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The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 3)

The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 3)

After another early start from our overnighter in Xai-Xai, we thoroughly enjoyed a day on the EN1 national highway up the coast to Vilanculos. We had left South Africa’s chilly July winter well and truly behind us and basked like lemurs in Mozambique’s humid warmth.


From Xai-Xai heading North, the coastal areas are thick with palm trees and as we headed closer to Vilanculos, we were delighted to see ethereal Baobab trees making an appearance between the palms. We have always loved these gigantic trees that look like they have been planted upside down and we stopped to absorb the incredible groves of these ancient giants with their thick trunks and velvety pods.

A grove of beautiful young Baobabs

All we knew of Vilanculos is what we had been told by others – it was tropical, it was beautiful, it was paradise on Earth. When we looked on Google Maps we were thrilled to discover that Bazaruto Island was right off its shore – even better! We have drooled over other people’s photos of Bazaruto’s powdery white beaches and tropically turquoise waters for decades.  The only frame of reference we had in our minds for somewhere so perfectly tropical was Mauritius, so we very much expected a Mauritius on the mainland.


The closer we got to Vilanculos, our expectations of a Mauritius-like experience evaporated. This was no first and third world living in unison. This was pure third world – a bustling, dirty, busy hive of activity just the same as all the other Mozambican towns.  No big stores, no big restaurants, no big tour operators or hotel resorts.

Vilanculos Street Scene

We turned off towards Archipelago resort onto a sea sand road, and drove slowly between kilometres of humble subsistence farming homesteads until we eventually reached a set of beautiful gates with a tropical garden paradise inside.

We chose Archipelago Resort as it has large self-catering casas on a beautiful stretch of coastline and hundreds of incredibly positive reviews on Trip Advisor. It was really reasonably priced so our expectations were quite low and when we drove through the manicured verdant green gardens full of palm trees and brightly coloured tropical flowers after two days of driving through poverty, we were absolutely delighted.

Our charming casa for the week

The beautiful Archipelago Resort

Our casa was just beautiful – all built out of wood and palm leaves. It was spacious, very well equipped and absolutely charming, with a wonderful big porch overlooking the lovely gardens and tropical beach. The first thing the boys did was rig up their fly rods and race to the beach. After unpacking, I headed down to join them and was really surprised to see them already walking back to the casa, their shoulders drooping in disappointment.

All geared up and ready to catch some fish

“There are no fish”, they said and I did not believe this could be true. How on earth can there be no fish in a massive pristine tropical estuary? They must be mistaken. So we walked down to the perfect looking beach and as we strolled along the high tide line, we could see hundreds of dead tiny fish among the seaweed. How strange!


The reason we chose to drive halfway across Africa to Vilanculos from Port Elizabeth, was for fly-fishing. Jacob had spent countless hours over many months tying boxes full of special saltwater flies for this once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip.  We had spent four solid days in the car to get here. We were planning on spending our entire week fishing from the shore.

This was a disaster of epic proportion!


In the morning, we headed over to the boat house to talk through our predicament with the resident fishing experts at Dive Bazaruto. They agreed with the kids’ verdict, there are in fact no fish to be caught from the shores of Vilanculos. Although the estuary used to be heaven on earth for anglers a few years back, the locals have drag-netted the entire area at every single low tide for as long as anyone can remember, and they have basically obliterated the entire population of marine species that used to habituate the once vibrant breeding ground.

Dead baby fish on the beach


But all was not lost they said. They could take us out on one on their charters to the protected marine reserve and the unspoilt areas out of the reach of the local non-motorised boats. They talked us through the different day trips they could organise for us and it all sounded wonderful until we got to the costs. The reason we road-tripped to Vilanculos instead of flying as everyone else did was that we are still financially broke after our five week across the globe trip to Canada. (Read our Canada diary here). We had calculated everything and had concluded that it was possible to visit a tropical resort on a tight budget. We had definitely not factored in any specially chartered day excursions. But how could we come all this way and not go the final couple of kilometres to reach our dream? So we took a very deep breath, threw all caution to the wind, agreed amongst ourselves to temporarily forget about finances or the lack thereof and swiped our credit card for three chartered excursions – one on every second day of our stay.

Walking towards our boat

We had discovered the Vilanculos we expected

First up, a day trip to Bazaruto with snorkelling and beachcombing on Pansy Shell Island. As we piled into our private charter boat and sped off across the sparkling water in the early morning, everything just clicked into place. The stress and worry of our drive and the negative gloom that enveloped us since arriving literally melted away. This was the turning point of our tropical holiday – all of a sudden it was magical and incredible and unbelievably special.

Snorkelling at Two Mile Reef

The seas of Vilanculos are as clear as glass and warm as a bath. When we reached the two mile reef, it was the best snorkelling we have ever had. The coral crackled and shone in all the colours of the rainbow. Hundreds and thousands of fish in every shape and colour imaginable swam in giant schools around us and we floated among them, basking in the warm Mozambique waters as we enjoyed peering into this hidden underwater world. We headed to Bazaruto Island where the boys fished from the rocks while we picnicked on the beautiful powdery beach before climbing the famous Bazaruto sand dune and heading to find pansy shells on the sand bank below. What an incredible place!


Next up was a day deep at sea, angling in some of the world’s best pelagic waters. Luke hooked a massive Cuta, Jacob caught a few luminescent job-fish and GT on fly, Cian and I got to sit on the bow of the boat with our toes dangling into the warm water while dolphins swam beneath us and we all got up close and personal with some massive humpback whales playing in the warm Indian Ocean current.

Jacob’s Jobfish on fly (catch and release)

Dolphins danced at our feet

Our final charter was to nearby Magaruque Island, where we lazed on the picture perfect beach, braaied one of the fish we caught out at sea and snorkelled along the unique rock spit which juts out from the island and is home to a marvellous variety of sizeable fish.


The islands off Vilanculos are truly magnificent and it was every bit and more of what we had hoped for in Mozambique.


Each day in between our day charter trips, we explored the surrounding areas of our resort, walking for kilometres in each direction. We observed a bit of local life – travelling into town, driving in a tuk-tuk, shopping at the local bakery and negotiating the narrow winding alleys of a local market. We also lazed around the pool and in our beautiful casa, enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation.

The view from inside a Vilanculos Tuk Tuk taxi

They are all so stunning – how do you choose?

Reputedly the best seafood store in Vilanculos


After a bit of a rocky start, we soon got into the rhythm of beach life in Vilanculos. Instead of shying away from all that makes it uniquely Mozambican, we learned to appreciate it for what it is – stunning and ugly, colourful and dusty, poverty stricken but happy.


Our week in paradise evaporated and all too soon it was time to face the very long road back to Port Elizabeth.


Watch this space for the final part of our epic road trip story.


Yours in travel



Did you miss our previous posts? Click below to catch up:

The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 1)


The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 2)


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