Top things to do
- Museum & Forteleza visit
- Ride a bike around the World Heritage City
- Experience Tofu Dance performance
- Snorkel local reefs
- Sail aboard a traditional Swahili Dhow
- Enjoy spectacular seafood and local dish Matapa Siri-Siri
- Explore Macuti Town & Night Market
- Whale-watching July to September
- Bare-foot dance until dawn
Ilha de Mozambique, or just ‘Ilha’ as the locals say, is the heartbeat of the North with its colourful, vibrant culture and friendly people. As the former capital of Mozambique it has an extra special place in the hearts and minds of all Mozambicanos (Indeed the country took its name from the island rather than the other way round!) and the entire island is UNESCO World Heritage listed. And at only 3 kilometres long and 500 metres wide, it’s the perfect size for getting around by bicycle and kayak.
Ilha was once a significant link in the centuries-old African trade route to India and Europe and the island remains entrenched in history. This fascinating past is enhanced and contrasted by its fabulous contemporary culture – a heady blend of Makhuwa traditions, coastal Swahili style, a dash of Indian spice and rounded off with Afro-European chic.
The sea continues to be central to Ilha life. Everyday, all manner of sea craft are plying the sparkling, aquamarine waters. From the tiny one person ‘kangaya’, to the bigger ‘ekalawa’, the ‘tindiri’ and the ‘mwathia’ to the graceful, old Swahili sailing dhows. Amongst all this dolphins frolic, whales pass by and lobster, octopus, lionfish and more tumble over colourful coral.
The island is divided into two halves known as Stonetown and Makuti Town. Stonetown comprises grand buildings built from coral and lime whereas in Makuti Town houses are traditionally constructed with mangrove sticks, thick mud and ‘makuti’ palm thatch rooves.
Very nearby to Ilha are the beautiful, uninhabited islands of Goa, Ilha Das Cobras and Sete Paus, with their powdery white coral sands and secret lagoons glittering away like precious jewels in the sun. They are perfect for island hopping and snorkelling or picnic day and overnight trips.
Map of Ilha
About Northern Mozambique
Whilst travellers are familiar with the delights of Southern Mozambique, the North remains one of Africa’s last frontiers. A vast region comprising 3 provinces: Nampula, Cabo Delgado and Niassa, and is the heartland of Makhuwa, Makonde and Yao cultures.
The Lonely Planet guide to the region describes the North as “wild, beautiful and untamed. Inland are vast expanses of bush where enough lions and elephants still roam to be the stuff of local lore and wreak havoc on villages. Along the coast is an almost endless succession of unspoiled beaches and islands, including Mozambique Island – one of southern Africa’s most alluring destinations.”
The remote coastline is steeped in centuries-old Arabic-Swahili trading routes and myriad islands besides Ilha, including the Quirimbas Archipelago (nominated for cultural and natural World Heritage status) and the Primeiras and Segundas Archipelago which thanks to an initiative of CARE and WWF is now the largest marine protected area in Africa.
Inland is the remote Niassa Reserve which at 42,000 square km is the biggest reserve in the country. It is home to 40,000 people, 20,000 elephants, 14,000 sable, 800 lions, 400 bird species and 350 wild dogs. To the west is Lake Niassa forming the border with Malawi.
We hope that a visit to Ilha could be the start of your exploration of the incredible sights and cultures of Northern Mozambique.