Ilha de Mozambique
Ilha de Mozambique (Mozambique Island) is an island in the Nampula Province in Northern Mozambique with a historical heritage that's unmatched in the rest of Mozambique, and indeed the rest of Africa.
It was the capital of Mozambique for nearly four centuries under Portuguese colonization before the move to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), and had been used as a major base for the Arab traders since around the 8th century, long before the arrival of the Portuguese. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tiny island is only 3km long and very narrow. It's connected by a concrete bridge with the mainland and is said to be crowded by 16000 inhabitants, most of them living in bustling Macuti Town. Stone Town occupies the northern half of the island and is much grander than Macuti town in the south, but both are UNESCO listed because of their significant architecture and cultural tradition.
Ilha can easily be reached by road from Nampula. If you're driving follow the road towards Nacala, and turn off at the signpost for Ilha de Mozambique (which is in Monapo). It'll take around 2 hours and the road is good. When you get there you'll need to cross the causeway which costs 10mts but you pay at the other end of the bridge when you are leaving.
If you're taking a chapa they leave from Ave de Trabhadores in Nampula near the railway station (Estação CFM) (approximately located at (-15.1141072, 39.2691308)). It is about a 20-30 minute walk on a pretty decent sidewalk from the airport, totally safe during the day. You will likely encounter chapas parked before the CFM Station. Make sure you confirm that the chapa is a direct one to the island, so you do not have to change chapas before the bridge to the island. As of August 2019 the price is either Mts 270 or 300. This price is fixed for all chapas going this route. Googlemaps says 2+ hours but the trip will take at least 3. Road is 97% good. Police checkpoints on the way but do not seem to ask for passports from foreigners. (There are chapas for the return trip as well, they leave the island early around 4-5am and will pick you up where you are staying, coordinate when you arrive on the island).
A taxi can be organised for around MTs 3000 each way.
Ilha's is fairly small - 3.2 km long and only 500 metres wide. It takes about a 30 to 40 minute walk from end to end. With improvements to the roads and lanes on the island bike riding is becoming increasingly popular with a number of places now having bikes available to rent. There is a bike hire stand outside Escondidinho Hotel, some hostels rent out bikes and Ilha Blue can rent you a locally assembled bike (Mozambikes) or you can do a tour on an ex Royal Mail Pashley cargo bike which take around 3 hours and cover every historical site, show you the best cafes and bars as well as beaches, shops and banks
Everywhere. Ilha's a magical mix of colonial Portuguese and old Swahili architecture. It basically divides into two halves - the old Stone Town in the north and the "Reed Town" in the south which is set down from the main streets.
The museum is in the old Palácio dos Capitães-Generais, a big red building up in Stone Town. In the same building is a tourist information office that sells really good street maps and has all sorts of other information about the various restaurants and pensões on the island. It's well worth heading here as soon as you arrive.
Also worth a visit is the fort at the northern tip of the island, which contains the Church of Nossa Senhora do Baluarte, almost certainly the oldest surviving European building in the southern hemisphere, dating back to 1522. Be sure you pay the right attendant, or you will have to pay the entrance fee twice: Ask for a entrance ticket, if you don't get one, don't pay.
The dive centre was planned at the northern end of the island just down from the fort in a swimming pool and restaurant development. Unfortunately construction work on this site has stopped so who knows if and when it will ever be finished.
You can take boat trips or just laze on the beach. If you're feeling adventurous take a traditional dhow over to the mainland at Cabeciera where there is a beautiful lagoon or Carusca a popular restaurant and bar on a truly magnificent beach. Its easy to arrange dhow trips to the nearby islands of Goa and Sete Paus. Sena island (also known as Ilha Das Cobras) is a bit more difficult to visit because of the need to arrive and leave when the tide is very low and is best visited as an overnight camping trip (only Ilha Blue offer this and only on the spring tides). This also gives time to visit the lagoon which is a hidden gem
Sea Kayaking is beginning to take off and there are still quite a few good snorkeling sites between 50 and 300 meters off shore. The Pontao (pier) is a great place to swim from with surprisingly good snorkeling including a sunken barge
If you want the opportunity to interact and learn about the local culture a number of people offer interesting workshops to spend your holidays in an original way deepening the knowledge of the local culture. For example, dance classes, music classes or language lessons, while for the more adventurous there are other tours possible, like go out fishing with local fishermen and visit the salt mines and the mainland coast. You can olso make a boat ride with local dhow on a nearby beach with snorkeling and local fish lunch cooked on the beach. The mission is to contribute to the development of the local economy promoting the yet still mostly undiscovered richness of Macua culture and the extraordinary beauty and historical richness of Ilha de Mocambique and its surrounding areas.
Amongst those offering these activities is local personality Harry Potter whose company has expanded rapidly making him now one of the biggest tour operators on the island.
Local Barackas are affordable with seafood and other dishes. The ones on the road that forms the divide between Stonetown and Macuti Town cater for foreigners and locals and are good for a lazy lunch or a busy taste of nightlife. In Stone Town there is Ancora D'oro (with good, free wifi), Escondidinho, Reliquias, and Villa Sands that are more focused on tourists and expats. Also you can find a number of local places serving fish and rice or chima for a very low price.
Plenty of places to drink. The small bar in the middle of the pier is very popular for sunset, as is the rooftop in Bar Flor, the Barackas, Ruby's and villa Sands. Miraponte near the bridge is open late and a good place for a dance. Also look out for beach baracka parties organised by the same young men you meet selling dhow trips. These are very cheap and good fun although you need to be patient because food is served only once everybody has arrived
The cheapest option is the camp site on the mainland next to the bridge. Self catering is possible from the nearby shops. $4/person.
Return to Nampula: chapas leave the island early around 4-5am and will pick you up where you are staying; coordinate when you arrive on the island. Chapas will drop you off in Nampula at the Estação CFM or anywhere before that location on the main road.