The Portuguese pilot chatted amiably over the radio as our small plane banked around for a final approach. As we descended toward sand dunes and scrub brush, he explained why he left the air force for a more relaxed lifestyle. Mozambique was relaxed, good for his family, his wife had a job she enjoyed, he liked flying small planes, and the country was on its way up. The argument was strong enough to have him pack his bags and move from Europe. Over the course of 11 days in Mozambique, we came to appreciate that the country is most definitely a haven of opportunity for travelers, and a select group of lodges and resorts are starting to take advantage of it.
No doubt about it—the country can be quite rough around the edges. And sometimes rough even in the center. Unsurprisingly for a country still recovering from 20 years of civil war and decades of post-colonial poverty, Mozambique doesn’t yet have its systems—marketing, services, infrastructure, etc—dialed for western travelers. As a result of these factors, and many more, it’s not usually the first country in Africa that travelers visit, nor does it compete side by side for mindshare with Kenya, South Africa, or other destinations that have been icons on the jetsetter hit list. However, the tradeoff for dealing with the occasional visa snafu, delayed flight, or other standards of African travel are a chance to experience a truly spectacular country, with friendly people, some fantastic places to stay, and a chance to support a new, hopefully sustainable, development strategy.
After the seemingly endless flight from California, my wife and I made our first stop at the White Pearl Resort, one of the top resorts in the country, and with its eyes clearly set on reaching a world class standard in the most unlikely of places. After a short 45-minute flight south from Maputo, we landed on a rough runway being reclaimed by the grass. From there, a 40-minute drive via SUV over sandy tracks brought us to Ponta Mamoli, and out of nowhere, the luxury of White Pearl appeared. After a friendly greeting and tour from managers Jeremy Clayton and Joanne Rose-Innes, we settled into our beautiful chalet, set amidst the green hills overlooking a wild, endless beach. Tastefully decorated in a style described as “beach chic”, our room came complete with an enormous king bed, outdoor shower, private deck and plunge pool, and views of the Indian Ocean. A private butler was assigned to us, reachable by cell phone anytime, and the public guest areas were only a short walk down the boardwalk. The space mixed privacy with accessibility in a way that many resorts struggle with, usually erring too far on one side of the other. Likewise, the design blended into the hillside in a way that made the beach and forest still feel wild and remote, rather than developed and radically changed.
During the days (and after a full day of good solid sleep), we generally were out and about for part of the time, scuba diving, whale and dolphin watching, visiting the spa, having lunch on the terrace, or going for a walk or run down the beach. Other times, we simply luxuriated in our room or on our deck, relaxing to the sound of the waves or the occasional gentle rain. Meals were of a surprisingly high quality given the relative remoteness of White Pearl’s location.
Above all however, several things really stood out for us about the White Pearl experience relative to the typical 5-star beach resort. First, the friendliness of the staff (Lorenzo, Roberto, Aderito, etc.). Many travelers will know that for some reason only partially explained by sharp relative disparities in economic circumstances, many high-end beach resorts in remote destinations seem staffed with surly, aloof employees (see: Bora Bora). That’s most definitely not the case at White Pearl, where guests are greeted with friendly smiles and a willingness to help, along with true conversation and insight. Second, it’s rare in this day and age to find a luxury experience like White Pearl that’s not packed side by side with other developments and thousands of sun-worshippers. Perhaps it was the unseasonably cool and drizzly weather we experienced, but the area retains it’s wild feel, and I didn’t see another soul during a 12 mile run along the beach — just thousands of ghost crabs and a lone antelope who strangely popped out of the brush onto the sand. Third, the property itself is beautiful, and not bounded by the standard beach resort architecture of a single “big house” public area with guest chalets alongside. Instead, the property flows around the dunes and hills, with multiple terraces, lounge areas, pools, dining and bar areas, and activity areas. It’s fun to just wander around the place, with the quality of design and style unusual given the landscape and location.
Lastly, we were lucky enough to visit a nearby school and orphanage, which White Pearl is supporting in-kind, while putting together a real plan to provide real and sustainable ongoing support to provide benefit to the surrounding community beyond the service and construction jobs they already do. While the project is just getting underway, and the current conditions of the school and orphanage are far from ideal, the connection reminded us that even a 5-star luxury resort can’t pretend it’s immune from it’s local environment, and we felt encouraged that the resort has a social conscience to match it’s ambition to be the top resort in southern Africa.