Bazaruto Archipelago

A dramatic aerial view of the Bazaruto Archipelago.

The Bazaruto Archipelago is located off the coast of Mozambique not far from Vilankulo.

Country:
Mozambique
Islands:
6
Park Established:
1971
Top Dive Site:
2 Mile Reef
Special Specie:
Dugong

Introduction

The Bazaruto Archipelago consists of six pristine islands; Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Banque, Santa Carolina and Shell. With so many sensational sandy beaches, spectacular coral reefs and captivating marine wildlife, it is clear why this stretch of land and sea is so popular amongst visitors. Bazaruto achieved national park status in 1971 to preserve it.

Reasons to Visit

1

The Delightful Dugong

The Bazaruto area supports what is probably East Africa's last viable population of the endangered dugong. The Bazaruto Dugong Protection Project has been in operation since 2010 to conserve the archipelago's flagship mammal. These unusual aquatic mammals may been seen all year round within the national park.

2

Diver's paradise

Bazaruto boasts such a wide range of diving sites, each with its own unique allure and level of difficulty, that any diver - novice or expert - will delight in the options available. Immersing yourself in these vibrant waters will prove unforgettable. Most of the lodges in the area have their own diving schools or have choice connections with reputable diving operators.

3

Eas(iest) Access

The Bazaruto archipelago is not as cumbersome to reach as, for example, the Quirimbas. There are direct daily flights between Johannesburg and Vilankulo (one hour and 45 minutes in duration), and the islands can easily be reached by motorized dhow boat - rather than pricey helicopter or light aircraft charters, which are nevertheless available for discerning travelers.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

Vilankulo (or Vilanculos) is located in the Vilanculos District of Mozambique's Inhambane Province. It is the most convenient access point for the Bazaruto Archipelago. Dhows travel frequently between the town and the Bazaruto Archipelago. The town itself is only around 5km long, yet equipped with all the amenities required to make your visit a comfortable yet authentic one. Vilankulo Airport offers daily routes between major regional major destinations like Johannesburg, Maputo, Swaziland, and elsewhere.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

Mozambique has a tropical climate, with year-round warm temperatures. The best time to visit the Bazaruto Archipelago is during the dry season - which runs from May to November. These are also the cooler winter months. The islands are quite hot during December and January, which can make traveling unpleasant. From February to March is hurricane season, so if you do visit during this time, be prepared for occasional downpours of rain.

When you choose to travel to Bazaruto may also depend on what activities you are interested in. The waters of the Indian Ocean are always warm, and scuba diving conditions tend to be good all year. Migrating humpback whales are in these waters from June to September, and the best time to see whale sharks is from October to early December. The Bazaruto Archipelago offers world class big game fishing. The best time to go marlin fishing is from September to January, while sailfish patrol the waters from May to September.

History

The Bazaruto Islands have a long history of human occupation. Prior to the Portuguese occupation of the coast, the islands were almost certainly the site of East Africa's most southerly Muslim trading settlements. By the middle of the 16th century, the islands were lorded over by Portuguese traders, and the surrounding sea was known for producing high-quality pearls.

The first formal Portuguese settlement was established in 1855, on Santa Carolina. Initially an ivory trading post, the island was later used as a penal colony, but it was evidently abandoned by the beginning of the 20th century. Interesting historical relics include a ruined 19th century fort on Magaruque and a fully intact but non-operational 100-year-old lighthouse on Bazaruto.

In 1971, the archipelago's five main islands and the surrounding ocean were gazetted as Bazaruto National Park, which extends eastward from the coastline between Vilankulo and Inhassaro to cover some 1430km2. The three largest islands were formerly part of a peninsula that is thought to have separated from the mainland within the last 100 000 years.

Islands

Pansy Island

Not so much an island as a tidal sandbar situated a short distance south of Bazaruto Island, this popular landmark can easily be visited as an extension of a trip to Two Mile Reef. It is named for the so-called pansy shells (also known as sea biscuits or sand dollars) that are abundant in its inter-tidal shallows. This pretty shell-like object, with a distinctive five-petaled floral pattern on its flattened face, is not a shell at all, but the endoskeleton of a burrowing sea urchin of the order Clypeasteroia. The living creature is usually black or purple in color, and covered in bristles, but after it dies the endoskeleton is bleached white by the sun and saline water. The five petals are formed by a series of perforated pores through which the podia project from the body, and reflect the fivefold radial symmetry associated with all sea urchins. There are also 2cm slits above the floral pattern, the relics of two grooves used for feeding. Any experienced guide will be able to find you examples of the pansy shell here, as well - with luck - the living urchin.

Bazaruto Island

A striking feature of the archipelago's largest island are the immense dunes that rise from its southern shore, and these too can easily be visited in conjunction with Two Mile Reef and Pansy Island. Reputedly the highest point on the islands, rising around 100m above the surrounding water, the steep dunes can be climbed, albeit in something of a two-steps forward, one-step back mode, and with some serious sandblasting in windy weather. Once at the top, the views in all directions are utterly exhilarating, with the open ocean and other islands stretching away to the south, and a landscape of lakes and dunes running to the north. If you are staying at one of the lodges on Bazaruto, island tours can be arranged to visit some of the lakes and other dune fields, some of which are spectacular, and to meet local communities.

