An Easter Girls Trip to Vilankulo Mozambique

IMG_20170416_163431Easter is a long holiday weekend in Botswana – everyone gets Friday and Monday off so it is a popular time for travel! Garrett and I had planned to stay in Bots and do a camping trip to the Kgalagadi but then the opportunity came up for Garrett to join his mom on a snorkeling trip to Palau. Unfortunately Garrett’s dad had a sudden back injury that prevented him from traveling last minute so his parents graciously offered the trip to us. However, I could not be away from work for that long so I suggested that Garrett take the trip with his mom – which worked out great in the end. It gave him the opportunity to spend some quality time with his mom and me the opportunity to take a fun girls trip to a new country with my good friend Surbhi!

 

Mozambique has been a top destination on our dive wish list so this was a perfect opportunity to check it out and do some reconnaissance for a longer trip with Garrett. I decided on visiting the beach town of Vilanculos which is the mainland base for visiting the Bazaruto Archipelago.The popular dive spots in Moz are Tofu or the Bazaruto – and I chose the later because it is much more picturesque! The archipelago is made up of ever-changing sand dunes which form mesmerizing patterns in the turquoise water. Getting this beautiful backdrop and good diving made it a no-brainer!

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It is pretty easy to get to Moz from Gabs. You just have to connect through Joburg (which we took advantage of by spending the night in a nice hotel and treating ourselves to a fab wine pairing dinner). There are direct flight from Joburg into Vilanculos and many other tourist beach towns in Moz. We found a great last minute deal at Casa Cabana which is a popular hotel right on the beach a little north of town. I loved this place!

Upsides:

  • Comfortable and well decorated beach front cabana with an awesome patio.
  • Our hotel’s restaurant “the Casbah” is actually one of the more popular bars and hang out places in Vilanculos which made for a lively bunch of people to hang out with day or night.
  • Very friendly hotel staff. Owner who was personable and helpful with most anything we needed during our stay.
  • Nice clean stretch of beach right in front where you could snorkel. The beach was much dirtier closer to the town.
  • close proximity to other nice hotels and restaurants. We really LOVED Bahia Mar which is a fancier place next door. Awesome view and food – but expensive.

Downsides:

  • Although the food at the restaurant was good, it was a bit overprices and there was lack of variety.
  • Crappy internet….but this seemed to be the case in all of Vilanculos.
  • More expensive than other more basic backpacker lodges or air bnb places, however we felt it was totally worth the money to be right on the beach and have such a great hang out bar at our disposal. IMG_20170415_183758

The town of Vilanculos is really tiny. It is mostly made up of small restaurants, hotels, backpacker lodges, a few tour companies and local’s homes. There are only two dive shops and one of them was not even diving the weekend I was there! I dove with Odyssea Divers which I thought were okay.

Upsides:

  • lively guides that were very safety conscious – more than any other place I have dove.
  • guides didn’t force you to surface when one person ran out of air. They allowed divers to surface on their own and let everyone else stay under as long as they want. This is not common and is a major plus! I am good with air so can often stay under over an hour – but am always forced to go up around 45-50 minutes because dive guides want everyone to stay together.
  • nice dive shop right on the beach. It is attached to a small B&B for convenience.

Downsides:

  • They have a standard trip to the same place every day. I prefer dive shops that take you to the best dive sites available based on how the weather/surf is each day and the skill level of divers.
  • You are only able to do max of 2 dives a day.
  • Odyssea combines snorkelers with divers – which makes for a crowded boat especially because they use a zodiac which is not my preferred type of dive boat.

The standard trip entails about a 45 minute boat ride out to the archipelago where you stop at 3 mile island and drop off the snorkelers who get about an hour to hang out on the island. Divers go out to Two Mile Reef to do their first dive. Then the divers pile back in the boat and get dropped off at 3 mile island. Snorkelers get picked up and taken out to swim at the reef. Then we switch again for the second dive. It was nice to get time to hang out on the island but a lot of moving around! I did two days of diving so doing the exact same thing on the second day was pretty annoying. But there were numerous different dive sites along Two Mile Reef to check out between my 4 dives. We did 3 different sites including – The Locker Room and The Corner. I had been hearing for a long time about how amazing the diving was in Moz… overall I was underwhelmed. But I was impressed with the health of the coral and diversity of underwater landscapes. I just didn’t see as much animal life as I had hoped for – but this was largely due to the visibility. Unfortunately, the guides said it was the worst vis they have had in years – bummer for me! Highlights were numerous sharks and one heavy current dive where I hooked in at the top of a reef and had a grey reef tip shark swim back and forth about 1 ft from my nose for 10 minutes. I spent a lot of time talking to dive guides and other locals for dive advice. They said 5 years ago the diving in Moz was some of the best in world. You would see schools of giant mantas and sharks – however as tourism has skyrocketed and overfishing continues to steadily rise – the mantas have headed away from the dive sites and back out into deeper water. Tofu is still your best chance for seeing bigger stuff – but no coral there. So you either see amazing sea life or you see nothing – very hit or miss. Bazaruto has the best coral and still a chance to see bigger stuff so overall I thought it was a better choice if you could only pick one.

The Bazaruto archipelago also used to be one of the best remaining places to see Dugong in the world because a protected area was created to prevent hunting. But because tourist visits to the protected area increased so much, the dugong have moved to a different area which is not protected! This is creating a major problem for conservation. I was super excited to see one dugong – it was only from the land while I was one Three Mile Island but still pretty amazing – my first dugong!

We spent 4 days in Vilanculos and it was an awesome relaxing trip. I would highly recommend it as a spot for people living in the region or as a side trip after a longer safari adventure. We felt very safe, the food was awesome and cheap, the people were kind …..and obviously it was beautiful. Outside of our hotel, the restaurants we liked were Casa Rex, Bahia Mar and Frutas de Mar.

Garrett and I will be heading back to Moz during our big African road trip in 2018. We plan to drive down the whole coastline and do a bunch of diving – I can’t wait to get back!

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