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Friday, July 31, 2009

Santa Carolina (Paradise Island), Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

In May Roar Africa took a trip to Paradise Island. The tiny island where Bob Dylan composed his song Mozambique is one of five islands making up the Bazaruto Archipelago which at the time of writing you won't even find on GOOGLE maps. No, you'll have to switch to satellite view to see them, but they were very much on the map years ago and they will be again soon. They are glorious.

For Deborah and I it was a first visit to Paradise Island and for the Graham and Tish it was the first time back in 29 years. And that visit 29 years ago was also a first visit - they were the first intrepid "tourists" to arrive in 1980 after the Independence war (and still during the civil war).

Graham Keth tells the story:

Exploring Paradise Island.

Santa Carolina (Paradise Island), 2 miles by 0.3 miles in size, is a true rock island with deep channels, three beautiful beaches, and coral reefs close to the shore. In the 1950's Joaquim Alves, a flamboyant Portuguese businessman, controlled the coast line from Beira to Vilankulos (roughly 160 miles) and married a Mozambique local called Donna Anna. He gave her the first hotel in Vilankulos which was named after her and then focused his efforts on the tiny Santa Carolina where he built a grand 250 room hotel that was very popular with honeymooners and others for 20 years. This man was a legend in the area.

Before the air strip was built on Santa Carolina one would fly to Vilankulos and transfer to Santa Carolina by ferry - a distance of about 50 miles which took up to 4.5 hours (light Aircraft +/- 15minutes). After the air strip was built in the mid 60’s pilots would clear into the country at Beira or Lourenco Marques (Maputo) before continuing to the Island.

The very first of many trips to the island was round about 1959. The hotel was in its heyday and filled with people. However Mozambique was in the middle of an independence war and Joaquim Alves abandoned the hotel in 1973 towards the end of that war. Santa Carolina became a “no go area" occupied by FRELIMO - The Liberation Front of Mozambique. After independence in 1975 the Civil war ensued (1975 to 1992) but under the new government the FRELIMO personnel were moved to the main land. So it was that in 1980, shortly after Zimbabwe also gained independence, a colleague (also a pilot) and myself decided on a trip to the Island.

We flew from Zimbabwe in two aircraft for safety and were the first two aircraft to land on the island after Mozambique’s independence . We were unaware of the condition of the airstrip and landed after several low level inspection approaches. The friendly Mozambiquan staff, all dressed in their threadbare old uniforms, welcomed us to the island and gave us the best rooms available. Most of the rooms had been vandalised by the troops that occupied the island.

Exploring the old hotel.

Fortunately we brought our own essentials of tinned food, tea, milk and sugar. At our first meal we were offered fish which included Crayfish cooked over an open fire. Tish and I ordered one each and we could not believe their size, they weighed 11.7 lbs each! We were also given “Chicken casserole” which clearly was not a fowl at all and could only have been seagull, by the taste and the size and colour of the bones.

This is fishing paradise and so I hired one of the remaining old fishing boats (no life jackets and no radio communications) - we left at sunrise. As we were departing, I was aware of the captain’s assistant bailing water out of the boat with a 5 liter can. Initially I was not concerned as I thought it was water that had seeped in after standing overnight. We fished for about 3 hours on the high sea beyond Bazaruta island. All this time the chap never stopped bailing out water, however the fishing was good and after landing several barracuda, king fish and several sharks we returned. Other problems included blocked fuel filter stoppage of the engine and a horrible vibration of the prop shaft presumably from worn bearings or bent prop shaft.

On arrival I was met by a rather concerned Tish; unbeknown to me the other aircraft had left as one of their children had taken ill. Tish was concerned because although also the holder of a pilot's license she had no experience on the twin engine aircraft.

Another good memory of that trip was standing waist deep in the sea with a screw driver and eating oysters straight from the rocks. At the end of the trip we paid our bill with clothes and tackies (sneakers) as they insisted that money of any denomination was of no use.

The present hotel is still derelict, as is the Donna Anna in Vilankulos. The Paradise Island concession was previously owned by Ecco Delta Ltd. Rani Resorts has recently entered an agreement to purchase the concession and hopes to start building soon.


