“Exercise increased caution,” reads the travel advisory for Mozambique on the US State Department’s website. I know they’re mostly referring to the terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in the country’s north. But in the idyllic south near Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, my biggest problem is the mosquitoes.
Although some of these thirsty little bloodsuckers carry malaria, I’m not finding them to be any worse than they are in the states.
Twice the size of California and shaped like a Cheeto, Mozambique lies on the southeast coast of the African continent. Its 1,616 miles of coastline hug the Indian Ocean, a body of water with more blue hues than the biggest box of Crayolas. Not coincidentally, my first hotel in Mozambique is named Santorini (rooms from $639).
It’s a luxury villa located about 7 miles outside the seaside town of Vilanculos.
Santorini’s white walls are so bleached they’re blinding. And its bright blue roofs have me convinced I’m in Greece half the time. But the main thing I notice is the unspoiled white sand beaches here in Inhambane Province.
Santorini’s boat captain takes me out for a full day of island-hopping and snorkeling, and despite my best efforts to spot another tourist, or even a piece of trash hinting at their existence, I can’t.
We do, however, encounter a pod of playful dolphins.
I always come to Africa with the Luxury Safari Company. Normally they send me into the bush (which I love), but here in Mozambique, there’s no pressure to see Africa’s Big Five. In fact, most Americans who come to Mozambique do so after going on safari in neighboring South Africa. Travel agents tack it onto safari packages as a beach extra. And rightfully so: The beaches here in Mozambique are like Cancun without the smelly seaweed, Bali without the drunk Australians and Australia without the sharks.
I can’t complain about the cuisine, either. Despite never having stepped foot in a Michelin-star restaurant, Santorini’s chef Mufume wields the recipe for the world’s best fried calamari — caught not far from the hotel. He also somehow manages to serve me a beef filet as fine as the steaks I get back home on my family’s Black Angus cattle ranch.
For lunch one day, I dine in the resort’s garden, surrounded by plants growing pretty much every fruit, vegetable and herb piled on my plate. It’s mango season, and the locals bite into them whole, like apples.
According to the World Bank, two-thirds of Mozambicans live on less than $1.90 a day. They’re a resourceful lot who let nothing go to waste. Santorini’s boat captain, Ignacio, tells me the islanders keep their phones, if they can afford them, charged via solar panels, if they can afford them.
“People who don’t have solar panels, make babies,” Ignacio says. He’s serious.
After three glorious nights at Santorini, I head north to Sussurro (rooms from $686).
My ride is a Mozambican Mario Andretti who interprets the “speed” in speed bump quite literally. The last stretch we drive is directly on the beach. I clock us going 90 mph at one point — until the truck overheats and we come to a full stop.
Eventually, we arrive at the resort where six luxurious (although the AC is MIA) traditional huts hug the shoreline of a lagoon the color of Listerine.
Sussurro’s boat captain, Jose (the “J” isn’t silent), takes me out in a traditional dhow boat one morning. I want to spot a dugong, Africa’s elusive manatee relative, but a recent cyclone destroyed the sea grass they feed on, so all I see i miles of mangrove trees. We cruise by a fishing camp where I wave at a fisherman who just glares back. His hands never leave his hips. I reckon he saw me taking photos of his hand-sewn fishing net set-up. Jose tells me net fishing is illegal in the lagoon.
Later, in Sussurro’s library, I read in a book about Mozambican customs that it’s considered rude and evil not to return a wave. There’s even a well-known saying in the country that “greetings are free.” (It doesn’t include the protocol for capturing a local’s criminal activity on camera.) But my favorite Mozambican proverb is this: “If you do not travel, you will marry your own sister.”
At this rate, I’m not too worried about being betrothed to my brother, and I’m glad that I traveled here, no matter what the US State Department says. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to “practice extreme caution,” but in my experience, the bark is usually worse than the bite.
Judging by the sole mosquito bite I get after a week here, I think I’ll survive.