The Bazaruto Archipelago is made up of five glorious main islands: Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Santa Carolina and Bangue. Bazaruto Island is the largest, sporting a 30-kilometre spine of dazzling dunes that roll down its eastern flank above an impossibly turquoise see. Across a narrow channel to the south, Benguerra Island is less than half the size, and Magaruque Island and Santa Carolina are even smaller still. Bangue Island, in the far south, is little more than a sandbar, while a sixth tiny satellite called Pansy (or Shell Island) gets completely submerged at high tide. The whole area is protected within a 1430km2 marine park and offers some of the best diving, snorkelling and recreational game fishing in Africa.
Credit: Santorini Ozambique
Around 5000 Mozambicans call the islands their home, giving the archipelago a ‘lived-in paradise’ feel. Kids splash in the waves and colourful dhows fish offshore, and there’s a timeless, friendly atmosphere if you feel inclined to explore. Bazaruto’s sand dunes are wonderful to climb, and the freshwater lakes and inland forests support crocodiles, tiny antelope, endemic butterflies and over 180 species of birds. Take a day trip to Pansy sandbar and you’ll find it sprinkled with intricate sea-urchin shells, while divers and snorkelers can see whales, sharks, turtles and rays. Over 2000 species of fish have been recorded and the surrounding waters are also home to the highly threatened marine mammal, the dugong. Though sightings are rare, this is the best place to spot them, the last significant population remaining in the Western Indian Ocean.
A handful of world-class luxury resorts are the only options for staying on the islands. For understated, intimate, exclusive escapes these lodges are some of the best in East Africa. Guests have the option of a short, spectacular flight from Vilankulo, or an equally beautiful transfer by boat. The sea can get choppy if the wind picks up so flights are preferable if you’re prone to getting seasick. The hotter summer months, from November to March, are best for spotting whale sharks, but with the greatest risk of rain and, occasionally severe, storms. Humpback whales are common during the dry, warm winter, but whenever you visit you’ll find astonishing life beneath the waves.