Although the hotel on Santa Carolina is in ruins it makes a wonderful day trip from one of the neighboring islands where there are beautiful lodges to choose from. Our day trip to the island was taken with Indigo Bay (Rani Resorts) with wom we had a wonderful stay on the neighboring Bazaruto Island (More on that in a seperate post). Take a day trip for a picnic, snorkeling, exploration, or just for some private beach time. It's also happens to be great kiteboarding spot but I took my own kite and borrowed a board from a very accomodating Indigo Bay staff member. Until recently the piano which Bob Dylan apparently used was still in the hotel ruins. It is now safely on the neighboring island but I hear it will be returned when Rani Resorts rebuilds on the Santa Carolina.

Wind + private beach = Kiteboarding Paradise

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Blogger eurico said...

Love mozambique, I love that country the best in the world

December 21, 2009 at 11:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for this post. there is strangely very little to be found online about the history and even fewer photos. looks pretty amazing.

January 1, 2010 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

I have been wanting to go to an Island as long as I can remember. Never realising that it was right om my doorstep. Seeing the trailer for Survivor SA celebs,which was done on this island got me so excited to google as much information as possible. Your pictures are the only ones that shows the old hotel,which is so mesmorising to me. Thank you so much and a Very happy new year, regards Patricia Zelna Douglas Robbetse from JHB SA

January 1, 2010 at 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In January 1975 my late husband and I spent our honeymoon there, it looks just as beautiful as I remember - and some of the pictures on this page are exactly where we took some amazing photographs .... I remember how we looked down into the water from the hotel balcony, and you could see to the ocean floor, pristine beaches and swaying palm trees ... a perfect paradise. In fact Santa Carolina or Paradise Island is absolutely paradise!

January 14, 2010 at 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first visit to Santa Carolina was 12 years ago. The first impression of the island left an indellible image imprinted on my memory. It was the most beautiful place I had seen. I remember in those days you could still get a light lunch and a cold beer if you were lucky, it wasn't much but OK. The snorkel/free diving here is fabulous. You literally walk into the warm ocean and you are in a marine wonderland. I hope to visit again soon, sometime this year I hope. Jenni - Umhlanga

January 21, 2010 at 2:57 AM  
Anonymous Renee Dunbar said...

My first husband and I honeymooned on Paradise Island in 1973, It was truly a wonderful island. We flew from Salisbury, Rhodesia and landed in Vilankulas. We boarded a boat similar to the famed 'African Queen' to the Santa Carolina island. Staff from the hotel carried wooden chairs to the boat to take the ladies to shore.
My husband went snorkeling while I lay on the white sands sunbathing. We played table tennis in the evenings at the hotel.

February 14, 2010 at 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Mike Gardner said...

I flew there in 1975/1976 with a bunch of folk and aircraft from Mashonaland flying Club. If memory serves me it was Rhodes and Founders weekend. Really great fun. Went back by boat in 2008 sadly everything is derelict. Mike Gardner

February 24, 2010 at 8:56 AM  
Anonymous Susan Graham said...

We spent numerous holidays on Paradise Island as children in the 50's and 60's, mostly before the airstrip was built. We drove from Joburg to LM, next day up to Imhambane and to the mission station at Cambine where my mother was born. Half a day to Vilankulos and a full afternoon on the scow, the Erisera, to Santa Carolina. It was a magic place and I would love to go back some day.

February 25, 2010 at 6:49 AM  
Anonymous Mark Thorpe said...

Hi Graham,

Great to see your blog on Paradise Island. I join the group of people remembering the wonderful early days on Santa Carolina.

It was somewhere in the early 1960s that I stayed on Paradise Island with my parents for an idylic week. I was just old enough to explore the island by myself and to snorkel off the jetty on the west side (opposite to the main hotel). For a few years after the holiday I dreamed of walking around the island. The dream would always start the same way; I would suddenly realise that after all these years of dreaming about Paradise Island, I was finally back. There was a sense of time urgency and I needed to get all the way around the island. I very seldom managed to get all the way around before I woke up.

As a child I spent many hours drawing the shape of the island and visualising what it was like walking around it. In the last 20 years I have dreamt less of Paradise Island. This is probably because Pardise Island got me interested in islands. I did a trip through the Maldives in 1975 even getting myself ship wrecked on a dhoni (local fishing boat), went to Inhaka, Sri Lanka, did a trip with the whole family (8 chidlren) on the Soren Larsen through the islands of Vanatu. Now I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and the house has a wonderful view of some islads.

