Ibo Island Lodge is 70 km north of Pemba in northern Mozambique. Ibo was the Portuguese administrative capital of Northern Mozambique and an important East African trading post, for over 500 years until it’s swift decline during the twentieth century. Today, it is a surreal place, a tiny island with imposing ruins of villas, forts and administrative buildings in the middle of nowhere.
Three waterfront mansions have been reconstructed to make Ibo Island Lodge a total of 12 bedrooms. The accent has been on recreating the historical ambience of these mansions: individually-designed rooms, high beamed ceilings, antique furnishings, local fabrics, carved wooden doors and shutters, and wide verandahs with mahogany day-beds. Rooms have large bathrooms, some with bath and shower, others with a shower.
Nine of the rooms are inside the mansions, and there are a further three garden rooms, in what were once outbuildings. Bedrooms have both ceiling fans and air-conditioning, although the electricity is off from about 01h00 until 07h00. A private villa with five rooms is now available, a unique offering in the archipelago.
There are beautifully-landscaped gardens, three swimming pools with sunloungers and shady palm trees.
Meals are served under these trees, or on the large roof terrace which is also the perfect spot for sundowners as it faces the sun setting over the Mozambique mainland. Food is first class, mainly fresh seafood. The mangroves provide an inexhaustible supply of succulent crabs, and there are the famous Mozambiquan prawns and crayfish when in season.
There is plenty to do on Ibo. First, there are the ruins to explore: the island was fortified in the early seventeenth century, and you can wander through the remains of the star-shaped Portuguese Fort of Sao Joao, built in 1791 to house 300 men, and used to imprison, torture and execute FRELIMO fighters until Mozambique gained independence in 1973. Now it is a base by the silversmiths who are a feature of the island. There are two smaller Portuguese forts on the island, both awaiting restoration. But the main attraction is the town with its crumbling, deserted ruins. Each building has its own story, and guided tours will help you interpret the island’s history and culture, a melting-pot of Arab, Indian, Portuguese and African influences. Ibo was an important export point for slaves. You can see the slave warehouses by the harbour, and enter the tiny dark dungeons where they were kept.
There is an imposing Catholic Church, and, though the roof is collapsing, the dozen or so Catholic inhabitants still attend a Sunday service! The rest of the island’s inhabitants are Muslim, though they seem to have a relaxed attitude to religion. Another seemingly derelict building houses the town museum containing scores of dusty tomes and thousands of papers which recorded the complexities of Ibo life in earlier times.
Only three thousand people live on Ibo today. They cannot afford to repair the stone ruins, and so a village of mud and thatch houses begins as the old town finishes. It is pleasant to wander through here and see the everyday life of this farming and fishing community. Everyone is welcoming and friendly. There is a bar, which has a disco at weekends, a tiny shop selling everything, an open-air cinema screened onto the side of the village shop.
Ibo’s silversmiths are renowned for their unique and intricate jewellery, necklaces and bracelets of lace-like complexity fashioned out of wire, often made from melted down coins. If you bring some silver, they will fashion it into jewellery for you.
Although there is no beach by the lodge, a 15-minute boat ride will take you to a fabulous beach – totally untouched as it rises out of the sea afresh each day at 08h00. Be the first to put your footprint in the sand! By 11h00 it is large enough to go for a jog. You can sunbathe here, swim, snorkel – there is coral just off the beach – and, when you have relaxed for long enough, radio the boat and they will pick you up. This is a free service provided by the lodge.
Activities at Ibo Island Lodge
The island tour and beach visits are complimentary. Then there is a range of activities which are at additional cost, such as snorkeling, excursions by dhow, and dhow sunset cruises. There is kayaking, either through the mangrove channels on Ibo, or you can take a sea-kayak across to a neighbouring island. There is a boat excursion across to the mainland which travels inland up the mangrove creeks, past shore-line fishing villages. There is a wealth of bird-life, including Mozambiquan fish eagles, and you may also spot Nile crocodiles.
PADI dive centre is now available at Ibo Island offering full and half day trips to the many diverse sites in this unspoilt area with an average water temperature of 30°C in summer and 26°C during winter.
Mogundula Private Island
Uninhabited Mogundula Island lies in clear, blue waters, just off the Mozambique coast, a 45 minute boat ride from Ibo. It has a reef, ideal for snorkelling, and a pristine 100 metre beach.
Ibo Island Lodge is offering their guests the opportunity to stay for two or three nights on Mogundula, sleeping in simple dome tents. This is a perfect ‘back to nature’ escape which can be enjoyed by couples, friends or families escape from it all, for couples or for families.
Lodge owners, Fiona and Kevin Record, have worked closely with the islanders from the planning stage. They are determined that the lodge will benefit as many islanders as is possible. They directly employ around 40 islanders and, by sourcing food and other supplies locally, indirectly create employment for another 20 or so. As people in work tend to support extended families of up to 20, this means maybe as many as one-third of the island’s population already benefit from the lodge. There are signs of increasing prosperity and many villagers are now able to pay off their debts.
There are four main community projects operated by the lodge. There is a tourism education and guide training project, a market garden agricultural project, a silversmith’s marketing programme and a marine turtle research and conservation programme.
This is the time to visit Ibo, to be among the first to stay at Ibo Island Lodge and soak up the remarkable atmosphere of this forgotten island, soon to be designated a World Heritage Site.
Ibo Island is reached by air transfer from Pemba. You can combine a stay on Ibo with any of the other island lodges transferring either by light aircraft or by boat. Guludo, on the mainland, is just 40 minutes by boat. Or why not consider chartering a 15 metre Lamu dhow for transfers or excursions around the archipelago.