazaruto, where as soon as you arrive you climb up the dune overlooking the sea and to do, after that, an excellent snorkelling at 2mile Reef and Benguerra.
Instead of returning to Vilanculos, as the one-day tour would like it, you stay on the beach instead of Marimba Secret Garden in the beautiful coastal Africa less contaminated and still off the beaten tourist tracks!
The next day departure for Santa Carolina Island, the smallest of the islands of the archipelago that boasts 3 beautiful beaches and an incredible coral reef to swim with mask and tube among the fish of the reef.
If there is one thing that is rarely lacking in Vilanculos it is the wind, fortunately, among other things, given the heat that destroys you when you are under the sun.
Under the shade, the days are pleasant thanks to this breeze that cools the torrid heat of summer. But for the sports lovers, wind also means kitesurfing!
A beautiful experience when the tide begins to rise is that of being transported by the kite between the fishing boats in the blue and clean sea.
It is possible to rent kite or, for those who has never done it, to do the course. The courses start from 1 day, to test, up to 3.
The costs start from $150 or $250 for the 3-day course. If you already do kitesurfing, obviously the wind does not have a price.
For information ask at the hostel Baobab Lodge Backpackers
The Bazaruto archipelago offers not only an excellent diving but also deserted and pristine beaches, warm turquoise sea and small fishing communities, and beautiful coral reefs, such as the famous Two Mile Reef.
The waters of this archipelago are home to a wide variety of marine life, it is not difficult to meet dolphins and the more fortunate will see the shy dugong or the rare whale sharks migrating, although for these behemoths the place to spot them is Tofo, along the Mozambique Channel.
The Bazaruto Archipelago is a protected National Marine Park, the coral reefs, healthy and alive, is particularly beautiful no matter whether we go snorkelling or diving, and that makes this corner of Africa one of the top destinations on the continent for immersions.
A day’s diving costs $130 with two immersions. It is also possible to take a PADI licence.
Where to stay in Vilanculos
I found my paradise corner at budget rates in an excellent location at the Baobab Lodge Backpackers, , as the name suggests, it is a place to meet backpackers of all ages.
The lodge offers bungalows overlooking the sea, for two or three persons, garden view bungalows, from €24 per room (with or without a shared bathroom) or dormitory beds from €10 per person. Also excellent cuisine. That is, a bungalow right on the sea, a few steps from the fish market.
Highly recommended for backpackers and also not!
For those who want a less backpackers setting in a wonderful tropical garden right on the beach then I would recommend Palmeiras Lodge, which offers bungalows, breakfast included, starting at $60 per night.
A great alternative for the more adult customers in an excellent location surrounded by tropical nature of this beautiful corner of Mozambique!
How to get to Vilanculos by car and bus
Considering that the road in Mozambique is one, to arrive from Maputo is long but quite simple. The hours by car are about 9 with no surprises, otherwise, for those who want to stop on the way I advise you to do it at Lagoa Quissico, exactly halfway between Maputo and Vilanculos.
There is also a direct bus linking Maputo with Vilankulos, 900 meticais plus about 100 more for baggage. You have to get the ticket the day before at the bus station.
For those who are going to Tofo beach, or coming from Tofo, by public transport, the best solution is to take the ferry from Inhambane and get to Maxixe, here, take the bus, about 4 hours, to Vilanculos.
If you go by car instead, the road is longer for about 50km because you have to drive for the entire peninsula, the ferry does not carry cars but only passengers, the road to follow is beautiful and full of villages and daily life.
For those who are driving, I must remind you to pay attention to the speed limits and the police. The chance to get fined is rather high.
Vilanculos is one of those places so beautiful and so wild that you never know if you really want to tell about it or whether, on the other hand, do not expect it to stay that way for a while.
I decided to tell about it, pointing out that it is one of the most beautiful destinations in Africa where I have been in these two years of traveling the African continent, and yes, I have sent many people to Vilanculos many people when completely drunk with so much beauty.
I cannot, therefore, but send you to Vilanculos, or at least hope that one day you may have the pleasure to get down here!
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.