From the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, it’s just a 45-minute flight to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Despite the distance, these neighboring countries couldn’t be more different. If you make the drive to Mozambique along South Africa’s perfectly paved roads, you’ll quickly have your Wizard of Ozmoment once you hit the Kosi Bay border—realizing you’re really no longer in South Africa anymore. Roads come to an abrupt end at the customs office and are replaced by rugged, sandy paths. Experienced drivers will point out grazing giraffes while expertly navigating Land Rovers around potholes and slow-shuffling cattle. On the hour-long trek along the southern coast of Mozambique, you’ll see how the locals here really live, cruising past deserted stretches of honey-colored beaches and tin-roof villages. Pause along the way at one of the hut-like barracas(Portuguese for “stall”) or bars, which sell local beer like Laurentina for less than a $1 alongside freshly caught grilled fish. Street-side barracas are just one of the lingering signs of Mozambique’s past life as a Portuguese colony.
Spice traders came here first, then marauding buccaneers. Now Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago – wisps of Africa as it once was – is being rediscovered all over again
Dubbed the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” Mozambique—roughly the size of Turkey—is tucked between Tanzania to the north and South Africa, with a coastline stretching roughly 1,535 miles along the Indian Ocean. Getting to Mozambique is the easy part. After a safari in South Africa, hop on an hour-and-15-minute charter flight from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, one of the three airports nearby the national park, to the Manguzi airstrip at the Kosi Bay border post. When you arrive in Mozambique, you can purchase a visa for around $35 in cash (U.S. dollars are preferred) from customs officials.
Once you land, however, the nearly nonexistent infrastructure makes it a challenge to get anywhere—unless you know where to go. Hop in a 4×4 and make your way down to the shark tooth–shaped Lagoon Coast to one of the country’s best-kept secrets—Ponta Mamoli—where you’ll have miles of untouched sandy shores practically all to yourself.
If you’re coming from capital Maputo, it’s a three-hour drive (or 30-minute helicopter ride) past remote villages and the elephant-filled Maputo Special Reserve, Mozambique’s version of a bush safari. You’ll know you’re close when you stumble upon the grasslands shielding the country’s second-largest lake, Lake Piti.
“The surprise behind these dunes is the people, fishing folks in their handcrafted boats made of corrugated sheets, crudely pulled together with tree branches and ropes made from the fibers of reeds and grasses,” explains South African native Warren Green, a former game ranger who now spearheads sustainable travel company Warren Green & Associates. Green has traversed Mozambique from top to bottom, snorkeling along the coast and island hopping through the Bazaruto and Quirimbas Archipelagos. But Ponta Mamoli still reigns as one of his favorite spots in the country. “This is such a special region because it is sandwiched by two national parks—Mkuze Game Reserve in South Africa and Maputo Elephant Reserve—and the land has a very low human population, which makes it pristine and beautiful.”
Ponta Mamoli is a secret shared by locals and South Africans who cross the border just to bask on these secluded beaches, whose glittering turquoise waters are shielded by miles of dry savanna, swampy forest, and floodplains of reed beds and papyrus. This small strip along the Indian Ocean sits halfway between the larger towns of Ponta Dobela and Ponta Malongane, and it served as a titanium mine in the 1940s. In the ’70s, camping resorts slowly sprouted up along the unspoiled coastline. After a period of political upheaval during the Mozambican Civil War, the area faded back into nature. It was only around 2013 that Ponta Mamoli regained a bit of its prewar glory.
Mozambique native Florival Mucave saw potential in the land, transforming a former self-catering beach lodge into the luxurious White Pearl Resorts, designed to blend into the surrounding scenery. Perched on stilts above sand dunes, each of these 21 suites is the definition of beach-house chic—think: standing tubs and private plunge pools overlooking the Indian Ocean.
You’ll quickly discover that one of the best ways to spend an afternoon is with a picnic by the water, sipping South African rosé while dining on freshly grilled, palm-size Mozambican prawns, lightly drizzled with spicy peri-peri sauce. The duo in the kitchen, chef Ananias Chambule and his wife, Julia, blend their self-taught skills with culinary inspiration from stints at spots like the elegant Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg and Maputo’s Mediterranean-inspired bistro Botanica. At night, the only thing that will keep you awake are the monkeys pattering on villa rooftops. Chaise longues on sleek wooden terraces look up at a sea of stars that are glowing so bright, you’ll forget for a moment that you’re just steps from the ocean instead of on a far-flung mountaintop.
If you’re looking to mix and mingle with the locals, head to the largest village in the region, Ponta do Ouro, just a 20-minute ride away. The beach town’s main attraction is the open-air market, but this makeshift bazaar more resembles something you’d find in the Caribbean than Istanbul. Vendors sell handcrafted curios, traditional woodwork, and vibrant patterned capulanas, a traditional sarong-style piece of fabric that’s a wardrobe staple for Mozambican women.
You’ll be one of the few tourists among the crowd of locals and surfer expats who give the village its bohemian vibes. During the week, Ponta do Ouro may seem sleepy, but nights heat up come Friday. Make your way to one of the modest beach shacks doubling as a bar or disco, such as live-music favorite Love Cafe. Here, you’ll get a taste of Marrabenta, a popular style in Mozambique that’s a mix of local dance rhythms and Portuguese folk. Don’t leave without sampling a Mozambique favorite, the R&R—a cocktail usually mixed with local Tipo Tinto rum and raspberry Sparletta soda.
Along the bays, safaris take on aquatic form as you cruise by boat in search of bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales, which migrate to these waters annually from July to November. Since there are limited boat launchings in the area, this reef—with more than a dozen dive sites—has remained practically untouched.
“With so many diving options, each day is different. But in some of these places, like the 105-foot-deep Pinnacles site, you’re guaranteed to see at least 20 sharks every time you go down,” says White Pearl dive master Isaac Nhamirre. “Think about the Great Barrier Reef and how there are fewer and fewer pristine dive sites around the world. We are lucky here to still have such great reefs that are full of wildlife.”
If you’re staying at the resort, Nhamirre can take you out to one of the sites scattered off Mamoli Bay, or you can set off on a scuba-diving charter in the marine-protected Ponta do Ouro area with Scuba Adventures Mozambique, the largest dive charter in the area.
Given the region’s remote nature, you’ll mostly find accommodations like low-key cottages, basic bush lodges, and tented camps. One other spot that stands out, however, is the tucked-away Machangulo Beach Lodge, accessed only by boat. East of Maputo near Inhaca Island, this 17-room resort sits along a secluded peninsula encased by dunes and forest. Think of these beachfront villas as Mozambique’s version of Tulum’s bohemian bungalows, with colorful Missoni-esque decor.
For a place that’s even more remote, jet off to andBeyond Benguerra Island on the second-largest island in the Bazaruto Archipelago. From Mozambique’s Vilanculos Airport, it’s a quick helicopter ride to this luxury lodge in the Indian Ocean, outfitted with the most glamorous thatched-roof cabanas and plunge pools sitting steps away from the sea.
THE COAST OF MOZAMBIQUE IS PERFECTION, ESPECIALLY AT ITS MOST TERRIFYINGLY LOUD, WILD AND WINDY