Visiting Ilha de Mocambique
With a flight from Nairobi, in a few hours, we reach Nampula, the main city of the province of Nampula in the northwest of the country. Finally, we are in Mozambique, ready to start our adventure with local transport that will take us to discover the Quirimbas Islands Archipelago. The small airport is chaotic, and as in most African airports, crowds of people await huddled in the arrivals hall. It is not clear whether they are there waiting for someone or simply to spend the time looking at the travellers. We are the only tourists, and as soon as we leave the airport, a group of “taxi drivers” come up to us ready to probably grab the only profitable ride of the day. Obviously, they usually see very few tourists in the city because Nampula does not offer anything. It is only a dusty starting point for the few tourists who want to visit the Quirimbas Islands.
Suddenly, a western man appears from the crowd and, with a harsh tone, rails against taxi drivers in Portuguese and tells us to follow him. He’s Italian! He asks us where we are heading to and makes us get into a cab explaining to the driver to take us first to the bank to change our currency and then to the bus station. We will never know why that Italian was in Nampula, nor why he was in that remote and dusty airport “managing” taxi drivers, but it is the beauty of travelling to non-tourist places. When you least expect it, something surprising happens.
After exchanging our currency in a city centre bank, we reach the bus station. It is a very crowded, dusty place full of minibuses and minivans (known as Chapa in the local language). There are no ticket counters, signs, or timetables to get how we can reach the Island of Mozambique (in Portuguese Ilha de Mocambique). This is Africa! Here and there we ask the locals what is the mean of transport to Ilha, and one of them lead us to the right minivan. The Chapa is completely empty. There is no departure time, we’ll leave only and only when the Chapa is completely full. However, considering that the minivan is only 14 seaters, we will have no problem filling it quickly. The time passes by and our Chapa begins to be busy. When we ask the driver if we are ready to go, he smiles saying “pole pole, nou problema!”. Obviously, after many journeys to this fantastic continent, we know that everything is “slowly slowly” in Africa, no one is in a hurry and you live day to day without plans and schedules.
The only thing we’ve underestimated is the load of the minivan. The 14 seaters have turned into 25 or more! There is no space to move a single finger and the people are one over another. Even on the roof! They help each other as much as possible, and no one is stranded. This Chapa is probably the only ride (or one of the very few rides) to go back to the villages along the road to Ilha de Mocambique after a day spent at the market or at work. The ride lasts more than 4 and a half hours piled up like sardines, but in the late evening, we finally reach our destination.
Ilha de Mozambique
This island, a UNESCO site since 1991, has a historical heritage that’s unmatched in the rest of the country and the rest of Africa. It was the capital of Mozambique for almost 4 centuries under Portuguese colonisation before being moved to Maputo. It was also a significant base for the Arab traders from the VIII century until the Portuguese reached the island. Ilha de Mocambique, which is located at the entrance to Mossuril Bay, is only 3 km long and very narrow. It is connected to the mainland by a long bridge and is said to be populated by about 15000 inhabitants, most of whom live in Makuti, a city that extends to the southern part of the island. The city of Stone Town, on the other hand, occupies the northern half of the island and is the colonial part where there are the main attractions including the ancient Portuguese houses, churches, the Maritime Museum and the ancient Fort of San Sebastian.
Early in the morning, we meet Joao, a local fisherman contacted by our hotel, to arrange a boat trip to Goa, a small and wild island with an old Portuguese lighthouse and a cristal clear sea. The boat of Joao is a Dhow, a patched wooden sailboat typical of Mocambique. Once on the island, we walk along a path through the lush vegetation to start the tour of this pristine island until we reach the lighthouse. The hike is quite short and the island is completely flat and small in size. The visit to the lighthouse is interesting, although the interior is completely empty, you can climb to the top to see the island from above.
