I like luxury, there’s no getting away from it! I can see the allure of a Robinson Crusoe style desert island, but I still would like some of my creature comforts. A super comfortable sun lounger, fabulous food and an ice cold G&T are all standard on my holiday wish list.
I’ve long wanted to explore Northern Mozambique, attracted by the photos of gorgeous, empty beaches with little or no development. But it’s also an area known for its cutting edge eco-tourism, and I was therefore a little intrigued about what I’d find when I set off on a recent trip to experience it for myself. Tourism that contributes to the well-being of the local community and schemes to encourage towel and bed linen reuse are ‘meat and drink’ to all of us in the Southern Africa travel team, but I’m not so familiar with the reality of actual eco-living.
My first stop was Nuarro Lodge on Mozambique’s northern coast, south of Pemba and north of historic Ilha de Mocambique. Billed as an eco-lodge, it instantly impresses with everything from the chairs to the roof made by local craftspeople, using eco-friendly materials, constructed without power tools or nails, with everything cleverly tied and woven together.
The chalets are spaced out along the beach, each with a path straight down onto the incredibly spacious beach – even when the lodge is full you can still have a vast area all to yourself with chairs, thatched umbrellas and amazing double lounges on stilts. The rooms are equally huge with good views from just about everywhere, even from the shower where there’s a window perfectly placed for an ocean vista.
The custom at Nuarro is to sleep with the door open to let the sea breezes in, and despite my fear of creepy crawlies, I decided to go with the flow and in fact had an awesome night’s sleep. There is just something so special about feeling safe enough to do this and to wake to sound of the ocean and the birds – this is true relaxation!
Ocean activities like diving and snorkelling take top billing at Nuarro, which my colleagues who were more experienced at these pass times threw themselves in with gusto. I’ve never done either before so was eager to jump right in and found myself blown away by all the little and the slightly bigger things there are down there beneath the surface.
One evening we had a wonderful dinner on the beach which was a real highlight. The fish and seafood based menu at the lodge is varied and lets the fresh ingredients do the work. The lodge buys as much food as it can locally, for example they asked a family to volunteer to start a chicken run – Nuarro supplied all the chickens and the equipment and they now have 100 chickens that produce eggs which Nuarro buy. One of the real strengths of Nuarro is its relationship with the local community, and it’s no surprise that they have been approached by an NGO to start a school just outside their community which will benefit children from a broad locality.
Next stop the luxurious but remote Coral Lodge. I knew before hand that this would be perfect for me, my more natural terrain. We travelled by road to Ilha de Mozambique and were picked up by the Coral Lodge boat, which turned out to be an amazing way to be arrive at the hotel! Plates of delicious tapas greeted us on arrival and this was just a taste of what was to come. The chef here is really wonderful, each dish prepared with such imaginative and again using fresh local produce.
The individual villas are incredibly spacious and decorated beautifully. Now the bed… this has to be the most amazing air-con system ever as it’s actually built into the bed itself. It’s so gentle but very effective. I was at Coral Lodge in the summer and just loved luxuriating in the air-cooled bed after a hard day on the beach.
With my new found snorkelling skills I was able to explore the nearby lagoon. At first it didn’t look that impressive but then you look down and it’s incredible! There are so many young fish it’s like a giant nursery. The dive master at Coral Lodge is also a biologist, so its great fun learning about ocean life at the same time.
The lodge supplies the local community with electricity and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to meet them all. It’s a wonderful place – the kids are all excited to see you and they follow you all around the village waiting for you to take photos with them and of them. My tip here is to always show the children the photos afterwards, as it is a real treat for them and they just love it.
Thinking over my visit to the two lodges, Eco doesn’t have to mean basic – it’s more what people aptly call barefoot luxury. Whilst you don’t have ‘gold tap’ luxury at an eco-lodge, there can still be an emphasis on comfort as well as on the authenticity of your experience. And likewise, many lodges in Mozambique that offer top-class luxury are also closely involved with the local community and you feel that your visit has made a difference to the lives of real people. Responsible tourism doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all those luxurious treats you’ve been looking forward to all year!
Nuarro and Coral Lodge each offer different types of luxury experiences; ‘Eco’ does in some respects mean a bit of a compromise but the lodges are well thought out, trying to consider as many creature comforts as possible and they are always so kind and helpful, willing to help you find the right solution. So with a bit of patience and a thought for the planet’s future, you’ll have a ‘feel good’ holiday in all respects.
The gateways to this beautiful country are truly starting to open up and it is definitely worth the extra effort required to reach this remarkable destination. The planning and journey are all part of the holiday, and these are my tips for minimising travel hassle on a Mozambique holiday.
- Try to sit by the window on the flight into Mozambique’s Nampula as the views are breathtaking; there is just nothing but open spaces, a few houses dotted around spectacular rock formations.
- Get your visa ahead of time in London if your entry point is via a small place like Nampula or Pemba, as the queues can be long. Regional airports tend to be tiny but also busy, and it’s great swooshing straight past all the people in the long visa queue!
- Consider taking light aircraft flights rather than road transfers. I was nervous about the 45 minute flight from Nampula to Nuarro, but we had an incredible pilot, who spoke to me the whole way. I sat in the front which really helped and I disembarked feeling like an old hand at small aircraft flights! The alternative is a four hour, bumpy drive, which might suit more intrepid types than me.