Beach bliss in Vilanculos
To be honest, when we were planning our honeymoon, a beach escape wasn’t initially very high on our list. Being bush lovers at heart, two weeks spent engrossed by wildlife in the bush seemed much more up our street, but I was happy to be proven wrong after a gentle nudge from the universe meant that a bush and beach break was booked before we knew it.
After a glorious week spent in Kruger National Park, we headed to the easygoing coastal town of Vilanculos in southern Mozambique. This is not only a gateway for visiting the stunning Bazaruto Archipelago, which lies just a short dhow ride across the turquoise waters, but its beaches could rival many in Southern Africa and throughout the world. As a result, it’s a popular destination for ‘Saffas’ over the school holidays, but we were travelling in February, which meant that we had the beaches almost to ourselves!
An incredibly special spot in a charismatic country, Vilanculos lived up to its reputation of being an ideal location to kick off your veldskoens and practice the art of doing nothing after marvelling at the big cats in the nearby game reserves and national parks.
Our six-night stay started at Villa Santorini where we were whisked off to ‘The Chapel’ – a private villa furnished with every amenity that we could need to wash off the dust from a week of bush escapades, and get some rest after the early morning wake-up calls and excitement of game watching.
The restful tone for our beach honeymoon was set, but our days were filled with so much more than just cocktails, gorgeous sunsets and days spent frolicking in the sand. Our beach break offered us the opportunity to push ourselves to try new things – including some fantastic water and land activities. And we loved having the chance to make the most of our beautiful surroundings and get to know the marine life better.
One of the best experiences of our stay was a boat cruise to the surrounding islands, during which a school of playful dolphins took a fancy to our boat and spent time dipping and diving in the depths below. This sighting proved to be just as exciting as spotting any of the Big Five on safari! If that wasn’t enough, docking on the beautiful Pansy Island offered us the rush of running down sand dunes straight into the crystal clear waters, where we snorkelled around the shallow waters before admiring the shells along the shore.
However, the cherry on top was when we then stopped to glide over the Two-Mile Reef, which lies between Bazaruto and Benguerra islands and had a breathtaking view through our goggles of this underwater world. The rainbow-coloured sea creatures zipped through the coral, and there was so much beauty to take in – it was mesmerising and made me understand why people have such a passion for aquatic life, as well as underwater photography.
To round off our cruise, we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch on the sand, which gave us a good hour to enjoy some quality time together as a couple before heading back to our villa at the end of this unforgettable day!
Our next three nights took us to Bahia Mar Boutique Hotel, a Fair Trade Tourism establishment, where we toasted our new marriage with a chilled bottle of bubbles on our private deck overlooking the Vilanculos coastline – just a two-minute walk away.
We opted to spend our time here around the pool, drinking ice-cold cocktails while sitting on the underwater stools by the poolside bar. When we needed a break from all the relaxing, we took tuk-tuks to explore the area and get a dose of retail therapy that went hand in hand with our spa therapy. This all left us feeling like a million bucks, and we walked out of this zen zone like new human beings – refreshed and ready for the ‘real’ world!
Our time in Mozambique allowed us to creep out of our comfort zone, immerse ourselves in an exotic culture and cuisine, try out exhilarating activities and explore a different world – above and below the water. We were blown away by the extraordinary sense of community and hospitality in Vilanculos, and we will most certainly never disregard beach retreats again… especially when combined with a stint in the bush!
What to expect
Mozambique has a tropical climate, which makes it a perfect escape for the sun-starved. While it is warm year-round, the best time to go is arguably from May to November when you can predominantly expect clear skies and plenty of sunshine – you even stand the chance of seeing migrating humpback whales from June to September or whale sharks from October to early December.
Brush up on your obrigados because the official language in Mozambique is Portuguese, although many of the locals in a beach town like Vilanculos work in the tourism industry and speak fluent English.
Visas can be obtained for most nationalities on arrival, making it a relatively hassle-free destination for many international travellers who are looking to experience an African beach in all its glory. As South Africans, it was even better because we didn’t require a visa, which meant that we could swan through immigration and put the money saved towards our cocktail fund.
