News & Reviews Indian Ocean Mozambique Review: Kisawa, Mozambique

It’s fair to say I was highly sceptical of Kisawa.  It’s been featured in every magazine, from Vogue to Conde Nast to your kindergarten school newsletter and the space on the back of milk reserved for missing children.  Half the homeless in San Francisco are keeping warm from newspapers made exclusively to promote Kisawa.  It is an incredible amount of publicity for a property which has no credibility to deserve it.  It’s managed outside a hotel group in a country with no experience of ultra-luxury, owned by a billionaire’s daughter with no hotel experience like she was Oliver asking Daddy for some more.  And they decided to launch at €6,000/n.  On an island that isn’t private.  Basically, Miavana 2.0.

Then they started cancelling the travel journalists before they moved on to cancelling the fake travel writers like me.  It sounded as fun and authentic as Russia’s annual Victory Parade.

Too many people had a lot to say about here – most of it not positive.  Some people were baying for blood.  It felt like my entire career had built up to this moment.  My destiny was to be sent in and tell the honest truth like I’m the modern-day version of Bullet Tooth Tony or Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross.  It was time to put my Inspector Gadget hat on and dig up dirt on this nefarious company.  I even heard rumours these bastards have the nerve to go and try and help the locals.  I had to act quickly to put an end to this.  

I am known for telling it like it is.  So let me now tell you.  It is with deep regret I have been able to conclude: Kisawa is an excellent property.

That hurt me more than global warming will hurt this ocean.

Kisawa is an 11-bedroom property in Mozambique, specifically, Benguerra Island, home to highlights such as that &Beyond property and that other place that no one cares about.  The island is 11 km long, is inhabited by around 1500 locals and takes barely seven minutes to get there via helicopter from Vilankulos, the nearest airport.  Those are the facts.  The rest of the Kisawa story is an emotive, world-class masterclass.

I can rarely be bothered to discuss pre-arrivals, as it’s often someone’s job to send over 83,000 PDFs with every piece of information and consider that sufficient.  Kisawa’s was the best pre-arrival experience I’ve ever experienced — easily condensed, helpful information, with introductions to the right people.  The butlers were pre-introduced via WhatsApp, and lunch orders were taken a few days before arriving.  They sent a link to an app which offered information on activities, weather, menus and more.  I’d like to say what a great idea, but staring at a phone is something I do to ignore my kids, not read through large piles of information.  A PDF would do, but maybe like WeWork, they can now claim they’re a tech company cos they’ve got an app and are worth a few billion dollars.

I assume they read my Miavana arrival shitstorm because they gave an abundance of information regarding how insanely convoluted the visa arrival process is.  Luck was on my side, as on the 1st of May, Mozambique changed the rules to avoid needing a visa on arrival; now, all you need is the equivalent of $10 in the local currency.  In an airport which had no means of getting cash.  Genius.  Kisawa knew this, and they definitely made sure I knew this, so their rep was there to pay it, and I was through within minutes.  Even so, I sat in 1A, so I could strategically shit my pants, forcing everyone to wait for my departure whilst I rushed through immigration.  It’s always good to have a backup plan.

Within minutes of landing, I was on the helicopter and was in Kisawa before my plane was meant to have landed.  The views from the helicopter were spectacular, with the way the sand gets washed away by the turquoise waters.  The head butler met me, introduced me to my butler, and drove us to the villa, where the GM and Ops Manager were waiting for me.  Also, all my preferences were waiting for me too.  The pre-arrival was fantastic; the arrival was equally fantastic.  Time to go hunting for shit that’s wrong.

I can see some dirt on this helicopter. Fire everyone!

Ah-ha, those sons of bitches, they made the bed too large!  I’ve got’em.  Actually, goddamnit, the rooms are gorgeous.  In a layout that has become quite familiar since Cheval Blanc Randheli, there are cathedral-type tall ceilings; a living room, separated doors to the bedroom; separated doors to the bathroom.  Because each villa has an outdoor area larger than the size of most Maldivian islands, they have been able to offer a separate day area designed for dining, lounging and swimming.  It’s about a 30m walk over here, with the separation working incredibly well and making it feel like you have two villas.  Whilst the main living area also had a deck and sunbeds and chairs, it always felt very compelling to sit in the day area.

