Mozambique travel guide
Imagine a tropical island paradise, and chances are pretty good that what you have in mind is something akin to Mozambique's Bazaruto Archipelago. These six islands were formed by sand deposited by the Save River, and the archipelago boasts an array of incredibly pristine beaches, azure water, coral reefs, tropical fish, giant turtles and, in the right season, whales. It is also home to the very rare dugong (a marine mammal similar to the manatee) although you would have to be extremely lucky to see one. Add lots of lush, tropical fruit and seafood galore to the mix, and the result is pretty incredible. If lounging on the beach is not your thing there are plenty of other things to do here. The snorkelling and diving is excellent, dhow trips are a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or three, surfing is possible, whale watching trips can be arranged from the mainland. It is also much less busy than some of the more accessible mainland beaches farther south, although popular snorkelling spots can fill up with visitors from Vilanculos.
By being Mozambique's second largest city, busiest port and vacuumed of any significent sights, Beira is understandably not high on any traveller's itinerary. But since it's also the natural transport hub between north and south Mozambique (besides the dusty junction of Inchope), it means you might have to spend a night or so here. But fear not, Beira is actually a nice place and a good change to see some 'real' Mozambique away from the 'beaten track' of beaches and islands. Beira people are used to a small flow of mlungus (white people) due to the overseas contractors, but not enough to create any form of hassle. Here you will only be met by curious and friendly locals. The city has tree-lined boulevards with dilapidated houses, some colonial some newer. Whole hotel complexes lie abandoned at the waterfront and even the lighthouse in the north end has a discarded ship wreck right at the base, making Beira a wonderful orderly junkyard.
Whenever a long distance chapa (minibus) stops at the side of the road, locals will run up to the windows and offer a mindblowing selection of food, stuff and junk. Everthing from cold drinks, cashew nuts and sandwiches to plastic toys, cell phone accessories and ladies underwear are waved in front the windows for the potential customers inside. Even though deals have to been done quickly and many sell the same things, business is conducted in a orderly and friendly manner. In a minutte or two, goods change hands and the chapa will be on its way again... until next stop, which can easily be 100 metres down the road.
Africa's eastern coastline is dotted with traditional Arab sailing dhows, although many of them now carry a motor as back-up. Dhows are without a doubt one of the most pleasant ways of experiencing coastal living, and sunset dhow trips are a popular tourist activity throughout the region. But to really experience island life, a multi-day dhow safari lasting is the way to go. Not only this takes you far away from the settled areas, but it also allows for island-hopping, camping on deserted beaches and stopping for a snorkel whenever the urge hits. It may also provide an opportunity to interact with local fishermen, who sometimes travel great distances in search of particularly good spots. Dhow safaris may go for anything from one night to several weeks, and range from very comfortable to very rustic. Count on lots of fresh fish and seafood, and make sure kayaks are brought along for explorations closer to the water surface. If you want to get away from it all for a few days, there are definitely worse ways of going about it than a dhow safari in the Quirimbas Archipelago.
Entre Lagos is one of those dusty border towns that are fun to have experienced, but not particularly fun to be at. It's a confusing mess of ramshackle houses, empty buildings and sandy lanes. The Mozambican immigration is at the railway (which is apparently not in use) and from there a dirt trail follows the rails to the Malawian immigration a couple of kilometres away. The view over the plains from the rails are spectacular and a stark contrast to the otherwise bleak border crossing. It is possible to sleep, eat and change money in Entre Lagos, but the first two will no doubt be an experience.
Gorongosa National Park is a true wilderness - only about one quarter of the park is accessible by road, so much of it is largely unexplored. The park has so much to offer, and its recovery from the heavy poaching of the civil war has been spectacular. There are mountains (the highest of which is the 1863 m Mt Gorongosa), rivers, floodplains, savannahs, acacias, baobabs, rainforests, palm trees, montane forests and limestone gorges. The park lost 95% of its large mammals during the civil war, but these animals are making a come-back thanks to an incredible international conservation effort. There are huge numbers of waterbuck, reedbuck and warthogs, and plenty of buffalo, wildebeest, crocodiles, lions, elephants, sable antelope and much more. There are also more than 500 species of birds present in the park. It has been called the "Serengeti of the South", and while that may not be entirely accurate, it is certainly an astonishingly beautiful place and a highlight of any trip to southern Africa.
A hidden and long-forgotten gem, Ibo Island was an important Muslim trading post 500 years ago, and one of Portugalâ€™s most important slave posts 100 years later. Part of the stunning Quirimbas Archipelago, Ibo itself is primarily of interest because of its many historical buildings, including the Fort of Sao Joao. Although it cannot compare to Lamu in Kenya, Ibo's stone town is generally better maintained and livelier than its cousin on Mozambique Island. The island is also famous for its incredibly delicate and intricate silverwork, created using ancient Arab tools and techniques. Ibo is also a great place to organise trips farther into the rest of the Quirimbas Archipelago, much of which is only frequented by local fishermen. Ibo Island is becoming increasingly well-known, but it is still far enough off the beaten track to have that distinct feeling of an unexplored destination.
Tiny Inhambane might be the most charming town in Mozambique. Its history goes way back, first in the 11th century as a port for Arabic traders and later for the flourishing ivory and slave trade, but it's the deteriorated Portuguese colonial architecture that makes Inhambane cute - that and then its pretty waterside setting at Inhambane Bay. It's shockingly orderly and slow paced, making it a very quiet place. There aren't any particularly sights, it's merely just the ambiance and the faded pastel coloured houses that make the attractions. Besides being friendly and easy going (as everywhere in Mozambique), the people are almost indifferent to the few tourists that trickle in on day trips from the beaches at Tofo and Barra.
Maputo is a wonderful mix of worn Potuguese colonial leftovers, concrete mansions, palm lined avenues and a few high-rises here and there - and lots of potholes. It has a beautiful seaside location with a long beach (Costa do Sol) within chapa (minibus) distance, but also a fair share of scruffy areas. Downtown is bustling but never hectic, and the central market is colourful and surprisingly small and tranquil. There are street cafes on the main avenues and small shack bars with plastic chairs that spill onto the side streets in the afternoon. Maputo is known for its friendly vibe and has enough charisma and character to charm anyone who chooses to explore the city for a couple of days.
The area around Memba Bay is a hidden gem. The beaches are pristine and white, and there are plenty of little bays without a single other person in sight. Quaint fishing villages line the coast, and beyond the beach the land is dotted with baobabs and mango trees, lots of mango trees. In season, the mangos are literally everywhere. The coast is lined by coral reefs, so the diving and snorkelling is great, and humpback whales make their way into the bay during the winter half of the year. This is a wonderful place to simply sit back and let the time pass, or to explore the underwater world. It is also a good place to interact with the locals, or just to watch them go about their business - grilling cashew nuts, catching fish, collecting water and playing on the beach. It is surely only a matter of time until this part of Mozambique becomes more developed, so do yourself a favour and spend some time here as soon as you get the chance.