Vilanculos and Tofo

Tofo

We drove on toward Mozambique after having spent just over a week in Zimbabwe. We were heading to the town of Vilanculos on the coast, but as the drive was quite long we had an overnight stop before getting there. There weren’t many options on the route so we stopped at an odd hotel next to the road. We didn’t think much of the Complexo Arco-Iris at first, but as soon as we drove in we noticed how run down the place was.

Arco Iris Inchope
The hotel looked odd but okay from the outside as we drove up.

It looked like a long time ago the place was very nice and popular, with big swimming pools (which now were empty) and playgrounds all around. These days the place looked more like it was from a horror movie – which was quite fitting as we got there on Friday the 13th. There were sculptures of people doing weird things that must have been made decades ago all around and no guests to be seen. It took us a while until we managed to get the workers to open some rooms for us so we would have a bathroom to use while we camped. There wasn’t much to do as their “cinema”, animal park, and every other attraction appeared to have been abandoned years before, so we headed to bed early before moving on the next morning toward the coast.

Complexo Arco-Iris
The main attraction in the creepy complex now appeared to be these animal sculptures.

Vilanculos

The next morning we had an early start and got to our campsite in Vilanculos after lunch. The Baobab Beach Resort was a lovely campsite, with a nice bar and directly next to the beach. The change of tides was very extreme there – during the day you had to walk over a hundred meters to even reach the water and then it was very shallow while in the afternoon the water came back in almost to the gate from the campsite. That evening we went in the ocean and played frisbee with some friends we made during the day. The guys we met were going out to a local hostel/bar that night so we decided to join them.

Baobab Beach Resort
Just outside Baobab Beach Resort, which had previously been named Baobab Beach Backpackers, this nice beach greeted us.

We walked along the beach in the dark to a hostel called Zombie Cucumber, where we had quite a few drinks. There were two local guys playing great music, in a mix of Portuguese, English and African songs – one drummed while the other strummed his guitar. After a while the guys we were with decided to jump into the pool despite lacking proper swimwear. It looked like good fun so shortly after they had jumped in there were a dozen of us in the tiny pool. After a night of great music, drinking, and swimming, we walked back to the Baobab Beach Resort.

The next morning we walked into town to run a few errands in the local market. We came close to the gigantic market made of small stalls arranged like a maze and started wondering how we would find what we needed. We hadn’t even entered the market yet when a guy approached us asking how he could help. About five minutes and enough shops, twists, and turns to make your head spin later, we stood in front of a tailor, who would fix the broken zipper on my shorts for about three dollars. Instead of just waiting around our guide asked what else we could do while the tailor did his work. Our unofficial guide – who by now was accompanied by two more guys trying to help us – took us around the market, where we tried to find some swim trunks for David as he had lost a pair in Malawi, without much luck. All of the options were obviously second hand and randomly assorted throughout stalls. We asked them if there was a barber around, and of course there was one just outside the back of the market. David got his hair cut, which took a very long time and turned out a little different than he wanted, but it was pretty cheap at just over two dollars. We picked up my repaired shorts and walked back toward the campsite.

We decided to go kayaking in the afternoon as it was cheap to rent one from the campsite. The tide was out so David and a helpful worker had to carry the heavy kayak quite a way before we could start paddling. We underestimated the strong winds and currents so we didn’t get very far before we had to stop at a sandbank to rest. Kayaking in the ocean when the tide was starting to come in felt like we were paddling through thick mud! The incoming tide made the way back to shore a bit easier and we arrived exhausted from the short trip.

In the evening we had a great seafood dinner, which some of our friends had been cooking all afternoon. With the dinner they told us there would be a surprise and it turned out they had asked the two local musicians from the night before to come to our campsite and play for us. They played their great mix of different types of music again for over an hour and after we sat with them for quite a while to learn more about Mozambique. Those two, as all locals we had met so far in the country, were super nice and friendly.

Vilanculos Music
The two man band played their great version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight when we requested it, along with traditional African music and Portuguese.

Tofo

The next morning we moved on toward our next stop, the small coastal village of Tofo. We stayed at Fatima’s Backpackers, right next to a beautiful beach. The place had a really good atmosphere and the rooms were cheap, so we decided to exchange our tent for a few nights for a bed. We wanted to go scuba diving in Tofo, as we had heard that it was amazing with the possibility of seeing giant manta rays, so we walked along the beach to the Tofo Scuba Dive School. The beach was really nice, very soft sand and it seemed endlessly long. We got to the dive shop and arranged our dives for the next two days. We would do one shallower dive the following afternoon and then a deep dive and an ocean safari with snorkeling the next day. The dives were reasonably priced at $30 per dive and $25 for the ocean safari.

