Azura Quilalea Private Island - off the coast of Mozambique - is about as good a private island lodge as there is...

The 27 islands of the Quirimbas archipelago are strung out lazily off the northern coast of Mozambique. The pristine beauty of their beaches and reefs is pure Indian Ocean, but their human history is an interesting mix of African and Arab: mainlanders have fished for their suppers here down the millenniums; and from the 15th century, Omani traders sailed their dhows this way to cast their nets more widely for spices and slaves. Today, it’s relatively unknown to outsiders – just a remote marine wilderness teeming with undersea life and dotted with day-dreamy desert islands.

The Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, is a 10-hour flight from Heathrow, and from there it’s an 80-minute turboprop hop to Pemba. Then comes three hours in a 4WD along a dusty dirt track before reaching the sea. It’s pretty knackering, but the last leg of the journey makes it all worthwhile: I rolled up my trousers and paddled out towards a speedboat for the final 25-minute skim to the island.

There’s a distinctly African beauty about the elements here — the far horizons, the immense height of the boiling white clouds, the intense blue of the sky. The mainland diminished to a thin line of green and purple trees, and, closer by, neighbouring islands were underscored by slithers of sand and backed by dense jungle. All around were the dazzling blue-green waters of the Indian Ocean.

I could walk around the island in the time it would take a cast-away to reach “record number four” on Desert Island Discs. The rippling strips of sand are entirely footprint-free of course; mangrove clusters are anchored in the intervening shallows; and two sturdy outcrops of coral cliffs top and toe the island to the north and south.

I felt exhilarated, like an explorer who’s achieved their quest, and suddenly the delicious quantity of time in which to do extremely little hit home. Inactivity is the main activity on Quilalea, but there is snorkelling on a coral reef just a short swim from the shore, or you can ask the staff to push the boat out for canoeing, diving, fishing, or some exploring of the nearby islands.

I’d stepped barefoot from the boat onto the beach and was welcomed by a member of staff and offered a cold towel. This was almost the first such artificially chilled and scented flannel that I encountered on arriving at a ‘hotel’, but then again this was by far the poshest place I’d ever stayed in.

I acclimatise swiftly enough though, and minutes later I was lounging on the bed and gazing through the glassless windows onto a panorama of paradise. And it really did make me come over all over-awed. I mean, there beyond my large, shady veranda was a white-sand beach, rocky outcrops and the most inviting sea imaginable — at a sublime 28C to boot.

The lodge has just nine ocean-facing thatched chalets, each 485 square feet. They are simply and tastefully decorated, with deep-hued woods, white linen and a shower that opens straight onto the beach view. Breakfasts are simple, lunches light, but the evening meals were exquisite.

Nathan was the chef at that time, and he introduced each meal with justifiable pride. Poached trevally, chargrilled king mackerel, wahoo sashimi, succulent grilled dorado — all fresh and succulent.

I felt utterly distressed from the moment I put on my in-room sarong – when in Rome eh – and the three night stay on the island panned out into a sublime experience that I’ll not forget. 



Fitting Quilalea into a holiday: It's a magical island to be sure, but the complex and time-consuming journey means that staying less than a week isn't advisable. Unless you split your time between other parts of the country - I spend three nights at Quilalea, after a couple of days in the capital, Maputo, and a short stay at the Bazzaruto Archepelago.


Getting there: the island is a three hour drive and 30-minute speedboat skim from Pemba in northern Mozambique. Pemba has a small airport with a few domestic and regional flights, including Johannesburg with Airlink and LAM Mozambique Airlines; Dar es Salaam and Nairobi with LAM. LAM also runs domestic flights to Maputo, Beira, and Nampula. And also Ewa Air flies to the overseas French territory of Mayote. 


When to visit: the humid equatorial climate here means temperatures change little across the year - and average around 30°C. There is hardly any rainfal between May and December, which are the best months to visit. The rainy season here is a proper one, with over 120mm of rainfall in each of the wet season months.


More info: I travelled as a guest of Audley Travel. Or try Scott Dunn and Abercrombie and Kent. For more information on the lodge see, and for country info there's Mozambique Tourism


Visa and safety: always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.