Ibo offers outstanding views of the beaches and corals.
Ibo Island Lodge: Our full report
After 18 months of careful restoration work, three grand old mansions overlooking the ocean on Ibo Island have been restored to make the very lovely Ibo Island Lodge. The Expert Africa team visited Ibo Island Lodge several times during its construction phase, and had high hopes even then. However in October 2008, we revisited Ibo to take a look at the final product and loved what we saw.
Ibo is definitely a place where ancient and modern cultures mingle. The island has been nominated for World Heritage status and the lodge is situated on the prime Rua Bela Vista Street (beautiful view), which aptly describes the position overlooking the sea and the islands impressive mangrove forests.
The heart of Ibo Island Lodge is the Bela Vista mansion – one of the largest houses on this street. It has high ceilings, exposed meter thick coral walls and a wide central corridor allowing the sea breeze to flow through from the sea front to the gardens behind.
Verandas are typical of Ibo Island culture, and even the tiniest village dwelling has one! The lodge is no different, with verandas at the front and back – either facing the sea, or into the tropical gardens. Wide, with impressive pillars, ceiling fans, and squashy plantation style chairs they provide a great place to relax with a view and a gin and tonic. There's also a traditional silversmith workshop here, beside the veranda, where you can relax, interact and observe work.
Inside, the lodge's main areas are air-conditioned with ceiling fans, and the lounge has antiques, comfortable sofa's and books and magazines to read. A sea facing communal veranda in the 'Bela Vista' mansion has comfy seating and is great to watch the dhows and a large number of wading birds in front of the lodge.
Outside are lush gardens with a well kept lawn, mature trees and shade. Dotted around are little areas for sitting – there's a garden bar and additional restaurant with a daytime chill-out area for resting, taking tea or drinks. A swing bench hanging from a giant Marula tree is another great spot to enjoy a lazy afternoon. The main swimming pool is an infinity pool, decked and 14m long. It faces the sea, surrounded by wide umbrellas, pool loungers and mature palm trees.
At the back of the adjoined Niassa mansion and within a walled garden, are lush lawns and tropical gardens planted with frangipani and bougainvillea – and there is an additional, smaller pool with 4 pool loungers.
Arriving at Ibo Island Lodge, you are usually met by friendly managers, Rob and Glynn Mckenzie and Harris Mupedzi, and the rest of the Ibo team. Check in is usually done in the elegant air-conditioned lounge with antiques and comfortable couches. This is also a perfect place to read a book, take afternoon tea or watch the dhows sail out to sea. There is a formal dining room with a 16-seater banqueting table which can be used for private dinners. However everyone's favorite place is upstairs on the roof deck, where the bar and restaurant maximizes the amazing views and sunset over the bay.
Dinners are generally served on the roof restaurant at Ibo Island Lodge. There are not usually any 'communal' dinners, unless requested. Afterwards, it's lovely to relax under the stars on the roof deck.
The 'Niassa mansion' used to be the head quarters of the Niassa Company in the colonial era. It has now been rehabilitated to accommodate 8 of the lodge's 9 rooms. (There will be further 5 more rooms planned to follow, now that the restoration of the third mansion is complete.)
Each room has been elegantly, yet simply furnished. Locally crafted king-size 4-poster beds or twin beds are the feature of the rooms and decorated with rich silk throws and cushions from India. (Historically there have always been strong trading links between Ibo and India) All rooms have air-conditioning and ceiling fans, and each room is different based on the lay out of the original architecture. Bathrooms are spacious with separate toilets, twin basins and wide marble showers with many offering a sea view from your shower. (Read more about the bedrooms at Ibo Island...)
Ibo Island's activities offer a totally different take on the beach and island escape in the Quirimbas Archipelago. Ibo Island provides a fantastic beach and marine destination combined with a truly unique African cultural experience. There are 32 islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago, but there is only one Ibo Island!
An interesting way to begin your stay is with the guided “Ibo of old" experience walk. Harris and Cosmos, the lodge's professional guides, will help you explore the ruins and beautiful colonial architecture that house the island's history and legends. Ibo was the Portuguese's main settlement in northern Mozambique and played a strategic role in the Indian Ocean trading routes over 400 years ago. Today it is still a place where time has stood still and is full of mystique and intrigue
Ibo's hidden jewel is a sand spit beach accessed 20 minutes by boat from the lodge. For those in search of a pristine and private beach: this is it! Every day this beautiful beach is revealed at low tide and swept clean again by the high tide allowing you to put your own foot prints on the sand.
