For many Americans and Europeans, the journey to andBeyond’s Benguerra Island Lodge, located in the former Portuguese “Overseas Province” of Mozambique, begins with 16+ grueling hours of life on an airplane. But a private chopper ride over Bazaruto Archipelago’s teal waters goes a long way towards clearing the fog of the voyage. The 10-minute hop from Vilankulo (Vilanculos) airport is both glamorous and necessary. In Benguerra’s case, more so than most islands, travel by boat remains at the mercy of the tug between sea and moon. Its waters shallow to extremes in low tide, beaching crafts while revealing massive new shores. The struggle to reach Benguerra is part of its genius for those looking to slip the leash of daily life for a spell.
10 private “casitas” and a few smaller “cabanas” tucked into the forest immediately off the protected beach on the island’s eastern shore stand to welcome those who make it here, united by a network of narrow trails that snake through the bush. An enormous dhow-turned-bar stands as a central beach outpost, fronting the reception lodge, main dining area and sprawling deck.
Because the helicopter transfer, meals and drinks are baked into the rate, a stay at Benguerra is technically “all-inclusive” (select activities are separate). Travelers looking for a typical resort experience, however, will be sorely disappointed. There are no neon wristbands and 40oz margaritas. Like countless travelers to Africa before, I had discovered the remote island while searching for a low key escape by the sea to contrast a safari. A recent five day stretch there showed why the andBeyond island property is known as a one-of-a-kind retreat.
The vibe is a fetching mixture of summer camp and castaway oasis that slowly intensifies under the warm glow of hurricane lamps, hung each evening by the staff to light the paths, lawns and dinners on the beach. Walls and traditional doors are a rare sighting: nearly every building, including the guest residences, is open to the ocean breeze in some capacity. The flowing aesthetic adds a wild edge to the experience that comes with its own set of tradeoffs.
a private chopper ride over Bazaruto Archipelago’s teal waters goes a long way towards clearing the fog of the voyage.
Heavy wooden shutters and folding doors allow casita residents unobstructed views of private decks and plunge pools, as well as the pristine beach scenery a mere few feet away, but can never keep nature fully locked out, making the mosquito nets draped around the enormous queen size beds each night during turndown service more than just an exotic decor choice. The thought of guests roughing it though is a laughable idea in the context of Benguerra’s accommodations. Enormous copper baths, private outdoor showers, plush private lounge areas and dedicated hammock stations are just a few of the clear reminders of the lodge’s luxurious focus.
The same can be said for the dedicated butler assigned to dote on each residence for the remainder of the stay. Guests are given the freedom to decide when and where on the property they prefer to enjoy the day’s meals. Here, mornings can be spent diving in search of moray eel or looking for humpbacks in the waters near Two Mile Reef, in between breakfasts of fresh fruit, baked goods and french pressed coffee on your casita deck and rich lunches of crab carbonara with passionfruit flan for desert, taken at the beach bar. Afternoon rides on horseback through the heart of the island and dinners spent on the beach eating the grilled catch of the day, with a South African rose, aren’t unheard of. The sunsets and star-filled skies that follow are spectacles to behold at Benguerra. Watching the sun’s slow crawl below the horizon, washing the boats of local fisherman in hues of orange and pink, is a show that never gets old.
The timing of my visit to Benguerra might have been better in the eyes of some. As a recent acquisition in andBeyond’s renowned portfolio of lodges and camps across Africa, the destination is set to close for major renovations this fall. According to the lodge’s General Manager and seasoned andBeyond veteran Johan van der Merwe, the goal of the project is to enhance the experience for guests while establishing a deeper aesthetic connection to Mozambique’s Portuguese influences. My stay there was one of the last of an era.
Though I’m confident andBeyond’s ambitious plans will only elevate Benguerra lodge’s reputation as a island paradise worth crossing the globe for, in hindsight I feel fortunate to have caught the lodge ahead of the new paint, ubiquitous broadband and other trademarks of progress in the 21st century. I had left New York for a refresher course on the other priorities so easily lost in the hustle of life in America, and Benguerra Island was an excellent teacher. I also now have an excuse to return.