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Mozambique Rising

General — By Josh Steinitz on December 8, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Our last visit in Mozambique was to Medjumbe Private Island, a stunningly beautiful spit of sand off the coast northeast of Pemba. With only 12 bungalows on the island, the resort offers perfect isolation surrounded by aquamarine water and not much else…which can be just what the doctor ordered. The resort offers a high standard of service and accommodation, but in a relaxed way that’s not over-the-top luxury, avoiding the somewhat awkward contrast some luxury properties bring to mind when setting a rustic, barefoot destination against marble bathrooms and formal dining. Many of the staff come from the surrounding areas, and their friendliness runs from bottom to top, with the manager Karen setting the tone. And, it’s relatively easy to communicate in English — not always the case in Mozambique.

poolside, Medjumbe Private Island

poolside, Medjumbe Private Island

As a tiny white sand island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the best things to do at Medjumbe all involve either water activities or relaxing. The diving just offshore is fantastic, and I was impressed with the variety of fish and coral (not bleached!) on the wall that drops off from 20 meters to 1000 meters only a 10 minute boat ride from the island. Jason, the activity director and divemaster, took me on a couple private dives to the wall and nearby coral gardens. The resort also offers snorkeling, kayaks, SUPs, windsurfing, (kitesurfing — coming soon), and even a private dhow for sundown. If all that seems too taxing, you can always relax by your private plunge pool, or get a world-class facial from Joanne, the on-site massage therapist.

gin-clear waters of Medjumbe

gin-clear waters of Medjumbe

As with the other properties we visited in Mozambique, it was encouraging to see that, beyond the managers, all of the staff at Medjumbe was reasonably local, not imported from Europe or South Africa. As a result, guests can feel good that, while they’re experiencing a level of luxury at odds with the country itself, these properties are directly contributing to local employment and the local economy, and not parachuting money in and out of the country. Local boats even sail up to sell fresh fish directly in many cases. The tradeoff of course is that Mozambicans are still working to reach the standard of service expected in more advanced economies, and in many cases these resorts have to deal with daily logistical challenges that other less remote properties would never even consider—-sometimes, the fresh food on order for airborne delivery simply doesn’t arrive, arrives late, or isn’t available.

sunset stroll, Medjumbe

sunset stroll, Medjumbe

In Lugenda’s or Medjumbe’s case, there may be no good source for fresh lettuce for 500 miles. Nor are Mozambican cooks trained in the nuances of a perfectly poached egg, a medium rare steak, or a gooey chocolate brownie. That means that, while the natural beauty, friendliness of the staff, and relaxed nature of these properties goes a long way, every visitor should understand why these places are unique and worthwhile, and why they should go there versus a standard safari or beach holiday.

end of land, Medjumbe

end of land, Medjumbe

 

Ultimately of course, it will be up to Mozambicans themselves (along with international investment and support) to realize the tremendous potential the country has always had. The good news for travelers is that some places like White Pearl and Rani Resorts are already doing it. Get there before it’s on everybody’s bucket list.

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