The team are flexible, and you can enjoy breakfast or lunch cooked out on the beach underneath a Bedouin-style tent. It's great for sunbathing or taking a leisurely stroll to its furthest point, or you can snorkel directly off into the clear blue water. It is not unusual to see pods of dolphins on the way from Ibo to the beach.
There is also a small tidal beach directly in front of the lodge, which provides a swimming option at high tide – but this isn't a very private beach, so most guests prefer to use the free boat transfer to the sandbank, which is lovely.
Perhaps one of the major draw cards of Ibo Island is the chance to interact with the people of Ibo and really understand the local culture. Ibo Island Lodge is not a private island resort. This is one place where you can combine beach and culture and really experience a true slice of Africa.
The “Ibo of today" walk is a guided stroll through the islands villages, to experience life on Ibo Island today, as lived by the Kimwani people. A local guide will accompany you, and it's a personal, really friendly experience. Ibo is a fully functional little town, and you will get a chance to absorb it all. If you are lucky enough to be on the island on a Friday or Saturday night, then an optional highlight is a visit to the local disco!
Other activities from Ibo Island Lodge include guided sea-canoe trips into the cool mangrove forest and winding canals, where you can explore a fascinating eco-system and an abundant bird life.
Like all Quirimbas Archipelago islands, the entire area around Ibo Island is tidal. When the tide is low, this allows for great beach-combing walks exploring for ancient pieces of porcelain that are left over from the trading days. It is also an interesting birding spot, and it's not uncommon to get up to 100 wading birds in front of the lodge at low tide.
Ibo Island Lodge also operates the only mobile island hopping Dhow Safari in the Quirimbas - one of the most unique experiences in Africa.
Finally, if all the above is a little too strenuous for you, then Ibo Island Lodge is also a great place to just relax by one of the lodge's two swimming pools, in the gardens, or to enjoy a massage.
A daily trip out to the sand-bar beach, and the cultural and history walking tours, are all included within the daily rate at the lodge. Further excursions, and sea-kayak trips into the mangroves are charged as extras.
Ibo Island Lodge opened in December 2006, and since then it has started to carve out a very good reputation for itself – not only as lodge which offers a fascinating historical and cultural experience – but also as a base for days lazing on sunny sand-bars beaches, snorkeling and pottering about in canoes in nearby areas of mangroves.
Ideal length of stay: The minimum stay that we'd recommend here is 3 nights, to get a flavour of what Ibo Island is about – but it'd be very easy to spend a week here exploring and relaxing.
Directions: There is an airstrip nearby on the island, and Ibo is a short 20-minute flight in a light aircraft from Pemba. Pemba is accessible from Johannesburg with SA Airlink or Mozambique Airlines (LAM) and also from Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi on LAM.
Owner: The lodge is the brain child of owners Fiona and Kevin Record - but was built by the people of Ibo and is formerly a community tourism project. It is the largest employer on the island and economically effects the entire population. Their concept was that the lodge committed to providing employment and training to as many local Ibo people as possible. So alongside the building phase, training in English literacy and hospitality also commenced and the majority of the lodge staff were sourced from the construction site and trained. The result is a great sense of pride amongst the people of Ibo and the lodge plays a huge part in island life. Ibo's regeneration through eco and responsible tourism is the lodge's priority and therefore this is a place where your visit really does make a difference.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Wake-up teas and coffees (usually accompanied by a muffin or biscuit) are brought to bedrooms at your requested time. Early morning on your veranda watching the day begin on Ibo is a delight.
Breakfast: Starts with local tropical fruit, cereals, yoghurt and freshly baked bread and pastries. Followed by a cooked to order hot breakfast. Eggs done to your choice, tomato, bacon etc. Ibo Island coffee (Brought by the Arabs centuries ago and still grown on the island.)
Lunches: In keeping with the tropical atmosphere, these are lighter meals served Alfresco in the garden, in the shade. A chilled Ibo crab salad or king prawn kebabs with traditional Ibo sweet chili sauce, served with fresh bread are typical specialties, followed by a fresh fruit salad or home made sorbet.