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Where to stay
If you are looking for a tailored trip to mark a particular moment in your life, or an exclusive experience purely because you deserve it, Villa Santorini is calling your name. This beautiful seaside oasis is reminiscent of Greece, while still maintaining an African vibe. In luxurious ocean view rooms, decorated with hues of blue and white, you will treasure every moment spent in this secluded and secure spot. The best part is that the team makes you feel that they are only too happy to spoil you, and this incredible group enriched the experience.
Food is one of their many fortes, and we happily overindulged in seafood and local produce. After all, it would have been rude not to feast on the three-course breakfasts, delicious desserts, and romantic four-course dinners, which were all lovingly prepared and served by our new found friends.
Whether travelling in a group or on your own, a stay at Santorini will be the best gift you ever give yourself. A fairytale of fun activities and fantastic food, it didn’t take much to be convinced into planning a return trip for our anniversary!
Alternatively, if you’re keen to lock yourself away for a week and escape into your own world, then Bahia Mar Boutique Hotel may be the best option for you.
Thanks to its quaint seaside rooms with sunbeds on the terrace, and the views of the nearby surrounding islands, you can relax with the feeling that you’re tucked away in a tranquil paradise and left to your own devices.
Hearty meals, complete with some home favourites such as toasted sandwiches and prego rolls, can be enjoyed on the restaurant’s veranda at lunch. At the same time, a variety of dinner options make a perfect accompaniment to some stargazing in the evening.
Bahia Mar prides itself on its wellness centre and can design detox days, which allow guests to focus on their inner wellbeing and feel at one with nature. So if you are looking to zone out and go within, this could be the ultimate way to get away from it all.
What to do and how to do it
Most activities lie within reach of the recommended hotels in the area, at just a short walk or an even shorter tuk-tuk trip away. Consequently, Vilanculos is an easy town to navigate and explore to your heart’s content.
Many hotels and guesthouses offer the equipment to head out on a solo kayaking journey or to snorkel in the shallow waters. At the same time, those who are a bit more daring can book adventure activities, such as kite surfing, horse riding along the beach, wakeboarding or scuba diving, as well as various boat cruises to soak up the islands and see the wildlife.
Be sure also to take a trip to the local market, which sells freshly caught seafood, spices, textiles and locally made rum. And if you have time on your hands, pencil in Machilla Magic Handicrafts on your agenda. This is a local community upliftment project that makes fairtrade products from recycled or local materials, and many hours of shopping pleasure await thanks to the marvellous array of goods in-store. From baobab pod bowls to lemongrass soaps, there is something for everyone – including souvenirs that are handmade in Mozambique to give friends and family.
Where and what to eat
Mozambique is famed for its superb seafood, and the local cuisine has a definitive Portuguese influence. Prepare yourself for piri-piri sauce and prawns that are as big as your appetite! Don’t hesitate to buy a coconut that will be opened using a machete in front of you, which makes for a healthy drink and snack rolled into one. And don’t forget to try a renowned R&R – a rum and raspberry cocktail – to really get that holiday feeling.
We enjoyed the world’s best mojitos at Jorge’s Barraca Bar, and relaxed over a late lunch at Zombie Cucumber – a local pizza spot serving wood-fired, crispy thin pizza that is all the rage with the locals. Although we enjoyed most of our other meals at our respective hotels, the staff were happy to share their secrets about many other local spots that get great reviews all-round. These include:
· Kavuku Café for great food, coffee and views
· Samara Restaurant for seafood delights
· Cas Rex Boutique Hotel’s restaurant for Portuguese dishes
· Casbah for local drinks and cuisine, which can be devoured without your feet leaving the sand
· Kilimanjaro Café for a delicious meal while you’re out exploring the centre of town
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About the author
A Capetonian to the core, Kelly Winkler has had a big year so far – graduating with a BBA degree in Marketing Management and planning a beautiful wedding. After tying the knot, she needed some time to recover from all the festivities, and a bush and beach break was just what her husband ordered.