Planning a road-trip to Vilankulo: the gateway to Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago
I’m incredibly passionate about the Bazaruto Archipelago and love referring to it as The Blue Heart Of Eastern Africa. Having traveled far and wide across Mozambique, and being fortunate enough to have flown the length of this magnificent country’s coastline, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is just something so special, and so important about the entire Inhambane province—even more specifically, the Bazaruto Archipelago.
Mozambican based Marine Biologist and mega fauna advocate, Dr. Andrea Marshall/The Manta Queen, have likened the area to the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean on numerous occasions and affectionately refer to it as The Blue Serengeti, likely after the really vast and beautiful ocean world, boasting with the most incredible species, sandbanks and sights. The Bazaruto Archipelago really is unlike any other place in the world and should certainly be considered on any overland or Southern-African road-trip itinerary.
Although direct and daily international flights to and from Johannesburg International Airport conveniently connect the small fishing town of Vilankulo with the outside world, the national/main road (EM1) which leads here is direct, accessible and in mint condition. Recently revamped and continuously maintained, the EM1 is safe and can be driven on with comfort, even in the smallest sedan vehicle.
Locals, government officials and traffic officers were recently had a collective change of heart with regards to harassing international drivers—stressing the importance of tourism for the country’s economy. Today, bribes are few-and-far-between, and drivers are seldom pulled over—unless the strict speed limit, ranging between 80-100km/h is not obeyed.
Most overland and road trip enthusiasts travel into Mozambique from South Africa and enter the country through via the Komatipoort border post, roughly 100km south of the capital Maputo. Although it is quite possible to reach your final destination of Vilankulo in a single day, it is common to overnight halfway in Xai-Xai or Inhambane, with a plethora of motel-like options visible on each town’s main road.
WHERE TO STAY IN VILANKULO
Budget travelers and backpackers can find great options for accommodation and affordable meals at either Baobab Beach Lodge and Backpackers or Casa Cabana Beach, the latter considerably more central and closer to town, ATM’s and food markets. Camping is not available at Casa Cabana, but tents of all shapes and sizes are welcomed Baobab Beach Lodge and Backpackers. Day trips and activities can be arranged at a fraction of the price at these two facilities, as both cater for younger travelers with tighter budgets. It is not advisable to book activities too far in advance. Most trips are weather dependant and bookings work on a first-come-first-serve and cash basis.
I personally find Casa Rex quite boring, but should you consider yourself in the “I’m-retired-please-don’t-make-a-noise-at-the-pool-or-anywhere-for-that-matter” market, you should be most happy there. The restaurant is adequate, but don’t expect anything else except the chocolate dessert to blow your foodie socks off.
Visitors interested in health and wellness, and are prone to hitting the gymnasium at 5am for those extra holiday endorphins, will find Bahia Mar Boutique Hotel ideal. Individual Yoga and Pilates classes can be arranged upon request and their menu offers both vegetarian and vegan options.
Boasting was is arguably the finest location in all of the Vilankulo’s bay and the most impressive infinity pool and garden dotted with palm trees, my personal recommendation would be Vilanculos Beach Lodge. The only lodge mid to high range lodge in town with direct beach access and where service, food and all round management seems to be taken quite seriously.
THINGS TO DO IN VILANKULO
There are numerous day and overnight activities in and around Vilankulo and her greater Bazaruto Archipelago. The below are merely my personal recommendations, and is by no means a full list of what is available. Vilankulo is a very small community and all day-trip and activity operators are registered with the various accommodation stakeholders.
No matter where do you decide to lay down your head, it is almost certain that someone will be able to assist you to ensure you find something that meets your expectation, need and budget.
- FISH THE BAZARUTO! GAME AND BIG GAME FISHING – Both experienced and inexperienced anglers alike can find themselves having a fantastic time casting a few lines out at sea. Whether catching your first ever fish, or that fish of a lifetime, Big Blue Vilankulo – the oldest fishing charter company in town – can make this happen. Highly capable, experience and helpful guides offer anything from a light tackle reef fishing to trawling the high seas in search of your big lady, the Black Marlin. Those interested in targeting Billfish should definitely visit the Archipelago. Black and Blue Marlin are targeted from October to December and Sailfish May to around the middle of August.
- KITE-SURFING CENTRE and KITE-SURFING SAFARIS – The Bazaruto Archipelago is world renowned for it’s extreme kite surfing conditions where steady winds, sunny days, and calm, warm waters are surrounded by stunning beaches, sandbanks and estuaries – regularly offering winds of up to 18 / 30 knots. The best times for ultimate wind conditions are between September and December. You can choose between day or overnight kite- surfing safari options and anyone from advanced to absolute beginner is welcome. Kite-surfing Centre Mozambique offers kite-surfing lessons with certified instructors on the mainland’s beach. Any and all equipment can be hired at KiteZone, the home of Kite-surfing Centre Mozambique next to CasBah beach bar and restaurant.
- VISIT THE ISLANDS OF THE BAZARUTO ARCHIPELAGO – The Bazaruto Archipelago is famous as an underwater and island paradise. Five islands make up the entire cluster, gliding in scale and distance from the mainland, each with their own unique offering and charm. The largest of the five islands, Bazaruto Island, boasts with a giant sand dune and magnificent views over the second largest Benguerra Island, to the south. Magarugue and Bangue Island are both considerably smaller, the latter being the smallest of all, but both offering quaint excursions and sheltered snorkelling options for young children and less adventurous swimmers. Paradise Island, the furthest and least accessible from the mainlan, has remnants of the old Santa Carolina Hotel, reminding of times gone by, and offers the typical Robinson Crusoe experience to those seeking a kind of paradise lost.
Choose between motorised luxury speedboats with fully catered lunches, to relying solely on the wind and opting for a day far less rushed on a traditional Dhow.
IMPORTANT NOTES BEFORE TRAVELING TO VILANKULO:
*** Travelers outside SADAC countries need to acquire a Visa to enter Mozambique. Visas are issued at all borders on arrival, is subject to country of origin and should be paid for in US$ cash
*** Vilankulo is a high risk Malaria area, please consult your travel clinic or physician prior to planning your trip.
***For an even greater selection of this destination’s attractions and things to do, follow #MEETMEINVILANKULO, the greater Vilankulo Destination hashtag.
If you have any questions about visiting Vilankulo, please leave a comment below. If you’ve ever been to Bazaruto Archipelago, share your favorite activities.