Tofo
The view of the beach from Fatima’s Backpackers. The beaches in Tofo are quiet and beautiful.

The next morning we had some delicious pancakes for breakfast and then headed out for a beach walk along the very nice beaches. After we headed toward the dive shop, but just as we got there and started getting ready it started to rain heavily. We waited for a bit, hoping the weather would clear up soon, but they had to cancel the dive for the afternoon. Instead we would be doing both of the dives the next day. The rain stopped a while later, so we walked around Tofo for a bit. There was not much to see besides a small market, but nevertheless we started to really like the place.

When we woke up the next morning it was raining again. We were worried we wouldn’t be able to go diving that day either, but when we got to Tofo Scuba they told us we would be heading out. We waited a bit for the heavy rain to stop and then got into the speed boat. It was only a five minute boat ride to the first reef. We did a backward entry into the water and then descended immediately. The visibility was not very good unfortunately due to the rain above the surface, but we still saw quite a few nice things, like a spotted eagle ray, crocodile fish, stonefish, scorpion fish, clown fish and an octopus. When we finished the dive after 45 minutes and reached the surface we were treated by sunlight, finally the rain had stopped.

Scorpion Fish Mozambique
There were over ten scorpion fish in one cave.

We drove back to shore and rested at the dive shop for a bit before heading out toward Manta Point for our deep dive. The boat ride took about 25 minutes and when we got there the weather was still good, so this time when we went down the visibility was much better. Manta Point gets its name from a manta cleaning station that is right on the reef, so giant mantas come there to get themselves a good clean from little fish. Shortly after we descended to 25 meters we saw a huge potato grouper – it was bigger than me – and a few big eels. We reached a sort of round reef enclosure, where a few schools of big fish were hanging around. Unfortunately the dive ended far too quickly and without seeing a manta.

Eel Mozambique
One of the two big eels we saw lurking out of their caves

We got back on the boat and headed toward the dive school when suddenly they instructor told the captain to stop, he had spotted a whale shark. We put our masks and fins on again, but as soon as we were ready to jump back in the whale shark had disappeared. We were disappointed, but we still had the ocean safari coming up after the dive, so we were hoping to see a whale shark then. After a short break at the diving school we got back into the boat and were off to try to find whale sharks, giant mantas, whales and dolphins for the next few hours. After only five minutes on the boat the captain told us to get ready, they had spotted a giant manta. We put on out masks and fins and jumped in – and there it was, a huge manta right in front of us! It was about 4 meters wide (13 feet) and did loops while feeding on the krill. We followed it for over 15 minutes and it didn’t seem afraid at all. It was an amazing experience!

Manta Ray
The giant manta we got to snorkel with!

We climbed back into the boat and headed further down the coastline in search of a whale shark! After about half an hour we spotted a group of dolphins and jumped back into the water. We got a short glimpse of them swimming down below us, but unfortunately they took off very quickly. We searched for a whale shark for another hour or so but weren’t lucky enough to see one this time around. After a long and very exciting day out on the sea and under water, we headed back to Fatima’s and had a delayed lunch before getting ready to meet up with some friends for dinner.

We walked down the beach to the Tofo Del Mar hotel where we had some very delicious sushi at this super modern boutique hotel – the first sushi since we left Germany! It was the last night of another couple from the trip we were friends with, they would leave the trip before it finished as well the next morning, just one day before us. We decided to go through South Africa in a rental car with two friends from Germany and skip the final few weeks of the overland trip we had been on. The next morning we said goodbye to our friends and drove on to the last camping stop for us. It ended up being a nice campsite close to a town called Xai Xai. We had a last dinner and goodbye drinks before sleeping one last time in our tent. The next day the truck drove through Mapotos, the capital of Mozambique before they headed into Swaziland, so we jumped off there. We took a taxi to the Intercape bus station, where we caught a very nice bus to Nelspruit in South Africa to meet up with Steffi, the first of my friends to join from Germany!!

Highlights

  • The scuba diving! Especially Tofo has some amazing scuba diving, with the possibility to see giant mantas, whale sharks and tons of other fish! Also the prices are very reasonable.
  • The people! All the locals we met were super friendly and helpful, we didn’t have any bad experiences. They showed us around the market for hours and even seemed surprised to get a small tip after.
  • The landscape – Mozambique is beautiful, especially its huge coastline is a must-see.

Advice

  • If your traveling the coast, Tofo is one of the cheapest places to go scuba diving, at about a quarter of the price of other coastal towns.
  • Visit the market in Vilanculos. It is a maze of tiny shops which offer all kinds of things and had an authentic feel about it.

 

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