Mozambique: A Real Travel Guide to the Best Places to Visit and how not loose your mind

Turner Africa, Blog, Destinations, Mozambique 2 Comments

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So you want to visit Mozambique and see all the best pretty things do you? Good. That is good buddy. But will you survive? That would be good too. Your mom would appreciate that and therefore, would like me and my advice on how best to visit Mozambique. Carry on.

Things to know about Mozambique

The first thing you should know about visiting Mozambique, is that it has some of the most incredible, pristine beaches I have ever seen. White, unblemished, and endless beaches.

The second thing you should know is that it also has the most megafauna in the world in its waters. That is large sea creatures that make you feel humbled and in awe of this world. Sea creatures like whale sharks, dolphins, whales, giant manta rays, and so on and so forth.

The third thing you should know about Mozambique is it was colonized and ruled by the Portuguese for 4 centuries. They gained independence from Portugal in 1975 (hooray), but from 1977 to the 1990s had a raging civil war. Despite a lot of foreign direct investment, the country remains one of the poorest in the world (corruption). You will most likely enter via the capital Maputo. You will then want to leave as soon as possible to enjoy points 1 and 2 above.

The fourth thing you should know about Mozambique, is that it is an absolute bitch to get around. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been rife, like many struggling countries, with governmental corruption. Dirt roads, mud roads, pot holed roads, non-existent roads, and bombed out roads from a civil war from the 70s to early 90s that are still tattered…for hundreds of kilometers. There aren’t any cross-country trains. There are some airports and a national airline, but the flight times, prices, and everything else about that is consistent with a country that has bombed out roads. If decide to rent or use your own automobile, you will also probably need to be paying bribes to police for random stops or deal with blown out tires from the aforementioned…roads. You can take mini-collectivos, known as chapas, to get around. You will learn to cringe at this name. They stop every minute or so and cram you in like sardines.

They have about 14 seats inside but only travel at a reasonable speed when there are 26 people inside. Otherwise it is stop and go, stop and go, until the chapa is full. It is an intimate situation. Some people have babies, some have bags of produce, and some have baskets of seafood with them inside. You can also find big buses to get around Mozambique. These big buses are not allowed to drive past 10pm at night. So you will be stuck wherever they decide to stop for the night. This means one-day journeys become two to three day adventures. They might have missing seats – literally. Also reserving seats is not really a thing in Mozambique, nor are schedules. Sometimes you can reserve a seat if you find a bus at the point of origin and buy well in advance. It feels like hitting the lottery. But in the end, you still have to traverse over the aforementioned…roads. It is a slow, slow process that will teach you patience, and make you never complain again about riding public transport in your home country or about your county’s…roads.

There should be like 30 more points to know about Mozambique, but since you might already be asleep reading this, you can check out. Wikipedia,

How to Travel by Road Across Mozambique

Mozambique is really more like two countries – North and South. So if you are planning a trip there and want to minimize the logistical pain, you might want to pick one and fly. I didn’t do that, despite the fact that I am 35 years old. I still want to pretend I am a young backpacker. Then my back went out from the chapas and I contracted of other diseases from living on the ground.

TLDR; overland roads are terrible, fly if you can.

If you do decide to use your own car, you need to buy special insurance at the border for the permission to drive. Likewise, you should bring cash as you will be paying bribes to the police.

The Best Places to Visit in Mozambique

Tofo

Easily the best place to visit in Mozambique. Hands down. It is the most developed beach town and has the best diving. I use the word developed lightly, as because of the aforementioned…roads – Mozambique is not yet over run with tourists. The beaches are great, the diving better, and the parties are friendly. People raved about the ‘incredible’ seafood – yawn. But it was inexpensive.

Vilankulos

A mere “3 hours” next to Tofo. It has come decent beaches, eco-lodges and hostels. It has a big sand bar that yo can impress people with on Instagram. But it is more known for being the jumping off point to the Bazaruto Archipelago. The town of Vilankulos itself has stores and a few restaurants, but lacks the ‘friendly’ vibe of Tofo and has that je-na-sais-quoi-robbery vibe at night.

Bazaruto Archipelago

It has some pretty incredible sand duned islands to visit, which make up the Archipelago. You can take day boats out for $70-$80, or plop down $1000 per night to sleep at a resort on archipelago. Or you can scuba dive there but the whale sharks are south, in Tofo. You can also go scuba diving here. The scuba diving here is twice the price of the diving in Tofo and not as good. The bigger game is in Tofo, whereas the archipelago has more reef dives. However, even though it is more expensive than Tofo, the scuba companies visit the islands and eat lunch there between dives, so if you are basically getting the island tour included with diving.

