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Mozambique Rising

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

Getting to Mozambique is quite a haul, so it’s worth really spending at least 10 days in the country. If you’re already spending time in South Africa or Tanzania, it’s possible to just visit either the north or the south in 5 days or so as an add-on. South African Airways and LAM Mozambique fly to Maputo and Pemba from Johannesburg. If you’re traveling to Pemba from Jo-burg, the SAA flight is preferable as the LAM flight stops in Maputo. And, if you’re uncomfortable with small planes, the itinerary reviewed above probably isn’t for you.

White Pearl Resort is only 20 km north of the South African border in Ponta Mamoli, near Pont d’Oro, about a 40-minute flight by small plane south from Maputo. The resort is building a runway adjacent to the property that should open for use in 2014, which will save guests another 40-minute drive on sandy tracks to the existing airstrip. Rooms are sumptuous, set in brilliant green hillside vegetation but with mile-long views over the ocean. Temperatures are usually warm to hot, but due to the southerly location, short periods of the year may be cooler and too cool for swimming in the pool or ocean (which can sometimes be rough). At times, diving can be excellent, with whale sharks, stingrays, whales and dolphins cruising through the blue, with lionfish and moray eels taking up residence on the coral reefs. At other times, visibility may be reduced in rough seas or in the rainy season. Guests can book diving, ocean safaris in rubber Zodiacs, spa treatments, and a variety of other activities like visits to the elephant refuge several hours away. Breakfast and dinner is served in the attractive dining room with large windows opening out to the ocean, or on your private room deck if you prefer. Lunch is a casual affair poolside or by the bar. White Pearl also supports a variety of local community initiatives that are worth learning about before you go or while you’re visiting. The staff are incredibly gracious and accommodating.

Lugenda Wilderness Camp is a tented safari camp in Niassa Reserve, and is reachable by a one-hour flight from Pemba, which Rani Resorts will arrange. Keep in mind that you’re truly off the grid, and the generator only runs for a few hours each day in the morning and evening — which means that there’s no power for the overhead fan in your room during the midday down time, or at night when you’re in bed. So…be prepared to sweat through your sheets in the hottest months of October and November, when it can be uncomfortably hot. Running power when the guests are actually in their rooms, as opposed to only when they’re out on game drives, would seem to be a relatively easy fix that the camp has unfortunately yet to implement but hopefully will soon. The major advantages of visiting Lugenda are being part of an exclusive group who have ever been there, being the only tourists in a giant and wild protected area that harkens back to the days before mass tourism, and benefiting from the knowledge of guides like Nick and the eagle eyes of spotters like Jamie. When the water is high enough from April to July, canoe safaris may also be available on the Lugenda River. The camp is closed in the peak of the wet season from late December through March. Of note, the sun goes down especially early (5pm) in winter and spring at Lugenda given the fact that Mozambique is on the same time zone as South Africa, despite being further east. As a result, we ended up missing sundown for our sundowners each night and doing it in the dark. Pro tip: stay on top of the time, and request that your guide set up your gin and tonic with time to spare to enjoy the sunset from the numerous beautiful spots available in the area.

Medjumbe Private Island is accessible via a short 20-minute flight from Pemba or directly from Lugenda (if you’re visiting both) on a flight that lasts about 75 minutes. According to the pilots, the 500-meter airstrip is the shortest certified runway in sub-Saharan Africa, and you’ll land and take off with the wheels almost touching the breakers — the entire island is less than a kilometer long. The resort is mostly full of honeymooners from around the world, and don’t expect many North Americans. It’s a laid back kind of place, which is a huge part of its charm, but it offers plenty of indulgence too, with rooms that are attractive and bright, a nice public guest area, and private pools with each of the 12 bungalows. The main draw of course is the crystal clear water that’s almost bathtub-warm in spots, spectacular diving, and the chance to truly feel like a castaway for a few days, albeit with plenty of food, drink, and air conditioning. The cuisine is solid if not spectacular given the remoteness, and the staff are fantastic. Your bungalow will be right on the sand, and just steps from the ocean at high tide, but it can be a 10-15 minute walk to the water’s edge at low tide (though it’s perfectly pleasant to wander across the brilliant white sand).

bar at the Pemba Beach Hotel

bar at the Pemba Beach Hotel

When in transit to or from Lugenda or Medjumbe, you’ll typically need to spend at least one night in Pemba. It’s easy to book the Pemba Beach Hotel through Rani Resorts, and the property has a large number of brand new rooms and apartments that offer a haven of comfort and safety in the rough and tumble of Pemba. The breakfast buffet is impressive to boot, and the property is rapidly expanding its facilities with multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, a gym, and a revamped restaurant.

 

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