Sandwiched between South Africa and Tanzania, Mozambique is often a forgotten Southern African destination as most people choose to visit its more developed and stable neighbors. However, Mozambique has one of the longest coastlines in the world, ripe with the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen, delicious seafood, and culture unlike anywhere else I’ve seen. I spent a month traveling this country and wish I had stayed longer!
History of Mozambique
The first inhabitants of what is now Mozambique were the San hunters and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples. Between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, waves of Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from the north through the Zambezi River valley and then gradually into the plateau and coastal areas. The Bantu were farmers and ironworkers.
When Vasco da Gama, exploring for Portugal, reached the coast of Mozambique in 1498, Arab trading settlements had existed along the coast and outlying islands for several centuries, and political control of the coast was in the hands of a string of local sultans. Muslims had actually lived in the region for quite some time and most of the local people had embraced Islam.
Mozambique was a colony of Portugal until 1975, when an 11-year war of independence ended with the establishment of an independent, Marxist government. But a 17-year civil war started soon after independence, with an internal military uprising that some foreign governments supported.
The civil war affected Mozambicans severely, especially in rural areas. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Over a million people fled the country, especially to Malawi, and more than a million others were displaced within Mozambique.
Many rural people migrated to the cities, especially along the coast where the government maintained control. The country went into severe economic depression. Agriculture was disrupted, so the country could not feed itself. By the late 1980s, Mozambique had one of the lowest per-capita caloric intakes in the world.
Nowadays, Mozambique has come a long ways from its days of civil war. Most recently, there was a brief stint of internal conflict between the incumbent FRELIMO party, and the RENAMO party. Travelers I met that traveled between Beira and Vilanculos (Renamo territory), had to travel via military convoy and one person even told me someone was shot in his van. A peace treaty was signed in 2014 before their most recent elections
Getting to Mozambique
Mozambique can be reached by overlanding from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, or Tanzania. Most will cross the South African-Mozambique border if visiting the southern areas (Maputo, Tofo, Ponta Do Ouro etc).
From Kruger National Park and South Africa to Mozambique
This is perhaps the most common crossing. Many people visit the Kruger in South Africa and then extend their trip into Mozambique. The most common border crossing used here is the Lembombo Border Control. This can get crazy at times especially during the afternoon hours. I would highly recommend going here in the early morning when they first open. The South African side is efficient and fast, but once you reach the Mozambique side, anything goes but be sure to exercise great patience.
If you’re further north in the Kruger, use the Giriyondo Border Crossing. This crossing is far less busy than Lembombo.
From Swaziland to Mozambique
Swaziland also shares a border with Mozambique and is a popular transfer country for those that want to visit the Hlane National Park. From Swaziland, you’ll want to take the Namaacha Border control. I’d also highly recommend coming here in the mornings as the traffic can really pile up later in the day.
While traveling through the north, I met many travelers that overlanded via the Malawi/Mozambique border. This seemed a popular itinerary to spend a few nights in Lake Malawi and cross into Mozambique via the Mandimba border post, and travel by land through Cuamba to Ilha de Mozambique.
Air Travel in Mozambique
By air, South African flies direct from Johannesburg to most of Mozambique (Maputo, Inhambane/Tofo, Vilanculos, Pemba). LAM airlines, Mozambique’s national airline also has flights, albeit expensive ones, throughout the country. Flying around Mozambique is not cheap, and one of the biggest complaints from talking to some expats living in Mozambique.
Flying around Africa in general is not cheap and Mozambique is no different. A flight from Maputo (the capital) to Pemba can easily be over $500 round trip. A flight from Johannesburg to Pemba via South African airways is over $800!
Getting the Mozambique Visa
This one is tricky. Prior to August 2014, visas could be bought upon arrival like all the surrounding countries. After Aug 2014, visas MUST be obtained before arrival. Only a few surrounding African countries do not need visas.
While it is a simple same day task if living in Johannesburg, this will likely be a painful process. Fear not however, after crossing the Swaziland/Mozambique border, there may be hope that visas can still be purchased at the border. While I already had my visa sorted out before hand, there were signs at the counters listing prices for Mozambican visas in dollars, rands, pounds, and euros. I’m not sure if they were just too lazy to update their policy, or if they still sold visas at the border.
Update 2019: As of 2019, Mozambique allows all visitors to obtain visas on arrival. This includes the major airports (Maputo, Vilanculos, Pemba, Inhambane) as well as the main land borders between South Africa and Swaziland.
