The island of Mozambique belongs to the province of Nampula, in northern Mozambique. Almost 4 centuries during the Portuguese colonization, it was the capital of the state, and then went to the current Maputo. Long before the Portuguese, back in the 8th century, the island was used as a major trading base by the Persians and Arabs. And today this place with a rich and diverse history is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Note: according to allcitypopulation, the population of Mozambique is 32.16 million (2021).
In fact, “island” is a strong word. This is an elongated strip of land in the shape of a crescent, three and a half kilometers long and a maximum of 500 meters wide. A bridge connects it with the mainland. About 15 thousand citizens live on the island, the lion’s share of them – in the central city of Makuti, located in the south of the island. This colorful and obviously overpopulated town is definitely worth attention no less than the Stone Town, separated from it by a road, in the north of the island. The territory of the latter is larger than the fussy Makuti. The stone city was built up by the Portuguese, and the building has survived to this day, although it looks like it was in all its years. Both are included in the UNESCO list for their characteristic architecture and rich cultural heritage.
The islet offers travelers a magical mix of colonial Portuguese architecture with old Swahili buildings.
Due to its size, you can easily walk through the entire island on foot in about 40 minutes, from one end to the other. After the local roads were optimized, cycling began to gain popularity, and there are many places on the island where you can rent a bike.
How to get to Mozambique
The island is located 4 km from the coast. You can easily get here by road from Nampula: the highway is good, and everything about everything will take about 2 hours. The passage through the dam is paid. Can be reached with the help of a chapa from the street. Trabadores in Nampula, which is near the railway station.
A bit of history
Vasco da Gama became the first European to set foot on the coast of the island of Mozambique, and this happened in 1498. Already after 8 years, the notorious Portuguese military leaders Tristan da Cunha and Afonso de Albuquerque took possession of the island and immediately began the construction of Fort San Sebastian. The favorable location made the tiny island the main port of the whole region, mainly for the slave trade. In the 19th century, when the bishop and governor-general of Portugal moved here, residences, administrative buildings and shops were built on the island, which have survived to this day. But very soon, after the opening of the Suez Canal, no one needed the island and its harbor – because now there was a shorter way.
Entertainment and attractions of the island of Mozambique
The islet offers travelers a magical mix of colonial Portuguese architecture with old Swahili buildings. Traditionally, the island of Mozambique was divided into “native” and “civilized”. The “civilized” part grew after the island became the capital of the Portuguese colonial possessions in East Africa. Characteristic limestone houses with dark wooden beams form winding streets around the central square. The facades of houses were decorated with cornices, high framed windows and rows of decorative pilasters, while flat roofs were used to collect rainwater (vital for an island that did not have its own sources of fresh water).
Of course, all this did not concern the “wild”, southern part of the island: to this day it bears the nickname “Reed City”. It still differs sharply from Stone: here the gaze of the traveler sees poor huts-huts with thatched roofs and narrow passages, children playing in the street, clucking chickens, fishermen mending gear. Despite the general impression of extreme poverty, Makuti is full of life and its people seem friendly. Make it to the dhow port even if you don’t intend to sail anywhere: boats under construction are an interesting sight. Plus, there is a fish market near the port.
There are more than 50 national monuments on the island of Mozambique, which are distributed between Stone Town and Macuti.
First of all, in the Stone City, you should see Fort San Sebastian: this is the oldest fort that has survived intact in that part of Africa south of the Sahara. The fort was designed for a garrison of 2000 people. The construction took the Portuguese almost half a century, which is not surprising – after all, the materials for the fort were transported by sea from Europe itself. Immediately behind the fort, separated from it by a gate, is the recently restored chapel of Our Lady of Baluarte, built in 1522. It is believed that this is the oldest building erected by Europeans in the southern hemisphere. Not only that, it is also one of the most notable examples of Manueline Portuguese Late Gothic in Mozambique. In a restored form, the chapel, which stands on the very spit of the island, is a beautiful small snow-white building.
Be sure to ask for a ticket at the entrance to the fort, otherwise you will have to pay twice.
Another interesting building, preserved from Portuguese times, is the chapel and palace of São Paulo, built in 1610 as the building of a Jesuit college and then became the governor’s residence. Today, the red-brick palace houses a tourist office and a Maritime Museum dedicated to Portuguese sailors. In the latter, you can see items that survived the shipwrecks of the 16th century, including navigational instruments and even Chinese Ming porcelain. The Church of Misericordia is also noteworthy, in which a museum of religious art is opened. In its exposition, you can see an interesting carved makonde wooden crucifix. Also worth seeing is the church of Santo Antonio and the old customs house. A recent memorial garden was laid out on the site of an old warehouse where slaves were kept, in memory of the thousands of them who met their end here.
4 things to do in Mozambique:
- Find the Books and Bottles shop in Stone Town, on Rua dos Arcas. In addition to what is indicated in the name, here you can buy souvenirs and handicrafts.
- Go to the restaurant, which is right on the road separating Stone Town from Reed City. Both foreigners and locals are happy to have a lazy lunch here, and even in the evening it is not boring here.
- Attend a beach party hosted by young people who sell dhow rides during the day. Very cheap food and lots of fun.
- Go for a dhow ride.
But tourists visit the island not only for sightseeing. Here you can go boating, diving and snorkeling or just lie on the beach. Fans of snorkeling may be interested in the sunken barge, which lies at the bottom of the pier. The diving center is located in the north, directly below the fort, by a large swimming pool with a restaurant. The rainy season on the island of Mozambique comes twice: from February to April and from November to January.
The bridge of Mozambique Island is what you need if you have a desire to take pictures at sunset or take a good walk while breathing the sea air. Its length is 3.8 km.
The most active can rent a boat and go to the nearby tiny islands of Goa and Sete Paus. Seine Island (aka Cobra Island) is more difficult to access, since you can get here only at the very peak of low tide, and they usually stay on it with an overnight stay in a campsite. Which, perhaps, is for the best: travelers will have time to visit the lagoon, this is a real gem.
Another great route is a dhow trip to Chocas Mar in the amazing Karuska Lagoon. This long virgin beach is located on the continent, about 40 km from the island of Mozambique, and is separated from it by Mossuril Bay. Having sailed here, you can stay in one of a couple of hotels and allow yourself to plunge into blissful idleness for a few days. When the latter bores you, you can drive to the town of Cabaqueira, where there is a popular bar-restaurant, a beautiful old church and the ruins of the governor’s palace.