Well off most tourist maps, Mozambique is often the journey of a lifetime to those who venture here. From its tropical islands, dune-fringed beaches and swaying palms, to Portuguese colonial-style architecture and colourful settlements along the coast, this captivating country in southeast Africa is paradise to both sun seekers and adventure travellers.
Mozambique borders South Africa and Swaziland to the south, Tanzania to the north, Zimbabwe to the west and Zambia and Malawi in the northwest. Mozambique’s lasting legacy of Portuguese colonists and Arab traders can be seen all along this country’s long coastline which is an impressive 2, 470 km (1,535 mi) long.
Traditional dhows crisscrossing the turquoise-tinted waters of the Indian Ocean, deserted beaches, remote archipelagos and pristine coral reefs are but some of the magical scenery travellers can expect to see. Add to the scenery tiny Mozambican villages scattered among coconut trees and cassava fields, vibey street markets and an endlessly fascinating cultural mix, and you have yourself a trip to remember.
Despite the devastation of Mozambique’ wildlife, especially during the civil upheaval, programmes such as the rehabilitation of Gorongosa National Park has become one of Africa’s greatest wildlife restoration stories and continues to develop sustainable tourism. Exclusive resort islands such as Benguerra and Bazaruto offers seclusion and all-inclusive luxury accommodation, while budget-conscious travellers may choose to rent a 4×4 for a self-drive adventure along the coast staying in self-catering beach bungalows. Diving resorts are abound.
Either way, expect plenty of opportunity for excellent scuba-diving, snorkelling, sunbathing, swimming and cocktails on the beach. Those planning to self-drive in Mozambique need to come prepared with a sense of adventure, patience and be ready for long drives, but the outcome can be unfailingly rewarding.
Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo (formerly Lourenzo Marques), is an important southern Indian Ocean Port with its economy almost entirely centered around the harbour. Originally developed in a sheltered bay around a Portuguese fortress completed in 1787, modern-day Maputo has retained much of its colonial mystique. With its sub-tropical climate, beautiful blend of Portuguese and Mediterranean-style architecture and Indo, Portuguese and African cuisine, Maputo is easily one of Africa’s most attractive capitals. Exploring the city’s architecture, museums, art galleries and markets is essential to understanding the country, such as the National Art Museum, Maputo Railway Station (one of the city’s most impressive buildings), the old Fort, Fish Market and the Municipal Market which is Maputo’s main market.
Tofo & Barra Peninsula
Tofo Beach (Praia do Tofo) lies on the Barra Peninsula in Inhambane Province, a short drive from Inhambane City. In recent years this rustic little town has developed into a very popular destination and it’s easy to understand why. Well-known for its cocktail bars, beach parties, excellent snorkelling trips, surfing, deep sea fishing, hiking, and relaxed atmosphere, travellers of all cultures and nationalities meet here to enjoy this tropical paradise. Tofo faces a small bay with a pristine white beach – a haven for surfers and bathers – that runs from a rocky point in the south (Tofinho, which has a nice surfing wave), up much of the length of Ponta da Barra (Sandbar Point). Tofo’s tourist industry is built around its exceptional opportunities to see Manta Rays and Whale Sharks which are permanently resident in these waters.
Diving centers run snorkelling trips to swim with the whale sharks and diving trips to see the manta rays (these dives are below 20 metres). Tofo is about six hours’ drive north of Maputo, with the nearest airport conveniently located in Inhambane. From the north, Tofo is about four hours’ drive from Vilanculos.
Barra is situated right at the tip of the Barra Peninsula where the Indian Ocean meet the waters of Inhambane Bay. Barra has no town and is heaven for those on a 4×4 self-drive adventure. With its beach bungalows and lodges hidden among the sand dunes, days here are either spent swimming, sunbathing, snorkelling, sipping on cocktails and devouring Mozambique’s delicious prawns.
Roughly halfway between Maputo and Tofo lies Xai-Xai (pronounced ‘shy-shy’) – a bustling town with markets, shops, restaurants and bars. Though the town itself does not offer much for travellers except if stopping for supplies, Xai-Xai Beach, about 12 km (7½ mi) from the town centre is a good overnight stop if for self-drive travellers continuing further up north. A coral reef running parallel to the shore offers good snorkelling and protects the beach from strong waves. Further up the coast (continuing about 70 km (44 mi) on the main road from Xai-Xai), the lovely Chidenguele is a coastal paradise offering fishing and an inshore reef for snorkelling.
Vilanculos & Bazaruto Islands
The coastal town of Vilanculos (or Vilankulo) is best known for being the gateway to the stunning Bazuruto Archipelago, accessible by boat from the mainland. The town itself is relatively small, but with a couple of shops and restaurants, has everything you need for a comfortable stay. With not much going on once you have moved away from the main road entering town, wandering the dusty streets alongside the beach is a great way to experience local life.
