A Perfect Day in the Bazaruto Archipelago

Magaruque Island

You could say the Bazaruto Archipelago was the entire reason behind my trip to Mozambique.

If you’ve seen any photos of this Southern African country, they’ll most likely have been of miles of sandbanks stretching across the ocean. It’s on the cover of every guidebook and Vilanculos — the jumping-off point for the Bazaruto Archipelago — is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Given how few people choose to visit Mozambique, though, it’s is far from overrun.

In the off-season at least, Vilanculos was a slow and sleepy village, and the sandbanks were just as magnificent as I’d hoped.

Vilanculos beach sandbanks

I rocked up to Baobab Backpackers after a long drive from Tofo, grabbed a fresh smoothie from their bar, and took a seat while chatting to the owner of the hostel. Bob Marley was ringing out across the sand, backpackers were lazing in hammocks, and I realised that beach guesthouses are the same the world over.

The are two types of accommodation I love checking out when I travel. The first is just like Baia Sonambula, in Tofo. It’s a bit of a splurge, but doesn’t feel like I’m wasting my money or receiving bad value. It’s eco-friendly, the staff are lovely, and it’s somewhere where I feel relaxed and at ease.

The second type is the kind of hostel where you instantly slot into place. It’s rare for me to find accommodation where I instantly connect to every traveller I meet there, but in Vilanculos, I immediately felt at home. I made friends quickly and easily, there were always people around to chat to, and the Wi-Fi was speedy.

baobab backpackers

I’d opted for a private room and was placed in a circular wooden hut with a thatched roof. Although it felt like a comedown to be somewhere so basic after the luxury I’d experienced in Tofo, it had everything I needed to live. I had a bed, a mosquito net, desk and chair, and a fan that blew hot air uselessly around the room. It was humid and stuffy, but a place to lay my head at night, and I was grateful for that.

I was not grateful for the cockroach that scuttled over my naked body one night while I was sleeping.

One of the reasons why I decided to go for Baobab Backpackers was because of the wide range of activities that were on offer. Each evening, the owner popped up in the bar and announced which tours were an option for the next day, and they usually involved a day spent exploring one of the islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago.

I signed up for a trip leaving the following morning.

Dhows in Mozambique

We were heading to Magaruque Island, the third largest in the Bazaruto chain. It’s the closest island to Baobab Backpackers and takes two hours by dhow (a Mozambican fishing boat) to get there.

After suffering from seasickness so bad it turned my face green mere days ago in Tofo, I wasn’t thrilled about clambering on board another boat, but fortunately, the ocean outside Vilanculos is nothing like the choppy waves near Tofo. Because there are so many islands scattered along the coast and the waters are so shallow, the sea was calm and I felt fine.

As we motored away from shore, I kept an eye on the horizon in search of one of the hundred-odd elusive dugongs that have made the Bazaruto islands their home.

It started raining.

I watched as one of our tour guides — a teenager who was wearing a bright purple t-shirt saying, “Quick! Run away! They’re playing banjos!” — pulled out the dhow’s sail from a box at the front of the boat and wrapped it around the mast and all of us, so that we were all kind of parcelled up inside. It stopped the ocean from splashing up into our faces, sure, but the sky still rained down on our heads. We couldn’t see a thing.

My vision of skipping over pristine sandbanks in the sunshine was rapidly fading.

vilanculos island

Our dhow consisted of eight Brazilians and an Italian-South African couple. Everyone could speak Portuguese but me, which was embarrassing because I live in Portugal.

Still, I got to experience travel as non-English speakers often do, as our guide spoke only in Portuguese and I had no idea what was going on most of the time. Fortunately, the non-Brazilian couple took pity on me and translated enough that I could learn we’d be snorkelling as soon as we arrived.


I. Hate. Snorkelling.

We pulled up to Magaruque Island just as the sun broke through the clouds, and I was reminded yet again, that for some reason, the weather gods are always taking care of me. In six-ish years of travel, I’ve only had a handful of days ruined by bad weather. In fact, a mere week after leaving Mozambique, it was hit by a huge and damaging cyclone, but while I had been there? There’d been nothing but blue skies, and this rain had been the first I’d come up against in the country.

Our group clambered up onto the sand, and I felt like sulking when everyone ran to grab their snorkelling gear.

I thought about skipping out on it.

I really wanted to skip it.

After swallowing half the ocean on my recent snorkelling trip in Tofo, I’d sworn off it for good. Again.

But I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be the lone grumpy traveller who refused to partake in the fun.

Sanbanks in Vilanculos Mozambique

“An octopus!”

I watched as a guy plunged his hand into the sparkling turquoise water to point out the cephalopod. The second he leapt off the ledge and into the water, the octopus took flight, and I shuddered at the thought of having its tentacles wrap their way around my face until I suffocated.

I didn’t have long to panic, though, as seconds later, I was jumping into the water and getting swept up in the current. Snorkelling alongside Magaruque Island was exactly what I imagine a drift dive to be like. The current was so powerful that the only swimming I had to do was to slow myself down.

It didn’t take long for me to decide this was the best snorkelling experience of my life.

