A world of pristine private islands and some of the most awe-inspiring coral reefs on the planet.
The Quirimbas Archipelago is a breathtaking marine sanctuary that consists of around 32 islands going all the way up to the Tanzanian border. The southern islands form part of the Quirimbas National Park, which protects 750,639 hectares of coastal forest, mangroves and coral reefs. This near-virginal slice of Indian Ocean provides a remarkable setting.
This is arguably as remote and off-the-grid as far as what you can get in terms of a tropical private island experience. Disconnect from the technological bindings of the 21st century and immerse yourself in a 'barefoot luxury' adventure that will both quieten and excite your soul and absolutely rejuvenate the most world-weary spirit.
The diving opportunities in the Quirimbas National Park are the stuff of legend. These astounding reefs are vigilantly protected and offer an authentic experience that has become rare in the Indian Ocean today. The offshore reefs support an incredible wealth of marine wildlife, including 52 coral and 375 fish species.
Birding within the Quirimbas National Park is surprisingly prolific, particularly Vamizi Island, which has recorded 132 species of bird. The island’s evergreen coastal forest hosts the mangrove kingfisher, with its brilliant turquoise and blue plumage, and the golden-yellow, dark-backed weaver, to name but a few. Guided nature walks are very popular.
The Quirimbas is best reached via the port city of Pemba. It is the capital of the province of Cabo Delgado and lies on a peninsula in Pemba Bay. In the center of Pemba, there is an authentic local market or Souk, where arts and crafts, as well as traditional silverware can be bought. Pemba is also renowned as being a prime destination for water sport and diving enthusiasts as a coral reef lies close to the shore. Pemba has increasingly become a tourist destination, particularly for upper-middle class Mozambicans and South Africans. There is now a weekly flight from Johannesburg to Pemba, a hotel, the Pemba Beach Hotel, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment.
Mozambique has a tropical climate with average temperatures of around 30°C (86°F), so whenever you travel you can be assured of some sunshine. The best time to visit the Quirimbas Archipelago is in the winter months (between May and September), when both rainfall and temperatures are at their lowest. Many people choose to take a Quirimbas holiday during Mozambique's hotter and more humid summer. The rainiest months are January and February with brief but intense showers caused by weak cyclones off Mauritius, after which the sun comes out again. Monsoons only tend to affect the southern regions of Mozambique, not the Quirimbas.
Originally home to fishing settlements, the islands' population grew around Arab trading posts and thrived under the Portuguese trading routes when it was known as the Ilhas de São Lázaro (Islands of St. Lazarus) during the 16th century. When the Portuguese started occupying cities in the islands such as Ibo, the Arab merchants fled to other parts of the island to operate in. The Arab merchants refused to trade with the Portuguese, in which started an attack resulting in 60 Muslim merchants casualties and property being burnt down. The island was in control by the Portuguese until Mozambique gained independence in 1975. Before independence, only four of the 32 islands were inhabited.
Azura Quilalea is the most established luxury island lodge in the Quirimbas Archipelago and has set the pace in terms of quality. Quilalea is a coral island with a handful of small, secluded, sandy beach coves. The lodge has nine en suite villas. Protected within the national park, its surrounding reefs are superb for snorkeling and diving.
In the far north of the Quirimbas Archipelago, Vamizi Island is probably the most stunning island in the archipelago. It is long, thin and lined by two lovely golden beaches, with amazing snorkeling and diving close to the shore. It is one of the as archipelago's most remote island lodges, and with just 12 vast, luxury beach villas – it aims to be Mozambique's best beach lodge.
Medjumbe is one of the smallest islands in use in the Quirimbas Archipelago: it is just 800m long by 350m wide and is little more than a large sand bar surrounded by beach. The intimate beach lodge has just 13 thatched chalets.
Diving sites are centered on the islands and their luxurious lodges. At Azura Quilalea, divers and snorkelers revel in the offshore reefs, some of the most untouched in Africa with their amazing coral gardens and marine life.
Off Medjumbe Island, there is a breathtaking display of Moray Eels, Stingrays, Barracudas, Kingfish and other large game fish in the warm tropical waters. There are 12 dives off this tiny island where sloping reef walls harbor amazing fish like Angelfish, Triggerfish, Sweet lips and Puffer fish.
Then there are the healthy coral reefs off Vamizi Island, which is a world class diving holiday destination. These reefs supposedly contain about 46 different types of coral and more than 400 species of fish. One of these sites, Neptune’s Arm, has been named as one of the top ten dive sites on the planet and the fascinating Metundo Canyon is a world class reef system that rises about 100 meters from the water where much spear fishing is done.
St Lazarus Bank is one of the only places worldwide where Marlin is known to breed and rises up from a depth of 2400m to 20m and is covered with coral within the Mozambique Channel. St Lazarus Bank is a shallow seamount (approximately 30km long and 20km wide) covering almost 200 square kilometers. This is a biodiversity hotspot for yellow fin tuna, dogtooth tuna and marlin due to its amazing physical and biological characteristics. When it is Mantis Shrimp season during August to December, look for plentiful fish and birds feasting on billions of these crustaceans that rise to the surface to mate every year.
The Quirimbas Archipelago, like many tropical year-round wonderlands, offers a great deal more to do than many other coastal places. One of the key attractions here is most definitely the amazing beaches, and there are many activities to enjoy that are built around this. Beach sports and also water activities fall in this category and include a number of adventures that embrace the relaxed atmosphere of such a place, adding entertainment value. Such activities range from paddle boarding and kayaking to wind-surfing.
If this is not for you, the calm and rewarding experiences deeper in the brilliant blue of the Indian Ocean may interest you more. Traveling between different islands using kayaks or traditional boats is one such an experience. This is typically done under the watchful eye of a staff member from your lodge, but it is nonetheless very fun. Deep sea fishing is another activity that is conducted too far away from the shore to glimpse the beach. A variety of different aqueous beasts wait in these waters for any guests who enjoy this exciting experience.
Lastly, the indoor or poolside wonders of your lodge may be explored. Spa treatments are sublime, but even more so when you are in a tropical place like this where the moist air and sunshine are part of the package. The luxury of any pool is also open to all guests throughout the day, where the odd cocktail can be enjoyed while taking in the beach scenery and all the amazing sea creatures that may be visible on the horizon. If this is not enough for you, there is always dolphin or whale watching, which both add substantially to the experience of an island.
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