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 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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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: Booking details
- 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.
All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except where noted)
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