Afternoon tea sees freshly baked cakes and biscuits being served in the gardens between 3 and 4pm. Then it's upstairs to the bar deck for sundowners and snacks at around 5.30pm.
Dinner: is usually a 5 course tasting menu. The signature dish here is the Ibo crab feast – which consists of giant freshly-steamed crab claws sautéed in garlic butter, followed by a traditional Ibo Island crab curry and coconut rice and sambles, and usually finished off with a light lime mousse and tea, or Ibo coffee.
Vegetarians are well catered for – but it's vital to let us know in advance. Ibo Island is remote, and so very complicated dietary requirements can be a real challenge here.
Children are easily catered for with pasta dishes, plain grilled seafood, and lighter options like pizza and burgers etc. The lodge is very flexible.
When we last visited Ibo in October 2008, we thought the food was fantastic. There was plenty of fresh seafood on offer, including lobster, king prawns and tuna caught fresh that day. We thought the menu was varied, the ingredients fresh and the food beautifully presented.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Drinks included: Drinks are not included here; they are paid for as extras.
Family holidays: Ibo is a great place for families with older children, who will appreciate the culture. It is a wonderful introduction for children to a unique, safe, atmospheric and very real Mozambican culture. When not out doing activities on the beach like snorkeling or kayaking, children also love to interact with the children of Ibo from the local school, or in the villages.See more ideas for Family holidays in Mozambique
Honeymoons: Ibo Island Lodge is the lovely spot for a romantic honeymoon – and the lodge can arrange private dinners, honeymoon picnics and romantic excursions to the sandbank beach. Night-time and moonlit strolls are also an option around the very quiet, old town of Ibo.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Mozambique
Birdwatching: The Quirimbas Archipelago doesn't have the density of species that you'll often find in mainland Africa, but the bird-watching from Ibo Island can be good, with many coastal wading species seen at low tide, right in the front of the lodge. It's also possible to head out with their professional guides for a birding walk.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Mozambique
Diving & snorkelling: Northern Mozambique has areas of pristine corals – and good snorkelling is possible from the light house, and also from the sandbank's beach. The diving in this area can also be very good, although there isn't currently any commercial diving operation here. Watch this space ...See more ideas for Diving & snorkelling in Mozambique
Photographic: Ibo Island is very good choice if you're a keen photographer. The island is very traditional, and there's a range of subjects from people and dhows, to architecture and ruins, not to mention the usual birds, sunsets and 'tropical island'-type shots. The people here are often relaxed about photographs being taken, and the light in the early morning is particularly amazing.See more ideas for Photographic in Mozambique
Traditional Cultures: Ibo is home to three thousand people, mostly living in traditional villages, just outside the original old town, most of which haven't changed for thousands of years. Fishermen still build teak dhows by hand on the beach, silversmiths hand-craft intricate jewellery using ancient techniques and tools in the fort, and curious children call out traditional greetings. A visit here isn't staged; it's a friendly way to experience a real slice of African island life.See more ideas for Traditional Cultures in Mozambique
Walking safaris: Felicity is the resident massage therapist – you can enjoy treatments in the privacy of your own room, or even tucked away in the garden, alternatively there is a treatment room in the Niassa mansion.See more ideas for Walking safaris in Mozambique
Attitude towards children: Older children who are going to be sensitive to the lodge's sometime-fragile interiors are very welcome and well catered for.
Equipment: The lodge has children’s beds suitable for under twelve’s allowing some of the rooms to be made up as triples.
Generally recommended for children: Yes – although only for older children, not toddlers.
Notes: The garden facing rooms in 'Niassa' are most suitable for families and children and there is a separate small children friendly pool aside from the main pool in the Niassa garden.
Power supply: Combination of power
Communications: There are no phones in the rooms. There is mobile phone reception on the island, and in some areas of the lodge. There is no internet unless by special request.
TV & radio: No TV or radio – although there is satellite TV at the town disco, often used for sporting events!
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: For minor injuries there is a first aid box. The nearest doctor is in Pemba, on the mainland, about a 20-minute flight away.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: Guards patrol at night, and senior lodge staff sleep close by.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers throughout the lodge, and emergency procedures in place.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: There is a laundry service available, which takes 24 hours, and is an extra charge.
Money: Each room as a chest with a lock for storage of money and small valuables.