Ilha de Mozambique

In the North lies the old capital of Mozambique that the colonial Portuguese used to use. It reminds me of Havana Cuba. Dilapidated buildings, incredible architecture and all surrounded by turquoise waters, the Ilha de Mozambique is like walking in to Zanzibar 40 years ago – I assume, since I wasn’t born yet or Portuguese explorer in a previous life – to my knowledge.

Pemba

I didn’t go here because my back was starting to show its signs of going out from the chapas rides. It is a nice beach town with some pretty islands, kind of the Vilankulos story I told above. I think they are dealing with jihadi insurgency every now and then from groups farther north in Tanzania. Such is the life of traveling off the beaten path.

TLDR; Mozambique is like two separate countries. So break up your trip in two trips or fly. All roads do not lead to El Dorado, they lead to the infirmary for back problems. Fly. North (Ilha de Mozambique, Pemba) and South (Tofo, Vilankulos, Bazaruto Archipelago).

Where to Stay in Mozambique

My favorite way to travel, if possible, is to book my own apartment, room, or homes stay through AirBnb. I use this method because you get more value usually where you go and can find some pretty sweet pads in great areas. You seem more like a local or regular traveler too, rather than just some tourist when you meet people. If you haven’t signed up with them, you can get a free $40 credit here to do so.

If you don’t want to go the Airbnb route, I usually opt for booking.com. Here are some of my favorite spots in Mozambique.

LocationAccommodation Why Stay Here?
MaputoBase BackpackersNicest backpackers facility in Maputo.
TofoCasa BerryGreat location and value on the beach. Private Chalets.
MozamBeats MotelNice layout, pool, very clean. Great value, walking distance to beach.
VilankulosBaobab Beach HostelThe stop for backpackers looking to explore the archipelago on the cheap.
Baraka Beach HotelGreat value, highly rated and perfectly located.
Island of MozambiqueSunset B&BSmack in the middle of stone town. Some rooms on deck, great price.
Cafe CentralPool and air con in the center of town and all happenings.
PembaJadrim dos EmbondeirosTop rated on the beach for the value. Clean, beautiful rooms on beach.

 

Other Helpful Travel Advice for Mozambique

Notable Things to do in Mozambique

-Try to the local seafood
-Scuba diving with Whale sharks and other big game in Tofo
-Do freestyle deep dive course at Peri Peri Divers.
-Reef scuba diving off of Vilankulos
-Ride a Dhow, a slow moving sail boat and eat fresh seafood in Ilha de Mozambique 


-Tour around old town of Inhambane or Maputo and look at dilapidated buildings
-Tour the fort and old stone town in Ilha de Mozambique

Travel Insurance

If you decide to rent or bring your own car into Mozambique, you can buy car insurance at the border. For general travel insurance, like in case you fall into a snake pit or contract a weird virus that turns you green, I always recommend buying World Nomads Travel Insurance. When you travel in Africa you out in it my man (or woman), and you don’t know what your medical situation will be, better to err on the side of adultness and a back up plan so you can travel forever.

Malaria

Malaria, unlike ice cream, is not enjoyable. Checkout the latest from the CDC on whether you should take those pills that give you crazy dreams of riding unicorns. I didn’t take them in Mozambique as only certain areas were infected at the time. I would err on the side of safety as malaria sticks with you for life – and getting the shakes on your wedding day is not a very good souvenir.

Cops & Robbers

Sadly Mozambique has a little bit of an issue when it comes to law enforcement. The people who are most likely to scam you are the police. Driving in Mozambique you will be pulled over regularly if you are in a car and the cops will want a little moo moo. If you are not driving, you can still encounter the police who like to scare the shit out of tourists who break the law, ie smoking weed, peeing in public. Both of these example usually take place at night after boozing so the cops know where you are most likely to be. A friend of mine had police materialize out of the bushes in front of his guest, dead of night, when he lit up some marijuana—reefer. He spent the night in jail with them spinning yarns of him going to the capital to face prosecution yada yada. In short, the cops will try to get money from you.

