You keep staring at the water. The Indian Ocean, to be exact. Sure, you’ve loved the last few days in Maputo. Mozambique’s capital, with its wide streets and Mediterranean-style architecture, is easily one of the nicest cities in Africa. But it’s the ocean—and the swirling sand and the forest-covered islands and the wooden dhows—that keep mesmerizing you. It’s time to leave the city.
The Santa Maria Peninsula is just a speedboat ride across Maputo Bay, though it feels like you’re in a different country, if not a different world. The city has been replaced by mudflats, mangroves, and sand dunes. Deserted, white-sand beaches extend for miles. Flamingos greatly outnumber people. The Machangulo Private Nature Reserve was created to protect endangered sea turtles. While bottlenose dolphins, migrating humpback whales, and at least 160 different coral species are hidden just beneath the surface of the water.
Your first stop is the Machangulo Beach Lodge. The small lodge sits on a hillside overlooking Inhaca Island and Santa Maria Peninsula’s sand dunes. Its open-air buildings have thatched roofs and plenty of comfortable spots to relax. Wooden decks open to a small pool and an open fireplace for chilly nights. Curry and seafood are served in the formal dining room each evening. Shady trees and a tapas-style lunch at the Villa Restaurant offer a break from the midday heat. Plus that beach—that gorgeous, endless beach—is just at the end of wooden steps.
You could easily spend the next few days staring at one breathtaking view after another from the lodge. But it was the islands that drew you away from Maputo in the first place. Inhaca Island is just across the Hell’s Gate channel anyway; you’ve been gazing at it since you arrived. Unlike the rest of the country, a former Portuguese colony, the island was occupied by the British to control slave traffic in the 19th century. The 20-square-mile island is now home to the Inhaca Reserve and a marine research center that studies one of the southernmost reefs in the world.
Spend the day exploring the mostly undeveloped island. Hike up Mount Inhaca, the island’s highest point, or to the whitewashed Northern Lighthouse for stunning views of the evergreen-covered island and the white-capped waves crashing around it. Watch for pink-backed pelicans and southern banded snake eagles overhead as you descend through the dense forest. Meet Tembe-Tsonga people, who speak a dialect distinct from the mainland, along the coast. Women are collecting crabs and oysters, while men are returning to shore with woven baskets full of brindle bass and king mackerel.
Learn about the island’s flora and fauna at the Marine Biology Museum, which is part of the research station. Look for florescent moray eels, tiny seahorses, and slow-moving dugongs as you snorkel in the warm, clear water. Sip an ice-cold Castle beer beside colorful murals at Restaurante Lucas, while you wait for grilled prawns to be served. Then gaze back at the Machangulo Beach Lodge from Inhaca’s southern tip. Maputo is now a distant memory.