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Dhow Sailing is the best way to explore Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
30 Nov 2018
Mozambique dhow sailing - couple on board dhow.jpg

A private dhow sailing safari makes the perfect end to an African safari, or a simply fabulous ten-day standalone holiday on the Indian Ocean in Mozambique!

Having undertaken this dhow sailing safari in Mozambique with my own family, I truly can say with utter conviction what a wonderful experience this is! These days, to be able to travel at a leisurely pace for a week is almost unheard of. This is why a sailing holiday truly does make so much sense – the antithesis of the frenzy which encapsulates our lives today.

In particular, it is perfect for families, especially those who are seeking a cultural immersion in Africa, for here one is in one of the most unspoilt, uncommercial regions in Africa – the Quirimbas Archipelago located in northern Mozambique.



The region is simply sensational and breathtakingly beautiful, but the wildlife element is second to none too with opportunities to swim with the bottlenose dolphins in the ocean and for those that scuba dive or snorkel, the coral is some of the best you will find anywhere as it is totally unbleached.

This safari is for somebody who doesn’t mind not having luxury, somebody who likes a sense of adventure and who enjoys camping (although, one can spend time between several lodges should one not wish to camp!).



The real beauty of this safari is the flexibility. Here you sail (and you can be as involved as you wish in terms of assisting or sailing), and you can fish for dinner, enjoying your meals en route. You can also sea kayak alongside the dhow.

A unique dhow sailing adventure

Start off by flying into Pemba, Mozambique before connecting with a flight to Ibo Island. Ibo is where time stands still. This is truly fantastic and the area is simply sublime - unspoilt, uncommercial - very different!



Before you embark, you can stay a few days at the delightful Ibo Island Lodge. The dhows are moored closeby -  ours was a 40 foot dhow with a crew of 4, including a chef, captain and assistant. One can elect to sleep on board (one of the dhows has three cabins) but much more exciting is to sleep on a different island each night, making it a true journey.

The dhow has a shaded area to sit and read and on top there is a deck with a couple of cushions where one can enjoy the sea air or jump off into the ocean, as we did!



On the first day we stopped at a deserted island for lunch and a swim, before continuing on to Mogundula, arriving late afternoon. The island has thick forested vegetation which you walk through, spotting the excellent birdlife along the way. One can fish from the beautiful beach, swim with dolphins, go snorkelling or diving or sea kayaking.

Each day while the pup tents are then erected, (with a separate loo tent), you may have the opportunity to undertake different activities such as to visit schools and get a true sense of island life. The islanders are very welcoming and the children run to greet you.



The following morning we continued on to the next island which had the most beautiful, pristine beach where we simply walked and swam in the ocean. You can continue island hopping for three to four nights on the dhow, sleeping in tents on the various islands for a truly immersive adventure.

I recommend that you spend a few nights at the main lodge prior to your sailing safari, and then three or four nights on the dhow. Afterwards end off back at Ibo or continue by dhow onto Azura Quilalea, a beautiful, luxury lodge where one can stay for several nights.



There is something quite wonderful about arriving at an island by boat – rather like the explorers before you! At Azura, one can go night diving for nocturnal fish, which is so interesting and different.

Explore the history and culture of Ibo Island 

Ibo Island is amazing - like Zanzibar 50 years ago. It is an old, traditional island which has around 3500 inhabitants. The architecture, whilst in decay in many places, is colonial, beautiful and elegant.



In AD600, Arab traders discovered Ibo and established fortified trading posts and forts along the coastline. They shipped slaves, gold and ivory to the Arab world. The island gained municipal status in 1763 but very little development occurred after the Portuguese left Ibo in 1975.



Today, craggy and old structures reflecting a deep legacy are intertwined with frangipani petals, the twisting roots of fig trees and bougainvillea. Visit a fort where political prisoners were incarcerated during the Frelimo Renamo war years.

One is taken around this eerie building and given a potted history on life at the fort. This is a rich part of history which you will be partaking in, and gives you a much deeper understanding of the country.



The place to stay is Ibo Island Lodge, a gorgeous, independently owned boutique hotel, originally the governor’s house and two other grand mansions, now sympathetically restored to their former glory.

There is a host of activities to choose from at the Lodge. You can kayak, the bird life is excellent for bird watchers, and there are also a couple of sand banks where you can snorkel. There are two plunge pools in two of the gardens and a large swimming pool where the main house is located.



Meals are served on the rooftop terrace which overlooks the ocean and where a wonderful breeze constantly cools the temperature. The meals were superb – crab curry, lobster, kingfish and Dorado.

Apart from walking tours to visit the fort, one can also see the silversmiths still plying their trade and beating old silver coins for jewellery. Ibo Island is immaculately clean with no rubbish seen at all. It is perfectly safe to stroll the streets round the houses at night.



Ibo people celebrate rites of initiation, weddings and burials with lively festivals, traditional dancing, singing and drumming. The island comes alive with vibrant colours, dancing, cultural displays, art and other traditions.

Celebrations continue throughout the night and involve traditional Mozambique food. There are not many places where one can witness this without feeling like a voyeur!

Ibo Island and the area around it is so alluring and beautiful and I know of no better way than to explore it by dhow, ‘owning’ a private island wherever you spend the night! If you would like some further information about Mozambique sailing holidays then please do contact me.


Images provided courtesy of Ibo Island Lodge