Quirimbas Islands travel guide
As we are great Africa lovers, after visiting some of its most beautiful national parks, we wanted to find a journey outside the tourist routes that could combine history, sea, and contact with the local population. In the end, we focused our vacation on the Quirimbas Islands Archipelago, a paradise not yet known by the mass tourism that features old villages with houses dating back to the Portuguese colonial era, pristine vegetation, white beaches, crystal clear sea, coral reefs and rich marine life including turtles, whales and dolphins. The Quirimbas form an archipelago of 32 islands of different sizes, 11 of which form the Quirimbas Biosphere Reserve, and are located in Cabo Delgado Province, along the northern coast of Mozambique. Islanders live modest and simple lives, and many have never been on the mainland or in the nearest city of Pemba. The main economic activities are fishing and trade, as the islands are not suitable for agriculture and tourism in the last very few years. There are no vehicles on the islands, and the most used means of transport are still the traditional dhow (a sailing boat) and the local dug-out canoes known as kaskinia.
When to Go
The best period to visit the Quirimbas Archipelago is during the drier winter months, from the end of May to October when temperatures are steady, winds are low and marine animal sightings are high. June to August is the peak season. During the dry season, the average temperatures range from 15°C to 27°C. The rainy season runs from mid-November to April. We travelled through the Quirimbas at the end of May, finding mostly sunny, windy, and only a day of rain.
What kind of trip is it?
First of all, we must say that the Quirimbas Islands are not completely suitable for relaxing on a beach like in other African destinations such as Zanzibar, Kenya or south-central Mozambique. The tides affect life on the islands, and at certain times of the day, it is almost impossible to get to the sea for a swim. The islands are quite small, wild, and only very few of them hosts eco-sustainable accommodations. The Quirimbas archipelago is perfect for those who want to enjoy a dynamic trip to discover a still unspoiled naturalistic paradise by combining relaxation with hiking and boat tours. If you also want to spend a few days of rest on a beach, the perfect combination is a week through the Quirimbas Archipelago and a week in Pemba, a charming tourist town with beautiful white-sand beaches and a clear sea.
Where to stay
The most visited are the southernmost islands (the 11 of the Quirimbas Biosphere Reserve), and the base for all the activities is Ibo Island (Ilha do Ibo). Ibo is one of the most ancient settlements in Mozambique. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was one of Portugal’s main Indian Ocean ports and still features charming buildings dating back to the colonial era. This small island does not boast beautiful beaches, but it’s the closest to the mainland and the only one with different accommodations to arranging your tour through the Archipelago.
There are other islands such as Matemo, the tiny Mogundula and Medjumbe, which have a small eco-sustainable accommodation, but these resorts are really expensive. Also, these islands are wild, and there’s nothing to do. Anyway, the lodge in Matemo Island is right in front of a white sand beach suitable for swimming and relax under the sun.
Where to sleep
The accommodations are very few, and some of them also expensive because they are exclusive. On Ibo Island are different accommodations for any budget, from lodges to cheap camping like the Miti Miwiri hotel, Ulani Lodge, Mwani House, Ibo Island Lodge, Cinco Portas Lodge, Baobibo House, Casa das Garcas Lodge, Karibune Camping. We slept at Karibune Camping in our tent, but they also have a couple of rooms.
On Matemo Island is Matemo Island Resort on the north tip and a basic campsite on the east side (we slept here); in Mogundula Island is the exclusive Mogundula Lodge; in Medjumbe island is Anantara Resort.
The only Island where you can relax on an unspoiled and long white sand beach is the wild Vamizi, but it’s in the north of the Archipelago, next to the Tanzania border and very far from Ibo and the Biosphere Reserve. Anyway, in Vamizi Island is the luxury &Beyond Vamizi Lodge.
How to reach the Quiririmbas Archipelago
In the last few years, the Cabo Delgado Province has been classified as “dangerous” by the local and international Authorities due to repeated jihadist attacks. The safest and fastest way to reach Ibo is by flight from Pemba. There are 2 companies – Coastal Aviation and CFA Air Charter – that link Pemba to Ibo Island airstrip. Pemba can be reached by flight from Maputo, Dar es Salam, Nairobi, and Johannesburg, but there are very few flights per day. We started our trip from Nampula, heading to Ilha de Mocambique before reaching the Quirimbas Archipelago.
If you want to try an unforgettable experience to live a slice of local life, it’s possible to catch the local transport, but consider it a tough and tiring trip. The local vehicles are filled up like a “sardine can”, very slow as the roads are in bad conditions, with no AC and no schedules. Anyway, the vans/trucks to Ibo depart next to Cabo Delgado Hotel in Pemba around 4.30 am. Once you get to Tandanhangue pier, catch the boat (a dhow or a motorboat) to Ibo. The trip from Pemba to Ibo could take 6/7 hours or more. The boat ride to Ibo runs exclusively at high tide so that you may be temporarily stuck in Tandanhangue village.
Another option is a private transfer. Some Ibo Island accommodations – especially the Lodges – offer a private transfer to their customers from Pemba to Ibo (and vice versa). Usually, the one-way transfer is about 200/250 USD. It’s a good deal if you are a group of 4 people, the cost is only 50 USD per person.
