African Adventures: The Secrets of Portuguese Island

On our second morning onboard the MSC Sinfonia, we headed back to Portuguese Island as early as possible. No point sleeping in when paradise awaits, right?

Once again the skies were rather gloomy but this didn’t deter us from our plans… Our initial plan had been to head across to the neighbouring Inhaca island to do a tour to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, due to poor attendance, that tour was cancelled the night before so we had to make other arrangements.

We’d been told that one of the very best things to do on Portuguese Island was completely free… and after we opted to explore this option ourselves we wondered why more people didn’t opt to spend the day doing it!!! It was INCREDIBLE!

Our secret Portuguese Island excursion??

A walk around the island. Yes, the whole island! (probably worth mentioning it’s only about 6km!)


On arriving on the shores once more, we jumped off the shuttle boat and turned left while everyone else turned right. Not one person followed us. And they were the poorer for it!


We literally had the island to ourselves. We didn’t see one other person until half way round and then it was 2 local fisherman. Only about 3/4 of the way around the island did we pass one or two other cruise passengers, and then it was only a handful. Less than 10!

Our walk around Portuguese Island was the highlight of our trip. I can’t believe more passengers don’t opt to explore further afield than the wooden structure on the beach with loud music and crowds of people. It baffles me! BUT I was so grateful for this undiscovered gem. We scored massively.

The walk took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, depending on your pace. To be honest I’m almost sorry we didn’t stop and swim and just spend the day on the other side of the island, enjoying the untouched island life all to ourselves. We had set ourselves the task of walking it’s perimeter and then heading across to Inhaca to explore it on our own so we had a bit of a deadline but it you ask me I would recommend that you spend a whole day just enjoying this walk. Skip the other excursions. Save your money! THIS is what Portuguese Island is all about.

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The sea birds swooped over our heads, the gentle waves lapped the shore, we stumbled across pieces of weathered drift wood and beautiful colourful shells, we walked hand-in-hand for the first time in ages!

There was no rush, no worries, no noise. The whole experience was soaked in the sounds of nature and for a brief moment we experienced a true Robinson Crusoe existence. Heaven on Earth.

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As we rounded the headland, the terrain changed and no longer were we walking along the water’s edge, but alongside a marshy wetland.

And I finally found my very first pansy shell!

I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I’ve spent walking the shores of SA with my eyes fixed to the sand beneath my feet, hoping to spot an elusive white shell. It’s never happened. I think I’ve been looking in the wrong places… or there just aren’t pansy shells anymore!?


Finally my search is over… I found a gorgeous pansy shell peeking out from beneath the sand, and then another, and another. THIS is where all the pansy shells are!

And they aren’t just teeny tiny ones. I also discovered that pansy shells can be as big as your hand! How beautiful is this?


Unfortunately, the thrill of the find was just that – a temporary thrill.

The island is a protected marine reserve and you can’t remove anything from it… so sadly no pansy shells for me.

But I have the photos, and the memories, and the stories!


On the opposite side of the island to the party zone was the peaceful zone. An endless horizon stretched before us with only one or two figures in the frame.

We decided to get a little closer to find out what they were doing digging around in the estuary and, after “shlomping” our way across the wetland – loosing our slip slops many times in the process, we met a local Mozambican couple.

Initially they were very shy and weary of foreigners and the language barrier meant we weren’t able to communicate too much, but they finally warmed up to us and showed us what they were looking for…. A large triangle shaped shell that contained a small mussel-like food source. It was A LOT of work for a tiny reward but they assured us that they tasted great and to be honest around these parts there are not that many other options! The locals here live off the sea and I was reminded about the delicate balance of living like this…. we take it so forgranted, buying food in a supermarket, seeing how local subsistence fisherman have to work so hard for their daily bread really hit home about how important our seas are and how we need to be trying our very best to life a sustainable life so that those people living on the very edge of poverty are still able to eat every day!

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Initially very shy these quite people were not keen to be photographed, until we discovered that we shared a name!

Barriers broken Katrina obliged to pose for a photo with Kathryn!


As the sun was getting higher, and the water around our feet started rising, we headed back to the beach… passing the most beautiful and brightly coloured starfish along the way. And the amazing thing was there were hundreds of them!! Not just one token starfish but it was almost impossible not to step on one!

We stopped a few times to watch these incredible creatures “eat” with one of the legs and marveled at our glorious creation. When spending time with the unique and beautiful creatures of our planet I really do find it impossible to believe that they all just came into being from a “Big Bang”. Creatures like these were surely designed by someone seriously creative!? They are like individual pieces of art!

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And just when we started to feel rather parched from our Robinson Crusoe morning, a boat came into view, a local fishing boat… signaling that we were getting closer to civilisation and an icy cold Coke!



Come back next week for more about our trip to Mozambique on board the MSC Sinfonia – our visit to Inhaca Island!


Read more about my trip to Mozambique here:


All Aboard: My first cruise aboard the MSC Sinfonia

Our first day on Portuguese Island, Mozambique




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Images: Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for almost 6 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. Am just loving these posts so much because we are leaving on the exact same cruise early in March and your ‘insider’ tips and experiences are proving invaluable as we plan to optimise our time on the cruise and on the islans, thank you!!!!!!! We will be travelling with our two children aged 8 and 9 so any children-related advice would be greatly appreciated too !!

  2. Hi there my son (13 years old) and I are going on the same cruise 30 Oct – 3 Nov. After your blog I kinda can got peace of mind – we also doing the balcony view so if its get to overwhelming we can make a duck for the room hehe. Any other advice you can give me dress code for dinners… movie shows… and adventure to do on the island except snorkeling hehe i tried it in the pool almost drowned myself…

    1. Hi Andrea. So glad to hear you are finding the posts useful for planning your own trip. I think you and your son will love it! In terms of other cruise advice I would say pay light. You really don’t need too much in terms of clothing. I did dress up a bit more for dinner but it’s not formal. It’s relaxed but smart. Men should wear collars and closed shoes, women a pretty dress and sandals is probably sufficient. We didn’t need much in terms of warm clothing although I took one or two lightweight jerseys. It did actually rain for one whole day on our way back to Durban but it wasn’t cold! Maybe pack a pair of lightweight cotton pants for slightly chillier days. I did take jeans but didn’t use them. The air is very humid outside so they felt far too heavy. We booked to watch the live show every day and missed it once when we opted to enjoy drinks out on the deck and get a head start on the Tropical dance party. The shows are different every night but you don’t need to see them all as the general idea is the same. We watched a movie one afternoon when we wanted to escape the sun… and because I wanted to see what it was like. It’s a nice thing to try and it doesn’t cost any extra but not necessarily a “must do”. I would recommend spending an hour or so enjoying the Thermal Suite at the spa as that was really relaxing and something fun (although you do have to pay for it) Like I mention I would probably not pay for extra activities and rather just enjoy being on Portuguese Island and then maybe pay for a shuttle across to Inhaca island (See my most recent post for more about that!) Hope that helps! Enjoy your trip x

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