Transportation and Getting Around in Mozambique
Mozambique is a large country, and overlanding will take some serious time. Driving is only recommended through the southern region and even then, there are some hectic stories of police corruption. Nothing dangerous per se but let’s just say that bribes are as common as seeing a beautiful beach in this country.
Driving from South Africa
Driving from South Africa into Mozambique is very popular. Car rental agencies in South Africa are familiar with the protocols and you’ll need a letter to carry with you to the border crossing. Most car rental agencies provide this for R500 or so. Mozambique also has requirements for cars entering the country but if you tell your car rental agency in South Africa beforehand, they should have all the necessities (although I’ve never been checked for this), including:
- two warning triangles
- one reflective vest (it’s better to have two to avoid long arguments with police)
- a belt holding down the battery
- Yellow triangle on blue background stickers on front of car and back of trailer if towing
You will also need to buy third party insurance in Mozambique, even if you have insurance from South Africa, or from a credit card. Doesn’t matter. Don’t buy it from any sketch people, just stick to the official people at the border post.
Chappas are how the locals get around. These questionable minivans are all over the country. It’s possible to take a chappa from Maputo all the way to Pemba if one had loads of time and patience. Like public vans in other African countries, chappas will only depart when they’re full. It’s also one of the cheapest ways to get around Mozambique.
For example, a chappa from Nampula to Ilha De Mozambique (200km) is about 300 mets I took a few and am pleasantly surprised at how efficient and quick these guys are. Aside from a few very curious stares, I had a great time riding these. The one or two people that could speak English made for great conversation!
Hitch-hiking through Mozambique
You may read this and think I’m a madman hitch-hiking by myself through a developing nation like Mozambique. I’m not saying it’s the safest way to go about things, especially for a lone female traveler, but the few times I did hitch-hike around this country, I had a great experience, and got to where I needed to go much quicker. Hitch-hiking is common among Mozambique backpackers, and likely more convenient than waiting around for a chappa to fill up.
Semi-trucks will frequently pick up hitch-hikers, and the unspoken payment is 1-2 mts per km. Truck drivers are already driving from point a to point b so if your destination is point b, then they’re just making an extra buck by picking you up. Win-win for all parties!
Tourism in Mozambique
Mozambique can be divided into three parts:
Can also be referred to as South Africa’s Mozambique, the areas from Ponta D’ouro at the very south to Vilanculos (Bazaruto Archipelago) is prime South African getaway spots. Beaches here are more like the beaches along the Garden route and Durban. Maputo, the nation’s capital is in the very south, bordering South Africa.
There isn’t much to see in the middle besides the Gorongosa National Park (didn’t visit this one). This national park from what I’ve heard, used to be one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Africa, teeming with endless wildlife. During Mozambique’s civil war however, nothing in the country was spared and most of the animals in this park were killed off. Beira is a large port town that was once a popular destination for wealthy Zimbabweans (before that country went to shit). Anyone looking to overland through the entire country will likely pass through this town.
Ilha De Mozambique, Pemba, and the Quirimbas Archipelago occupy the north. This part of the country was one of the least developed places I saw in Africa (with the exception of Pemba which is quickly becoming a big city due to natural gas discovery). The Quirimbas Archipelago has perhaps some of the most stunning and certainly the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen. It’s completely untouched and those that invest the time to get there will be substantially rewarded.
Comparing the Regions of Mozambique
Mozambique is a huge country. The coastline spans 2,500km and there are over 40 languages spoken in the country.
From my time spent in Moz, there is a stark contrast between the north and south. Tourism is far more developed in the south with places like Ponta do Ouro and Tofo being huge South Africa getaways. There are hundreds of hotels, backpackers, lodges in Tofo and it has that mass tourism beach getaway feel. While I never visited Ponta Do Ouro in the very south of Mozambique, many of my South African friends either have homes here or visit frequently.
Vilanculos and the Bazaruto is still prime South African tourism territory with a few backpacker lodges in Vilanculos. The Bazaruto is a premium luxury location with some incredibly expensive private islands with private hotels. Places like Azura, Indigo Bay Lodge, and plenty others can easily run you over $1000 a night.
Nevertheless, visiting Ilha De Mozambique, the former colonial capital of Mozambique is a magical and hauntingly beautiful place. The beaches of the Quirimbas are the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen, besting the Bazaruto in my opinion. The Quirimbas are also home to ultra luxury lodges like the Vamizi, Quilalea, and Medjumbe which will easily run over $1000 a night. Fortunately for the wandering traveler, camping is allowed on these islands making a dhow safari possible!
