Island hopping in the Quirimbas

Explore the Quirimbas Archipelago on a traditional wooden dhow, sailing from island to island to discover pristine coral reefs, unique birdlife and otherworldly mangrove forests. After snorkelling, you’ll dine on freshly-caught seafood served alfresco on a deserted island, and sleep under the stars.

A traditional wooden dhow was anchored just off the white sands and turquoise waters of Ibo Island. It was just past sunrise, and the water glimmered with rays of light, so translucent we could see tiny fish shooting past. We slipped out of our sandals and climbed up the ladder to the gleaming mahogany and teak dhow while our luggage followed us. Knowing that we’d be fly camping, with all our needs taken care of, we’d packed light.

While the crew untied the sail and pulled up the anchor, our skipper-cum-guide introduced himself as Cosmo. It felt surreal to be exploring the Quirimbas Archipelago much as the Arabs must have done when they roamed these very waters – setting up trading posts and forts to ship illicit gold, ivory and slaves to the Arab world while fending off marauding buccaneers.

Situated in the far north of Mozambique, stretching from the coastal town of Pemba up to Tanzania, these remote islands see few tourists and are relatively untouched by development. With the help of Ibo Island Lodge, we’d cherry-picked some of these coral and white sand atolls to visit on our tailor-made Mozambique dhow safari.

A triangle of white cotton, our sail billowed in the wind as we cleaved through the clear blue waters of the Quirimbas, headed northish towards Matemo Island. We stopped just short of its palm-fringed shores, and plunged into the water to explore the underwater aquarium beneath us; we swam right up to a turtle feeding on the coral, kept a cautious distance from a gaping moray eel and faced off with several pufferfish, and even a bumphead parrotfish.

We anchored at Matemo to a smiling welcome from local children, and with the help of the knowledgeable Cosmo, explored the island and met the friendly fisherman who eke out a subsistence living from its shores.

As camp was set up, we lounged on the beach while indulging in a gourmet picnic lunch. After a leisurely afternoon swim in the warm tropical waters, we had G&Ts around the campfire as we watched the sun dip behind our island, all the while enjoying the smell of freshly-caught seafood as it barbequed on hot coals – including a tuna we’d caught from the line that trails behind the dhow at all times.

The next morning, we woke up to a hearty breakfast before heading to the Ulumbwa Estuary. En route, we were thrilled when we saw fins, a school of dolphins, following our dhow. Both of us plunged in, hoping to swim alongside them, but they disappeared into deeper waters. Back on board, we sailed through the mangrove forests of the Ulumbwa Estuary, spotting a wide variety of rare wading and coastal birds, including a large group of crab plovers that wheeled above us as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch from the dhow.

The tiny 21ha, uninhabited Mogundula Island was our next stop. Cosmo told us it’s known to locals as ‘the island with the sacred lake’. We also learned that it forms part of the largest marine protected area in Africa, the Quirimbas National Park. While camp was set up under some shady trees we snorkelled right off the sandbank beach – discovering exquisite coral formations and diverse marine life, including several types of trigger fish and the ever-wary blue-spotted stingray.

Later that afternoon we walked to the seawater lake at the centre of the island, which fills up with the tides through porous coral rock. While my partner honed his fly-fishing skills off the sandbank, I lazed in the sun, listening to the sound of the waves lapping the shore as I delved into a novel. Another scrumptious barbeque – this one featuring crab, kingfish and mackerel – left us with full bellies, gazing at the stars as we lay in the comfort of our dome tent.

The last day of our Mozambique dhow safari in the Quirimbas Archipelago was spent visiting the narrow Pangane Peninsula, a beautiful little beach village filled with bartering locals, including one gentleman who had his eye on my partner’s surf shorts. We laughed nonstop as we attempted to communicate using hand signals, until Cosmo intervened with translations. Too soon it was time to set sail back to to our starting point.

We perked up when we were shown around Ibo Island, immediately being enamoured with the 200-year-old ghost town and its 16th century forts. We wandered around its mysterious ruins and ancient buildings, visited the silversmiths who still make intricate jewellery from melted-down coins and imagined a forgotten way of life. If we were to stay in one place, this was indeed a good one – especially with all the comforts that Ibo Island Lodge had to offer.

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