Ilha De Mozambique Dhow

Visiting Ilha De Mozambique – A Hauntingly Beautiful Colonial Past

A forgotten town in the north of Mozambique, Mozambique Island (or Ilha Do Mozambique/Ilha De Mozambique in Portuguese), was once the thriving capital of colonial Mozambique. Nowadays, this town, an UNESCO world heritage sight, has hardly changed.  Buildings built centuries ago are still intact as memories of years past still echo from its walls. Time hums a slower tune here.

Ilha de Mozambique is a part of my Mozambique Travel Itinerary, where I detail how I visited the other incredible sights of the country.

Ilha De Mozambique
Ilha De Mozambique

A haunting island


Finding travel information for this place was near impossible. TripAdvisor has hardly anything, Hostelworld does not even have this city in its search, and don’t even think about using a big travel search engine. There just aren’t many people that have been to this place.

However, the few travelers I met on my adventures that came here always talked about it. It was unanimous that this was one of the highlights of Mozambique. Ilha De Mozambique, or just “Ilha”  to the locals, is described as “haunting” and “magical” in the Lonely Planet. I couldn’t agree more.

ilha de mozambique fortaleza beach
Beachside with a view of the Fort de Sao Sebastiao in the distance

The island is only 3.5km in length and no more than a half km in width and connected to the mainland by bridge. The haunting part that the Lonely Planet mentions, I immediately noticed upon arriving. Colonial buildings left behind during the island’s haydays still stand. While the paint is slowly being chipped off, one can still walk through the narrow streets and feel like nothing has changed from centuries past.

Playing with some of the local kids in Macuti Town
Playing with some of the local kids in Macuti Town

The magical part immediately sets in as well. This place hasn’t been touched by time. The buildings created by the Portuguese centuries ago have not changed. While most of these buildings are owned by Europeans nowadays, the whole island is still intact. This may be the only place on the African continent where a whole town with colonial architecture is still intact. The past comes alive off the northern coast of Mozambique!

There isn’t much to do on this island, don’t expect huge parties or anything. Just walking through the streets and absorbing all the history and wonders of the island will more than make this a rewarding experience.

Local kids wanting me to take a picture of them so they could see.
Local kids wanting me to take a picture of them so they could see.

My first day on the island, I met an Israeli couple (that I would end meeting again in Pemba and Ibo Island), and they were the only other tourists I saw that day. I stayed in Ilha for four nights and I saw maybe a dozen or two other tourists the entire time, and half of that number were expats working in Mozambique. You really have this place to yourself, which makes it so special. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place.

Read Also On Johnny Africa:  The Perfect Travel Itinerary For Mozambique

Getting to Ilha De Mozambique


Ihla is one of the least developed places I’ve visited. I suppose that adds to the appeal of this place but it does not make getting to this place easy. The closest airport is in Nampula, 2 hours by car away. I flew into this airport from Maputo, Mozambique’s capital and made my way to Ilha using public transportation…that eventually turned into hitch-hiking!

Getting off the airplane at Nampula Airport
Getting off the airplane at Nampula Airport
Chappa station in Nampula, looking for a ride to Ilha De Mozambique!
Chappa station in Nampula, looking for a ride to Ilha De Mozambique!

Taking a chappa in Mozambique

Upon landing at Nampula airport, I took a taxi to the chappa (public buses) station where they are regularly leaving to Ilha. For 200 Mts (~$6), I’d have the honor of squeezing into one of these vans with far too many other people.

Waiting patiently for my chappa in the background to leave. No worries though, all the amenities needed in life are for sale next to the van!
Waiting patiently for my chappa in the background to leave. No worries though, all the amenities needed in life are for sale next to the van!

These chappas only leave when they are full and I was waiting for over an hour already before a random guy pulled up in a car, started talking to the chappa driver in Portuguese, laughing and pointing at me, before finally being told by the chappa driver, “hey you go with him now to Ilha”. Wasn’t sure what to make of it at first but having read on other blogs that hitch-hiking is a good way of getting around in Mozambique, I grabbed my stuff and got in the car with this complete stranger.

Selfie in random stranger's car that I ended up hitch-hiking.
Selfie in random stranger’s car that I ended up hitch-hiking.
No gas stations around so gotta fill up the old way?
No gas stations around so gotta fill up the old way.

Hitch-hiking in Mozambique

This guy spoke zero English, and my Portuguese was limited to whatever my Google translate app could give me. Aka, I could say to him what I wanted to via the app, but there was no way for him to communicate with me. Nonetheless, the guy was very nice, and was headed to Ilha to visit some family. The drive took two hours, on roads that were much nicer than I would have thought, Even better, this guy dropped me off right in front of my hostel! The going rate for hitch-hikers is about 1 mts per km ($1=30mt).

