A to Z of Adventure Travel: X is for Xai-Xai

26 06 2009


Dhow 2 mw


Xai-Xai, Mozambique is a bustling town on the banks of the Limpopo River, just 12 kilometres from Praia do Xai-Xai and its massive coral reef. Although this long, sweeping beach and its safe waters have been popular with tourists since Mozambique re-emerged onto the international scene after years of brutal civil war, like much of the country it is blissfully free of mass tourism and commercialism.


After almost 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Mozambique gained its independence in 1975 but fell into civil war just two years later. It was only in 1992 that the fighting ended and the country began to rebuild itself from the devastating violence. With little infrastructure for its own citizens let alone international visitors, only the most intrepid of travellers ventured to Mozambique during its early years. The one exception to this being some of the country’s islands located in the Indian Ocean along its pristine coastline which quickly attracted visitors looking for world class fishing, snorkelling and diving.


Located in south-east Africa and bordered by South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi amongst other countries, Mozambique is not a country to visit in search of wildlife. Much of the game the country had was destroyed or migrated to neighbouring countries during the independence struggle and civil war that followed. However, the advent of peace and the recent opening of the Transfrontier Peace Park which spans Mozambique and its neighbours has seen a steady and healthy increase in game. Although still not on a par with other southern African countries, Mozambique’s advantage is the lack of tourists who visit the country and the unique experiences that this still-emerging country offers to visitors.


Mozambique’s greatest draw is undoubtedly its coastline, however.  The country offers some of the most beautiful, pristine and picturesque coastline in Africa or indeed the world. Unspoiled by mass tourism, the coast still offers many idyllic resorts, usually small and luxurious rather than enormous and overblown. Think thatched roofs, hammocks in the sea breeze and excellent food. For those on a tighter budget there is far simpler accommodation that is still clean, safe and inexpensive enough to suit anyone’s budget. Regardless of the style of travel, the crystal clear waters offer superb snorkelling and scuba diving on the reefs, swimming or sea kayaking. There are lazy cruises on traditional dhows, or simply beach-flopping on the wide uncrowded stretches of sand.


Perhaps not the best destination for a first visit to Africa, Mozambique is a great extension to a longer tour or the perfect place for a second visit. If you have a sense of adventure, want to be amongst the first to explore a rebounding nation…or crave unspoiled beaches and crystal clear water, have a cool drink on the soft sand of Praia do Xai-Xai.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Life’s A Beach

6 02 2009


     “I know I left the beach here somewhere!”     (low-tide fishermen, Zanzibar)


According to the highest purveyor of all encompassing wisdom in the world – the internet – there are 356,000 kilometres of coastline in the world. And while not all of it may be fine white sand overhung with tropical palm trees and lapped by crystal clear blue waters, in the middle of winter when we’re digging out our driveway or trying to prevent heat-seeking ice-crystals from penetrating the ring-of-wool around our necks, almost any beach sounds pretty appetising.


Each year, millions of people around the world flee south – or north – away from inclement weather to drop and flop on a sun-soaked beach. Many want nothing more than the classic guzzle-and-tan holiday: a resort which offers all-you-can-eat food extravaganzas, unlimited umbrella-festooned drinks and afternoon karaoke by the pool. However, for someone who wants a bit more, there are still more than 300,000 kilometres of coastline to choose from.


Zanzibar is everyone’s idea of a tropical island. It sits off the coast of Tanzania in east Africa, surrounded by the deliciously warm and clear waters of the Indian Ocean and protected by coral reefs. It is an island rich with history and culture from Sultans and harems, to revolutions and intrigue. At one time it was the centre of the Arab slave trade. Later, it was the starting point for expeditions by legendary names like Stanley, Livingstone, Burton and Speke. Its capital city, Stone Town, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes inaccessible by vehicles and untouched by history. Although there are a few modern resorts at the island’s north, there are also small properties hidden along its pristine coastline.


After an hour’s drive through small villages, banana and coconut plantations and along a bumpy dirt track, we arrived at one such place perched on a cliff. The hotel offered a hand-full of cottages overlooking the sea and surrounded by flowering bushes and immaculate lawns. There was a small restaurant where the menu was dictated by the catch of the day and whatever was available in the local market and then prepared to your requirements. And that was all.


There was no sprawling buffet, no mega-bar, no afternoon Pilates class, no spa, no disco, no internet café and no television or minibar in the rooms. What there was was the song of birds, the crash of waves and not a single other soul in sight.


The beach stretched as far as a rocky outcrop in one direction and meandered away among palm trees in the other. Apart from a few hundred tiny crabs scampering towards the water, it was completely deserted. The water was warm, clear and flawless and the only other swimmers were schools of colourful fish.


At night we slept with the windows open serenaded by the crash of the waves, the gentle whirr of the ceiling fan and the strange sounds of frogs and nightlife. We would awake to find a breakfast tray outside our door and sit and watch the seaweed farmers tending their crops while the tide was still out. Days were spent swimming, reading, watching the occasional dhow sail past and eating the freshest calamari in the world. By evening it was the myriad stars overhead and dinner by flickering torchlight.


There are beaches and then there are beaches. Our little slice of paradise might have seemed to have offered considerably less than the resorts further up the coast, but it also cost considerably less. Sometimes, however, less is more and as we made our way back towards Stone Town and our flight home, we really wished we had spent more time on our private beach.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan