Meandering in Mozambique PDF Print E-mail
Features - Features and Views
Written by TK   

From Maputo to Tofu, Mozambique is the country that tourism discovered, lost, and rediscovered again.  In a poor country with a ravaged history, it is the spirit of the locals that ensures that Mozambique has more than just a beautiful face.  Further, it is the country's music and cuisine which ultimately makes Mozambique the Brazil of Africa.

I was sitting in a room surrounded by AK-47-wielding security guards in a building next to the President’s Palace in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.  A few thoughts were running through my mind, not least whether my travel insurance covered death by misunderstanding.  As I was interrogated in hurried Portuguese, I wondered how my trip through Mozambique had gone so horribly wrong.

Five minutes before, I had been standing on a busy road opposite the President’s Palace doing nothing more offensive than taking photographs of a particularly striking house.  Suddenly there was more than the noisy traffic interrupting my solitude.  Into my vision sprung a security guard giving me a lot of attention.  He was running along the median-strip, shouting incessantly and waving his hands about motioning me to get to the ground.  Considering the size of his gun and his general bad attitude, I did not ask him any questions.

He approached me at frightening speed, grabbed my video camera and pushed me in the direction of the President’s Palace.  My concern at the size of his gun outweighed any concerns of false imprisonment.

Within a matter of minutes, I was sitting in a room surrounded by several more security guards.  Whilst I sat in a chair in my yellow board-shorts, the security guards were taking a keen interest in my video camera, which also happened to take photographs.  The only security-guard who could speak English asked me to switch on the video camera.  Clearly, I obeyed his command.  They all simultaneously began shouting in an excited manner in a mix of English and Portuguese.

“Mandela, Mandela!”

I thought they were beginning a fun chant, so I joined in.  There combined glared was more than enough to silence me.

“Sir, you must delete these last photos... This is Nelson Mandela’s house”.

I had obviously unwittingly taken some photographs of the palatial house of the ex-President and national hero of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.  Unsure of what aspect of this could constitute a crime, I obeyed their request for me to delete the offensive photographs.  Who would have thought taking photographs of architectural gems could be so dangerous?

Turfed back out on the road again, I reflected upon my seven-day trip through Mozambique which had delivered more remarkable highs than lows.  I had begun my trip in an equally unorthodox manner.  Without plan and much money, some friends heading for a beach town in Mozambique called Ponto Do Ouro had picked me up on the side of a highway in northern South Africa.  On the drive to the border, I imagined what Mozambique would look like.  Admittedly, I did not know a huge amount about the country apart from the fact that it was blessed with an extremely long coastline, much of which was untarnished, and that it had bountiful seafood at its fingertips.

Add beautiful tropical weather into the equation and you had all the ingredients of a genuine top tourist destination without the numbers (for now, at least).  I do not think that I was the only Westerner with a hazy knowledge of this southern-African country.  Until recently, Mozambique has not really figured on traveller’s minds as a must-see destination.  This appeared to come down to myriad factors, including the long and devastating civil war which ended in 1992, the country’s remoteness as well as its lack of infrastructure.  But this unpopularity as a tourist destination had not always been the case.  In fact, during the 1960s and 1970s Mozambique had been a popular country to visit, due in part to its Portuguese-influenced cuisine.  

Just past Kosi Bay in South Africa was my one last hurdle before I could see the country for myself.  A portable shed sitting at the base of some low sand dunes marked the border control.  It was not what you would call a rigorous border check, however it did still throw up some curveballs.  At one stage, a custom's official even stole a banknote from me after I had been asked to pay for the visa fees.  Upon seeing a stash of English currency in my wallet, he had excitedly pointed at it and requested a closer look.  I obliged by passing him a £20 note.  He looked at the £20 note, looked at me and then ran off.

This clearly was not everyday behaviour, and I stood at the immigration counter blinking in shock for some time.  I am used to customs officials practically “stealing” money from me every time I attempted a border-crossing or fly into a new country, however this was taking it to a whole new level!

I turned to the left and saw the man running off to another building.  After completing my visa duties with another immigration officer, I followed him.  As I approached the building, I saw that he had a crowd gathered around him who all seemed to be jumping up and down and pointing excitedly to something in his hand.  I approached the group, and was quickly pushed into its inner circle.

“Sir, you must be very wealthy...  £20 is a lot of money!”

“You could live off that for two months here”, another chimed in.

This was lesson 101 of international currency values - never underestimate the power of the English pound abroad.

“You do not mind if we keep this queen’s head do you?”, the first one quipped.  “Is this your first time in Mozambique?”  Clearly I did not have the look of a seasoned campaigner.


