Vilankulos – what’s in a name?
Vilankulos is a costal town in the northern Mozambique province of Inhambane, sandwiched between Inhassoro, Massinga and the Indian Ocean. It was named after a local tribal chief Gamala Vilankulo Mukoke, but became known as Vilanculos during the colonial times. With Mozambican independence, the town was renamed back to Vilankulo. Today, somewhat confusingly, the district is called Vilanculos and the town is Vilankulo.
The landscape here is different to Inhambane – the rolling hills adorned with elegant coconut trees have given way to a flat, golden savanah sprinkled with stumpy baobabs and leafy monzo trees, used to make charcoal sold in sacks on the sides of the road.
We arrive in Vilankulo at sunset and to my surprise I find the streets full of bustle – people selling handicrafts and clothes out of their roadside stalls. Colourful rickshaws darting around the human traffic. Its liveliness reminds me of Ubud in Bali.
The town itself is only about 5 km long but has the highest concentration of tourism facilities on the Inhambane coastline. It has been a favourite with developers for decades, its iconic hotel Dona Ana having first opened its doors to visitors in 1967. The airport is based on the outside of the town with daily flights, providing an easy connection to Maputo and Johannesburg.
Although, we are only here for a stop-over on our way to Bazaruto, Vilankulos is a fantastic destination in itself. It offers a wide range of accommodation, white sandy beaches and the sun seeker’s favourites, including diving, snorkelling, dhow trips and kite-surfing. In fact, Vilankulos hosts an annual kite-surfing competition every September that attracts people from all over the continent and the world.
Vilanculos Beach Lodge
We spend the night at Vilanculos Beach Lodge – an oasis of lush greenery, thatched roofs and whitewashed houses that cascade down to the ocean. The hotel has only recently opened after a thorough renovation. It is now run by Angela, an energetic blonde with a South African accent and Portuguese heritage, and Damien, her French husband with kind eyes and excellent culinary skills.
We dine in the garden, just after the sun has set. The decor is a blend of European chique and African motifs, capulana place mats on white tablecloths, silver and crystal brought down to earth by wooden furniture.
We order risoles– a Portuguese take on croquetas – that come in a 3 varieties – shrimp, fish and chicken. As a main, we go for a whole red snapper, grilled and garnished with fragrant, roasted vegetables and a selection of sauces. As night sets in and the restaurant empties, I recognise the sounds of French chansons drifting through the cooling air. We eat slowly, enjoying the atmosphere and sipping on a chilled South African white. For desert, I can’t resist the lemon tarte – a cloud of merengue on a crumbling base with just enough sour notes to bring it into perfect balance. Angela asks if it’s our first time in Vilankulos, and suggest we watch the sun rise in the morning.
The Sun Rises
After a good night’s rest, we stumble out of bed into the garden at the crack of dawn. Angela isn’t wrong – the sun rises with such drama and intensity over the smooth water that you cannot help think of the Greek legends of Apollo hauling the fireball across the sky. The heavens turn lilac, peach and orange, and then suddenly, there is a flash of fuchsia, as the sun breaches the horizon.
Vilankulos to Bazaruto
After admiring the sunrise over the archipelago, we have breakfast among perfectly manicured lawns and fluttering palm trees admiring the sight of Magaruque and Benguerra in the distance. It is a shame we cannot stay longer to enjoy the hospitality, delicious food and the glistening infinity pool, but our boat is waiting to take us to the Bazaruto islands. Just a short 30 minute ride away.
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