Bazaruto Archipelago

Margaruque island in the Bazaruto Archipelago © Richard Stupart

Consisting of five islands off the coast of Vilanculos, in Mozambique's Inhambane Province, the Bazaruto Archipelago is the most popular tourist area in the country and widely considered to be the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean'.

It's a luxury destination sought after by divers, fishermen, nature lovers, and sun seekers. The main islands of Bazaruto and Benguerra, as well as the smaller Santa Catalina, Magaruque, and Bangue Islands. All are protected within a national park, one of the largest of its kind in the Indian Ocean.

The warm seas are home to whales, dolphins, manta rays, turtles, and the endangered dugong. Unspoiled coral reefs attract this rich marine life, providing underwater enthusiasts with top class scuba diving and snorkelling adventures.

On land, miles of deserted beaches stretch beneath the shade of palm trees, offering weary city executives a dream getaway. The most stressful thing is deciding between activities like birdwatching, fishing, and simply soaking up rays of sunshine.

The largest island is the popular Bazaruto, which gives the archipelago its name. To the west is the smallest island, Santa Carolina, nearly two miles (3km) long and less than half a mile (500m) wide, surrounded by protected coral reefs and deep water suited to big game fishing.

A narrow channel separates Bazaruto from its southern neighbour Benguela, second largest in the chain, followed by Magaruque, which is primarily a diving resort. One can also explore the tiny uninhabited island of Bangue when travelling from Bangue.



Attractions

Bazaruto Island
Bazaruto Island © Julien Lagarde

Bazaruto Island

The largest island in the archipelago, Bazaruto Island is about 23 miles (37km) long and four miles (7km) wide, surrounded by magnificent stretches of white sand. Enormous sand dunes comprise the eastern strip, while the interior contains large freshwater lakes inhabited by crocodiles and frequented by a wide variety of water birds, including flamingos.

On the northern tip of the island is a lighthouse built by the Portuguese over 100 years ago, which signals to the large number of ships travelling the historic Mozambique Channel and affords spectacular views from its tower.

World famous for its large game fishing, Bazaruto is a popular diving destination with a rich variety of marine life surrounding the island. The Bazaruto Marine National Park offers coral reefs, crystal-clear waters, and diverse underwater life.

Reef sharks, dolphins, manta rays, and turtles are regular visitors to these waters, and the turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of the island. Humpback whales can be found between August and October, and whale sharks between April and July.

Tourist facilities, upmarket lodges, and exclusive resorts dot the island and most gear themselves towards luxury tourism. Bazaruto is accessible by boat or plane from Vilanculos.


Bazaruto Archipelago
Bazaruto Archipelago © Richard Moross

Benguerra Island

Benguerra is the second largest island of the Bazaruto Archipelago, less than half a mile (1km) south of Bazaruto. Like its neighbour, Benguerra boasts stunning beaches, large sand dunes, and freshwater lakes.

Its forest and wetland areas attract a huge variety of birds and animals, while its surrounding reefs offer some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities on the African continent. Two-mile Reef is to the east of Benguerra.

Its protected lagoon, known aptly as the Aquarium, vis an underwater paradise with beautiful corals and a wealth of tropical fish, popular with both divers and snorkelers. People will find the famous Pansy shells along the sandbanks to the north of the island.

Most visitors go to Benguerra for the big game fishing as its deep waters teem with the likes of marlin and barracuda. The area is world-renowned as a sport fishing destination and is accessible by boat or plane from Vilanculos. Happily, there's plenty of accommodation on the island.

Tourist facilities are good, with a number of upmarket lodges and exclusive resorts geared towards luxury tourism. Benguerra is a popular honeymoon destination and remains an unspoiled natural paradise, fast becoming one of the best luxury beach destination in Africa.


Enjoy horseriding on the beach in Vilanculos
Enjoy horseriding on the beach in Vilanculos © graemenewcomb

Vilanculos

Vilanculos is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, a group of islands incorporated into Mozambique's stunning underwater national park. Visitors on day trips from the town are encouraged to go scuba diving and snorkelling in the clear waters.

There's also the chance to go horse riding along the unspoiled beaches of the Vilanculos coast. Sailing around the archipelago in a traditional dhow is a great way to enjoy the azure ocean waves, sandy beaches, palm trees, and coral reefs of the islands.

Vilanculos is also a great fishing area, ranked as the best black marlin destination in the eastern Indian Ocean. The region is best explored on foot, offering a number of good restaurants, a few bars and shops, and a central market in the village of Vilankulo.

Although it has been experiencing a tourism boom and has decent amenities and great accommodation options, it has retained its local flavour. There is even a new international airport on the outskirts of town, with flights to both Johannesburg and Maputo.