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Epic things to do in Mozambique on a luxury beach holiday

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In the sun-dappled water, we see them clearly through our snorkel masks.

First one, then five, then a whole pod of over 30 sleek gray bottlenose dolphins glide past, directly below us.

We’re snorkeling with wild dolphins in the untrammeled Quirimbas Archipelago – just one of many unique things to do in Mozambique on a luxury getaway!

There are so many things to do in Mozambique, from sailing in a dhow, lolling about on beautiful beaches and swimming with wild dolphins.
There are so many things to do in Mozambique, from sailing in a dhow, lolling about on beautiful beaches and swimming with wild dolphins

Spoiler alert! Contents of this luxury northern Mozambique holiday guide

Amazing things to do in Mozambique – Wild dolphins, beaches, haunting ruins and more

What to do in Pemba – Horseback riding, wind-karting, bicycling

Exploring Ibo Island – You’ve got to see its colonial Portuguese ruins!

Luxury on Quilalea Island – Scuba diving in the Quirimbas, Azura private island

How to get to Mozambique

Luxury Mozambique resorts – 3 Mozambique beach resorts you’ll love

Things to do in Mozambique

Swimming with dolphins in Mozambique:

Can you picture translucent turquoise waters? Sprinkle in 32 stunning coral islands (most uninhabited). Say “hello” to the Quirimbas!

It’s here that we’re swimming with dolphins in Mozambique. 

To see the dolphins, we took a 20-minute speedboat ride from Ibo Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago to a spot known locally as a natural dolphin breeding area and nursery.

One of the most amazing Mozambique activities is swimming with wild dolphins.
One of the most amazing Mozambique activities is swimming with wild dolphins

In the dolphin area, the calves snuggle up close to their moms, tails swishing back and forth twice as fast to keep up.

One dolphin hangs back.

Turning around, he (she?) digs up a sand dollar with its nose from the sandy bottom and flips it at us, as if to say “Wanna play?

It seems surreal to be hanging out up-close-and-personal with these free and wondrous creatures.

We’ve swum with other dolphins in the ocean before, but this feels different – more raw, more intimate.

swimming with dolphins in Mozambique
Snorkeling with wild dolphins in the Quirimbas Islands is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Except for the dolphins, we’re alone out here – just the two of us, our guide Causemore from the atmospheric Ibo Island Lodge (where we’re staying) and our boat captain.

The only other humans in sight are a couple of fisherman sailing tiny dhows, just dots in the distance.

We simpy drift on our bellies, kicking a little every so often, and let the dolphins swim up to check us out.

Occasionally, Causemore, who’s like a fish himself, free dives down the 20 odd feet to fin alongside them.

We’re lucky the dolphins feel like company today.

Sometimes they love to interact with you, but other times they may not come close,” Causemore had told us earlier. 

These dolphins are so close we can make out the white markings on their backs, the occasional tears in their tails from mating fights, their rows of white teeth.

How many places in the world can you swim in the wild, alone, with dolphins that come within touching distance? 

It’s experiences like this – unique, authentic and totally non-touristy – that make northern Mozambique special.

Beaches in Mozambique:

Azura Benguerra is a deluxe Mozambique resort on an unspoilt island with beautifu beaches.
Azura Benguerra is a deluxe Mozambique resort on an unspoilt island with beautifu beaches

Tourism has barely opened up in this part of the country, and visitors are few and far between.

Those who come usually seek out the handful of exclusive Mozambique beach resorts. 

Most want a relaxing Mozambique beach holiday after an active African safari.

The northern part of the country boasts some of the best beaches in Mozambique – quiet, secluded beaches with powdery white sand.

Offshore, unspoilt snorkeling reefs and prolific marine life beckon.

Northern Mozambique has some stunning beaches, like this private beach on Quilalea Island

Other Mozambique attractions:

But there are other things to do in Mozambique beyond the beach.

Northern Mozambique, especially, offers a big dollop of culture.

Ibo Island, for one, is nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.

The ruins on Ibo Island are quite haunting.
The ruins on Ibo Island are quite haunting

Ibo Island is steeped in a rich tapestry of history.

Wander its haunting colonial ruins, and observe the local traditions, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped through a portal into a bygone world.

northern Mozambique - Sao Joao Batista Fort
The Sao Joao Batista Fort, an old Portugese fort in Ibo Town, dates back to 1791

What to do in Mozambique in Pemba

We start our northern Mozambique journey on the mainland at Pemba, the gateway to this part of the country.

From the small airport, we drive for an hour on a sunbaked red-dirt track – past women in colorful sarongs, babies strapped to their backs or with buckets of water on their heads.

We’ve arrived at Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort

We end up at an enormous white-walled property.

Inside sprawls the luxurious Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort.

Perfect: A five-star resort in an unspoilt part of the northern Mozambique mainland!

Horseback riding on the beach:

One activity that catches our eye here is horseback riding.

The resort has its own spacious air-conditioned stable, housing seven much-pampered horses.

And Mequfi Bay’s endless white sand beach – with not another dwelling in sight – is tailor-made for horseback riding.

