The Quirimbas Archipelago is found just off the shore of the Cabo Delgado province. It consists of 32 small islands, and covers a distance of around 400 km. The main occupation on the islands is fishing, although there is some farming including a large coconut farm that has been run by the same family for more than a century.
The islands are part of the Quirimbas National Park, and most of the islands are covered in lush vegetation with mangrove swamps in the shallows. There are large numbers of wading birds, and a breeding colony of sooty terns is well protected. The beaches are used as nurseries for hawksbill, green, loggerhead and leatherback turtles. The main aim of the national park is to protect the ecology of the islands as well as the ancestral people who have lived there for centuries.
There are seven islands that are worth mentioning: Ilha Quilálea, Ilha Quirimba, Ilha do Ibo, Ilha Matemo, Ilha das Rolas, Ilha Medjumbi and lha Vamizi.
Ilha Quilálea is part of the Quilálea Marine Sanctuary, which is both beautiful and extremely ecologically important. Sencar Island is nearby Ilha Quilálea and is also part of the marine sanctuary. Marine life is protected in this area by a total fishing ban: turtles are nesting on the beaches with increasing regularity, dugongs are seen in the waters around the islands and humpback whales use the protected channels as a shelter from July to January. There are now 375 different fish in the waters, and the seashells are extraordinarily beautiful. Adding to the charm of the island is that it can be explored in under an hour due to its small size, so you won’t feel like you are missing out if you linger for a long time over something that particularly interesting!
One of the largest islands in the archipelago, Ilha Quirimbas is covered with coconut plantations, and these make an incredible sight as you stroll through the grounds with trees towering over you as far as you can see.
With an ancient Mozambican settlement on it, Ilha do Ibo is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the whole country. The town of Ibo is half falling down, with abandoned palaces and villas being covered in layers of moss and climbing figs, the tiles falling off the roof and leaving holes. The coral walls are exposed by the crumbling plaster and the effect of all of this disrepair is strangely alluring; especially when contrasted with the tropical blue sky and the red flame trees that line the streets. The character is Mediterranean, and as some of the mansions are being carefully restored the juxtaposition between the old and crumbling, and new and well-loved is striking. In terms of ecology, some of the most unspoilt and important reef systems in the Indian Ocean are found here, and the headquarters of the Quirimbas National Park is in the town. The diving is outstanding, as is the fishing. A visit here will be the highlight of any trip.
Ilha Matemo, Ilha da Rolas, and Ilha Medjumbi are all small and quick to visit. Matemo has lush vegetation and palm groves on it, whilst das Rolas has got contrasting ends, with the southern end covered in sand and the north end nurturing a rough scrubland. Beachcombing on das Rolas is an occupation in itself, and can entertain you for hours. For birding you will want to visit Medjumbi, which has lots of bird species including the black heron. In the waters around the island are plenty of big-game fish such as marlin, sailfish and bonefish, as well as hundreds of tiny tropical fish; diving and fishing are outstanding.
Ilha Vamizi is home to the Maluane Project, which protects three islands, a section of the Mozambican coast and a wildlife reserve. The objective is to protect this area, which has a rich marine life including turtles (nesting on the beach November to April), humpback whales, whale sharks, dugongs, dolphins, manta rays, giant clams, hundreds of reef fish and 30 different coral types. This is one of the finest beaches one could wish for and the re-knowned diver, Tim Elliot, recommends this as one of the top diving spots in the world. The coral is not bleached and the reefs are close to the islands. On the mainland are large mammals such as elephant, lion and wild dog, along with various antelope, monkey and bird species.
The nearby town of Pemba on the mainland of Mozambique is the easiest point to access the Quirimbas area and is particularly easy from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania although recently regular flights from Johannesburg have been introduced.
The Gorongosa National Park is an excellent safari combination with the Quirimbas area. Also available is a mobile safari from the Tanzanian border post down through northern Mozambique to the Quirimbas Archipelago or try a charming one week island hopping safari on traditional dhows.
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