Important: it’s always advisable to contact the accommodations on Ibo Island to ask for information about safety, means of transport and tides.
If you decide to stay on the Island of Matemo, Mogundula or Medjumbe, contact the lodges to know the best way to reach the islands.
Activities in the Quirimbas Islands
The islands offer the great opportunity to enjoy an untouched natural paradise among pristine beaches, crystal clear sea, snorkelling, scuba diving, boat tours and hiking trails. All the activities can be arranged through your accommodation on Ibo Island. Some of the lodges own a private motorboat; others can help you arrange your tour with a local fisherman.
1. Historic Ibo Island Tour: Ibo was a former Portuguese colony and still features ancient ruins, romantic white buildings, forts and fortress still well preserved. A tour Ibo is not to miss, and it will take you back in time.
2. Kayaking: it’s possible to have a nice kayak trip to visit Ibo Bay and the charming mangroves area.
3. Snorkelling: not far from Ibo is the shipwreck of a sunken ship where it’s possible to enjoy rich marine life and a beautiful coral reef.
4. Scuba Diving: the Quirimba Archipelago features a variety of unspoiled and wild underwater landscapes where it’s easy to see corals, tropical fish and, if you are lucky, also dolphins, turtles and humpback whales (from July to Nov).
5. Sandbank boat trip: Ibo is not a beach destination, but you can reach the wonderful São Lourenço sandbank with a boat tour. This tongue of white sand emerges from the ocean waters at low tide, creating a fairy landscape.
6. Matemo Island boat tour: Matemo is a wonderful tropical paradise with long beaches fringed by palm trees and crystal clear water. It’s the perfect place to relax, lying in the sun and snorkel.
7. Ibo lighthouse hiking: it’s a beautiful hike throughout the mangroves forest and the coast to reach the old Portuguese lighthouse. The structure is nothing special but the landscape to get there is really beautiful. It takes about 3 hours to complete the tour.
8. Quirimba island hike: a wonderful experience is to reach the neighbouring Quirimba island on foot at low tide. The hike (1.30 hours) is through the mangroves and the Quirimba channel (cut by the slaves in the eighteenth century) until you reach the island where you can enjoy a white sand beach fringed by palm trees, visit a huge coconut plantation, explore the local village and see the remains of an old Portuguese church.
9. Birdwatching: the huge and low-lying sea mangrove forests allow you to spot over 300 different bird species, 10 of which are at risk of extinction. For example, some of the species you can see here include pelicans, kingfishers, woodpeckers, flamingos, sunbirds, herons, lilac-breasted rollers and fish eagles.
10. Qurimbas islands hopping: if you love the adventure, the multi-day (3-5-7 days) boat tour through the Archipelago is not to miss. You can experience the wildest islands and their beauty surrounded by nature and peace. Usually, the trip is made with a dhow of a local fisherman, and your accommodation will help you arrange the boat tour in detail.
TIP: don’t forget to bring water shoes as you’ll walk in the shallow at low tide most of the time.
Others useful information
The islands are still stuck back in time, and you can see very few motorcycles and bikes only on Ibo Island. The best way to enjoy this paradise is on foot.
There is an ATM on Ibo, but it does not work well, and it’s better to change your currency in Pemba at the airport or in a bank. Anyway, it’s possible to pay for the accommodations and activities in USD.
Some accommodations offer the wifi, but it’s good to buy a local Simcard in Pemba or Ibo. If you need wifi, next to Cinco Portas Lodge is the Saakara shop with a wifi zone.
Thanks to the strong Arab influences weaving through Mozambique’s history, the islanders are mainly Muslim, but they also practice old Mozambique tribal customs and religions.
The local cuisine is delicious and ranges from fresh seafood and fish to coconut rice, cassava, sweet potato, tomatoes, papaya and pineapples. Try the traditional Matapa, a dish made from crushed cassava leaves pounded with peanuts, or the Portuguese rolls, a Mozambican version of the Portuguese bread.
Health and safety
The province of Cabo Delgado is classified as dangerous due to the armed groups’ attacks. Despite that, the Archipelago does not present particular problems. The islanders are friendly and always ready to help you. Be careful if you travel by local transports as they are unsafe and the roads in bad conditions. Remember that safety conditions change worldwide daily; therefore, always do your own research through official websites and contact your embassy in Mozambique.
As in many African countries, even in Mozambique, there is a risk of contracting malaria, especially during the rainy season. It’s always safer to take measures to protect yourself against mosquitos, above all at night, by applying mosquito repellent that contains at least 30% DEET. One of the most common health issues is bowel disorders, often contracted via contaminated food and water. Avoid drinking local tap water and make sure food is cooked thoroughly before eating. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety. In case you need medical attention, there is only a small hospital on Ibo island. For emergencies, you have to go to Pemba.
Remember to purchase travel insurance that protects you against injuries (the medical expenses abroad are very high), illness and theft. We never go on a trip without it. We suggest Worldnomad.com, an insurance company with qualified customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage.