Conjure up an image of a tropical island holiday and chances are the over-water villas of the Maldives will spring to mind, or perhaps the granite-lined beaches of the Seychelles. But they’re both far-flung, which means a lengthy — and increasingly pricey — flight to get there.
So look closer to home. And you don’t have to look far. Just 90 minutes in the air out of Johannesburg and you can find yourself dipping your toes in the warm waters of the Bazaruto Archipelago, a watery wonderland of pristine sandbanks, turquoise seas and no end of island luxury.
And it’s about to get even easier to fly there, with Airlink upping their schedule between Johannesburg and Vilanculos to 11 flights a week from January 8 2024. The airline currently offers a daily service on the route, but the new roster offers more seats — which usually means lower fares — and better availability for planning either a longer holiday or a short-break on the beach.
And there’s no shortage of glorious beachfront escapes to choose from.
Start with Kisawa Sanctuary, hugging the southern end of Benguerra Island, just offshore from Vilanculos.
Kisawa stretches over 300 hectares of prime beachfront, with 17 spacious bungalows across 11 bespoke residences offering one- to three-bedrooms, catering for couples, small groups and multi-gen travellers alike. Throughout Kisawa the focus is on serene natural tones and textures, an abundance of taupe, sand and whites mirroring the coastal landscape outdoors. But it’s all balanced by splashes of local cloth and colour, along with contemporary African art and locally crafted design pieces to create a sanctuary with a rich sense of place.
That community-centric approach is key to Kisawa, which in 2017 built a scientific research institution — Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies — on the northern tip of Benguerra Island. This permanent ocean observatory conducts year-round research and monitoring of the surrounding marine park, ensuring tourism directly supports marine conservation in the region.
That unique marine landscape is also being highlighted through Kisawa’s Island Residences, a multiplatform series of creative residencies that sees international artists translating the culture and environment of coastal Mozambique in their own expressions. First up was SA’s award-winning photographer and freediver Helen Walne, who captured striking images of the underwater landscape.
But rather go see them for yourself with the guided snorkelling trips to Kisawa’s three house reefs, and kayak excursions along the coast. Or, if you’d rather stay on terra firma, there are nature walks to explore more of the island. But be sure to be back in time for sundowners and dinner at Baracca, the playful beachfront eateries — one of four restaurants at Kisawa — serving up a contemporary take on Mozambican cuisine.
You’ll find more bespoke culinary adventures at andBeyond Benguerra Island Lodge, a little further north. Here a dozen secluded casinhas line the shoreline, boasting private plunge pools, spacious terraces and butler service as standard. Indoors, each suite channels the island’s rich history in an aesthetic of shimmering copper, hand-carved wooden tables and Portuguese-inspired prints.
andBeyond’s much-loved safari experience takes on a different bent here, with snorkelling, diving and fishing led by some of the best guides in the business. And whatever you do, don’t leave without discovering the secluded sandbank picnics.
It’s an idyllic destination for couples, but what if you have family in tow? Then hop one island north to Bazaruto, the largest of the six islands that make up the Bazaruto archipelago.
Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort is ideal for families and multi-gen travellers, blending a touch of Robinson Crusoe escapism with all the facilities and services of a large Mauritian-style resort. There’s a hilltop spa for wellness treatments, and an array of activities that run from sunset dhow safaris and fishing trips to horse-riding adventures into the interior of the island. Or stay put and soak up the recently refurbished poolside restaurant Sonhos, which blends local music and Mozambican flavours into a culinary-cultural crossover.
However you choose to fill your days, there’s no end of island escapism on offer. And it’s all just a few hours from your Johannesburg front door.