Finally reaching Ilha! A long bridge connects the island with the mainland.
Finally reaching Ilha! A long bridge connects the island with the mainland.

Where to Stay in Ilha De Mozambique


There are not many lodging options available in Ilha. It’s not a mass tourism destination. Ilha as a whole is quite undeveloped, the guesthouses that do exist on the island are not on tripadvisor, hotels.com, and do not have any websites. The island and its surrounding areas do not even exist on hostelworld or hostelbooker.
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Nevertheless, there is hope. Having talked to other travelers that had visited, Ruby backpackers was always the place people talked about. Great choice! Nestled in a small back alley street, this place is an excellent place to stay on this island. For about 600 mts a night, (~$20), I had a very comfortable bed with mosquito net (important in Moz), hot showers, wifi, and an excellent rooftop to enjoy a beer from.

Read Also On Johnny Africa:  Guide To Hiking The Tsingy Stone Forest, Madagascar
There aren't many dining options available on Mozambique Island but the ones available are all quite good. Escondidinho is a great spot for seafood.
There aren’t many dining options available on Mozambique Island but the ones available are all quite good. Escondidinho is a great spot for seafood.
Rosa De Flor is another great option with rooftop seating.
Rosa De Flor is another great option with rooftop seating.

What to do on Ilha?


Again, Ilha is not a the best place to go if you can’t stay put. Instead, just pass the time by walking through the streets taking pictures along the way, admiring the buildings and quietness. Enjoy the beautiful views of the Indian oceans, and interact with the locals.

Walking through the town
Walking through the town

The island is made up of two halves, Stone town and Macuti Town. Stone town, the northern half of the island is likely where you, the tourist, will stay. The colonial buildings, restaurants, and hostels are all in this area. Macuti Town is where the locals live and while it is far nicer than the townships of South Africa, it offers a stark contrast to Stone Town.

The local church. Ilha has both Islam and Christianity on the Island. The Mosque is not too far down the street.
The local church. Ilha has both Islam and Christianity on the Island. The Mosque is not too far down the street.
More side streets
More side streets
Side street
Side street
The town
The town
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We ended up walking through Macuti Town and while the locals are not unused to seeing tourists, they were happy to see us and the kids would not stop wanting to play with us.

Remnants of old buildings
Remnants of old buildings
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More remnants
More remnants
Walking around the island with my new friends
Walking around the island with my new friends

There are a few things of interest to see on this little island however.

Fortaleza de Sao Sebastiao


Located on the northern tip of the island, this huge stone fort is impossible to miss. It is the oldest complete fort standing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its construction began in 1558 as a result of the Ottoman threat and took 50 years to complete. Despite many attempts, the fort was never taken by enemies. To visit the Fortaleza, buy your tickets at the museum in the old Palácio dos Capitães-Generai. Tickets are 200 mts (~$6) and includes a guide.

The big fort.
The big fort.

About the length of a soccer field, with walls 20m high, this place is giant. Immediately stepping foot in to this place, I was so amazed by how well preserved it was and how big it was inside. The views of the ocean, the town, and the surrounding islands are breathtaking from the top of the walls. The intense azure water surrounding this fort make it easy on the eye and I can’t blame Vasco De Gama for picking this spot as his home base during colonial times. Also, the chapel of Nossa Senhora, adjacent to the fort, is the oldest European building in Africa.

The old governors palace.
The old governors palace.
Walking through the Fort
Walking through the Fort
Place is way bigger than it looks!
Place is way bigger than it looks! And yes, I was the only person in this huge place which makes a guide imperative if you want to take pictures.
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Inside compound of the fort
Inside compound of the fort
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My guide was highly informative, and I’d strongly recommend using one as there’s so much fascinating history here (that I can no longer remember).

Read Also On Johnny Africa:  Watching The Superbowl in South Africa
Ilha de Mozambique fortaleza
Admiring the amazing views of the Indian ocean from the fort. Best on the island.
Selfie with my guide!
Selfie with my guide!

Sail in a dhow


The one downfall and likely the main reason Ilha doesn’t receive more tourism is due to its lack of nice beaches. There are stretches of sandy areas on the island but too many rocks prevent it from being that beach paradise. No worries, there are MANY nice beaches surrounding Ilha. Actually, most of northern Mozambique is littered with incredible beaches.

Chocus Mar and Carrusca I was told are amazing beaches and easily accessible by dhow. Indeed it is. Many people make their living fishing around the waters and it’s easy to ask for a ride from one of them. Just walk to the harbor and ask anyone for a dhow for the day. Bargain hard. I ended up paying this guy about 1000 mts (~$30) for a full day on a dhow. I likely could have gotten the price down further but at some point, what’s a few extra dollars?

