After an indescribably long journey from the U.S. to this untouched corner of Africa, I was happy to finally reach my hotel on Ibo Island, Mozambique. The cement floor felt refreshingly cool on my hot, tired feet. As I stood there unpacking, I could hear a group of local teenagers chatting away as they ambled down the dusty street, mere inches from me. Hidden behind the wooden louvers covering the floor to ceiling windows, they couldn’t see me as I watched them make their way towards the ocean.Their silhouettes were ablaze in the beautiful setting sun. Ibo Island was already crushing my expectations.The trip began like so many of my African adventures.
Taking off from Pemba, on the mainland of Northern Mozambique, I watched the tangled trails of well-worn footpaths snaking across the red earth below. Flying low over the sprawling Quirimbas archipelago, the colors of the water shifted from deep blue to light turquoise and back again.We arrived by small aircraft on Ibo Island, a three-mile long island in northern Mozambique, bouncing to a landing on a quaint grass airstrip. After being quickly collected at the airstrip, the morning quickly heating up, we piled into the back of an open air Land Cruiser and bumped our way into town a short way to the hotel; the stunning Ibo Island Lodge.The owners have lovingly renovated three historic beach-front villas, which together make up this boutique hotel. Ibo Island Lodge is certainly the nicest accommodation option on the island. But keenly aware that over-the-top luxury would be glaringly out of place on this island, the owners have achieved a perfect balance of polished history (the villas all date back several hundred years) and barefoot luxury.
Over the next few days, as I explored this historic, remote corner of Africa, Ibo Island crushed my expectations left and right.
Flying over the Atlantic en route to South Africa, I had anticipated the calm, clear archipelago waters for which Mozambique is known. Instead I was met with a large tidal bay, rocky and well worn as fishermen coming and going all day long; the island’s activity hub. My bedroom looked right out on this bay, and watching this important community hub was endlessly fascinating. So much so, that I didn’t miss the fact that lounge chairs and beach umbrellas were not part of this beach experience.
Where I looked forward to learning a bit about the history of the island’s contribution to trade on the Indian Ocean coast, I ended up learning so much more. During an amazing walking tour of the island, organized by Ibo Island Lodge, we learned the history but also met a number of local characters on our journey. We explored old forts packed with piles of paperwork documenting the slave trade and other happenings on the island over the past few centuries. The entire island was a living museum more vibrant than I could ever have imagined.
And finally, I wasn’t expecting to discover such a unique culture and community. I’ve done a number of African cultural tours, and nearly all of them have left me uneasy, feeling voyeuristic and touristy. But once again, my cultural curiosity was awakened here on Ibo Island as I met a parade of interesting and colourful characters across the island. I bought coffee from a local entrepreneur who harvested the island beans and roasted them in his yard. We met the cantankerous witch doctor who serves the community. Local children followed us as we wandered around the village wearing smiles from ear to ear.
While my pre-trip expectations were focused on warm weather and the Indian Ocean, my experience on Ibo Island was the perfect balance of authentic culture and laid-back relaxation. For travelers looking to get off the beaten path, connect with a totally unique culture and enjoy staying right inside this vibrant community, Ibo Island is the place for you.