Inside you have a record player, which is pretty novel, but perhaps not as great as a Sonos system.  Better was the air conditioning, thank god, as it was a sweat-fest during the day (but come sunset at 5 pm, that quickly changed).  All the furniture is absurdly comfortable, but special mention to the sofa, which was so comforting it felt like free therapy just sitting in it.  There are no free movies, but the TV does support Chromecast.  I flicked through the few channels on offer, saw Tom Cruise’s The Mummy was on and quickly burned the TV to avoid ruining my entire stay.

These are beautifully designed, extremely practical rooms.  There’s a lot of storage space, a sense of place, and plenty of touches that show someone took the time to consider the guest.  I’ll even comment on how lovely the sinks and baths are.  Even the light switches made perfect sense and switched off what they were supposed to!

They almost lost points on the blackout.  Almost.  For me, blackout means I can’t see my hand in front of my face.  Kisawa’s default solution would suffice for most people, but I have some Dracula-esq condition against daylight when I’m trying to sleep.  They got it right on the second night because, of course, they did.  So I now have nothing to complain about.

All the rooms are identical in size and layout, just alter slightly with colour themes for sofa, curtains, walls and some art, but the surrounding area differs significantly.  I was in a Cove villa, surrounded by giant dunes and within walking distance of Cove Mussassa.  And about a 10-minute drive to anywhere else, which was less enjoyable.  The dunes create a lot of privacy, but you need to pick the right villa, as my entrance looked directly at the restaurant, and the day area was visible whilst walking near the villa.  Other villas I saw fared better if you really want to walk around in your birthday suit.

Speaking of the dunes, for me, they disrupt the area’s beauty.  My view cannot get any more subject than that, as I’m now suggesting they trample and scorch the earth so I don’t have to walk an extra 5 m to see the ocean, but no one said life was fair.

From the pre-arrival through to the departure, Kisawa delivered.  I was the only guest for the first night, so the staff-to-guest ratio was everyone-to-me, just how I like it.  After that, another room was occupied, but I’m happy to say that with a 100% increase in occupancy, they did not falter.

There is a significant focus at Kisawa on hiring the locals, which from my experience, often results in nice platitudes but lousy service.  It always sounds great, and I’m sure I’m meant to tell you I fully support it, but it often sucks.  I don’t know what magic they’ve sprinkled here, but it works.  My butler, Sergio, was incredibly thoughtful and provided brilliant service.  Each villa has a dedicated butler, so you won’t have to share yours with anyone, even if they happen to go as shockingly high as three occupied villas.

Every staff interaction I had was positive, with everyone fully aware of my preferences.  There was never anything being questioned; it just seamlessly worked.  I did like to test them by asking for dishes with things I hate (think of olives, which I still maintain is proof of the devil), and they still managed to suss it out and remove them without me asking.  The service was as Aman-like as you once used to dream of.

Now whether the GM was in the background managing this like whatever it is the Deep State is meant to be up to, I cannot say.  What I do know is that Mathi, the GM, has made Kisawa an extremely well-run property.  He did a lot of research into my blog, which maybe made him realise I can’t be anything but nice to a reader.  He’s always around, and his hospitality and German optimism, which they’re famously known for, will make this property shine.  Head over to FlyerTalk and see the obsession with Aman GMs, and you will understand the impact one has.  He had certainly done his research around me, but so had everyone else, and not in the lurking-around-your-bins-wearing-a-ski-mask type research that crosses the line.  The attention to detail at Kisawa is superb.

You might not see them, but the Kisawa team are out there, reading up on your life. In the name of good service, of course.

Barely weeks since I complained about all-inclusive resorts rarely being good, I was heading to Kisawa, an all-inclusive resort.  Thank god I’d have something to moan about.  With only 11 villas, the fact that they have four restaurants is absolutely absurd.  What is even more absurd is the quality of it.  It was ridiculously good.  I even have a note here complimenting how good the potatoes were – even the goddamn potatoes.  Everything was so good I almost, just almost, found myself taking a picture of it.  It could have been like Instagram 2010 all over again.

There’s Main Terrace, Cove Mussassa, Baracca and Ocean Mussassa.  Baracca offers local Mozambique dishes, Ocean Mussassa offers crudo and ceviche, Cove Mussassa is more tapas-style cuisine, and Main Terrace offers a little bit of everything.  When you see Wagyu on the menu, you know they’re not bothered about saving money.

The resort is so large that whilst you can (and I did once) have breakfast in the Main Terrace, they send a chef to your room each morning.  Before his arrival, there’s already some fruit and pastries.  The pastries were brilliant.  Another chef did an in-villa BBQ one evening.  The BBQ was brilliant.  I somehow made time to eat in every restaurant – the things I do for my readers.  Every one of them was brilliant.

The point where I’m going to (finally!) be able to give them a kicking is for running out of too many items on the menu, including orange juice, and for having the audacity to try and convince me avocado ice cream is anything other than a punishment.  That’s the second time someone’s tried that trick this year on me.

You can’t fool someone whose mind is this empty 95% of the time.

The facilities are the weakest point of the property.  They’re pretty limited, sparse and feel a bit of an afterthought compared to the villas and restaurants.  The gym looked rather sad amongst the emptiness of a few pieces of equipment.  There are separate pilates and yoga rooms, but the equipment wasn’t great.  That is once again the excuse I’m going with for my poor workouts.  If only they had a 500 kg weight, I’m sure I’d be in better shape.

The Internet was flakey and would often stop working.  It went down for three hours one morning, so long that by the time I got connected again, we had a new King.  They did bring a hotspot, so I could at least log in to social media and confirm that, yep, it’s still awful.

You can tell when someone is proud of something.  It’s no longer “Have a look at my car” but “Look at The Beast Wagon”.  , At Kisawa, the spa is called Natural Wellness Centre.  I’m going to call my body that after every chocolate bar I eat.  They’re looking into offering complete wellness programmes for more extended stays but already provide enough treatments and weird shit that they probably already can.  I had an incredible massage there, then decided to come back and try Sound Therapy, the kinda thing Gynweth Paltrow would try and sell you along with her vagina-scented candles.  I’m a sceptic of these things, but then so was I before having kids, and my opinion changed – now I’m sceptical.  Yet I thought I’d try it, and at least I got some sleep out of it.  No one died, so there is that positive.  Maybe it’s permanently changed me, and that’s why this review is so positive.  Besides the pool and spa are the boutique and the 25m long pool.

The facilities are not the highlight of Kisawa, were you to say compare them to the Maldives (for the spa alone, think saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy pools), but against their African competition, they stack up.  What Kisawa is keen on is you not being in the property.  Not in a threatening “get off my land” kinda way.  They put together a suggested itinerary for me to follow, which included a boat tour to see local wildlife, snorkelling and climbing dunes.  I saw the dunes, thought “easy”, and my heart rate monitor conclusively confirmed the opposite.  You travel around on Kisawa’s new boat, which is whatever the Mozambique version of a chef’s kiss is.  Another evening I took a sunset dhow cruise where we spotted dolphins – they even let me take control, which is more responsibility than I get at home in a car.  A good range of activities is available at Kisawa, from horse riding to helicopter excursions to driving around the island and visiting their research centre.

Five Issues

Whilst I cannot hold the resort responsible for my laziness, I can be lazy enough to want them to change – the distance to travel to say the gym is just too far and offputting.  That’s the excuse I’m going with anyway.  The rooms are divided between Ocean and Cove, and the position is going to significantly impact your stay because this needs absolute emphasise: the property is fooking huge.

The vastness of the property makes it feel very isolated.  Ok, I was alone, but I still believe it would be the case with my family present.  The best way I can describe it is that it’s such a pain to get to some parts of the property, even though you can drive or be driven there, I just couldn’t be bothered.  It doesn’t feel worth it if it’s an additional 20 minutes to get to and from the bar.  Come night, once back in the villa, it didn’t feel that different from being on safari, where you’re stuck in your room for the evening.   I understand why they have the minimum night stay now – it takes days to get around the place. 