The airport is based on the outskirts of town with flights arriving and departing on a daily basis. Vilankulo has plenty of options when it comes bars (barracas) and restaurants. If eating local is more your flavour, work your way from Markets in the center of town towards the main beaches of Vilankulo.
The Bazaruto Archipelago consists of a group of six islands, accessible via boat from Vilanculos. Private island resorts also offer all-inclusive fly-in packages. A protected National Park, pristine and mostly undeveloped, the archipelago comprises the islands of Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Banque, Santa Carolina (also known as Paradise Island) and Shell.
Here you can enjoy unspoiled coral pink beaches, world-class deep-sea fishing, salt water fly fishing, and incredible scuba diving and snorkelling, to name but a few.
Island Hopping & Snorkelling Day Trips to the islands can be arranged from Vilanculos – a must when visiting the area.
Just 180 km (112 mi) away from Maputo, Beline is a great beach destination or stopover for travellers on the coastal road to Xai Xai, Inhambane and Vilanculos, or across the border to the southern part of South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
This peaceful town, known as San Martino in the days of Portuguese Mozambique, is situated on a hill overlooking the sprawling waters of the massive Uembje Lagoon. The lagoon’s white sand and crystal-clear lagoon are surrounded by rolling sand dunes, lush vegetation and just a boat ride away, the powerful breakers of the Indian Ocean. Large numbers of flamingos and other water birds flock here in summer to pluck the spoils from the shallow fringes of the saline water. For the rest of the year, Bilene is all about sailing, diving, fishing, swimming and snorkelling.
Ponta do Ouro & Ponta Malongane
Located in the very south of Mozambique, Ponta do Ouro sits only 10 km (6 mi) from South Africa’s Kosi Bay border and is often added as an exciting beach addition to a northern KwaZulu-Natal tour. The same goes for the beautiful Ponta Malongane and Ponta Malomi, both in the same area.
A new tarred road, running all the way from Maputo to the Kosi Bay border and linking with Ponta do Ouro makes travelling here easily accessible. The Maputo-Catembe suspension bridge from Maputo makes the drive from Mozambique’s capital city much quicker than before (about two hours).
Beach resorts here are plentiful – though be aware it can get flocked during the South African school holidays – with exciting ocean-based activities such as swimming with dolphins, turtle walks, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, fishing, windsurfing and paragliding.
Gorongosa National Park
Gorongosa National Park is located at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley in the heart of central Mozambique. Abandoned and shut down in 1983 during the Mozambique Civil War, the Government of Mozambique and the US-based Carr Foundation started to rebuild Gorongosa’s infrastructure and restore its wildlife populations in 2004. During the time of war, many large mammal populations—including elephants, hippos, buffalos, zebras, and lions had been reduced by a shocking 90 percent or more.
Between 2004 and 2007 the Carr Foundation invested more than $10 million in their effort to save the Park. During that time the restoration project team completed a 60 square kilometre (23 square mile) wildlife sanctuary and reintroduced buffalos and wildebeests to the ecosystem. They also began the reconstruction of Chitengo Safari Camp. Due to the success of this initial three-year project, the Government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation announced in 2008 that they had signed a 20-year agreement to restore and co-manage the park. Several thousand visitors now enter the park each year, most staying overnight at Chitengo Safari Camp. Some of these visitors go to see the progress being made in the restoration project, and many others are seeing the park for the first time.
Today Gorongosa is home to an astounding diversity of animals and plants—some of which are found nowhere else in the world. This rich biodiversity creates a complex world where animals, plants and people interact. From the smallest insects to the largest mammals, each plays an important role in the Gorongosa ecosystem.
Though many of the park’s large herbivore populations were greatly reduced by years of war and poaching, almost all naturally occurring species—including more than 400 kinds of birds and a wide variety of reptiles–have survived. With effective management and reintroduction of key species, wildlife populations will regain their natural numbers and help restore the park’s ecological balance.
With Mozambique being a tropical country, there are two major seasons – the wet season from November to March (the Park closes mid-December for a few months), and the dry season from April to October which is the best time to visit.
Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is a peace park linking the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe, as well as the area between Kruger and Gonarezhou, the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe and the Makuleke region in South Africa.
Fences between the parks have started to come down allowing the animals to take up their old migratory routes that were blocked before due to political boundaries. In 2001 the first 40 (including three breeding herds) of a planned 1,000 elephants were translocated from the over-populated Kruger National Park to the war-ravaged Limpopo National Park. It would take 2½ years to complete the translocation.
The Giriyondo Border Post between South Africa and Mozambique allow self-drive travellers to venture from Limpopo Transfortier Park in Mozambique to the Kruger National Park in South Africa or vice versa (4×4 needed).