I have always been mixed about going back to Pardise Island. I would love to do it, but am afraid that it will alter my momories and that wonderful time.

Wathing the blogs on SA Survivor I have been amazed at how accurate my memory of Paradise Island is. I have remembered ever little bay. Your photograph of the path linking the hotel to the other side of the island brought back such vivid memories, or more accurately, valided my memories.

thanks again for such a great blog.

If you have any other photographs I would really appreciate if you could email them to me. Many thanks

June 25, 2010 at 1:47 AM  
Anonymous Graciete Santos said...

Hi there!

My name is Graciete and I'm from Portugal!
It is so nice to hear something about Santa Carolina Island!
My grandfather, Joaquim Santos, also known as Jack Santos by the tourists, was actually the manager of the "Santa Carolina Hotel". He worked for Joaquim Alves and have been his friend for more than 30 years!
I have lived and studied in Mozambique for five years and I went to Vilankulos and to the Magaruque and Benguerua islands. I loved them! Next time I hope to go to Bazaruto and specially to Santa Carolina islands, with my family, in a very special occasion!

Thanks for posting!

July 22, 2010 at 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to find this on the web. I have visited this island in June 2004. Paid ~R80 pp to take us per boat (slightly dodgy, wood boat with diesel engin...), as arrived on the island, we had to pay $10 (USD) before stepping on the island, to be honest, the visit was worth a lot more than $10! Snorkling was the highest priority, it was awesome, devil fish, stone fish, crayfish, and all the more rare fishes were there. Late afternoon we planned on going back to vilankulos, the water level was still fairly low (low tide), but the driver said: lets go, so we didn't argue.. 100m from the shore, the propeller hit a rock, at first it was funny, until the woman had to help rowing us to shore with our sandels... late afternoon + no propeller + awesome island + no sleeping gear + signs of 'NO FIRES' = the biggest bond fire ever with allekreukel for supper (fresh from the see, there was plenty)... the old hotel had to be usefull one last time, and we definitely capitalised on that! Sorted out everything the next day, what a trip and experience, don't want to visit the island in any other way again! @0845068839

March 31, 2011 at 6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a walk down memory lane, thank you for this!!

Some comments were so similar to my memories of Paradise Island. I was busy putting something together about Paradise Island for my dad on father's day, as he first took us there as kids in the early 70's, and that's how i came across the blog.
We went there in the early 70's from then Rhodesia, and I must have been 4-5 years old. I have such vivid memories, like Marks' of the time there, snorkling in the water, going over to Bazaruta where my father and his friends went spear fishing etc. It honestly is one of the strongest and happiest memories of my childhood.

What a wonderfull time, and great memories.

James Whitelaw, Cape Town

June 10, 2011 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger James said...

I was on the island a few days ago, (29th Dec 2011) with a bunch of friends and yes, it is totally deralect with only a few people there, the hotel is just a shell as well is the church, however we climbed the stairs to the roof of the hotel and i proposed to my girlfriend! We stood on the on the round piece that sticks out on the edge overlooking the bay.
It was the best day of my life and hopefully we can come back one day when it is re-built. Even it being in the condition it was, there was still a special feeling to the whole place and i wish i could go back in history to see it in the 50's. If anyone has some pics of the hotel etc, please email them to me as there is nothing on the net at all (very strange)

James McLean, Johannesburg

January 6, 2012 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger James said...

oops, my email address is

January 6, 2012 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Rob Breen said...

Congratulations on your engagement James!
Hope we can find some old 50's pics.

January 6, 2012 at 9:56 AM  
Anonymous John Harris said...

We spent a week of our honeymoon on Paradise Island in 1968. We have mixed memories. The adventure started well enough when we bought for a few pence a 5 gallon porcelain bottle of red wine on the jetty at Vilancoulos. On arrival at the hotel my wife went straight down with jaundice so she spent the week in bed. I had to wander around this beautiful island alone - and try to finish as much of the wine as possible. It was a gorgeous place, but I couldn't really enjoy it.
John Harris

July 13, 2014 at 4:39 AM  
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