There are only 11 rooms, yet the property is enormous.  If you walked along the roads to get between my room, Cove 5, and Cove 2, it would take you well over ten minutes.   This will impact where you wish to stay, as you could be closer to the gym/spa/main pool, which is relatively close to the Main Terrbut then you’re still a distance away from the other restaurants.  You get around Kisawa on electric Moke’s.  You can either drive or have your butler.  My sense of direction is terrible, and with Kisawa being an enormously large resort, I realised I was going to take a wrong turn and end up in Somalia trying to make Captain Phliips 2, so I decided he could drive.

Privacy is the most bizarre flaw.  Yes, you’re in your room, it can be very private, but there are random locals just randomly randomying around the property, particularly on the beach.  It’s very bizarre.  I’m not expecting them to go all Christopher Columbus and murder the locals, but there needs to be a better solution.  Every time I got near the beach, there were people there.  The fact they have security cameras around the room suggests it’s a bigger problem than I’m aware of.

Then there’s mosquitos everywhere, because of course there are.  My arms look like I’ve been a heroin addict with an itch for the last five years.  None of the pools are heated, which also sucks.  And because I needed to create a list of five things and I don’t have anything else, let me tell you how much I hate Airlink and their obsession with preventing fun of any kind by only allowing you to wear headphones for about eight minutes of the flight.  I now know why those people hit boiling point and get tasered then dragged off a plane.

The Good

  • Setting
  • Activities

The Bad

  • For once big is not best – it’s an inexplicably huge property
  • Privacy

The Luxurious

  • Villas
  • Service
  • Food

Rating

So the real question is: what to rank it?  Is it good enough to be Luxurious?  Does it warrant a visit, regardless of how far away you travel?  That is a toughie because it’s going to depend on your circumstances.  I’d say go to Velaa irrespective of whether you’re a family or identify as a non-sentient beetroot.  With Kisawa, if you’re going with a young family, I don’t think I would go.  Otherwise, yes, it is worth it.  It’s one of the best options when you’re looking for a beach holiday post-safari.

Luxurious

Conclusion

I spent the entire stay waiting for something disastrous to happen.  Was I going to get poisoned?  Was this an elaborate plot to get me here to break my legs, Misery style?  Perhaps they had a psychotic clown spider that lived in the sewers.  It turns out it was much harder to find things wrong at Kisawa than initially hoped.

I sometimes get told, “Yes, but it’s you, so the service will b,e better” and to that, I respond, Soneva Jani, Moskito Island; even Cheval Blanc Randheli (where my wife’s friend is one of the managers).  Shit service is gonna be shit, regardless of who is visiting.  It’s like saying, “Boss is on the way, quickly, everyone, lift twice your body weight”.  You can’t suddenly become good at something.  Kisely knew about this blog.  Seeing how well they could reference it, I think they’re responsible for at least half my traffic in the last month.  I thank them for that, but I will also send the bandwidth bill.  Yet let that take nothing away from an incredibly impressive performance.  The service is just part of the equation.

I came to Kisawa only because the price was so absurd that there was either a lot of cocaine involved or they had something worthy.  Having stayed here, surprisingly, the price is not the talking point, and it does not bother me.  I have no issue with it because of what they offer and what’s included.  It’s still a new property trying to find its way, as there’s still more work to be done, more construction to be finished, and more guests to arrive to create an atmosphere.  

This is not a repeat of Miavana – everything just works so much better (except with the internet randomly going off for hours).  You need to make sure you’re the right target audience.  The fact that I was here by myself meant the lack of a kids club did not pose an issue, but it would if I came back with my family.  It doesn’t feel suitable for young children or people looking to socialise, as they might find, like me, they’re by themselves, and they are the party.  In its infancy, Kisawa already offers world-class accommodation, service, food, and unique activities in a unique setting.  Plus, a spa might be able to create eternal happiness (NB: not fact-checked).  Under this ownership, with this GM, and this team, it will only get better.  

In the great words of Gordon Ramsay: clap, fucking, clap.  

Room type: Residence When: May 2023 Rates: €6,000/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 18th May '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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