It’s semi-ridiculous to go to Villanculos and not dive. It has a Weston-Super-Mare style beach (albeit with more sun and colour) which isn’t great for swimming in and is, truth be told, a bit sludgy with rumours of tiny creatures that like to lay eggs in you that turn into worms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, with a beach remarkable for its constantly changing appearance and the stealthy rush of the tide, but I’ve been rather spoilt for beaches of late and reserve the right to be sniffy. There’s some nice food to be had in town (Bar Tize, for example), and there’s a lively market, but overall it’s pretty much all about doing stuff in the sea.
We had a shockingly strong warning against staying at Baobab backpackers. A guy called Ed raped a girl on the beach nearby, we were told, plus the service is rubbish. In contrast, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (well, not everyone, obviously) told us that Zombie Cucumber backpackers’ was The Place To Go. ‘Awesome!’ ‘Best hostel ever!’ ‘You gotta go!’ Advice, it would seem, it was sensible to follow. Well, this is how the conversation at Zombie Cucumber went:
US: First things first, can we get a beer please?
ZC: No problem! [So far, so good.]
US: Do you do food here?
ZC: Sure, here’s the menu.
US: Great, can we have your Regina pizza please?
ZC: Sure, I’ll give the chef a call. Can I use your phone? Mine’s out of credit.
[ZC has long conversation with Chef in Portuguese, and then hangs up.]
ZC: Sorry, you’ll have to go and get it. The motorbike has broken down.
US: I see. Is it far?
ZC: Yes, very.
US: Right. How about sandwiches, can you make those here?
US: Okay, one cheese and tomato sandwich please.
ZC leaves. Returns shortly after.
ZC: Sorry, no bread.
US: Ah. So, can you do any food at all?
ZC: No, sorry.
Ever seen Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch? It’s similar. So, we decided to take our chances with Ed the Rapist.
To clarify, I don’t mean to be glib about an allegation as serious as rape; it’s not a laughing matter. But I’m 100% sure it was an allegation to which, as a party that stood to suffer quite badly from it, Baobab deserved some kind of reply. And, as it turned out, it was cheaper than Zombie Cucumber, had a better, beachside location, offered chalets with a sea view and, as well as taking orders for food, actually served it.
We discovered it was a Monday having walked to the ‘nice but expensive’ Varanda restaurant and found it shut. It’s always shut on a Monday, which is fair enough. When we returned during opening hours, we ordered what I think we both agree was the best food we’ve had so far. I ordered the Best Prawns Ever, served with rice AND chips, three times, and it got better each time until I could barely see Alex over the pile of prawns.
Daytime activities on offer in Villanculos include diving (obviously), dhow trips (which we became familiar with in Lamu, a few countries further up the coast) and snorkelling, all usually taking in at least one or two of the surrounding islands. The snorkellers on our snorkelling/diving trip ended up feeling a bit like filler as we were told “Off you go, see you later!” but the snorkelling is great, although it can be very shallow in areas, and if you’re a bit flaily like me, you can easily scratch yourself on the coral, which is bad for both you and it (I’m fine, Mum, promise). Above sea level, the best view has to be from the top of the single most spectacular sand dune I’ve ever seen, on Bazaruto Island in the Bazaruto archipelago, with dazzling blue sea on one side and Jurassic Park on the other.
Villanculos is a pleasant way to spend a week, but you’re best off concentrating on what’s off the coast than what’s on it.