Capetonians are suffering through the rain and Joburgers are preparing for the cold to start biting again - soon we will all be yearning for summer.
But I say no winter is complete without a vacation. Break up those cold, gloomy months with a little pick me up, not only will it give you something to look forward to, but it will give you a little taste of summer when you so desperately need it.
In South Africa, we're lucky, we don't need to look far to find golden beaches, delicious food and warm water. We just need to peak up at our neighbours to the north and our holiday wishes can and will be answered.
The Tofo, Barra area in Inhambane is the perfect mainland getaway with that laid back island feel. The best part about travelling here during our winter is that it's off season. Don't be put off by the words "off season" because there is nothing off about it at all. The temperatures are an average of 24 degrees, the water is warm and the food is fresh and delicious!
Expect life to slow down when you arrive at either Tofo or Barra beach. As soon as your big toe hits the sand, it's as if your work doesn't exist, you are in total relaxation mode. Expect some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets to grace your holiday and know that if you venture north of the border during this 'off season,' sometimes you will be amongst the only people on the beach.
It's incredibly peaceful. It's incredibly romantic. It's incredibly jovial. It's for this seclusion, beauty and peacefulness that we recommend this as your next winter destination.
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What makes this destination truly incredible are the people. The Mozambican people we met were truly happy for us to be visiting the country, and were truly happy to help us in any way they possibly could. When it comes to safety, we felt safe walking around on our own during the day and at night. If walking from destination to destination it is advised that you stay in groups and don't carry any valuables.
Whether you're looking for a little bit of luxury or more of a rustic experience, there is affordable accommodation that can cater to your needs.
Luxury Accommodation - Hotel Tofo Mar, Tofo
With entrances on the main road and on the beach, Hotel Tofo Mar, gives anyone looking for a little bit of luxury the opportunity to have all of the local amenities at your doorstep, while still having a secluded, pampered experience. From the moment you step foot into the beautifully decorated hotel (the only hotel in Tofo, might I add) you are greeted with impeccable service. The standard sea view room will offer you an unforgettable view from the comfort of your king size bed.
Although Hotel Tofo Mar is by far the most up-market place to stay in Tofo, it's also known for its vibey Friday night party. Ask anyone in Tofo where the place to be on a Friday night is and they'll say the hotel. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, do yourself a favour and spend a Friday night there, you'll be treated to live music from a local band and cocktails to die for. Some even say they have the best mojito on the beach.
Off season rates starting at around R850 per night.
Luxury Accommodation - Blue Footprints Eco Lodge, Barra
This is the home away from home you dream about. The lodge which can only sleep 10 people is situated on the tip of Barra, about 15 minutes away from Tofo city centre. From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave you will be treated like you are part of one very exclusive and welcoming family.
Upon arrival we were greeted by the entire staff and their three dogs. Yes, there are dogs. If you are not a dog person, unfortunately this isn't the place for you.
Dinner is prepared by a local chef, and your taste buds and tummy can expect to be fully satisfied by the locally inspired meals. This destination was built for ultimate relaxation. Each private lodge is equipped with hammocks, a deck looking over the ocean and extreme privacy. The only thing not so private about this particular lodge is the toilet. If you are travelling as a couple, be prepared to get to know your partner a little better than you knew them before, because the room is open plan. That's right, there's no door to the bathroom.
Asides from the superb service, excellent food and comfort, the Blue Footprints Eco Lodge gets an extra star from us for being one hundred per cent self sustainable. Using renewable energy, recycling and solar power, Blue Footprints is completely off the grid. So if you are trying to escape load shedding this is the place for you. The entire experience is authentic from beginning to end. You feel good about staying here not only because of the environmental sustainability, but because you feel like royalty when you're there. Although you have an ocean view from this lodge, it's not advisable to swim in the water directly in front. The lodge is about 10 minutes from Barra beach front, and about a 20 minute drive from Tofo. Transfers are available from the lodge.
The off season rate per person per night is R1895, a steal for what they offer.
Budget Accommodation - Tofo Beach Cottages
For anyone who wants to be a little bit closer to the action choose Tofo Beach Accommodation. All three of the cottages up for rent are self-catering, and allow for a more rustic way of living while on holiday. We stayed at Casa Isabel, which is situated about five minutes walking from the Tofo city centre. If you prefer to stay right on the beach, you can stay at Casa Derika, and if you prefer to stay a little bit further out in Tofinho (there is some incredible surf there) you can stay at Casa Christine.
