Bazaruto Archipelago: Mozambique’s Island Paradise

The Bazaruto Archipelago is a tropical paradise just off the coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean. Warm year-round, it consists of six islands renowned for relaxation, diving, snorkeling, birding, canoeing, kitesurfing, and horseback riding. Together with more than 500 square miles of waters around it, the Bazaruto Archipelago been a marine national park since 1971.

The ocean here offers countless treasures, including one of East Africa’s largest populations of the endangered dugong. This marine mammal looks like a cross between a toothless walrus and a dolphin. It is also known as the sea cow because it spends its days grazing on seagrass. An estimated 100 to 150 dugongs live around the Bazaruto Archipelago.

Other marine megafauna in Bazaruto National Park include whale sharks, manta rays, leatherback turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and humpback whales. Dazzling species such as angel fish, banner fish, parrot fish, butterfly fish, Moorish idols, and surgeonfish dart among the coral reefs.

On land, saline lakes and tidal flats attract numerous seabirds and predators such as fish eagles. Antelopes such as red duikers and bushbucks can also be seen. If you like reptiles, keep an eye open for the Nile crocodile and the three species of skink endemic to the Bazaruto Archipelago.

The Islands

two individuals carrying dune boards on a sand dune near the ocean on Bazaruto Islans

Bazaruto Island is famous for its sand dunes. Photo by Travel Local.

Bazaruto

The flagship island of the archipelago, Bazaruto was formed by ancient sand deposits ejected from the Save River on Mozambique’s mainland. Its landscape of limestone karst and dramatic sand dunes is dotted with sinkholes, lakes, and lush greenery. The closest mainland town is Inhassoro, but most travel comes from Vilankulo.

view of sailboat on blue ocean through palm trees on Benguerra Island, Bazaruto Archipelago

A view through the trees at Benguerra Island. Photo by Dan Maisey.

Benguerra

Thought to have broken off from the mainland of Mozambique thousands of years ago, Benguerra is the second largest island at about 7 miles  long and three-and-a-half  miles wide. It is famous for its white sand beaches, but is also home to forests, savanna, lakes, and wetlands. It is a birder’s paradise, with 140 bird species recorded. Explore the island by foot, canoe, land vehicle, or horseback.

Colorful nudibranches, or sea slugs, are one of the fascinating creatures you may find in the waters around Magaruque.

Magaruque

At less than one square mile in size, Magaruque is perhaps most famous for what surrounds it: stunning coral reefs. With a permanent deep water channel directly offshore, scuba diving is just a short walk from your lodge door.

person relaxing on a horizontally growing Palm Tree at a Santa Carolina Island, Mozambique

Santa Carolina Island is a lovely place to relax and enjoy the ocean breeze.

Santa Carolina

While only two miles long and a third of a mile wide, Santa Carolina is often considered the crown jewel of the Bazaruto Archipelago. That’s why its nickname is Paradise Island. Unlike most islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago, Santa Carolina was formed from rock rather than sand. Corals have formed large colonies around Santa Carolina.

bottlenose dolphin cresting out of blue water in bazaruto archipelago

Dolphins frequent the waters around Bangué and Shell Islands.

Bangué and Shell

Bangué and Shell Islands are so small, they aren’t much more than sandbars. Banque appears as a winding white strip with swaths of greenery  among the turquoise waters. Shell is an ephemeral island — it emerges from the water at low tide, then disappears again as the waters rise.  To walk Shell, take a traditional dhow sailboat from Vilankulo on the mainland or one of the neighboring islands. Once you land, you are likely to find a few sand dollars beneath your feet. Also known as pansy shells, these are actually the skeletons of sea urchins and give Shell Island its other name: Pansy Island.

A pair of banner-fish around the coral of Bazaruto Island, Mozambique

A pair of banner-fish swim around coral in the Bazaruto Archipelago.

Visiting Bazaruto Archipelago

Bazaruto and Benguerra Islands are home to several luxury and eco-lodges, providing the perfect context for an island vacation. Fly directly from Gorongosa National Park or Mozambique’s capital city Maputo. Alternatively, travel by land to Vilankulo (also known as Vilanculos) on the coast, then reach the islands by boat or helicopter.

Many travelers opt to stay on the mainland at Vilankulo or nearby Inhassoro, rather than an island. If you prefer this option, you can access the marine park by boat. A day-long boat cruise with stops on multiple islands  is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the archipelago.

Want a truly unique view of the Bazaruto Archipelago? Explore it by horseback! Multi-day horseback safaris are offered on Bazaruto Island, as well as on the mainland in Vilankulo.

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