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March 30, 2010

Vamizi, Mozambique

David Braun

Northern Mozambique’s Quirimbas National Park belongs to one of the richest marine environments on earth. Just over a decade ago, however, during the country’s 16-year civil strife, it was also part of a war zone. But while there is horror in its history, to be sure, today this 500-mile stretch of about 30 virtually untouched fossilized coral islands presents travelers with a rare opportunity. As Zimbabwean fishing guide Stuart King tells me, “Quirimbas is the next Seychelles. In the next ten years, every single one of these islands will have a resort on it.”

Flying above Quirimbas en route to the remote private island resort of Vamizi, I see smudges of creamy sand, a coast threaded with silver, and reefs circled in bright cobalt. There is very little development: clusters of mud huts and a handful of new resorts, which for the last three years have been popping up with great frequency. Logistically, getting here is a headache—unreliable charters, missed connections, multihop journeys via the provincial capital, Pemba. Yet Quirimbas is positioned to become the next East African hot spot—the new Zanzibar or Lamu. And of the properties I visited there this spring, I’d wager Vamizi is the one to beat.

The island’s remoteness means that nobody has paid it much attention—until now, that is. After its initial opening in 2005, the resort was beset with various staffing and food-supply difficulties. But earlier this year the East African safari outfitter Nomad Tanzania took over the island’s management and has been fast to make its presence felt. Now new employees and better logistic support have smoothed out many of the inevitable hitches that come with developing African frontiers, and as recently as this past spring, Vamizi saw travelers who otherwise might have opted for a holiday in the Maldives; my fellow guests included hedge fund managers from the UK and America.

Vamizi’s beach is certainly the best I’ve seen—ever and anywhere. The resort flanks two and a half miles of blinding white sand packed with pretty shells, and the ocean bristles with flying fish. Just off the beach are eight vast one-bedroom wood-and-thatch-roof bungalows (plus two more with two bedrooms, which are ideal for families). Privacy is key, with each structure positioned 75 yards from its neighbors; come high tide, beach access to the honeymoon villa actually disappears (don’t fret; there’s also a forest path). Jungle surrounds each residence, ensur-ing sightings of wildlife: crabs at your feet, bats swirling around your muslin-wrapped four-poster, and Samango monkeys whoop-ing in the trees. There is no air-conditioning, but the rooms are cooled by sea breezes that move through the villas’ open sides and verandas, furnished with soft-as-cloud cushions and Swahili daybeds.

While most visitors will come to Vamizi after a Tanzanian safari, there are others who will be here solely to dive. The resort offers experienced staff, and conditions are excellent, largely because of the upswelling of cold water, which has protected the reefs from coral bleaching. Other activities include fishing, catamaran sailing, and picnics on even farther-flung deserted strands. But of course you don’t have to travel too far for seclusion: Vamizi’s 18-mile circumference means there are acres of virgin crushed-coral beach just outside your bungalow door. Vamizi Island can be booked directly at vamizi.com or through Journeys by Design (212-568-7639; journeysbydesign.com). Rates, which include meals, start at $740 a person per night.