Ibo Island Lodge, Mozambique: A trip back in time to a forgotten place

In LUXURY HOTELS by Janice and George6 Comments

Ibo Island Lodge

They’d heard the stories of voodoo and magic. Of Arab slavers, Indian traders and Portuguese colonists. Of the ugly civil war that took over 1 million lives…

But mostly they’d heard the stories of 32 coral islands where they would find “paradise.”

And paradise sounded good to them after traveling through war-torn Mozambique. So after negotiating with local fishermen, the young couple from London boarded a traditional dhow, and set sail to explore Mozambique’s remote Quirimbas Archipelago.

That was back in 1994, and they discovered islands surrounded by white beaches and turquoise seas as warm as the local people. When they sailed into the ancient harbor of Ibo Island, they were immediately charmed by the island’s 16th century crumbling forts and ruins of once-grand houses – remnants of a lost city.

Ibo Island Lodge

With its crumbling colonial ruins, it’s like time has stood still on Ibo Island

Ibo Island Mozambique

The remote Mozambican island of Ibo has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status

Ibo had remained forgotten to the outside world for almost a century, and they were virtually the first tourists. Smitten, they decided to renovate what was the governor’s mansion, eventually restoring three side-by-side coral and limestone buildings.

And so Kevin and Fiona Record became the owners of Ibo Island Lodge, the island’s first hotel in modern history. It opened its doors in 2006.

Ibo Island Lodge

The three mansions that make up Ibo Island Lodge are over a century old – photo Ibo Island Lodge

Ibo Island Lodge

A few months ago, we flew to northern Mozambique for some R&R after a walking safari in Zambia and exploring Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park.

We stayed for a few special days at Ibo Island Lodge.

Ibo Island flight over Quirimbas

We flew in a four-passenger plane from mainland Mozambique to reach remote Ibo Island

Ibo Island Lodge oozes character like no other place we’ve set down our suitcases in.

Each of the 14 rooms and suites is different – but all have beamed ceilings at least 20 feet high, polished gray stone floors, dark wood antiques, embroidered silk bedspreads, and brass-knobs and switches.

Ibo Island Lodge

Our bedroom – photo Ibo Island Lodge

Ibo Island Lodge

Drinking glasses in our room, with bougainvillea decorations

From the swinging daybed on our porch, framed by bougainvillea upon which butterflies alighted, we gazed out at mangroves and wooden dhows stuck in the sand at low tide.

Doves could be heard cooing in the distance.

Ibo Island Lodge

This was the view from our porch

And just outside the reception building, a huge tree supports over 100 round nests of village weaver birds. They hang from the branches like Christmas ornaments.

You can spend hours watching the yellow canary-like birds flying in and out of the nests and chirping in the leaves.

Village weaver bird

One of the busy village weaver birds; we loved watching them fly into the nests to feed their chicks

village weaver bird nest

The village weaver birds build their nests to hang from branches, with the entrance hole facing downward

It’s heavenly, in a way that luxury at the edge of the earth is. For that is how Ibo Island Lodge makes you feel – like you’re an explorer who has journeyed to the very end of the earth just before it drops off.

So you can’t expect a turn-key Four Seasons (or you’ll be disappointed). Rattan rugs are weathered by age. Fruit bats in the tree by the lunch patio splatter splotches of purple on the chairs – but how lucky were we see to see the bats! Our shower eked out trickles of water. To plug in our electronics, the housekeeper kindly crawled under our bed to find a fixture. Expect dim lighting and almost non-existent WiFi (remember, we said you’re at the edge of the earth). But there’s air-conditioning. And candles. And a sense of experiencing something authentic and singular that very few people get to experience.

Ibo Island Lodge

A swinging bench on the porch…

Must-do: Breakfast on the sandbar

Daily complimentary boat trips are offered at low tide to a sandbar for breakfast (or lunch) and snorkeling.

Under an open-air Bedouin tent, surrounded by brilliant blue sea, we sat at a table with our toes in the sand. Breakfast – coffee, porridge, scrambled eggs, sausages and toast – was cooked over a coal fire. The experience was priceless! (Staff set up everything from scratch as the sandbar is completely covered by water each day at high tide.)

Ibo Island Lodge sandbank breakfast

For breakfast on the sandbar, staff first erect a Bedouin tent for shade

A hearty breakfast! The coffee, eggs, sausages, toast, etc. are cooked over a charcoal fire on the sand

Ibo Island Lodge sandbank

Now we have to work off breakfast with a swim!

Wining and dining

Back at the lodge, creative seafood lunch salads and candlelight dinners kept us happily stuffed. (Dessert always includes a different homemade ice-cream, perhaps vanilla one day, then banana the next.)

And Ibo Island Lodge’s rooftop bar is the best place on the island to watch the dramatic sunsets.

Ibo Island Lodge

Seafood for lunch? Of course! photo Ibo Island Lodge

Ibo Island Lodge rooftop

Table set for dinner for two on the rooftop – photo Ibo Island Lodge

Booking details for Ibo Island Lodge

How to get there:

Ibo Island Lodge uses CR Aviation for the small plane transfers from Pemba on mainland Mozambique to Ibo Island. (We flew in a 4-passenger plane, with two pilots, landing on a grassy airstrip on Ibo Island – an adventure in itself!) Once on Ibo Island, you’re picked up in an open Land Rover (one of the few vehicles on the whole island) and driven five minutes along bumpy, sand roads to the lodge. (To get to Mozambique, we flew on LAM from Johannesburg.)

Be aware:

Ibo Island doesn’t really have great swimming beaches. (The town is evocative of Stone Town in Zanzibar, though much smaller and far less developed.) Ibo Island Lodge, however, has a couple of pools (the large pool looks out over the sea). And when you have breakfast on the sandbar, you have the opportunity to swim and snorkel.

Inclusive rates:

Nightly rates include all meals, morning coffee and tea service brought to your room, daily boat transfer to the sandbank beach and guided historical and cultural tours of Ibo Island.

More information:

Contact Ibo Island Lodge directly with any inquiries or to book. Their website is very detailed, with lots of good information.

Ibo Island Lodge pool

Ibo Island Lodge has a lovely pool overlooking the sea

Ibo Island

The lodge offers a complimentary cultural tour to learn about the heritage of the people and the island’s culture – here, these young women wear mussiro (a paste made from tree bark) as face decoration and to protect their skin from the sun

All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except where noted)

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Ibo Island Lodge

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  1. I love it!

    I’ve never been to Mozambique as I don’t usually like beach destinations, but this island sounds intriguing, being that it has historical value and a pool, rather than the sea!

    ‘Nice one!

  2. It took them quite a while to restore this mansion and turn it into a hotel, but they did a great job. Mozambique sounds like a far away dream for me. I’d love to visit, but considering how difficult it is to get there … who knows?! Did you find your visit there worthwhile?

    1. Author

      It was tough to get there, but yes, we really enjoyed our visit to northern Mozambique. It was so non-touristy and away from the rest of the world, that we couldn’t help but enjoy it! That’s its unique appeal! Coming from North America, we probably wouldn’t make a special visit to Mozambique, unless we won the lottery :-), but adding a Mozambique visit on to our African safari trip worked very well for us.

    1. Author

      It is an absolutely charming place – you get a real sense of place staying at Ibo Island Lodge. We always admire people like Kevin and Fiona Record who have the vision and the determination to create something wonderful in totally off-the-beaten-path destinations…

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