July, 2017: An hours boat ride from the beach side fishing village of Vilanculos in Mozambique lies a white sand paradise by the name of Bazaruto Island. Part of a larger national park by the same name, Bazaruto is one of the main tourist attractions for the area and rightly so. Other than the odd fishermen’s camp and a few high end resorts (limited to Benguera island only), the national park is a largely untouched series of sandy cays, colourful coral reefs and aqua blue channels which stretch for 1430 square kilometres. Bazaruto is one of those post card worthy beach paradises which feel like they should cost a million dollars but thankfully can be accessed on a backpackers budget. Here is how our little adventure to Bazaruto island went down.
How to get to Bazaruto island?
For the kazillionaires amongst us I’m sure a helicopter or seaplane could get you to Bazaruto but for everyone else you need to go by boat. If you love to sail and have plenty of time you could hire a felucca (traditional, wooden, Arabic style sailing boat). These beautiful old boats seem automatically to take you back in history to a much slower, relaxing place where slower is the operative word. However, doing the return trip in a felucca in one day would be mean you have minimal to no time actually on Bazaruto Island. A speed boat may not be as romantic as an old felucca but in calm weather can easily do the trip to Bazaruto in about an hour. This leaves plenty of time to explore the archipelago, have some lunch and be back at Vilanculos before sunset. This is what we did. Other options include doing a multi-day sailing trip where you camp at different spots along the coast (including Bazaruto) or forking out for one of the fancy resorts on Benguera (to do it in style).
Our Bazaruto island trip
We met our boat captain and deck hand / cook on the beach at Vilanculos around 8am and after a quick ‘safety brief’ were on our way. An hour later, after motoring up a crystal clear channel we pulled up on Bazaruto Island and were stoked to have it all to ourselves. For 30 minutes we got to stroll the beach, climb the sand dunes and generally just breath in the magnificence of Bazaruto Island all to ourselves. It was epic. As often happens, try as we might, photos couldn’t really capture the beauty of the place so we just sat back to enjoy it.
As the rest of the boats started to arrive we raised anchor and headed over to Two Mile reef for a an hour or two of snorkelling. After a few false starts due to dodgy masks we were successfully underway, paddling about in the clear blue sea. The water wasn’t as warm as we’d hoped for but the snorkelling was still pretty amazing. We saw plenty of colourful coral, loads of fish and even a turtle. After a while the cold got the better of us and thankfully it was time for lunch so we climbed out and headed back to Bazaruto.
As we were the first group there, and the smallest (only four people) we secured prime spot under a shady lean-to. Impressively every group had shade cloth erected for them but as some groups were up to 20 people, space was at a premium and they looked a tad squashed. Regardless, most people got a shady spot away from the roasting sun. Lunch itself was an impressive buffet of fish, crabs, salad, rice, potatoes and fruit to finish. Everything was prepared fresh in a makeshift beach side ‘kitchen’ (cool boxes and barbecues) and it was delicious. We could have brought our own alcohol but the company provided soft drinks and water and we were happy with that.
After an hour of gorging ourselves we had time to relax our fat bellies and take one last walk up the sand dunes before heading over to the neighbouring Benguera island. Another hour or so was spent strolling along pristine white sand so fine that it squeaked. Amazingly, under water the sand was so light and airy that wherever we stepped our feet would send forth a cloud of bubbles. The heat was starting to come out of the sun and it was a magic place to stop. Finally it was time to head back so after a brief race against some of the other boats we headed for the open channel. On our way home we made a brief stop to hang out with some cavorting dolphins but by 4pm we were back on the beach for sundowners. Outstanding!
What company did we go with?
We went with Sailfish Dhow Safaris (just next to Baobab Beach Backpackers) and we thought they were ace. Some other travellers staying at our backpackers had booked with Sailfish and already negotiated a great deal so we went with them as well. There are plenty of other options though. If you take a stroll down the beach at Vilanculos it won’t take long before you find someone offering you a trip out to Bazaruto. Many local lads with access to a boat will offer varying types of sailing trips either to Bazaruto or other spots up and down the coast. Google will obviously give you a bunch of recommendations like Sunset Dhow Safaris or Sailaway Dhow Safari. But, we reckon if you have the time, you always get a better deal by organising your trip when you get to a place (we paid half the advertised price from outfits we emailed beforehand).
Things to watch out for when choosing your company
When choosing your Bazaruto island tour company, if possible, try and find one which leaves earlier in the morning. This way you get time on the island before the hoards of other tourists arrive. When we were there, arriving early also meant we were there at low tide so had quite the different view from those who had arrived later. The other thing to be careful of is group size. We got lucky and did our trip with just two other tourists (plus two crew, six total) after a bunch of people cancelled. If those cancellations hadn’t happened though, we would have been 10-11 people on the boat which would have been a real squeeze. We saw plenty of other boats with 10-11 people on them and they looked a little like sardines. Finally, make sure you ask about safety measures (life jackets, phone for emergencies etc) and what catering you can expect.
What to bring?
Bring all the usual stuff you would for a day at the beach in the hot sun e.g. swimming gear and sun protection. Most outfits should provide snorkelling gear but if you don’t fancy sucking on someone else’s snorkel then bring your own (and mask). Bring some booze to put in their esky / cool box (check that they bring one) and definitely don’t forget your camera.
Bazarutu island costs
Costs will really depend on your budget and how you choose to explore Bazaruto. Doing a day trip by speedboat is probably the cheapest but then you could go by felucca, do it as part of a multi-day trip or from a resort. Our trip with Sailfish Dhow Safaris cost MZN6000 for the two of us which is approximately USD100. Not the cheapest tour we took in Africa but well priced compared to others we heard of. Also, given that was for a full, awesome day inclusive of everything, we thought it good value. If you have more time and better bargaining skills you might find cheaper. Tipping didn’t really seem expected but we gave another MZN350 as that was all we could afford and our crew were legends.