Niamh and Giles Sacramento discover the less explored north has a lot to offer, as they party at a festival, go on safari and enjoy a dose of island life
Eight years ago, I found myself at the Lake of Stars Festival on the shores of Lake Malawi. My first African music festival was fabulous, although it was overwhelmingly attended by white expats and volunteers – so much so that I bumped into an old school friend, as did my British companion. Accidentally, Giles and I arrived in Metangula, on the shores of Lake Niassa just in time for a local music festival, which, unlike my previous experience, was a real African affair. Despite standing out like sore thumbs (I’d like to think that it was due to my pasty Irish skin, rather than my erratic dancing), we were even interviewed by the local TV station.
After a weekend of partying, we appreciated the peace of Cobue. On the lakeshore, the locals welcomed us and watched in delight as we kitesurfed past the women washing clothes.
Saying goodbye to the lake, we made our way to Niassa Reserve. We were warned that it was rare to view animals there and so we went with the expectation only of enjoying the wilderness experience. Our safari consisted mostly of daring each other to drive across dubious looking log bridges and, although we saw minimal wildlife, by dusk we were returning to the camp, content. Suddenly on our way back Giles spotted movement. I ground to a halt. Reversing slowly, we saw three wild dogs keeping a very close eye on us. We couldn’t believe our luck!
Tales of Ilha de Moçambique had already captured my imagination and so we headed east along the road from Niassa Reserve. The reality did not disappoint. African music and laughter flows over the cobbled streets, wafting through the stylish Scandinavian cafes and Italian rooftop restaurants. Women wearing headscarves weave scooters though the narrow streets. Samosa sellers sit outside the museum housing opulent furniture. Ilha is a fabulous fusion of cultures and its world heritage site status has ensured that its buildings are renovated with care.
Ibo Island is a small slice of paradise, surrounded by dense mangroves, clear-blue sea and dolphins surfing the bow wave of sailing dhows. A fascinating history has left a legacy of beautiful architecture, the marine wildlife is enchanting and the people themselves will change your view of life. Before long you will also refer to the mainland as “the continent”.
Top Tips for northern Mozambique
- A little Portuguese goes a long way! We learnt a few words and also some greetings in the local languages, which really helped. Obvious, but worth noting.
- Spend time by the lake if you are looking for a more remote experience than Malawi has to offer. Don’t miss out on Cobue. The drive there is beautiful and you will get a real taste of village life in northern Mozambique. It’s also a good spot to transit into Malawi via Likoma Island.
- Stock up on essentials and fuel in Lichinga if you are planning to drive west to east to visit Niassa Reserve. Although it is possible to get these on the way, it is certainly available here.
- Staying at the rangers’ campsite is an affordable way to visit Niassa Reserve. The staff rarely see visitors (we were the ninth and tenth people when we arrived in December!) so they are happy to talk about their experiences and pass on helpful information.
- Murrebue is a hidden treasure south of Pemba. Ten years ago, a French couple drove from Namibia and came upon a beach so beautiful that they couldn’t leave. Now they welcome tourists, especially overlanders, to enjoy the resort that they created with the help of the local community.
- Ibo Island, although off the beaten track, has everything a tourist would need. Whether you are looking for a high-end honeymoon resort or budget camping, it is all there. Surprisingly, it is also a foodie heaven. Join locals for a taste of home-cooked food, try a formidable lobster burger at the hotel or fine dining at Ibo Island Lodge.