Mozambique Horse Safari: A working holiday on an island paradise

With a cold beer in one hand and a map in the other, I sat at the idyllic Baobab Backpackers beach bar planning my onward journey from Mozambique to Malawi for the following day. As the sun set over the azure waters of the Bazaruto Archipelago, I began to question whether I was really ready to leave the paradise-like beaches of Vilanculos.

A few days earlier, my friend Alice and I had travelled to the small coastal town of Vilanculos to celebrate my 30th birthday and to indulge in a special treat we’d been planning and looking forward to for months: a day of horse riding along pristine beaches with the top-rated Mozambique Horse Safari.

The ‘Red Dune ride’ was our chosen adventure, and as we approached the white sands of Vilanculos beach, our guide Pat (co-owner of Mozambique Horse Safari with his wife Mandy Retzlaff), told us we would have to ride at speed in order to reach the red dune before the tide came in. Thrilled to be given the green light to gallop freely side by side as opposed to riding nose to tail like many riding outfitters insist upon, Alice and I galloped away along the never-ending beach.

A couple of days later, after three wonderful months of travelling together, it was time for Alice and I to continue our journeys in different directions; her returning south to the scuba diving mecca of Tofo, and I was to be heading inland to the shores of Lake Malawi. But when Mandy Retzlaff from Mozambique Horse Safari rushed over to me at the bar the evening before my planned departure, she gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. A few days later I found myself aboard a speedboat heading out to the Bazaruto Archipelago to start a new adventure with the beautiful horses of Mozambique Horse Safari on Benguerra island.

Below is a collection of photos from the mainland beaches of Vilanculos, Benguerra island and some of the much loved horses of Mozambique Horse Safari.

WARNING: Some of the images below may cause itchy feet and spontaneous holiday bookings.

Me and a horse named Tequila enjoy an evening bathe. Tequila is a horse with an interesting story about his journey to the island and his attempts to escape it. You can read more about his story in Mandy Retzlaff’s book ‘One Hundred and Four Horses: A Memoir of Farm and Family, Africa and Exile’.

Mozambique Horse Safari, Benguerra island, Mozambique

Part of my work on Benguerra island was to attract guests staying at the island’s two exclusive lodges – Azura and Benguerra – to sign up for beach rides. I soon discovered that the easiest way to do that was to take the horses for an evening swim in front of the beach bar at cocktail hour…the bookings quickly started to appear.

A view of the Bazaruto Archipelago from Vilanculos from Baobab Backpackers Lodge. We’d arrived late the night before and had no idea that this spellbinding view awaited us. You can see Benguerra island in the distance.

After months of eating rice and tomato stew in Ghana before travelling to Mozambique, a full English breakfast was such a special treat it literally brought tears to my eyes. The staff at Baobab Backpackers even put sparklers in my sausage!

Alice and Pat riding up the red dune in Vilanculos. The view from the top is awe-inspiring.

Alice and I galloping along Vilanculos beach

Beautiful Benguerra island where my working holiday started. This is horse riding luxury – there’s no grooming or saddling for the guests – the horses are prepared and brought directly to their chalets. All they have to do is climb on and enjoy the ride.

Staff at Benguerra Lodge prepare the perfect setting for honeymooners to enjoy a romantic dinner on the beach at sunset.

A fisherman sits in a dhow on a stormy afternoon on the island.

Before travelling to Benguerra island I took a day trip from the mainland to Magaruque island, one of the six islands that comprise the Bazaruto Archipelago. Magaruque is a pristine and tiny island at just 2.4 km long and up to 1 km wide.

Magaruque island

Magaruque island, one of the six islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago.

A beautiful view from atop a sand dune on Magaruqe island.

Riding along the shores of Benguerra island on a horse named Vumba, complete with his sunglasses that minimise the glare from the sand and keep the flies at bay.

Island companions Vumba and Tequila share a moment of affection.

Benguerra island riding offers a rich diversity of terrain and views, from long stretches of beach to winding trails passing through tiny fishing communities, lakes and sand dunes.

Me riding a horse named Princess on Benguerra island. Princess is a horse with a fascinating story of survival after being shot in the neck and nursed back to health by Mandy and Pat Retzlaff. 

Me and my favourite of the island horses, Tequila.

A horse named Slash enjoys a splash.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the horses to come out of the sea – they love rolling and splashing around to cool off.

Followed by a good roll in the sand.

A small fishing community on Benguerra island.

Fishermen pull in their nets in Vilanculos.

Women carry fish from the boats to the shore.

Benguerra island

Me and Tequila

The Dhow Bar at Benguerra Lodge

Luxury beach dining for guests at Benguerra Lodge

The staff at Benguerra Lodge are outstanding.

Bazaruto island, the largest island in the Bazaruto Archipelago

A perfect spot for some beach yoga

A storm rolls in to Vilanculos.

Alice and I on the red dune in Vilankulo


Me riding Vumba on Benguerra island

The presidential suite at Azura on Benguerra island 

Mandy and Pat Retzlaff’s dog Coco takes the wheel.

I really can’t recommend Mozambique Horse Safari highly enough, for riders and non-riders alike. Mozambique is an exceptionally beautiful country with so much to offer all visitors, from budget backpackers like myself to luxury resort travellers flying in by helicopter; it’s a country that caters for everyone.

This is a destination and an experience that’s definitely worthy of a place on anyone’s bucket list.

You can thank me later.