Having a cococut, or four, on Carrusca beach on a cloudy day.
Having a cococut, or four, on Carrusca beach on a cloudy day.

They ended up taking me to Carrusca, where I snorkeled, had lunch, ate countless coconuts, and just enjoyed the beach. Sadly the weather was not good when I went and the beaches were not as paradise-like as I had hoped for. No worries however, as I’d be heading up to the Quirimbas Archipelago a few days later.

IlhaBlue, is one of the only organized tourist groups I saw on the island. They even have a website! They have a few dhow tours that visit the surrounding islands (Ihla De Goa, Ilha de Cobras, etc.) which I heard many good things about. No matter, on to Pemba to the Quirimbas next!

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Johnny
Johnny

I'm a dual Canadian-American from NYC that moved to South Africa for work and ended up traveling all through the continent. I'm currently living the expat life in Frankfurt, Germany and traveling the world as much as I can. I'm a bit obsessed with scuba diving, churning credit cards so I never pay to fly, and eating the most questionable of foods in the most peculiar of places. My bucket list is the world, and some day I might make it there.

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  1. Hi Johnny! First, I want to echo the others in thanking you for putting together this blog! I’ve never had more trouble researching a trip than I have had researching my upcoming trip to East Africa, and your blog has filled a huge gap!

    My husband and I are planning a 3.5 week trip to this wonderful part of the world in June-July of this year. Our plan is to spend a week each in Uganda, Mozambique, and Madagascar, with a few extra days for travel. I know! Not enough time in any of them! But we’ve been saving up for this trip for a year (it’s sort of our honey moon), and we couldn’t decide between these three destinations, so we’re going to be flying between places to save time, and we’re just going to get a sampling of each spot.

    Our vague Moz plan is to spend two nights in Maputo and then fly north…. and we’re trying to decide between Ilha de Mozambique or the Quirimbas Archipelago for the second half of the week. So my question to you is: if you had to pick between Ilha de Mozambique and the Quirimbasa Archipelago, which would you choose? Keeping in mind that we’ll only have 4-5 days to spend in either, including the day to get there.

    I know this is kind of a question of personal preference, but I’d love to hear yours. And in case it helps, I dive, but my husband only snorkels, we’re both into culture, but we are also thinking of this as the “beachy” part of our trip.

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Willow! Thanks for the comments! Uganda, Madagascar, and Mozambique in 3.5 weeks will be ambitious but as someoen that’s been to all three, they are some seriously special places!

      As for Ilha de Mozambique vs QUirimbas, that is one of the toughest questions to answer!!! Both places offer similar things to do and see but if you only have 4-5 days then you definitely must choose between one or the other. What is your budget like? If you’re looking for a purely beach escape, then the Quirimbas are the way to go. They are still the best beaches I’ve seen to this day. However, if you are going to Ibo Island, there are no nice beaches in Ibo to be had, you have to take a boat to the othe rislands in the Archipelago to really see the special things. HOwever, staying on those islands are usually very expensive. Check out Guludo beach lodge for a cheaper option but I never stayed there so can’t comment.

      As for Ilha, the history, architecture and just the whole ambiance of the place is something out of this world. It’s a truly special place that deserves a visit. There are also nice beaches in that area as well with nice hotels (See Coral lodge in Mossuril).

      Personally, if I only had 5 days, I’d go from Maputo to Pemba, and then fly to Ibo to explore the Quirimbas. You really can’t go wrong with either option however! Lmk what you guys decide!!

      • Hi Johnny!

        Again, your advice is so helpful! I too am leaning towards the Quirimbas, so it’s good to hear that’s what you’d choose as well. 🙂

        Our budget is on the tighter side – we’re going to be spending quite a bit to fly to all the different destinations (because of our limited time), so we’re hoping to save on accommodations. Guludo Beach Lodge looks LOVELY and we might decide to spend a night there, but I’m more inclined to stay in one of the guest houses that you’ve listed on Ibo and just take day trips to the other islands, as you did.

        Thanks again so much! We will let you know what we choose and how it goes!

        • Ah which guest house are you planning on staying in? I actually tried doing research on them but there is so little information about Ibo I gave up and caved to Miti Miwiri because it was the only thing with any sort of online prescence. Baobibo had no space for me left either and those are the only two open that I knew of. However, if you’re really serious about staying in one aside from those two, I’d contact the owner of Baobibo as they seemed to really want to promote the local tourism industry!

    • Thanks Rui! I wish I could have stayed there longer as it was truly something special. I don’t think I’ll be seeing a town like that in my lifetime for quite some time!

  2. I am planning a trip to Mozambique at the end of the year and your blog has been extremely helpful. Thank you for all of the up-to-date information, I can’t wait to get out there!