If you know how to ride, you can canter freely along the water’s edge for miles.

We opt instead for a gentle ride late one afternoon.

Happy to be led by a rope, our horses plod slowly along as we take in the colors of the sunset turning from blazing neon orange to soft pink.

things to do in Mozambique - horseback riding
At Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort, you can ride horses along the beach

Trying the new sport of wind-karting:

Perhaps you also want to try wind-karting?” offers the general manager. “It’s a Formula One adrenalin high.

The hard-pack Mozambique beach at Mequfi Bay is ideal for this fast-growing new sport that’s popular in France (particularly on the beaches of Normandy).

Somewhat dubious, one of us (that would be George) gives it a spin the next morning.

things to do in mozambique - windkarting
George has fun trying the mad new sport of “wind-karting”

Wearing a helmet, he tries to steer a fat-wheeled tricycle attached to a huge triangular sail, as the wind whips him along the sand dunes.

Ego bruised when the wind-kart heads for the water, splashing him mightily, he gives up, envious of the expert kite surfer playfully skipping along the waves nearby.

Bicycling, kayaking and recharging:

We also go bicycling by the full moon and paddle kayaks up a mangrove-lined river.

But for the most part, our time here is spent relaxing, replenishing our safari-sapped energy reserves.

And so, after a few blissful days, we’re ready to venture to the Quirimbas.

Ibo Island in the Quirimbas Islands

First island stop: Ibo Island (where we swim with the dolphins).

If you’re wondering where to go and what to do in Mozambique, put Ibo Island on your Mozambique itinerary!

Ibo Island history:

Mozambique - Ibo Island - colonial ruin
What’s inside here? George checks out the ruins of an old Portuguese building

Arab, Indian and Chinese gold traders and slavers all dropped anchor at Ibo.

The Portuguese then arrived in the early 1500s, building forts, slave quarters and colonial mansions.

The remnants remain today, whispering tales of both grandeur and the cruel peddling of human flesh.

Mozambique attractions – Ibo Town:

The local people on Ibo Island are shy, not used to seeing many visitors.
The local people on Ibo are shy, not used to seeing many visitors

On a walk of Ibo Town, we soak up the atmosphere.

Much of it seems stuck in the past (electricity only came in 2012).

There are no paved roads, just sandy paths on which islanders walk or ride rusty bicycles.

Sunlight streams through open arches of empty white stone buildings.

It’s fascinating to walk around the Ibo Island ruins

Graceful Romanesque-style columns stand proud and tall amid piles of coral rubble.

Goats scramble around palm trees sprouting up through crumbling church ruins.

Monkeys hop on chipped red-tile roofs.

Goats makes themselves at home in some of the old ruins

A house covered with cowrie shells is intriguing.

The owner was a trader who was often away,” explains Causemore (he does double duty – guiding us on this cultural tour as well as on our dolphin swim).

Every day he was at sea, his wife would walk the island and collect one shell, which she’d glue to the outside wall.

Ibo Island is a portal to another world.
Like this arch entrance, Ibo Island is a portal to another world

We pass by a dig which a couple of Italian archaeologists have been working.

Causemore tells us he often finds centuries-old objects lying about.

We pick up pieces of blue-and-ivory china by the water’s edge at low tide – did they come from the dinner set of a wealthy Portuguese manor wife?

The Sao Joao Batista Fort on Ibo Island once served as a slave house; now silver artisans make and sell their jewelry inside.
The Sao Joao Batista Fort once served as a slave house; now silver artisans make and sell their jewelry inside

At the well-preserved Sao Joao Batista Fort, built in 1791 in the shape of a star, we admire intricate silver bracelets and necklaces hand-crafted by the island’s aged silversmiths.

The people too are exotic to us Westerners.

The island is over 90% Muslim, and the sound of the Muezzin wafts through the fragrant warm air throughout the day.

The women decorate their faces with mussiro (a white paste made from tree sap), protecting their skin from the searing sun.

Young woman on Ibo Island
A young Ibo Island woman wears mussiro on her face

Many people on Ibo Island live pretty much as they have for centuries.

Carrying water from the well.

Pounding peanuts in wooden bowls, which they stew with cassava leaves and coconut to make matapa. (We loved the traditional African food from Mozambique!)

Weighing market items on old-fashioned scales.

On a cultural tour organized by Ibo Island Lodge, Janice gets her face painted with mussiro

Change, though, is coming.

Historic old houses are slowly being restored.

A new Spanish-owned bungalow resort (rumoured to be five-star) is nearing completion, and we check out a boutique B&B that has just opened.

Ibo is on the verge of being discovered,” Causemore muses.

Diving into luxury on Quilalea Island

We still have more of the Quirimbas Islands to discover for ourselves, and Quilalea Island, our final destination, beckons.

Like a couple of other small Quirimbas Islands, Quilalea is a private island (home to Azura Quilalea resort).

Think uber-luxe – but in a carefree, barefoot kind of way. Before Pippa Middleton married, Vogue touted Azura Quilalea as a perfect paparazzi-free destination for her honeymoon.

