The One Thing You Can't Miss: Mozambique

This summer, head to Ponta do Ouro, an off-the-grid beach oasis in southeast Africa
April 5, 2016Words by Whitney JamesPhotos by Whitney James

In my eyes, every tropical dream destination has a few common themes. For starters, the location must be somewhere off the beaten path, and a place where the waves crash gently – or powerfully, if that’s your thing. The color of the sand doesn’t really matter, as long as there’s no one on it. You need a drink accessibly in hand. Think Cabo, but without all the people. That’s exactly how I would describe Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique.

Ponta is one of those rare places left on earth where you can’t rely on the power of the Internet to find your way. 

Roughly a five-hour drive from the nearest airport (Durban International Airport in South Africa or Maputo International Airport in Mozambique), Ponta do Ouro sits just above the South African border and is named “tip of gold” after the pristine stretch of sand that extends out from the southern side of the beach. I was lucky enough to spent the weekend here during a month-long trip to Southern Africa last month. My boyfriend grew up in Durban, but had never been to Ponta; this time, he was lured by a rumor of a nice little wave that peeled off the edge of the golden cape. All he had to tell me was that dolphins often play in the wave, and I was on board.

If you were to zoom in on Ponta on Google Maps, the birds-eye-view would show a dusty green landscape interrupted by zig-zags of hot sand, crossing back and forth from the border down to the oceanside. You would see thatched roofs and tin ones, and a couple of power lines strung across the landscape. But nowhere would you see pavement. Ponta is truly one of those rare places left on earth where you can’t rely on the power of the Internet to find your way. 

With my boyfriend’s family in tow, we piled into the cars with a whole bunch of surfboards and not much of a plan. We knew we would leave the rental car at the border, hitch a ride to the beach house, and get really, truly off the map for maybe the first times in our lives. It was to be a weekend of uninterrupted, beachy bliss. And as is so rarely the case, it all went off without a hitch. 

We spent the next three days lounging on a beach full of deep, white sand, stand-up paddleboarding along the shoreline, and shopping the markets just down the street from our house at Mar E Sol. Evenings were spent watching kiteboarders chart miles back and forth over the bay, sipping on frosty Savannas, and feasting on fresh prawn cakes. It was the stuff of tropical daydreams.

I only have three tips for anyone lucky enough to visit Ponta. First, don’t try to walk along the sandy roads barefoot for any reason at any time of day whatsoever — you will burn your feet. Second, watch out for the Indo-Pacific Portuguese man-o-wars (also known as bluebottles or, my favorite term, floating terrors) that sometimes creep into the bay and deliver nasty stings. And lastly, start earning airline miles, because you’re going to want to come back. 

With any luck, the 4x4 access roads and sheer enormity of distance required to get to Mozambique from North America will make it almost impossible to blow up this spot. Ponta shouldn’t turn into Cabo anytime soon – although Jack’s Bar (see below) might appreciate the business. 

Visit Carver’s Market
Whether or not this cluster of buildings has an official name is anyone’s guess, but the locals call it Carver’s Market. A short drive north from downtown Ponta brings you to one of the most authentic markets south of the equator. Use your finger to draw any object you desire in the sand, and one of the skilled carvers will craft it into a wooden masterpiece. Plus, it’s just fun to drive down the sandy road to get here.

Grab a Drink at Jack’s Barefoot Bar
The floor in this bar is made of sand, you take off your shoes when you go in, and there’s no door. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember if there’s a roof. Nevertheless, Jack’s is the place to go in Ponta for a good time. What’s so fun about a bar with no walls? Their main drinking game is to hit a golf ball into a goal deep in the valley below to win free beer. Swing away, but remember that you’ll have to drive back on rutted sand in the dark to wherever you’re staying in town.

Swim with the Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins is illegal in most countries, but not in Mozambique. Take a dive with the local dolphin whisperer, Angie Gullan, to have the best chance of a sighting and to ensure safe practices around these wild but fragile creatures. You can find her at Dolphin Encountours Research Center, the company Gullan co-founded twenty years ago in Ponta. Worried about your sea legs? Pick up Vomidrine, the Dramamine equivalent, across the street at the conveniently located pharmacy (or chemist, as the South African’s say).  

Learn to Surf and Kiteboard
Ponta might be one of the only places you can learn to surf at a bar. Head to the aptly named Beach Bar, located just a step away from the main beach area, to get more information on renting all kinds of water toys and to inquire about lessons. The warm, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and the outrageously good exchange rate will have you coming back for lessons every day. [H]

Whitney does marketing at Outside GO, loves donuts, and is a total endorphin junkie based in Boulder, Colorado.

 

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