“Well it will not be your last, I promise.  People do not want to leave this country after seeing it for the first time”.

After bidding the friendly custom’s officers goodbye and reclaiming my £20, we were soon skidding our way by 4WD over two tracks that straddled the sand-dune terrain.  This was as close to a road that I would see until reaching Maputo five days later.

It immediately strikes you that Mozambique is a much different country to South Africa.  It is incredible the difference that a man-made border can make between two countries.  The infrastructure of Mozambique was noticeably less advanced compared to South Africa.  However, paradoxically, this also has the positive effect of giving Mozambique the scenic edge over South Africa.  Instead of the eucalyptus plantations that are ubiquitous in the northern reaches of South Africa, there are untouched forests in Mozambique.

The most difficult aspect of the drive to Ponto Do Ouro was choosing which particular wheel tracks to follow.  Along the way there were various groups of young kids trying to sell anything from water to firewood on the side of the road.  The first and only road sign we spotted was as we headed into Ponto Do Ouro.  Immediately, the township’s beauty grabs you for a number of reasons, but primarily for its sub-tropical uniqueness as well as its architecture.  Scattered amongst the newly-built beach villas are several colonial Portuguese houses that are a visible reminder of Mozambique’s long-running civil war which just nearly sent the whole country back into the dark ages.  Most are in a sorry state of disrepair, completely gutted besides from the outside walls.  The only people making themselves at home in these buildings were squatters.

The one constant in Ponto Do Ouro is the absolutely stunning stretch of sand that begins on the south side of town and stretches as far as the eye can see to the north – a never-ending stretch of paradise.

Ponto Do Ouro is the definition of a relaxed beach town.  Featuring no bitumen roads nor visible industry, the only immediate apparent noise comes from the roar of the surf.  We were not what you would call the most organized of travelers.  We had not booked any accommodation at all, but luckily my friends had bought along camping equipment.  So we pitched our tent right on the foreshore below some pine-trees that reached some lofty heights and immediately set off to explore the beach.  As my toes hit the sand for the first time, I immediately felt relaxed.  This emotion was compounded ten-fold after I jumped in the warm, turquoise-coloured Indian Ocean.  By the time I pulled myself out of the water, the sun had gone down and the temperature had dropped significantly.  Upon returning to our tent, we were surprised to see that the whole campground was now completely full.  Unwittingly, we had chosen the busiest time of the year to come to Ponto Do Ouro – Easter.  Instead of just hearing the sounds of the breaks, there was now a cacophony of noise split in equal measure between the revving engines of umpteen quad bikes that holiday-makers had bought with them, the sounds of happy revellers as well as of generators being turned on and off.

Quickly the solitude had disappeared, however I did not mind.  With kilometres of sand on your front door, there is always an opportunity to find peace and quiet.  The beaches ostensibly stretch forever, and never has a stretch of sand felt more deserted and untouched.  The beaches of Mozambique are simply spectacular.  As you walk to the north, the houses running alongside the wide arc of a bay gradually thin out.  If you walk for long enough, you eventually reach the paradisiacal Ponto Malongane.  The sand here is as white as crystal, and the camping ground is infinitely more secluded and has an even better setting than its counterpart in Ponto Do Ouro.  Ponto Malongane is famous for its scuba diving.

But that is not to say that there are no activities in Ponto Do Ouro.  Arguably the best surfing conditions in Mozambique can be found in Ponto Do Ouro, and during my stay the conditions were perfect.  On the flipside, the ocean becomes a swimming pool at low tide which is not so good for the keen surfers but is for the many young families and swimming enthusiasts.  The infrastructure for scuba divers is also impressive, and I am told that the ocean floor was teeming with activity.  I also noticed that there were a number of kite-boarders, jet-skiers, quad-bikers, fisherman and boaters around appeasing their inner child.  There are seriously enough water sports to start a water Olympics!  A sobering thought is the sheer numbers of tiger shares that apparently "grace" the water.

After the sun sets, the best bet is to take advantage of surely some of the cheapest and best seafood in Africa.  The Portuguese-infused seafood dishes are a treat, especially the Curried Prawns.  If you enjoy your beer, you should wash your meal down with one of the locally-produced beers, Preta, or else sample some wine produced across the border in Cape Town.  All the restaurants I ate at during my stay were very reasonably priced, which compelled me to eat out every night.  A huge plate of seafood will set you back about £5-10.

The nightlife in Ponto Do Ouro was especially lively during the Easter weekend I was there.  The trendy Café Del Mar is recommended for its view alone.  One night I met a couple of South Africans from Johannesburg, Chris and Michael. Chris told me that he had been coming to this part of the world for years. 

