The Portuguese named the Quirimbas the Maluane Islands after a local cloth, but they soon brought in cloth, architecture and cuisine of their own, leaving a legacy that still ripples through the islands today.
Although in the 1970s and 1980s Mozambique suffered a savage civil war, it is now peaceful, and open to tourists who have an appetite for exploring somewhere truly unique.
Enjoy the serenity on the treasured islands of Mozambique
The Quirimbas Archipelago is a chain of more than 30 islands and islets in the Indian Ocean, which stretches for more than 400km. It offers starched white beaches, crystal clear waters,
and lush tropical forests.
Flying over the archipelago is a sublime experience as you get to admire reef necklaces and thick mangrove swamps, which make marine navigation so tricky. The only signs
of life are the tiny thatched roof villages that occasionally slip into view.
Many of the islands are protected, forming part of the Quirimbas National Park, which was set up in 2002 in an attempt to look after a stretch of the Mozambican shoreline as well as a swathe of islands.
You have to pay to enter the park, though most of the places offering accommodation collect the money, and camping is allowed within the park too for a modest fee.
One of the most positive aspects of the national park is that the government, local people and international NGOs have all pitched in together.
The result is that the local people take pride in the park and are serious about conservation, which has the knock-on effect of attracting tourists who are keen to visit areas of the world not overrun with development.
The flight over to Matemo Island from the mainland only takes 10 minutes, but it is a spectacular journey.
Sitting next to the pilot, you can trace the edges of the reefs and watch the local fishermen on their traditional boats, before bumping down on to the tiny landing strip.
Matemo is one of the new breed of classy island resorts, but it is much more affordable than the seriously exclusive ones.
Explore Mozambique’ s reefs and remnants
The hotels on the islands can organise snorkelling and dive trips for you.
Just popping a snorkel mask on metres from the shore reaps instant rewards as the water is crystal clear, while the diving is world class.
As well as tropical fish, there are regular sightings of both loggerhead and leatherback turtles. Some local dive operators say the archipelago is so unspoilt, their clients have unearthed new sections of reef that they have been able to name themselves.
Nearby Ibo is a world away from the luxurious resorts and is the real star of the Quirimbas.
The island locals take what few tourists there are on guided tours.
A whole treasure chest of old colonial buildings have survived the heat and take on a forlorn air, as the Portuguese administrators and merchants who once strode around them are long gone.
The town’s mightiest fort (there are three) sits abandoned too.
Once the symbol of the Portuguese empire’s power, St John’s Fortress stares idly out to sea, its guns lined up to aim at no one in particular. It dates back to 1791 when Ibo was a trading and slavery hub.
These days the fort battles the creeping tropical greenery more than any human enemy.
All pretensions dissolve among tourists who are lucky enough to make it to Ibo, as crowds of children follow them on the streets.
They whoop with delight at photos of themselves on digital cameras and prove more than willing subjects.
Some enterprising locals sell jewellery smelted from old Portuguese coins, but tourism is seriously low key with only a sprinkling of modest guest houses (and some homestays) and there is none of the hassle factor you often get in other parts of the continent these days.
A short distance to the south of Ibo is another of the archipelago’s most appealing islands, the eponymous Quirimba.
You can walk between the islands at low tide with a guide, but it is not advised to try it on your own as the tides change quickly.
Quirimba island is the de facto capital of the archipelago and makes for a good base for exploring as a number of dhows leave from here for the other islands.
The other islands in the archipelago attracting visitors include Vamizi, Rongui and Macaloe, and they are perhaps the face of the future of tourism in the archipelago.
The Maluane Project involves the local community in developing tourism without damaging the environment.
It also puts money into local fishermen’s projects across all three islands.
The project has overseen the building of one lodge on Vamizi, but the islands still largely retain their charm.
It will be a long time, if ever, before mass tourism takes over the Quirimbas like it has other parts of the African coast.
For now, this once-troubled archipelago is a real oasis for both luxury tourists with money to burn and travellers looking to make an effort to go beyond the guidebooks and discover one of the most unspoilt and idyllic corners of the globe.
Other places to explore in Mozambique
Ilha de Mozambique
Listed by Unesco, this island oozes history from its old stone pores. Close your eyes and drift back to the days when Portuguese merchants and Arab traders filled the buzzing streets.
Head inland to hike through the old tea plantations in a world away from the white sand beaches. A great escape for those who find the heat of the low-lying areas too much.
Delve back through the centuries in this historic oasis where dhows float on the sea and flamingos patrol the coastline.
The great diving, with huge manta rays, and idyllic white sandy beaches are the main drawcards here. Learn-to-dive courses are also available.
Mozambique’s safari parks are just starting to get back on their feet.
The most exciting developments are the joint projects with South Africa in the south, which aim to see fences dropping between the Kruger and the Parque Nacional do Limpopo.