The Bazaruto archipelago, with its stunning white beaches, is just a hop and a skip away (okay, a short helicopter, plane or speedboat ride) from the southern Mozambican town of Vilanculos. While Bazaruto deals in luxury, visitors who don’t want to dig deep for a fancy vacation can base themselves in Vilanculos, where there’s a good selection of backpackers’ hostels, guesthouses and small inns. It’s easy to arrange day trips to the islands, or even weekend camping trips. Here are our tips on budget travel in and around Vilanculos:
Where to stay: Backpackers’ hostels
Vilanculos has two backpackers’ hostels; Baobab Beach Backpackers, which is almost as old as the sands (it’s still going strong after 15 years), and the curiously-named Zombie Cucumber, a short walk away, made up of pretty blue-doored bandas.
Baobab Beach offers a range of accommodation, from tent pitches (you can camp, with access to clean showers, for 200 Mets per person per night) to beds in clean, spacious dorms (320 Mets per person per night) and cute, breeze-blown casitas suited to couples (2000 per hut per night) and stylishly-decorated 140 squared-meter family huts (2500 Mets per hut per night). The grounds are green and lovely, broken up by barbecue areas, wooden benches and hammocks. There’s a restaurant serving seafood and comfort fare, which opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the bar keeps the low-key party vibe going into the night. Wifi access costs 50 Mets per stay, and all guests have access to a large, well-stocked, communal kitchen. The hostel is at the end of a dirt track, nestled between local communities and the ocean.
Zombie Cucumber offers a quieter set-up, with four pretty huts and one dorm arranged inside communal gardens. The name comes from the non-fiction book “Kalashnikovs and Zombie Cucumbers,” set in Mozambique in the post-conflict period. It shares a pool and restaurant with the guesthouse Casa Jules (see below). The huts are decorated with turquoise walls, simple East African art and furnished with double beds or twin beds, as well as mosquito nets and fans. Luckily, you’re close enough to the ocean breeze here to not need a/c throughout most of the year. The dorm is spacious and has bunk beds arranged around a central point. Huts cost 2,200 Mets per night, while dorm beds come in at a little more expensive than Baobab Beach, at 350 Mets per person per night. Still, for that price you also get free access to the pool and wi-fi.
Where to stay: Guesthouses
By far the best two guesthouses in Vilanculos are Casa Jules and Casa Babi, both within spitting distance of the beach and run lovingly, with care taken over the details that count.
Casa Jules, run by a Belgian couple, sits in the hibiscus-laden grounds of the backpacker hostel Zombie Cucumber (see above) and was renovated in 2012. There are six double rooms here, plus three additional rooms that are great for groups or families. The rooms are spotless, and decorated individually, with nice arty touches; think simple but creative. Double rooms here cost 2,500 Mets per night, while the triples go for 3000 Mets per night. There’s a lovely little pool and a small restaurant and bar known for its good pizzas and pastas.
Casa Babi is pricier, but hard to fault. It sits right on the picture-perfect beach and benefits from a salt-licked breeze that tumbles in through the slatted verandas, negating any need for a/c. The rooms (from Eur90 for singles, from Eur125 for doubles) are sparkling clean, dressed with subtle but chic four-poster beds, wooden art and stylish touches. There are also spacious sea-view bungalows, starting at Eur110 for two people and rising to Eur185 for five. We love the plunge pool and the private restaurant which serves up fresh, healthy breakfasts, lunch and dinners — plus wine, local beer and freshly-squeezed juices — to guests. And if you ever tire of that, the excellent Kuvuka Cafe is right next door. The helpful, chatty French owners also run Odyssea dive, based on site.
Dolphin Dhow (Tel +258 20844624700), next to Kuvuka Cafe, also has a handful of simple but cheap rooms that make good bases for a short stay in Vilanculos. Friendly owner Junior organises trips to the Bazaruto archipelago, day-long fishing expeditions, and budget snorkelling trips, plus overnight camping trips to the islands, including the reef on Santa Carolina island. Trips get good reviews from budget travellers and start at US$80 per person, but change according to the seasons (check before booking) and include food and drinks.
Getting around on a budget
Budget travelers would be forgiven for thinking that this part of Mozambique is only accessible to those who’ve saved for years for a honeymoon, or for a wealthier crowd. But there are ways of getting around on a budget. Reaching Vilanculos is best done by air, since the Mozambican roads this far north aren’t in the best shape, but you can also travel by bus or minibus from Maputo. TCO buses leave their Maputo depot early, around 4am, taking at least 11 hours to reach Vilanculos and costing around US$80 per person. Ask at your Maputo hotel or hostel for more info. If you want to hire a car and driver for the journey among a group, bank on about US$400 one way (which generally works out cheaper than flying if there are several passengers.) Once in Vilanculos, taxi driver Daniel (+258 843666991) is a good option for getting around town, or you can take tuk-tuks (100 to 200 Mets per journey) or walk, since the town isn’t particularly large.