At the sight of fishermen mending their nets, women in colorful khanga collecting clams, and crumbling coral forts on the cliffs, Fiona and Kevin Record were instantly wooed by Ibo Island. Tucked in Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago, Ibo has been inhabited for over 500 years and during its heyday in the 1700-1800s it was a vital trading port for the Portuguese spice trade. Though when the colonists were forced to leave at the dawn of Mozambique’s independence, this thriving town slipped back to its simple ways as a simple fishing village and its grand buildings began to crumble with it. The Records knew this was a special place in need of preservation so they took the bold leap to build the first hotel on Ibo and help the community shine again.
Rather than bring in a mainland construction team to build Ibo Island Lodge, the Records wanted to have the hotel be an avenue for growth and development for the town and its people. They hired all local builders, carpenters, seamstresses, and offered training courses for more to join in, plus English classes for those interested in continuing to work at the hotel. The majority of today’s staff at Ibo Island lodge were the very hands that built it. The hotel sits at the western shore of the island as a mark of progress the whole community can be proud of.
Ibo is a remote island so everything seen here was brought over by dhow boat or made custom on the premises. The interiors have a European elegance lightened with sunny colors and an ocean breeze. (Note the exposed section of the living room wall, it’s a glimpse into the classic Ibo construction, a mix of coral rock and lime.)
To explore town, we went on a walking tour with Ibo Island Lodge’s resident guide: A fifth-generation Iboian, who has lived through the days as a Portuguese colony, Mozambique’s tumultuous independence, the return to an isolated fishing village, and now the new beginnings of tourism. (Talk about perspective!) Walking along the dusty boulevards, past abandoned 17th-century forts, churches, and mansions you feel the mystic of Ibo. The chipping paint and vines growing on the buildings makes it hard to distinguish between what’s in use and what is long forgotten.
After our town tour, we went back to the hotel for a little relaxing and contemplation by the pool. What I love is that the lodge didn’t feel like it was on a pedestal separated from town; low walls give views to the life on the shore.
Whether served by the pool, on the beach, our on the terrace, meals were always a delight at the lodge. Coconut and crab curry, crunchy green pawpaw salad, and Lobster Thermidor were some of the highlights on the menu, though the showstopper was this gorgeous conch salad.
Many meals and cocktails were also enjoyed on the rooftop terrace, looking out across the idyllic turquoise water and second largest mangrove in Africa.
Life slows down at Ibo Island Lodge, but they have plenty of activities on tap if you want to pick up the pace. We took a guided kayak trip to watch island life from sea. Weaving through the mangrove forests, we ducked into different coves to watch the bird-life, admire the architecture, watch the fisherman at work, and just enjoy the gentle waves.
A true highlight during our stay at Ibo Island Lodge was our trip to the sandbar island. The tides fluctuate so much in a given day that depending on the hour, this dreamy spit of land can vanish under the water. Timing it just right, we sailed out in the morning for snorkeling, sunbathing, and brunch. The team amazingly set up a full sit-down meal of omelets, yogurt parfait, pastries, and french-press coffee under the shade of this pop-up dining room.
Ibo Island is a pure place, devoid of manufactured attractions, cookie-cutter accommodations and droves of tourists. It’s a rare that an idyllic island getaway also comes with a sense of history and culture…go while you can.
Mike and Anne Howard left on their honeymoon in 2012 and have been traveling the world ever since. HoneyTrek.com chronicles their adventures across 7 continents, 44 countries, and counting! Their writing, photography, and the story of the “World’s Longest Honeymoon” can also be found on Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, The Knot, Los Angeles Times, CBS, and dozens of other international publications. Connect with @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.