For the first time ever, my mask and snorkel didn’t attract every drop of water in the sea, so I could actually see what was around me and enjoy the experience without having to choke down half a gallon of saltwater.

If I’d hadn’t had the snorkel in my mouth, I would have been gaping, as the reef next to the island was teeming with sealife. I drifted past stonefish and trumpetfish and parrotfish and… are you surprised I know the names of the fish? Yeah, I’m totally just repeating the names I heard when eavesdropping on a conversation once we were back on dry land.

And let’s just say I was glad I had no idea what a stonefish was until I was back in my room and googling it from the safety of my bed. It’s the most poisonous fish in the world and touching one of its spines can kill you.

I’m so glad I didn’t know I’d been happily swimming next to one of those bad boys.

Magaruque Island

I almost got swept out to sea.

I promise I’m not exaggerating.

See, the thing was, the fins I’d been given were roughly a size bigger than my feet, which didn’t seem like that big of a deal when I wasn’t in the water.

What I came to discover, though, was that having these baggy fins meant that every time I kicked hard, my feet would slip their way out and my flipper would drift off into the open ocean.

I reassured myself that it was fine.

The current was so strong that I didn’t need to kick my feet anyway.

Well, that is until we reached the part that required me to kick very hard.

When we reached the end of our swim, our guide told us to wait until we passed a pile of rocks, then swim our way out of the current and onto a sandbank, where our banjo-hating guide would be waiting for us.

I passed the rocks, kicked my feet, and immediately slipped out of the fins.

Panicking, I reached behind me, grabbed them, and shoved them back on my feet again.

I had now drifted several metres past the rocks and was starting to float away from the sandbank.


I kicked as hard as I could, while trying to keep my feet locked in such a way that the fins couldn’t come off. I smashed my kneecap into a sharp rock below and yelped as the pain reverberated up and down my leg.


I’d broken my knee.

I took my fins off, clutched them in my fist, and failed at paddling to shore with one arm.

I drifted another few metres away.

I looked back the way I’d come in desperation and saw the elderly Brazilian grandmother easily paddling her way up to the sand and high-fiving the guide.

I turned my attention back to being swept out to sea.

I opened my mouth to shout for help but inhaled a mouthful of water and retched into the ocean instead.

I threw my flippers back on and tried to do some kind of breaststroke movement to try to propel myself forwards while not losing my fins. I was suddenly learning just how easy it is to drown.

My knee was throbbing, my fins didn’t work, and I couldn’t kick my way out of this current. I was terrified.

A face popped up in front of mine.

The guide! 

What are you doing? he asked.

I don’t know.

He grabbed my hand and tugged me to shore through crashing waves, which I, again, unhelpfully swallowed.

I was safe.

My stomach was churning and my head spinning. I looked down at my knee and saw a trickle of blood trailing down to my ankle, then staggered my way over the sandbank and through the shallow waterways back to our dhow.

This time, you guys.

This time I’m really swearing off snorkelling.

Magaruque Island

Back on the beach, I spotted flames rising up from the centre of the dhow and its sail engulfed in smoke. It was time for our seafood barbecue!

Like every meal I had in Mozambique, our lunch was fresh and spicy, and some of the best seafood of my life. I grabbed a fish from the grill and loaded up on potatoes and vegetables.

By this point, the clouds had cleared, the sun was out, and we had the entire afternoon to spend exploring the island.

Given that the sandbanks in this part of Mozambique were why I was here in the first place, I spent the vast majority of my time splashing in the water and snapping photos of them stretching out from here to Vilanculos.

Sandbanks in Magaruque Island

You can stay on several of the islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago, but they’re strictly the domain of luxury travellers. To get here, you’ll need to pay take a private plane to the island, then you’ll quickly be transported to your $300-a-night resort overlooking the ocean.

Magaruque is one of those islands, and there’s a tiny runway tucked away out of sight from the day-tripping backpackers. Unless you go searching for it, of course.

Runway on Magaruque Island
Bird on Magaruque Island

While the others on my group jumped back in the water with their snorkels and fins, I turned in the opposite direction and began to climb a sand dune. I had a feeling that the most impressive views of the sandbanks would come from up there, so I fought my way to the highest point of the island I could reach.

By this point, the tide was coming in, so many of the sandbanks were now submerged in the sea, but it was still a crazy-beautiful view back to where we’d begun our trip.

Sanbanks Bazaruto Archipelago
Sandbanks in Vilanculos

I wish I’d spent longer in Vilanculos.

After returning to my hostel later that afternoon, I discovered there wasn’t going to be any island excursions running the following day; my last day in town, and I was gutted.

In a dream world, I would have spent two weeks just at Baobab Backpackers.

I’d have spent my time making friends with backpackers in the hostel, restaurant-hopping my way around the town, getting some work done with the surprisingly fast Wi-Fi, and taking an excursion out to a different island every few days.

Because, despite almost dying, my trip to the Bazaruto Archipelago was my favourite experience in Mozambique.

And yes, I know. Only I could write a post about a perfect day and have it include me almost drowning and cutting open my knee. 

