Day or night, there’s always something going on in Tofo. It's an unassuming village in Mozambique, yes, but offshore its waters hold a world of delights, and there are numerous activities to enjoy them under the African sun.
When the sun dips into the wetlands in the west, the town's eating scene and surprising nightlife come to the fore.
The beach at Tofo is a place of peace and plenty: stroll shore or hit the waves © Julian Love / Getty Images
Diving & snorkelling: encounters with the ocean’s giants
Tofo is one of the few places on the globe where elegant mantas and gentle whale sharks are present all year long, which means diving in this area of Mozambique is always in the company of giants. Between October and March, it's not uncommon to see 50-strong congregations. Excited stories shared in Tofo's bars of encounters with these peaceful beasts has even lead the odd traveller or two to decide to get PADI certified on the spot – Liquid Dive Adventures and Peri-Peri Divers run various PADI-accredited courses.
'Ocean safaris' in Tofo allow you to snorkel within a respectful distance of whale sharks © James R.D. Scott / Getty Images
If scuba diving isn’t for you, you can still admire the celestial spot patterns scattered across the world’s largest fish – the whale shark – on an 'ocean safari' snorkelling trip. It might look like these gargantuan creatures are dawdling lethargically through the waves next to you, but that assumption will soon be belied by the burning lactic acid in your weary legs as you kick to keep up from a safe distance (at least 4m). In the winter season (June to October), high-spirited humpback whales will spurt, slap and splash the choppy water around your boat.
While all the town’s dive operators offer scuba diving and ocean safaris, Peri-Peri Divers are unique in that a researcher from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) charity accompanies every trip. This means you have an expert on your boat ready to answer all your questions about the creatures you see beneath the waves. The MMF also hosts informative talks about the ins and outs of marine conservation on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The waves along Tofo's shores offer a variety of rides for most levels of surfers © Chris van Lennep / Getty Images
Surfing: from beginners’ waves to an advanced point break
There’s nothing like the exhilaration of catching a wave with playful dolphins along for the ride. Admittedly, if you’re new to surfing, the reality might involve more face planting into the glittering water than admiring the frolicking cetaceans. Even so, this relatively unexplored beach destination attracts a handful of in-the-know surfers from all around the world. The town has uncrowded breaks suitable for all levels.
Protected from the elements, the sheltered area inside the bay has gentle waves safe for intermediate surfers and for those who have never surfed before. More advanced surfers who are up for a challenge can tackle the larger swells and the reef break that is a short walk along the beach from Tofo.
You can hire boards and book small group lessons (maximum of eight people) from The Surf Shack, and if you need a little more support, one-on-one lessons can also be organised on request. You’ll probably find the locals you meet on the beach will be happy to give you some pointers too.
Sailing by traditional dhow in the waters of Mozambique is pleasurably slow going © EcoPic / Getty Images
Sailing: take a traditional dhow to Pig Island
If you’re keen to explore slightly further afield, book a dhow tour to nearby Pig Island. You’ll glide serenely across the flat water on these traditional African sailing boats, some of which have old advertising posters for sails. Once on the island, which is home to fewer than a thousand people, you’ll meet the chief, wander around its confines and have a lunch of assorted seafood. On the voyage back to Tofo, the dhow will make a few stops for snorkelling. This tour or can be booked through Diversity Scuba or Liquid Dive Adventures.
Paddleboarding, kayaking and waveskiing: exploring the serene bay
The watersports on offer in Tofo don't end with the surfing, diving and snorkelling. You can also hire kayaks from The Surf Shack or dive schools, and then paddle out to sea and try to spot marine life while you bob gently in the bay. Telltale signs that you're not alone might include changes of colour or movement in the water, such as the fin of a whale shark breaking the surface, the flick of a manta ray's wings or a turtle's head punctuating the waves as it comes up for air. A word of warning: sea conditions can get rough at times, so it's best only to paddle out when the ocean is calm with no big swell or whitecaps on the waves.
For something a bit different, you can also give waveski surfing a go. Akin to a sit-on-top kayak, these large surfboards with seats can be manoeuvred easily with a double-ended paddle to enable you to catch and surf waves or 'Eskimo roll' if you capsize. Or you could try stand up paddle boarding. When you try to stand on your board for the very first time, your legs may well turn to jelly, but stick with it and you’ll soon get used to the strange feeling of the waves rolling underneath you. It won’t be long before you gain confidence and are stand up paddle boarding like a pro – if you’re feeling adventurous enough, you might even brave catching a wave into shore
Quad bikes can be used to tour the roads between villages in the area of Tofo © nicolasdecorte / Getty Images
Quad biking: speed along dusty roads
While it’s easy to spend your days in the water, there's more to Tofo than just the beach, the ocean and the marine giants under the waves. If you’d prefer some land-based adrenaline, ask Diversity Scuba about booking a quad bike tour. Hurtle along bumpy dirt roads with the wind in your face as your guide leads you around Tofo and neighbouring Barra. Some of the vehicles seem to have been around for a while, so it’s probably a good idea to give the brakes and steering a quick check before you get on the road.
Making matapa with a traditional mortar and pestle is hard work © Melissa Hobson / Lonely Planet
Cooking: a taste of local life
For an authentic glimpse into the daily life of Tofo’s population, visit a local community on the Tofo Life ecotour. Set up and run by 10 village women, the income from the project helps reduce their dependence on the ocean for their livelihood, which makes their fishing habits more sustainable. During the half-day tour, you’ll have the chance to help make matapa, a traditional dish made from cassava leaves, peanut and coconut milk. It’s pretty tiring work, especially in the heat – just a minute spent pummelling the cassava leaves with a huge wooden pestle will leave you thirsty for a break. It's a good thing the recipe calls for coconut milk made from scratch, as you'll soon be offered a welcome sip of the refreshing water inside the coconuts after the women have expertly split them with a machete. Sitting on woven straw mats on the dusty ground, you'll then shell peanuts and help grate and soak the coconut flesh to make your milk. The best bit, of course, is sitting down to lunch and devouring plate after plate of matapa with eye-wateringly spicy peri peri sauce.
Celebrating: eating and nightlife
With a day of activities behind you, the evening is the time to refuel. At Branko’s Bar, enjoy heaped plates of rice with fish or beef, with the latter cooked over sizzling 'hot rocks' at your table. Guju’s Sunset Bar prepares hearty curries, which are indulgently served in an entire loaf of bread. Once your appetite is sated, follow the pounding drums to find live music performances at Tofo Tofo (Tuesdays) and Dathonga (Sundays) or party the night away at MozamBeat Motel (Fridays).
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