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Azura on Benguerra Island: The African Beach Retreat Giving Back to its Community

Jun. 11th, 2014 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
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Photos Courtesy of Azura

Benguerra Island isn’t the easiest beach destination to reach in Africa, but once you arrive on the unspoiled island with a population of 2,000, it’s easy to realize that the trip was well worth it. Located off the coast of Vilanculos, Mozambique, Benguerra Island (pronounced Ben-gwer-a) is only accessible via helicopter or private plane, which is its own mini-adventure offering picturesque views of the Indian Ocean and small villages below during the short 15-minute flight.

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There are several places to stay on the island, but the most luxurious is without a doubt Azura, which features 16 private villas, personal butler service and everything you can imagine to make your vacation as flawless as its surrounding beaches. This resort not only provides modern, safe, chic and stylish accommodations (and all the privacy and solitude a vacation like this deserves), but it also operates under the mission of improving the local community, which as a guest you can help accomplish.

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Beginning with a figurative red carpet rollout upon check-in, guests are pampered day in and day out and have the choice of having their meals in a variety of imaginative places each day. They can be received on a private table on the beach, in their villa, or even in a Dhow boat parked on the sand, which is the name given to the local fishing boats hand built by the local villagers with sails hand-sewn. Seafood dishes, like Crabcake Benedict for breakfast and freshly-caught lobster tail for dinner, dominate the all-inclusive menu, which changes daily, and meat and vegetarian options are available as well.

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Each villa has its own private pool, sun deck and straw palapa in the sand for lounging in the shade, which makes staying on the resort and reading a good book a popular daily activity. But there are plenty of other things to do including stand-up paddle boarding, an island drive, or enjoying a day in the spa receiving treatments like the African full body scrub or the Tribal Traditions massage.

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The standout activity of the resort, however, and one of the most unique experiences you will come across is the popular Island Hop. The half-day excursion begins with a short ride on a speedboat to a crystal clear snorkeling site full of colorful fish and other sea creatures, and continues on to an enormous naturally-made sand dune. With a slope extremely steep, brave travelers have the option of taking a running jump from the top of the dune and letting the sand catch their fall, saving them from tumbling down the side of the massive mountain.

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Views of the water are picturesque from this summit, and if you’re lucky you may even see two bottlenose dolphins chasing a fish in the water below. The journey continues on to what may feel to some like a mirage of sorts: a mini island pre-set with wooden tables and chairs, white terry cloth beanbag loungers, an umbrella, towels and a beautifully-dug perimeter around each individual area decorated with palm fronds.

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The island is deserted with the exception of servers in Azura golf shirts hanging out 25 feet away in a mini-kitchen ready to serve a fresh lunch of chicken, fish and more. It’s pampered privacy at its best, and takes the idea of a picnic on the beach to a whole new level. After lunch, island hoppers can lounge in their private area and enjoy the serene atmosphere until the tide comes in and the small island quickly disappears into the ocean. Luckily, the friendly servers have this timed perfectly and pack everything up before the water sweeps the furniture (and them), away.

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All luxury and pampering aside, this is a resort you can truly feel good about staying at. Ten dollars is added to each night’s stay to support the Rainbow Fund, which promotes education on the island and a variety of causes, including environmental protection initiatives. Guests have the option of removing the charge from their bill, but the Rainbow Fund has been successful in placing 400 children in school on the island compared with only 40 before the Fund was established. Azura also prides itself on what they call “a firm policy of upliftment,” which means they only hire people native to Mozambique, of which many are from low education levels and disadvantaged communities. This is by no means reflected in their courteous, friendly demeanors and high-level quality of service, which rivals some of the most distinguished hotels around the world.

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By staying at this truly unique resort on a one-of-a-kind island, you are not only choosing to have a relaxing, five-star vacation, but you are improving the lives of everyone in the community, from the butler to the housekeeper to the bartender, and helping them create an even better life for themselves and their families.

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A Few Do’s and Don’ts for Your Travels:

Do: Ask the bartender to teach you how to play Bao, the local “board game” played with beans and a hand-carved board. It’s highly addicting and a favorite of locals and tourists alike.

Don’t: Be surprised when you wake up in the morning and the Indian Ocean is a mile away from your villa when only the night before the waves lapped close to the beach. The island has incredible tide swings that will wow you.

Do: Take the Dhow boat sunset cruise. The colors of the sky are comparable to a painting, and seeing firsthand the manpower it takes to operate the handcrafted boat is fascinating.

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Don’t: Forget to generously tip the staff, who are the most welcoming, kind-hearted, hard-working people who make the stay truly comfortable.

Do: Follow all CDC recommendations for vaccines. While the water is clean to drink at the resort and malaria is extremely uncommon, it’s still good to take proper precautions while traveling abroad. Currently the CDC recommends travelers from the United States take anti-malaria medication and get vaccinated for Typhoid and Hepatitis B when traveling in Mozambique.

Do: Get your Mozambique visa before arriving in the country. The customs area in both the Maputo and Vilanculos airports is very short-handed and slow, and arriving with the proper paperwork will get you to the beach much faster than those who don’t plan ahead.

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