Sailing the Coast of Mozambique by Dhow
Dhow trips in Mozambique

Rustic and remote, travelling to Mozambique is like taking a step back in time. While the greatest charm of this destination is its pristine, pearly white beaches, Mozambique is also the perfect place to visit if you want to have the sort of holiday that combines an outdoor adventure with a lesson in the country’s traditions, cultures and history. 

Going Dhow sailing along the Mozambique coastline is a popular activity and one that anyone wanting a different perspective of this beautiful nation should experience. 

For centuries, these traditional wooden sailing boats have served as an important way of life for Mozambique, carrying not just cargo and people, but also cultural exchanges and the stories of faraway lands. 

With their lateen sails, billowing like majestic wind spirits, dhows have travelled over the Indian Ocean since as early as the 6th century, leaving an indelible mark on Mozambique’s maritime heritage.

Today, dhow trips are a popular pastime and are included in numerous Mozambique tour packages. Not only do those who head off on a dhow tour get to experience the feeling of sailing the seas, but they are also taken to secret hidden coves and other out of the way attractions, all while enjoying a culturally immersive experience unlike any other.

Coast of Mozambique with Palm Trees and a Dhow

Setting Sail on a Dhow

The sun, a molten coin melting into the endless turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, paints the sky in fiery hues. A gentle breeze whispers through the sail, billowing it out like a giant’s breath. Sitting perched on the weathered deck of the dhow, one can feel the gentle rhythmic creak of the ancient wood against the steady gurgle of water beneath the hull. A day trip on a dhow is one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences you can have while visiting Mozambique. 

While you are familiar with traditional yachts and you might have even experienced sailing on one, dhows not only sail differently but they are a lot more simply made. 

Dhows are constructed with a long, slender hull carved from sturdy local woods like teak or mangrove. The bow and stern are curved upwards in a graceful arc which gives them that distinctive double-ended design. 

This design, honed over centuries, offers excellent manoeuvrability and stability in the often choppy waters of the Indian Ocean.

The most striking feature of a dhow is its lateen sail. Unlike the rectangular sails of European ships, the lateen sail is triangular, almost like a giant kite. It’s typically made from a rough-woven cotton and hoisted on a long, angled mast that leans forward dramatically. 

This unique design allows dhows to harness even the faintest of winds and sail efficiently across the water.

The construction of a dhow is a testament to generations of shipbuilding wisdom. 

Traditionally, skilled craftsmen would use intricate lashing techniques to join the wooden planks together, often relying on natural fibres like coir (coconut husk) or even mangrove roots. This eliminates the need for metal nails, which can rust and weaken the hull over time. 

The result is a beautiful and strong vessel, perfectly adapted to the rhythm of the waves.

A Dhow seen during a Mozambique Tour

Although the dhow is a fascinating vessel and one that will have any maritime fan intrigued, the magic of a dhow trip during a Mozambique tour is more about the destinations you get to visit, places that would normally be out of reach. 

Popular dhow destinations include:

  • The Bazaruto Archipelago

This gorgeous island paradise with its white beaches, ocean waters teeming with marine life, and lush vegetation is the perfect place to explore on a dhow. The archipelago consists of several deserted islands, including Benguerra and Magaruque, where you can snorkel along the beautiful coral reefs, or simply relax on the sun-drenched shores.

  • The Quirimbas Archipelago

Further north, the Quirimbas Archipelago offers an even more remote and untouched experience. While exploring the deserted islands, which are fringed with swaying coconut palms, you can often spot playful dolphins splashing in the waters just off the coast. Here you can also take a walk through the area’s historic settlements which are steeped in centuries of Swahili and Portuguese influence.

  • Ilha de Moçambique

With a dhow trip around Ilha de Moçambique, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can really step into Mozambique’s rich history. The dhow will sail past crumbling forts and fascinating colonial architecture, which perfectly showcase the island’s unique blend of African, Arabic, and Portuguese influences.

  • The Southern Coastline

For those seeking a more picturesque adventure, the southern coastline is just the perfect place to venture. From the comfort of the dhow, you will sail past dramatic cliffs and the secluded coves around Inhaca and Machangulo Islands, spot breaching humpback whales during migration season (July to October), or, for those fishermen out there, you can go deep-sea fishing.

These are just a few examples, and the specific destinations offered by dhow tours will vary depending on the operator and the duration of your trip.

A traditional Dhow at Sunset in Mozambique

Mozambique Dhow Trips for First-Time Visitors

A Mozambique tour is one of Africa’s most unique holiday experiences, and if you are travelling specifically with a dhow sailing trip in mind, here are some essential tips for first-time visitors:

Choosing the Right Dhow Tour

  • Do your Research: Different dhow tours cater to varying interests and budgets. Look for tours that match your desired pace, activities (snorkelling, diving, fishing), and level of comfort (basic amenities vs. luxury options). Some Mozambique tours include a dhow trip while others will require you to book a tour in addition to your holiday. 
  • Read all of the Reviews: Checking online reviews and recommendations can give you the most valuable insights into the quality of the operator, the crew’s expertise, and the overall experience.
  • Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to contact tour operators directly to ask about itinerary details, safety protocols, food inclusions, any necessary permits, and any other questions you might have. 

Packing Essentials for Your Dhow Trip

  • Bring Enough Sun Protection: Pack a hat, sunglasses, and a good quality sunscreen – the Mozambican sun is strong and unforgiving. 
  • Swimwear and Quick-Drying Clothes: Pack comfortable swimwear, light clothing for warm weather, and a cover-up for onshore excursions.
  • Essentials for the Boat: Bring a light rain jacket (for those unpredictable showers), a reusable water bottle, and comfortable shoes with a good grip for the boat deck.
  • Cash: While some Mozambique tours may be all-inclusive, it’s always good to have some local currency (Mozambican Metical) in hand for souvenirs or additional purchases at local villages. ATMs are becoming more common, but it’s wise to have some cash readily available.

Best Time for a Dhow Trip

The dry season (May to October) offers the most pleasant weather for sailing adventures, with skies sunny and clear and the seas quiet and calm. However, this is also peak tourist season, so you can expect higher prices and larger crowds. The shoulder seasons (April & November) can be a good compromise, with these months offering decent weather and fewer crowds.

Ready to Set Sail and Explore the Azure Waters of Mozambique in Style?