The municipality of Macia, which lies 150 km north-east of Maputo, is Mozambique’s flagship tourism region.
Among the attractions in this region in the Gaza Province is Bilene Beach, or Praia de Bilene in Portuguese, which is on the shores of the 27km long Uembje Lagoon, in the magnificent Mozambique Channel.
Although Gaza was badly affected by the devastating 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, it has been spared the resurgent conflict between government forces and armed militias linked to the former rebel movement, Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo).
However, even before the Renamo threats, the costs and lack of reliable infrastructure caused tourists to overlook Mozambique, and Bilene in particular.
Those who have circumvented the setbacks and visited the beaches will attest to the comfort and serenity of Bilene.
One international visitor, Fabio Passinho, spent a week at the tourist attraction.
“Bilene is an extremely calm place. People are friendly,” the Brazilian said, adding that the place had left a lasting impression.
“Although I stayed for only a week, Bilene left me impressed. I will surely come back again, next time with company.”
Among the locals who patronise Bilene is Oscar Madyde from Maputo, who recently spent his honeymoon in Macia.
“I chose Bilene for the occasion because it is surely one of the best beaches in Mozambique,” he said.
“It is clean and calm. That is in addition to the warm reception enjoyed during the stay.”
Tourists say Mozambique’s beaches are calm and the environment is friendly, and Bilene is no exception.
Among the activities enjoyed here are jet skiing, scuba diving, sports fishing and water sports such as sailing and canoeing.
At the top end of the market, high-end resorts set on sun-drenched islands and surrounded by crystal clear waters cater for jetsetters willing to pay up to $500 a day to stay there.
Because Bilene is bathed by the Indian Ocean, seafood is a must.
There is nonetheless a vast diversity of dishes, from Portuguese – mainly marine foods – to Italian meals like pizza.
The other culinary drawcard in Bilene is Mozambican traditional food – mainly peanuts and coconut stews where crabs are dipped for the delicious matapa (cassava leaves). The locals are influenced by the European and Asian cultures dating back to ancient times hence they provide visitors with food spiced with piri-piri (local pepper).
The tourism industry is a major source of employment in the region. About 400 people are employed in the sector in Bilene.
The number is seasonally adjusted, and rises in line with demand for accommodation, particularly during the holidays.
Traditionally, Bilene draws most of its visitors from within the African continent, with countries such as neighbouring Malawi, South Africa (it is the closest beach destination to the city of Johannesburg) Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
These account for 64% of tourist arrivals in Mozambique.
The rest of the tourists come from Britain, Brazil, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Italy, Pakistan, former colonial master Portugal and the US.
The government forecasts the sector to grow and attract more visitors. Minister of Tourism Silva Dunduru says the number of tourists visiting Mozambique rose by about 5% between 2015 and last year. “Tourism in Mozambique has sufficient strength to affirm itself as a strategic area in the economic development of the country,” he says. The government had recently approved 18 more border posts to issue entry visas to Mozambique.
“This means would-be tourists no longer have to secure a visa in advance, but can obtain a border visa on arrival, good for two entries over a 30-day period.”
Boasting such places as Bilene, Mozambique is well known for its beaches and other coastal attractions, sensational ecotourism products, and a fascinating culture, with a rapidly growing integrated and sustainable tourism industry.
More than 58000 workers are directly and indirectly employed in the sector.
The government’s vision for the industry is lofty.
“Our vision for tourism is that by 2025, the country is the most exotic tourist destination in Africa,” says President Filipe Nyusi.
- CAJ News