Things I Wish Didn’t Happened to Me

To highlight the aforementioned road concerns, here are two short snippets from my Mozambique travel experience that I paid for with my back going out and having to lay on the floor of a dirty bar for 8 hours in agony. I paid so you don’t have to. What a gem…how am I still single?

Taking the Road from Vilankulos to the Nampula (or Chimoio then to Malawi)

I was in the beach sand dune paradise of Vilankulos. I wanted to go to the north of Mozambique or straight to the neighboring country Malawi. I did not care which option happened. I just did not want to be stuck in a chapa facing backwards, next to a guy who had a barrel of shellfish and crazy eyes. Looking at a map of Mozambique, one might be led to believe that the trip would only take a half a day. A map however, did not reveal that the 100 kilometers of road leaving Vilankulos had been bombed out from the civil war from 50 years prior. So no regular car or chapa could make this journey. I was okay with this turn of events.

I stood on the street at 8am and waited for a bus heading north. By 10am none had arrived and I got nervous. It was hot and I knew the journey would take all day to cross the bombed out roads, so I decided to hitchhike. Against my better judgment, I took the first car I could find that would give me a lift: a large semi-truck carrying lumber. The driver requested a gratuity and his seat mate would then give me the passenger seat, while he would ride with the lumber in the back. This was Africa, and feeling how hot it was becoming, I thought avoiding heat stroke out of hospital distance was good investment opportunity. I asked him how long it would take to cross the bombed out road. He told me it would only take 3 hours. Maybe 4. I knew this was incorrect, especially since he was driving a truck full of fucking lumber. Undeterred by rational thought, I hopped in anyway. 7 hours later, we were still on the bombed out road and it was becoming dark. Frustrated by my trucker’s lack of time management skills, I hopped out of the truck to hitch again. I found a bus heading to the North of Mozambique. 17 hours the driver informed me. There was one seat left. I went with fate and took it. 1.5 hours into the drive the bus pulled over. It was dark and cars were no longer allowed to drive at night. Safety reasons they say. Lucky for me, my seat mate spoke some English:

“We need to spend the night here since it is against the law to drive at night in Mozambique. I wouldn’t advise sleeping on the bus.”

“Why is that?”

“Once we stop, they open the windows for the night because it gets too hot. Then the mosquitos come in. They probably don’t have malaria, but you will be bitten. People may also try to rob you”.

And just like that, I found my way to North Mozambique. It only took 2.5 days.

TLDR; Fly.

Road Adventure Two: Nampula to the the Malawi border

My 4-hour bus ride broke down halfway through. That isn’t really exciting, or strange, or even out of the ordinary. I did find it weird though that they middle of the trip, we changed over to a bus going in the opposite direction. This bus was also broken. We waited. And then waited more. 3 hours later our journey of 4 hours turned into 8. No problem. The chapas waited at the bus station to take us the border. 3 hours the driver assured me. The passengers faces told a different story. One hour in our left axel broke. The driver fixed it with his belt and a piece of bamboo he found in a hut in a village. Two hours in and the right axel broke. Our driver used his shoelace, a metal pipe, a coconut and figured it out as it was getting dark. Only a 2 hours delay. Then the rain began. The the mud showed up. Jurassic Park mud. It was some ancient civilization type shit they used to crafted entire cities out of. The entire road had cars slide off to either side. Our heroic driver took us off road and Evil Knieval the landing. Left tire went Kaaaaabooom. We continued on, one tire down. 9 hours  later, the border was closed. But I did see McGiver like abilities and patience in auto maintenance. Incredible. My back was not as impressed.

Bad Directions

Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, has seen better days. Actually, I have no idea if it has ever had good days. That is just a nice way of saying it is not place you want to take in the sights when you could be on beach with a coconut. I spent one day there. I wandered as I do down this street and that street. There is a rail station of sorts, and a marina and a mall that sells goods from 1996. There are some street markets that sell goods of the kind of things street markets have. I was passing by such a market when I stumbled into a little shopping place in need of directions. Lucky for me for me I happened upon two security officers wielding AK-47s. They demanded my ‘documentos’ or something. I felt there was going to be a ‘tip’ ask coming. So I decided to do what one does in their home country when security officers act like police: I ignored them. I kept walking but surely, enough, these security officers were hungry for a supplement to their paycheck and a chase was afoot.

Comments 2

  1. I admire that enthusiasm when traveling, maybe it would be something I wouldn’t do, maybe for fear or other reasons, excellent work!

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