One of the most beautiful places on earth

Benguerra Island is one of six islands making up the Bazaruto Archipelago. Located close to the Mozambican coast outside the charming village of Vilankulo are the islands Bazaruto, Benguerra, Margaruque, Santa Carolina (Paradise Island), Banque and Pansy Shell Island. The Bazaruto Archipelago has an amazing marin life, protected as a national park.

The second-largest island is Benguerra (11 km long by 5.5 km wide), hosting 1,500 and 2,000 persons. It was known to the Portuguese as Santa Antonio, but was later renamed after an important local chief. The island consists of several villages: Chizungune in the north, Bavene, and Chiringoma in the south. This means that the population is spread out throughout the island. The infrastructure is not well developed, with sandy roads requiring four-wheel drive. The locals seldom have any vehicles, not even bicycles, but cross the island by foot. There is one primary school, but there is no high school. As the children live on various location on the island, many have to walk long distances to reach the school

The school at Benguerra is located at the center of the islands, and most children attend. The 8 teachers and 527 children from the age 6 to 16, meet for a morning session 7-12, or one afternoon session 12.30-17.30. The building is simple but well functioning, and has recently been enlarged with additional classrooms.

The sense of community and shared interests is very strong. Indeed, much of the population consists of a few families, supporting one another in a fruitful way. The community is run by an association known as Kanhikwedo, which comprises of traditional leaders, elected representatives of the community, and political councilors. The association’s source of income for running the villages is derived from 20% of tourism levies that they receive from the government.

Families often live together over generational divide, and a family group may consist of 3-4 generations, and range from 15-100 individuals. The majority of houses are small, and are built of wood or grass, while some are made of cement. Most families aim to build a more solid cement house, but it may take several years to save money and resources to build the house.

Most families are very poor and the households rely on small scale fishing, harvest sand oysters and other marine resources. With lean soil structure to support sustainable agricultural activities there are only very small scale activities to grow crops and raise livestock. Orange trees, sisal plants and palms are used to make mats and other woven products that can be bought from the locals as souvenirs. In recent years, the high-end lodges have provided many job opportunities for the islanders.

Water, energy and electricity are scarce resources at Benguerra. The majority of families do not have any access to electricity. A few families have their own generator which they run infrequently when funds are available, and some have recently acquired a solar panel and a few lamps. There is no electricity at the school or at the medical clinic. As the sun sets at around 17.30 and night shows stars at their brightest, it is difficult to work, study or be safe when there is little light. Cooking is done on traditional stoves, burning wood or coals, and while this is an important place to gather for the family is also poses a health hazard.

People meet at the local barraccas, a bar or cafe where music sometimes is played. There is no central market, but food comes from small garden patches, fishing, own poultry, or harvesting from the woods. Additional supplies are bought in the mainland. The families do not only face the hurdles of being poor, but the access to food can sometimes also be scarce due to infertile soils, decreasing fish sources, restrictions on fishing zones and on large scale farming due to being a national park, and a long distance to the stores on the mainland. There are a few small places where clothes, and some utilities are sold, but there are no restaurants outside of the lodges.

A medical clinic with a nurse was opened in 2018. The clinic would need more resources, electricity, and a physician. The absence of health facilities on the island has meant that residents were required to travel by dhow boat to the mainland town of Vilanculos to receive medical attention. This situation has obviously put the people of Benguerra at serious risk, especially in the case of emergencies, and illnesses, such as malaria, which require speedy responses.

There are several luxury lodges on Benguerra: Azura, andBeyond, and Kisawa Sanctuary. Jointly these employ many locals and make an important contribution to the community. In addition to employment, the lodges are important in supporting the school, the clinic, and other aspects of the community life. There are comprehensive community service ambitions as expressed through several organisations, such as Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS), the Rainbow Fund and African Parks and The African Foundation.