Mozambique: The Pearl of the Indian Ocean
Traveling up the coast to Xia-Xia and Tofo Scuba Diving and of course the Fish Market in Maputo.
Most Meaningful Experience: Dinner at the fish market with new friends
Mozambique Travel Tips:
• Explore the Fish Market and the seafood restaurants that cluster on Avenida Marginal in Maputo
• Stay at Fatima’s Backpackers in Maputo and Tofo, with buses connecting the two accommodations
• Make an overnight trip to Inhaca Island (the slow ferry leaves at 8:30 and arrives at 11:30, then you need to be in line at 1:30 for the return ferry)
• Visit the historic Central Railway Station in Maputo and the Museum of Natural History
• Overnight in Xai-Xai – a small fishing town that’s emerging as a beach resort
• Tofo: Dive, dive, dive….and eat seafood!
• Make the journey to Vilankulos (something I regretfully didn’t do)
Boasting spectacular white sandy beaches, untouched coral reefs and a coastline dotted with islands (many still Portuguese-owned), Mozambique has been dubbed the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. When I touched down around 3PM at the Maputo International Airport and hopped in my rental car, I had every intention of arriving in the beach town of Xai-Xai (220 kilometers to the north) by sundown, then continuing north to Tofo the following day. In the airport I noticed a guy with a green shirt picking up some travelers. He asked me why I was renting a car, I said I wanted to drive up the coast. He didn’t continue and I later learned he worked at Fatima’s which offered a shuttle bus all the way to Tofu. Travel Tip: Do NOT rent a car in Mozambique. Get a shuttle bus at Fatimas!
Driving along to the sounds of Portuguese-speaking radio MCs and latino dance tracks, I was shocked to see almost every roadside shopfront was branded with local telcos – Vodacom, Mcel – or Coca-Cola. It was red and orange the entire 500 kilometers to Tofo!
As the sun began to sink behind the horizon, I knew I needed to pull over soon and that driving in the dark was not an option. Not only were there people roaming through the streets but most of the other cars had no lights, making for a dangerous (and scary) drive. Luckily, I found the turnoff to Xai-Xai and made the final 40-kilometer-long drive to the beach, stumbling upon a small hotel where people were lingering outside drinking beer.
The next morning I woke to overlook a beautiful, barren beach that had been completely obscured by the darkness of night. My goal today was to reach Tofo, stopping en route in the small port town of Inhambane, which has retained strong Portuguese influences.
The resort town of Tofo hugs a curving stretch of sand that’s lined with beach lodges and backpacker inns. It’s a hub for surfers and scuba diving, which was my main reason for being here. Giant mantas, devil rays, and whitefin shark were just some of the marine species I encountered on my dives here, together with whale sharks and dolphins during boat-based ocean safaris.
As you’d expect from its coastal location, Tofo’s seafood is exceptional and the local market is the place to go for ridiculously cheap lobster ($5), prawns and barracuda. You can even pick your own and have it grilled fresh right in front of you! I celebrated my 40th and New Year’s at Fatima’s with a bunch of strangers, new friends, and a DJ name DJ Cairo who played awesome hip hop all night.
After that night, I made the return drive to Maputo, stopping again in Inhambane to explore a little more, take some photographs and attend a local church service accompanied by beautiful singing. In hindsight, I should have bused it to Tofo instead of hiring a car, as it would have allowed me to continue by ferry to Vilankulos – a beach town that got rave reviews from everyone I met.
Instead, I spent time exploring Maputo – a city I believe has a lot of potential. Its crumbling Portuguese architecture and visible poverty is juxtaposed against modern, waterfront hotels, excellent restaurants and lively bars. It was in one of these watering holes back at Fatima’s that I met Nigerian traveler Femi and we decided to make a day trip to Inhaca Island together. Meeting Femi was a blessing in disguise as he introduced me to his Nigerian business partners. When I went to Lagos, they hosted me and took me to a wedding.
Popular with vacationing locals, Inhaca features stunning beaches surrounded by azure blue waters, as well as a charming lighthouse and small town. We intended to take a 10-minute boat ride to another nearby island, but after the expense of getting around Inhaca and having my card eaten by the ATM, we boarded the slow ship back to Maputo. The island was more trouble than it was worth and I wouldn’t suggest taking the long ferry ride out there. Once in the capital, we headed to the Fish Market for my final dinner in Mozambique. Picking out the oversized shellfish and fish then negotiating price was fun. During dinner I made some new friends from Namibia – three girls who were close friends – as well who I met up with later in my trip.
There are no wrong decisions when traveling. Though i did not make it to Vilankulos, i met 4 special friends on my return which enhanced my trip to Namibia and Lagos. One never knows what may have been. Traveling is the ultimate choose your own adventure. Mozambique was certainly just that.