Ilhas Xefina (Xefina Island)

Xefina Island near Maputo - Maputo's Robben Island

Ilha Xefina

Location: Xefina Grande Island (Ilha Xefina Grande) is located only 4km from Maputo's Costa do Sol, at low tide this reduces to only 2km. Despite it's proximity to Maputo it is still quite a rare trip with a vast majority of Maputense, and visitors to Maputo, unfortunately never making it to this fascinating destination. There are actually three "Ilha Xefinas" however the other two are much less visited and consist mainly of small bushes and not as attractive beaches. The islands begin where the Incomati River enters into Maputo Bay and are formed by the deposits from this river. The third and most popular of the Islands, Xefina Grande, is arguably Maputo's most desolate beach and fantastic for swimming, relaxing, and exploring.
Xefina Island Ruins of Old Fort

How to get there:
 There are a number of tour operators that frequent the island however without adequate numbers it can become expensive. (Our favourite is who offer a lunch, shade, and other elements that are impossible to find on the island.) For the truly adventurous you can try your luck catching a ride with a fisherman however be careful of the dozens of plain-clothed police who are waiting for illegal boarding of boats along this beach. The other risk with this more economical option is that you might have promises that a boat will come back to pick you up that never eventuates.

What to do: Most visits start on the lovely sand banks of the southern tip of the island. This spot is ideal for setting up camp, bbqs and your shade (Do bring shade to the island as there are next to no trees to provide any). It's also a great spot for swimming, especially if you are blessed with a day with clear waters, something that isn't too frequent on this side of Maputo Bay. This area has small shallow areas for children to play in, and very deep water on the outer sands banks. You can literally dive into the water from the sand banks.
To walk from this side of the island around to the ruins of the old military base takes approximately 30 minutes, so if you decide to explore these incredible ruins do budget for the one hour there and back, and one to two hours of exploring. On the ocean side of the island there are a number of cannon turrets as seen in this photo.

History: It is believed that Ilha Xefina has been partly inhabited for centuries, however with no natural water source it does not afford ideal living conditions. In the 19th Century it was used as a leper colony. Then early in the 20th Century the Portuguese built an army base, and fort with the aim of protecting the city of Maputo as all ships must arrive through the channel between Inhaca Island, and Xefina Island. Although you won't find any history books that detail the dark past of this base, it was used by the Portuguese as a concentration camp for political prisoners in the years leading up to the revolution. Reports of rooms used exclusively for torture are often told. 

Interesting fact(s): 
  • There has been talk of a 5-star tourist resort being built on Xefina Island for years, including the construction of a four kilometre bridge to connect the island to Costa do Sol. In the lead up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa there was intense excitement that this would happen. What makes this project unlikely is the changing dunes of this island, as evidenced by the cannon turrets that are now up to 20 metres out at sea. Investing on building on a sand bank is risky business.
  • Approximately 60 people live on the island that has no electricity nor schools.