Benguerra Island

Like its larger and more northerly neighbor, Benguerra supports an attractive and varied landscape of marshes, lakes and tall climbable dunes, well worth exploring on a guided drive if you are staying at one of the lodges. Wildlife includes plentiful monkeys, small antelope such as red duiker and suni, some impressive crocodiles on the lakes, and a superb mix of birds, with brown-headed parrot, African hoopoe, green pigeon, crowned hornbill and various bee-eaters conspicuous, while flamingos and other waterbirds frequent the lakes. Community visits can also be arranged.

Diving sites

There are numerous dive sites dotted around the islands, but the undisputed champion is Two Mile Reef, a barrier reef that lies on the outer side of the archipelago between the islands of Bazaruto and Benguerra. Tides permitting, the best snorkeling spot is The Aquarium, a calm coral garden that lies on the inner reef and supports a dazzling selection of hard and soft corals, as well as reef fish of all shapes and colors, from tiny coral fish to the mighty potato bass and brindle bass. It is also a good spot to see reef sharks and marine turtles, though neither are guaranteed, while lucky divers might see manta rays and whale sharks.

There are a host of dive sites on the seaward side of the same reef, with evocative names such as The Arches, Shark Point, Surgeon Rock, The Cathedral and The Gap. Any dive center can advise on the site most suitable to your interests and current conditions, but if you are setting up a trip from Vilankulo, it is emphatically worth paying extra to visit Two Mile Reef as opposed to taking the cheaper excursion to Magaruque, which has no proper reefs and thus offers vastly inferior diving and snorkeling.

Other Activities

These beautiful islands offer a great range of activities in which to participate and enjoy. For starters, it hosts an extraordinarily diverse birdlife - an excellent atmosphere and opportunity for those eager bird watchers or just admirers of the beauty that Africa has to offer, in all shapes and forms. If you’re not a hardcore birder, then you can simply exchange looks with the many sea birds visible over the horizon from the comfort of the beach, maybe with a drink or two in hand, or while taking your own journey through some of the thriving ocean habitats found here.

Kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding and knee boarding gear are available for use and a perfect way to explore the same waters Portuguese settlers once did, in a modern and exciting way any member of the family or couple would look forward to. The wide choice of water sports allows you to choose one suited to your mood that day, whether it be calm or energetic, and they never disappoint. You can enjoy all of this from the safety and luxury of these glorious and exclusive islands, far away from the chaos of everyday life, along with fishing expeditions and spa services.

More secluded and tailored experiences should also most definitely be on the itinerary of any welcome guests on these gorgeous islands. Some of the islands' most mythical environments remain open to guests, untouched by the grasp of mankind. Here one might enjoy a peaceful picnic while admiring and taking in the wonders of the tropical climate; with family members, with lovers or simply with the serene personality of nature itself. Whether you came for an adventure or a getaway, there are endless amounts of activities to endeavor.

Experiences to be Savored

Tables are prepared for dinner on the shores of the Bazaruto Archipelago.

Ocean Safari

If you are not a qualified diver and do not plan to learn, an 'ocean safari' is the finest method to encounter major marine life that does not occur amidst the snorkel-friendly reefs. From the awe-inspiring whale shark with its mesmerizing shroud of golden spots to the mighty manta ray that sails through the sea, the encounters are simply magical.

Catch of the day

In general, Mozambique is a seafood lover's paradise, and all the fare is mouthwateringly fresh. From mountains of prawns to the catch of the day (typically flavored with local spices or the famously fiery piri piri sauce), the flavors of the sea are indelibly tantalizing.

Paradise Calling

The islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago are akin to the tropical paradises you've only ever dreamed of. With only a handful of exclusive lodges, painstakingly protected pristine coral reefs and sugar-fine sandy beaches, the islands of the archipelago have escaped the large-scale development that plague other Indian Ocean hotspots.

FAQ

Which island in the archipelago is the largest?
Bazaruto Island is the largest and most northerly island. It is 30km long and on average 5km wide.
Which island offers the best accommodation?
Benguerra Island arguably offers the most luxurious accommodations and finest sandy beaches.
How many bird species have been recorded in the park?
Roughly 150 species of bird have been recorded in the area, including several that are rare or localized in Southern Africa.
What other animals may be observed on the islands?
The freshwater lakes on Bazaruto and Benguerra support a relic breeding population of crocodiles, while the shores of the islands are nesting sites for at least three types of turtle, including the rare loggerhead. Mammals present on one or other island include the localized suni antelope, red duiker, bushbuck and samango monkey.
Are any of the islands inaccessible?
While Bangue is not inaccessible, it is rarely visited by tourists and it does not have much to offer in terms of activities and tourism.
What kind of large marine animals should I look out for?
Visitors to the islands frequently see marine turtles, humpback whales, and bottlenose, spinner and humpback dolphins, as well as large game fish such as marlins and barracudas.
Are day trips to the islands available?
Day visitors most often come on a motorized dhow trip from Vilankulo, which can be arranged with any of the local dive operators.

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