Does the Bazaruto Archipelago sound like your idea of paradise? Do you hate snorkelling as much as I do? Let me know in the comments below!

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🏖 Introducing Tofo: My African Beach Paradise

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If you've seen any photos of Mozambique, they'll most likely have been of miles of sandbanks stretching across the ocean. Vilanculos -- the jumping-off point for the Bazaruto Archipelago -- is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Given how few people choose to visit Mozambique, though, it's is far from overrun. Read all about how to visit!
About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. March 7, 2017

    It’s gorgeous! The current sounds pretty scary, though. I was thinking your snorkeling woes could possibly be solved by buying equipment that fits properly, but then you’d have to carry it everywhere! I’m glad you finally had a mostly amazing snorkeling trip! You know, minus the bloody knee and almost drowning bit.

    One thing I’m not a fan of while diving is the navigation. Turn at the pile of rocks can be a really vague instruction when under the water and surrounded by … rocks.

    As always, your pictures and recap are stunning.

  2. March 7, 2017

    I have this long-running debate with my boyfriend (who’s infinitely more confident in the water than I am) about snorkeling.

    He says I’m not really snorkeling if I stay on the surface of the water, breathing through the snorkel. He reckons you have to dive down to be snorkeling properly.

    Now I’m not a confident swimmer and I can’t hold my breath for more than about 10 seconds but (when my mask doesn’t leak) I absolutely LOVE snorkeling. I love feeling as if I’m swimming amongst all the colourful fish and coral.

    And I still insist that snorkeling is simply the act of using a snorkel, so I CAN snorkel! ;-)

    • March 7, 2017

      I agree with you. Snorkeling has nothing to do with diving. I never dive under while snorkeling.

    • March 30, 2017

      I agree with you! I don’t think you need to dive down in order for it to be snorkelling. I’ve tried doing that once, by the way, completely forgot I couldn’t breathe, and swallowed an enormous gulp of salty water. 0/10 would not repeat.

  3. March 7, 2017

    I’ve only snorkeled once. I choked and gagged on salt water and was freezing, but I loved it, I would definitely do it again. I love seeing the sealife.

    This looks like my idea of paradise for sure!

    • March 30, 2017

      Hahaha, that really doesn’t sound like something you’d love! One of the people on my tour actually had a full face snorkel where your whole face is inside the mask and that seemed like it’d help with the inhaling of water. She looked absolutely ridiculous though!

  4. March 8, 2017

    The Bazaruto Archipelago sounds amazing! I had read a bit about the Quirimba Archipelago in the north of Mozambique but it looks a lot easier to go here. Glad to hear you didn’t get swept away :) Oh – and stone fish are SUPER delicious to eat. I tried them in Dominica a few times and they are one of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten – the poison is just in their spine so they are great eating, and you are doing the ecosystem a favour too as they are taking over reefs like a plague

    • March 30, 2017

      I actually really wanted to head up to the north of Mozambique, but it’s much more complicated to get anywhere, whereas Vilanculos is much easier. I’ll make a note to try stonefish if I ever get the chance then! :-)

  5. Nicole
    March 8, 2017

    So this looks amazing! It actually looks a bit like the Whitsundays in Australia. Have you been there as well?

    • March 30, 2017

      I haven’t, but it’s high up on my list. And I agree — it looks very similar to the photos I’ve seen of the Whitsundays.

  6. March 8, 2017

    Wow, what beautiful photos! Sorry to hear that you had such a traumatic experience snorkeling, though I’m glad that you enjoyed Bazaruto regardless! I would love to go to Mozambique at some point – it looks incredible and I’ve been enjoying reading your Mozambique posts :) Looking forward to the next one! Thanks for sharing your experience :)

  7. This is such a beautiful area! Your photos are gorgeous!

    I’m a scuba diving instructor and I promise you, if you have your own set of snorkeling gear… proper gear (ie. not the shit from Wal Mart)… that fits you – I’m sure you would have a much more enjoyable experience!! Rental gear is TRASH!!! It’s always the cheapest stuff and usually pretty beat up. And if, on top of that, it doesn’t fit…that’s a recipe for a bad time.

    I’m glad you at least got to see some of the beautiful underwater creatures! And don’t worry about stonefish, they have a spike on top of their head that they raise…the only time they do it is if you get too close to them. So just keep a few feet away and no problems :)

  8. Tavern
    March 9, 2017

    Looks amazing! How was the water?

    • March 9, 2017

      Warm and clear and thankfully free of jellyfish :-)

  9. anouk
    March 9, 2017

    came across your blog thanks to your book, which i have bought this week during my first ever solo trip, to London it went. Thank you so much for your ever so honest story about your (struggle with) travels. It is truly inspiring, wish i could ever take that step. Untill that time i’ll come here on your website to daydream. Travel on!

    • March 30, 2017

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment, Anouk! I’m thrilled to hear you enjoyed my book. Let me know if I can help out with anything at all!

  10. Priyanka
    March 22, 2017

    I had only gone for Snorkeling once and it was one hell of an experience. Amazing article and spectacular photos.

    • May 6, 2017

      One hell of an experience in a good or a bad way? :-D

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