Quilalea has what Ibo Island lacks – OMG-beautiful, soft, white sand beaches.

You come here to chill, perhaps snorkel and dive, and forget about the outside world for a few days.

northern Mozambique
We flew by private helicopter to Quilalea Island, a private island and home to the exclusive Azura Quilalea Resort

We loll about in our beach chairs, rising every so often for a dip in the calm water.

Sometimes we take out stand-up paddleboards for some light paddling.

At dusk when it’s cool, we walk the twisting, shady path around the island, gaping up at ancient Baobab trees and drinking in the wild coastal vistas.

We also dive Quilalea’s house reef.

Quirimbas National Park is a marine and land park stretching for 70 miles along the northeast coast of Mozambique.

It protects the fertile coral reefs around 11 of the islands in the Quirimbas, including Quilalea.

scuba diving in Mozambique
We’re going scuba diving in Mozambique! George gets suited up at Azura Quilalea for a dive

Sea turtles, moray and garden eels, stingrays, big-lipped potato bass and huge schools of brilliant red wrasse patrol these waters.

Our dive whets our appetite to blow bubbles underwater again.

We want to go diving in the Quirimbas again!

Now we want to dive the deep channel that curls in behind Quilalea; white-tipped reef sharks hang out there!

Our impending onward flight, alas, prevents this.

Still, we’ve set foot in more of northern Mozambique than we ever imagined – and stayed at some lovely Mozambique beach resorts!

We’ve seen it in all its natural untouched beauty, before tourism has had a chance to change the landscape.

And that is a gift…

Two girls in Mozambique
Two girls in Mozambique

How to get to Mozambique

Flying to Mozambique:

Getting to your destination in northern Mozambique requires effort.

From Johannesburg, South Africa, we flew to Pemba, Mozambique, on  LAM (Linhas Aereas de Mozambique), the country’s national airline.

Flying to the Quirimbas Islands:

To reach Ibo Island in the Quirimbas, we flew from Pemba by small plane with CR Aviation.

Azura Quilalea Private Island arranges transfers on its own helicopter. 

For a multi-island holiday, flights can be arranged between the Quirimbas islands (we flew from Ibo Island to Quilalea Island on Azura’s chopper).

Luxury Mozambique resorts

Best Mozambique resorts:

In case you missed these, see our reviews on the following luxury resorts in Mozambique. Each is in a different location and offers different things to do in Mozambique.

Putting them together makes an ideal northern Mozambique itinerary, with a good mix of culture, adventure and relaxation.

Pemba | Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort (a sparkling new resort)

Ibo Island | Ibo Island Lodge (a trip back in time to a forgotten place)

Quilalea Island | Azura Quilalea Private Island Resort (make like a celebrity)

Planning a luxury trip to Africa! See our Africa Travel Guide and Safari Planner (get the full scoop on where to go, what to do and where to stay)


Photo credits: 6 to 9, 11 to 13, 15 to 22, 24 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 4, 14 Ibo Island Lodge | 5 Azura Boutique Resorts | 10 Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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bristol

Wednesday 6th of December 2017

Wow! The photos are amazing! Just inspires one to travel. Thanks.

Patti Morrow

Sunday 26th of November 2017

Oh my word. I hardly know what to say. First the title drew me in, then the incredible turquoise water. But reading your adventure with the dolphins was even more incredible. I now want to go to Mozambique so badly! The water, the ruins, the people and more!

Janice and George

Sunday 26th of November 2017

We hope you get to visit there! Because it's somewhat difficult to reach (and also expensive), this part of Mozambique is unlikely to suffer from an influx of tourists anytime soon. It should remain authentic and wild for a little while still...

alison abbott

Sunday 26th of November 2017

Incredible off the beaten path destination. Luckily it's hard to get to which I hope will keep it uncrowded and authentic. Dreamy immediately comes to mine. The wind-karting reminds me of the ice boating we used to do on the river growing up. I like the fact there is a helmet involved now! Seeing a secluded beach on your cover photo, I never thought there would be so many activities available to visitors on the Quirimbas. Wow!

Janice and George

Sunday 26th of November 2017

That's what we thought too when we arrived at our first resort in Mozambique -- we'd just relax because there'd likely be little to do. Well, we were quite surprised! (Your "ice boating" sounds intriguing -- that would be sailing on a boat rejigged to slide along ice?)

Charles McCool

Thursday 23rd of November 2017

Wowzer, such a magnificent trip. Swimming with dolphins (naturally), sand karting, face painting. So much more. Beautiful photos.

Janice and George

Thursday 23rd of November 2017

Yes, it was an incredible trip!

Victoria

Wednesday 15th of November 2017

'Sounds amazing. I like the thought of the National Park, sea activities and Ibo Island. I like your photography too.

Very nice indeed.

p.s. the magazine article is fab. :D

Janice and George

Wednesday 15th of November 2017

Thanks so much for the sweet comments :-). And yes, it was a pretty amazing trip!