"Mate, it is a kief (good) spot. We like it here because there are no rules! Plus the surfing is great".  Michael told me that you invariably meet more South Africans in Ponto Do Ouro than you do locals, which was my experience too and is obviously attributable to the proximity of the town to the South African border.  I assume that your experiences of Mozambique would be more "authentic" the more north you travel.

As I hopped on the road again, I reflected upon my camping experience in Ponto Do Ouro.  Usually one to shy away from pitching a tent, especially in an African country just recovering from internal strife, I was amazed at the ease and the safety of camping.  And visiting Ponto Do Ouro had forced me to break my travel habit of only indulging in beach-cricket by weight of the sheer number of different activities on offer.

I managed to get a lift to Maputo with a friendly couple which was lucky considering the lack of other travel options.  On the way from Ponto Do Ouro to Maputo, you pass through some fairly remote parts of Mozambique before approaching the outskirts of the capital city.  The only way to get to Maputo approaching from the south on the eastern coastline is by car-ferry, and we were soon skimming across the water at speed.  My first impressions upon reaching the city was that Maputo appeared a little edgy, so I decided to splash out and check myself into an upmarket hotel named the Villa das Arabias.  This is a charming Arabian style hotel which features a beautiful pool, and it looked to be a perfect refuge from the somewhat hectic city outside its walls.

However Mozambique, despite my initial impressions and my little "incident" outside the President’s Palace, proved to be a warm and welcoming city.  I did feel at times that I stood out like a mature aged student does at university, and I attracted plenty of attention from the locals especially when walking the streets looking every inch a backpacker.  Admittedly, apart from the particularly insistent souvenir sellers, I found the locals to be quite shy at times.  However, upon consideration I realised I had not really given myself every opportunity to mix with the locals having spent most of my stay in a beach town full of South African holidaymakers.  More than anything, this was a result of the advice I had received before entering the country that you should not stray from the beaten path due to the possibility of standing on landmines, remnants from the civil war.

However, despite this inherent danger, I vowed that upon my next visit to Mozambique that I would explore more down-tempo tourist attractions north of the capital.  And I also vowed never to take a photograph again before asking someone whose house it is!

Quick Facts:

How to get there from London –

I flew a return trip with the now defunct Nationwide Airlines from London to Johannesburg for only £550, and flew back with South African Airlines from Maputo to Johannesburg to catch my return flight (about £150 for a one way ticket). Several airlines fly directly between London and Johannesburg from where you can catch flights to and from Maputo with South African Airlines.

Alternatively, you can book a South African Airlines flight from London to Maputo, with a short stop-over in Johannesburg.

I travelled overland between Johannesburg to Maputo via the Kosi Bay South-Africa/Mozambique border crossing. The trip from Johannesburg to Ponto Do Ouro took approximately 7 hours. Alternatively you can drive from Durban which takes about 4-5 hours.

Hiring your own 4WD is recommended if you wish to travel through to Maputo from Ponto Do Ouro. Travel infrastructure is still rather basic. Unless you wish to be picked up and dropped off by your hotel at the Kosi Bay border crossing, it is difficult to travel around southern Mozambique without your own vehicle. It is virtually impossible to travel overland between Ponto Do Ouro to Maputo – hitching a ride is sometimes your only option but not that advisable, or alternatively you can squeeze into a packed kombi van taxi.

If you are travelling to Ponto Do Ouro from Maputo, hiring your own vehicle is recommended.

The cost of flying –

This obviously depends on the season you choose to travel as well as how far in advance you book your tickets. It appears that tickets range between £650-1200.

Where I stayed –

In Ponto Do Ouro, I stayed in the Simply Scuba Resort camping ground which costs about £7 per person per night and also spent one night in a reed hut for about £12 at the same resort ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). If you do not have your own tent, you can stay in one provided by the resort for about £12. Simply Scuba Resort can also organise for you to be collected at the Kosi Bay border crossing for a small cost if you plan to arrive by bus into Kosi Bay. In Maputo, I stayed in the luxurious boutique hotel Villa das Arabias for approximately £80 per night which included breakfast ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

Visa requirements –

Visas cost £15 to £40 for 30 days issued at most border posts. Visas are required by everyone except citizens of South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Botswana, and can be bought at most borders (but not the Tanzania border) for £15. It is best to arrange a visa in advance. If you are catching a bus through Kosi Bay, it is recommended that you arrange for your visa in advance as apparently the bus will not wait for you if there are long queues at the border crossing.The border is open between 8am and 5pm.

Vaccinations –

Malaria tablets are strongly advised, especially if you plan to travel to rural areas. It is also highly recommended that visitors should take precautions against typhoid, bilharzia, hepatitis and cholera.


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