Off the Beaten Track
Past conflict and a lack of infrastructure means that Mozambique is often bypassed by international travelers, who tend to flock north to Tanzania or south to South Africa. As a result, Mozambique remains largely cloaked in mystery, and full of remote natural treasures untouched by tarred roads or sprawling tourist hotels. Of all the country’s many worthwhile destinations, perhaps the most rewarding of all is the Quirimbas Archipelago - a string of paradise islands forgotten by time and washed with azure waters.
A Brief History
Located just south of the Tanzanian border, the archipelago comprises over 30 islands and islets, of which Ibo, Vamizi and Medjumbe are three of the most well-known. In the past, the Quirimbas was an important trading post - first for Arab slave and spice traders, and then for Mozambique’s Portuguese settlers. Today, the islands’ residents are largely rural fishermen, who depend upon the bounty of the surrounding seas for their survival. Internationally, the Quirimbas are best known for their idyllic beaches; and for the rich dive sites of the Quirimbas National Park.
There are several lodges scattered throughout the archipelago, one of which is nestled upon the volcanic shores of southerly Situ Island. Simultaneously rustic and luxurious, Situ Island Resort is renowned for its friendly atmosphere, and for the uncanny ability of its staff to make guests feel like part of the family. It is a scenic two hour catamaran ride from the mainland port of Pemba, and with space for just 16 guests, the lodge manages to preserve the Quirimbas’ incredible sense of remoteness and simplicity.
A Taste of Island Life
From the moment your toes sink into the island’s cornflour sand, real life is replaced by a world of slender palms and golden sunlight. The ocean breaks softly upon the shore just meters from the lodge’s palm-woven cabanas, and each evening, the sun dresses the sky in golds and reds before finally slipping below the horizon. The lodge kitchen overlooks the tranquil bay, and the kitchen serves gourmet meals with a focus on seafood caught fresh by the local fishermen. At night, the Milky Way stretches bright as a flame across the unpolluted sky.
The temptation is to spend your days soaking up the sunshine on the island’s pale golden beach, or reading in the hammock on the shaded porch of your cabana. For those that like to be more active, however, Situ Island is teeming with possibilities for adventure. The lodge’s sleek catamaran offers deep sea fishing trips, and the chance to catch sailfish, dorado and trevally. The island’s volcanic interior is an untamed wonderland of saltwater creeks and tangled trails, interspersed with the giant trunks of ancient baobab trees.
At low tide, the exposed rock pools in front of the lodge are filled with juvenile tropical fish and delicate crustaceans; while high tide brings excellent opportunities for snorkelling and swimming. Like many of the Quirimbas islands, Situ has its own fishing village from which picturesque dhows and dugout canoes set sail early each morning. Those interested in exploring local culture can take a guided walk through the village, where mothers and children wave shyly from red earth homes, and old men mend fishing nets with gnarled fingers.
Of course, Quirimbas is best known for its beautiful dive sites, and there are plenty of these to explore around Situ. Some are locally famous, with plunging reef walls visible from the surface through crystalline water. Others have been dived only a few times, and offer the thrill of discovery and adventure. Wherever your dives take you, the reefs here are characterised by stunning underwater topography, rich coral cover and shimmering shoals of fluorescent fish. Species highlights include the shy white tip reef shark and the majestic Napoleon wrasse.
Situ Island is also a haven for birdlife, with a wealth of resident species in addition to seasonal visits from unusual migrants. At low tide, the rock pools act as a plentiful hunting ground for egrets and herons, while the palm thicket beyond the cabanas teems with smaller species including camaropteras, pytilias and jewel-bright sunbirds. Little and swallow-tailed bee-eaters favor the lava creek behind the lodge, while an early morning walk through the village and the surrounding miombo woodland can yield tens of new sightings in a single hour.
For the moment, the Quirimbas remains firmly off the beaten track. There seems to be little threat of global hotel chains, highways or strip malls corrupting its natural splendor anytime soon; and yet, this island paradise faces a more insidious threat. Despite the southern islands falling under the jurisdiction of the Quirimbas National Park, the islands’ low profile has left them exposed to destructive fishing methods and poaching by unscrupulous foreign fisheries. It is uncertain whether protective measures will be taken in time to save the archipelago’s magnificent marine heritage - so for those that wish to experience it in its current glory, there is no time like the present.