Workers, Raul and Pedro will take care of you while you're there, should you have any questions or want to arrange transport somewhere they can do that for you, and if you want to buy fresh fish, they can arrange for a fisherman to come right to your doorstep. At your own expense, Tofo Beach Accommodation will arrange an airport pick up, they will also stop at the supermarket for you to buy supplies before you get to your cottage. Make sure you buy everything you need asides from fish and vegetables, as regular kitchen ingredients are harder to find once you get into Tofo.
Raul or Pedro will stop by each day to tidy your holiday home, so that your holiday isn't interrupted by dirty work. In off season, each of these homes cost R650 per night, and can sleep up to seven people. This is a great option for a family travelling together, or a couple who would like some privacy. Each home is equipped with a braai. The perfect price for a family getaway!
Budget Accommodation - Areia Branca
Both the Barra and Tofo areas of Inhambane must be the friendliest places ever because Areia Branca also feels like a home away from home. Run by Afrikaans couple, Joey and Jacques, this is a real deal for your money. Areia Branca offers self-catering cottages, and camping sites for the more adventurous traveller. You can arrange with Joey or Jacques to get picked up from the airport, and again they will stop at the supermarket to make sure you are equipped with everything you need to make a lekker braai. As South Africans, you will feel right at home with Joey and Jacques. Everyone living in the area calls them tante Joey and oom Jacques.
Areia Branca is situated on the estuary side of Barra. From the accommodation you are treated to a spectacular view of the water, palm trees and mangroves. There are even kayaks on site that you can take out for a spin on the water. If you are feeling very adventurous, they can arrange a kayak trip for you through the estuary to go snorkelling with sea horses, ghost pipe fish, frog fish and other fascinating marine life.
The accommodation is basic, but clean, and although it's self-catering, don't worry about spending your holiday tidying up, each day one of the house keepers will come by to make sure your chalet is spick and span. In off season, a waterfront chalet costs R198 per person, and sleeps a maximum of six people. Camping will run you R150 per person per day, and a beach front house R1,490 per night. It takes about 25 minutes to walk to the closest restaurant from Areia Branca, so it's best to have a vehicle, otherwise Joey and Jacques can arrange transport.
Mozambique Things to do
Tofo and Barra are known for the scuba diving that can be done off of either beach. Before you commit to going out on a dive, I have to warn you, the dive is launched on an inflatable boat that is not very graceful to get onto. If you can get over looking a little bit silly for the launch, you will definitely have a dive to remember. This area is known for manta rays and whale sharks, although dive schools used to be able to guarantee that you would spot these magnificent marine creatures on each dive, sightings are getting more scarce. After diving about every day for one week, we were treated to a spectacular sighting of a 4 metre wide manta ray, and were able to see pods of dolphins and even a hump back whale from the boat. There are many dive shops to choose from. Be sure to pay in cash, if you pay with card, you will be subject to a 10% surcharge. You can expect to pay around R500 per dive.
If you're not into SCUBA diving, there is some excellent snorkelling to be done off the beaches. Most dive schools will run ocean safaris which go out mid day. You can expect to ride on the boat for about two hours looking for exquisite marine life to swim with. You can expect to see dolphins, whales and general fish life.
Surfing on Tofo Beach
For all the Capetonians who are used to surfing in cold water, you will be in heaven when you feel the temperature of the water while surfing Tofo Beach. You can even leave your wet suit at home and surf in your swimming costume. The beach break is great for beginner to intermediate surfers who want to wet their surfing appetite. You can buy lessons and rent boards from The Surf Shack on the main beach in Tofo, be sure to have cash because they don't accept cards. You can expect to pay R66/hour for a surf board rental and around R300 for a private surf lesson.
Foodie spots and things to eat
There is no better way to experience the local food of a country than to attend the local market. I would definitely recommend buying fresh seafood from the fishermen at the market in Tofo at least once. Here you can buy prawns, crayfish, or the catch of the day by the kilo and arrange for a local cook from one of the local restaurants to prepare the fish for you with side dishes. For a meal for two people this should cost about R133.
Chill Beach Bar
The Chill Beach Bar is just as relaxing as it sounds. Lounge chairs decorate the beach, and cocktails are served chilled to perfection. It's not only the atmosphere and the drinks that this place is known for, it also has unforgettable food. If you're longing for a little home away from home try the peri peri chicken or the prego roll, you won't be disappointed.
Ask anyone in the area, they will tell you this is THE place to eat. Run by French owners, the Green Turtle is the most up market place to eat on the beach, and well worth it. The average meal will cost you between R100 and R200.
The vibe at this bar will keep you coming back again and again. Be careful to watch the time, because you could sit at Neptunes the entire day and not realize it. The food here is hearty, fresh and delicious and will run you anywhere from R40 - R100+ per meal. Be sure to try the local dishes, the clam pot and fish burger are to die for.
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