In front of the lighthouse, there are small tribal statues and some dried fish, probably as a sign of good hope to the many fishermen who venture into these often windy and agitated ocean waters every day. After relaxing on the beautiful beach of Goa, we go back to the Island of Mozambique to visit the fascinating Stone Town and its attractions. We start with the Chapel of S. Paul and the annexed building that once housed a college for Jesuits, now the Museum of the Sea where relics dating back to the colonial era are exhibited; then the nearby Church of Mercy and the attached Museum of Sacred Art, and the Fort of S. Sebastian, built right on the northern tip of the island.
The fort is impressive. It was built towards the end of the XVI century and on its walls facing the ocean, the old cannons to fight the pirate attacks are still preserved. Unfortunately, like most of the attractions of the city of Stone Town, the fort is poorly maintained and in a complete state of neglect. We go back to the town centre along the seaside in the eastern part of the island, and here, as in Nampula, we have an unexpected encounter. Passing by an elementary school where many young students are playing in the courtyard, a little girl comes up to us and suddenly begins to speak Italian.
We are surprised because the inhabitants of the island speak Swahili, a local dialect and some of them speak Portuguese. Finding someone who speaks English is quite rare, finding a young kid who speaks Italian seem to be impossible! However, she is the daughter of an Italian married on the Island of Mozambique and the manager/owner of a hotel in the southern part of Stone Town. After this nice encounter, we go on until we reach Makuti, the liveliest and decidedly poor part of the island.
The houses are very basic, there are sheet metal structures, others made of straw (Makuti means straw) and a multitude of people sitting on the doorstep of the houses or doing household chores. They are the two faces of the island. A rather dilapidated part, but with houses built in stone (precisely “Stone Town”) dating back to the colonial era where wealthy people reside and the other type of the poorest African countries where people live in large families and houses are simple and often patched. We pass in front of the mosque and then cross the city of Makuti from west to east until we reach the southwestern tip of the island where the small Fort and the Church of Sant’Antonio are located.
The fort and the church are located at the very end of the long beach that extends over the entire eastern part of the island and were built during the Portuguese colonial period. Along the beach, we meet many fishermen returning from the tiring day who, intrigued by our presence, proudly show us the catch of the day. Along the beach and waiting for the sunset, we return to our Guest House where we will have to re-pack the backpack and get ready to continue our adventure along the coast of Mozambique.
Around 7 in the morning we meet Joao again who will take us to the Carrusca beach with his dhow. During our navigation, we stop at Ilha de Sete Pau. This small wild island has lush vegetation but above all, it is surrounded by a crystal clear sea where we dive and relax for more than 1 hour. Unfortunately, low tide is coming and we have to leave the island before being stranded with the boat. After two hours we reach the Carrusca beach, a very long sandy expanse bathed by a clear sea with different shades of blue. We say goodbye to Joao, and after having settled in a bungalow in one of the very few accommodations in Carrusca, we immediately return to the beach to relax under the sun and snorkel.
The coastal landscape is truly magnificent. Carrusca is a very long white sand beach lined with palm trees and full of shells and crabs. The amazing thing is the complete absence of tourists. We are practically alone. Only during dinner at the resort do we meet a Spanish priest with his family. He explains that he is assigned to a church in Nampula and that his brothers and parents are here on vacation to meet him. At 2 am we have to wake up to reach the city of Mossuril and take a bus to Namialo, where the local bus will then take us on a 10-hour journey to Pemba and the Quirimbas Islands.
Need to Know
How to get
The easiest way to reach Mozambique Island is to fly to Nampula and then take a Chapa. If your trip starts from Maputo, you can rent a vehicle or always use local transport. If you rent a car, it will be easier to visit the beautiful beaches that you will find between Maputo and Pemba. You can also contact some tour operators in order to travel with peace of mind.
Accommodation on Mozambique Island
Most of the accommodations are located in Stone Town, in the colonial part of the island. Most are inexpensive but you will also find something more expensive and comfortable. We slept at the Cafè Central hotel. Other great accommodations are Feitoria Boutique Hotel, Hotel Omuhipiti, Rickshaws Pousada and Café and Patios dos Quintalinhos.