The north of Mozambique might as well be another country compared to the South. The landscape and languages are different to the South and it’s immediately visible how much less developed the North is. Nevertheless, this part is a special place to visit, easily one of my favorite places in all of Africa. Tourism is sparse in these parts but sadly, I feel like it will become much more commercialized in the next five years after huge natural gas reserves were discovered in Pemba.
Overall, Mozambique is a different type of getaway to its neighbors. It is less developed, less infrastructure and English is rarely spoken outside of the touristy areas.
As Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, the official language is Portuguese. However, like every other African nation, only a small percentage speak the former colonial language, usually concentrated around the urban areas and the more educated. Many local languages are spoken throughout the country. English is spoken primarily in tourist areas and is more prevalent in the south due to the South African tourists.
Knowing some Portuguese will be extremely helpful here. I made sure to download the offline Portuguese package for my Google Translate app and as of 2015, Google Translate also allows you to speak into the phone translating it in real time. Huge life saver for Mozambique.
Money in Mozambique
Mozambique is a cheap country to travel around but is getting more expensive, especially in the north. With the discovery of gas in Pemba, prices in the north have skyrocketed, and this will inevitably trickle down through the rest of the country. Nevertheless, prices will still feel cheap, especially for things like beer and seafood.
The official currency in Mozambique is the Mozambican Metical (also called Mets, Meticais, Meticash). When I visited in Oct 2014, it was 30 mts to $1, and is at 60 mts to $1 in 2018. South African rand is readily accepted in the south, primarily in the popular South African spots like Tofo and Ponta Do Ouro. In fact, I know in Ponta, rands are preferred to Meticals.
US Dollars are accepted at most high end tourist hotels and easily exchanged at banks, although the best exchange rates are still via ATMs. ATMs are widely available throughout the urban centers of Mozambique.
Credit cards are accepted sparsely, primarily in Maputo, and high end tourist spots. If a vendor accepts credit card, they will likely charge a fee of a few percent. If you’re a backpacker, I’d visit Mozambique with a no credit card mindset, cash is king here!
Food in Mozambique
Having traveled through much of Africa, most culinary options are so bland (with the exception of South Africa of course). Mozambique, thankfully, is blessed with a coast full of delicious seafood. The Portuguese also left behind many of its culinary traditions, especially the use of peri-peri sauce, a spicy delicious sauce that goes good with everything. Pair this with their deliciously cheap seafood, and life is good.
Mozambique is famous for its giant tiger prawns that can grow up to 1ft long! Along with lobsters, calamari, octopus, and many fish, the seafood options are endless here. While in Tofo, I would regularly visit the beach where guys were ready to sell me lobsters or prawns and bargain the shit out of them. Eventually, I’d get the price of prawns down to 200mts ($6) for a kilo of giant prawns which is just ridiculous. I would then tell the chef at the hotel’s restaurant to grill it with some peri peri sauce, give him a buck or two, and be in food coma heaven.
When to Visit
Mozambique enjoys a beautiful coastline of 2,500 km and is beautiful year round. Nevertheless, he heavy rains come between December to April and travel during this period may be difficult. May to October are considered the best months to visit. Temperatures in the north are generally warmer than the south. Maputo in the deep south can reach freezing temperatures in the winter months!
I went in October and this was approaching the rainy season but temperatures and climate were starting to become volatile. It was wildly inconsistent in Tofo, with winds constantly being the cause of cancellation for our dive trips. Vilanculos and the Bazaruto were mostly sunny but the mornings would always see clouds. Northern Mozambique seems to follow a more sub-tropical/tropical climate and it was sunny during my entire visit.
My Mozambique Travel Itinerary
And finally, my four week itinerary for Mozambique. I did the southern part with a Nomad overland tour, stopping in Tofo and the Bazaruto. Initially, I was planning on overlanding from Vilanculos to Nampula in the north (On the map it would be from point C to point G) but after talking to other travelers, this ride would have been long and extremely boring so I winged it and bought a last minute flight from Maputo to Nampula, before winging most of my northern Mozambique circuit.
Read my detailed Mozambique itinerary that follows the route below!
- Guide To Traveling Vilanculos and the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
- The Perfect Travel Itinerary For Mozambique
- Hlane National Park, Swaziland
- Visiting Ilha De Mozambique – A Hauntingly Beautiful Colonial Past
- How To Move To South Africa
- Is There Malaria Or Yellow Fever In South Africa?
- Why South Africa Is The Perfect Destination To Learn English
- Guide To The Best Places to Surf in Africa
- What I’ve Learned After One Year Living In South Africa
- Guide To Visiting The Soweto Township, South Africa
- A Tale Of Two Cities Part 2 – Pretoria
- Is It Safe To Travel To South Africa?