MOZAMBIQUE

Mozambique

Mozambique is one of the most popular choices on the east African traveller route. Its stunning beaches, outstanding scuba diving and temperate climate all offer a good explanation for why it is so popular. Yet it is still far enough off the beaten track to give more adventurous travellers a challenge. There is a fusion of African, Arabic, Indian and Portuguese influences across the country, and you will be able to find evidence of this in its history and architecture, as well as from the inhabitants. After a dramatic Civil War during the 20th century and flooding at the beginning of the 21st, the country has stabilised and turned itself into an up-and-coming tourist destination, so you will find many of your needs catered for.

Currency – Metical Nova Familia (Mtc)
Time – GMT +2
Language – Portuguese, as well as various African languages
Area Code - 258

Climate

Mozambique has an outstanding climate for most of the year, boasting clear, blue skies that bask the coastline in sunshine, with temperatures ranging from around 24 to 27 degrees Celsius. However, there is a wet season which lasts from around December/January to April when heavy downpours can often turn the roads into rivers. This is also a very humid time, with temperatures often not falling below 30 degrees Celsius, so it may be advisable not to travel during this period. The best time to visit would be during the cooler, dry season which lasts between May/June to November.

Things to do and see

Muputo is the country's capital and is located along the coast, making it a beautiful as well as bustling city. Its architecture has a great Mediterranean influence and the rest of the city is awash in colour, from the city dwellers to its stalls. The Praca de Independencia has many sights to see, including the Cathedral, City Hall, the Botanical Gardens and the Iron House. All of these are well worth a visit and tell you something about the history of the city. The National Art Museum has a spectacular collection of sculptures and paintings from some of Mozambique's current top artists. If you are an art enthusiast you can visit the house and studio of Malangatana (Mozambique's most renowned painter), which is filled with many of his paintings, although you have to call ahead to book an appointment (21-465286, 21-465681).

Inhaca Island is about 40km east of Maputo; this a marine research centre is a popular place to visit for locals and tourists alike. Its coral reefs are among the best in the world, making it an exceptional place to dive and snorkel, and the surrounding waters are protected and so are teaming with wildlife. The cheapest place to stay on the island is the Marine Biology Research Station (Tel: 21-492176) but you will have to book rooms long in advance.

Southern Mozambique is lined with exceptional beaches, with Ponta D'Ouro often being the first port of call for many travellers heading this way. This beautiful, large beach pulls many visitors during the summer months, who also come to see the wildlife residing in its waters. For this reason Ponta D'Ouro is one of the most popular places to dive in the country, and you will often have the chance to see dolphins and sharks. Camping is available at the Tandje Beach Resort which is near the southern end of town. If you want a slightly slower pace of life head 5km up the coast to Ponta Malongane, whose coastline is fringed by vegetated dunes.

Beira is Mozambique's second largest city as well as being its busiest port, so is a must for all seafood lovers. There are no major sights in the city, instead just wander around to get a feel for Mozambique life and to take in the sights and sounds of a working port.

Ilha de Mocambique (Mozambique Island) is located 3km off the northern coast and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colonial buildings line the cobbled streets, and there are dozens of museums to keep you busy. The island has a diverse history, which is reflected in the history of its inhabitants and the different religious sites you will find around the island.

Tofo Beach is sometimes called the "next Goa" and is a popular choice with travellers. Located on the eastern coast, its laid back vibe, small yet busy nightlife, great beach and snorkelling and diving opportunities have made it the traveller's Mecca of Mozambique. There are many dive shops here where you can hire equipment or take courses, or you can simply lie back and soak up the sun.

Travel

Entering the country
Most international flights have to stopover in South Africa first, although there are a few flights that enter the country from Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Kenya, Tanzania and Portugal. A tax is charged for all who enter the country; for international flights the tax is 500Mts and for internal flights it is 200MTs, both to be paid in cash. This needs to be paid after you check in from your departure destination, and make sure you get a tax stamp put on your boarding card otherwise you will not be able to board the flight.

The only way to enter Mozambique by train is through Malawi. However, for the reasons stated below you may not wish to choose this method of travel.

The roads that enter from Swaziland and South Africa are decent, but make sure you have all car registration documents and if you are not the owner of the car you will need to have a letter of permission to drive it from the owner. Border checks are vigilant; you will need to have passports and necessary visas.

Bus routes come into the country from Malawi, Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The roads are generally good and this is a very cheap method of travel. Some require you to swap buses at the border, so make sure you know how long you will have to wait between connections. It is also not advisable to travel by bus during the rainy season as the roads are prone to flooding.

Currently there is no way to travel into Mozambique via charter boat, although you may be able to hire one from Tanzania and travel across the coast but this may prove quite costly.

Travelling around the country
Mozambique is vast, thus travelling between destinations can often take days rather than just hours. This means that you want to choose a method of transport that is efficient and comfortable, as well as being affordable. Buses and minibuses (chapas) leave early (4am is pretty normal) to get to their destination. They are cheap but are prone to breakdowns and roads are often not in the best conditions.

There is only one train line that travels in the north of the country, connecting Nampula and Cuamba. The trains are often packed and the tracks are in need of servicing, although they are reasonably efficient.

Air travel is the best way to get around the country, if you can afford it. Domestic flights are not incredibly pricey but are a more expensive way to travel. Linhas Aereas de Moçambique and Air Corridor fly between all major cities.

Accommodation

Maputo Maputo Backpackers (Quarta Avenida, Bairro Triunfo, Tel: 21-451213) has cheap dorms, and slightly more expensive private rooms. The place is clean yet cosy and chapas to and from town stop nearby. Fatima's backpackers (1317 Avenida Mao Tse Tung, Tel: 21-302994, 82-414 5730) is in the upper part of town and is the city's longest running backpackers' hostel. It has an outdoor kitchen and bar, and either dorms or private rooms.

Beira
There are a few camping grounds located just outside the city, including Rio Savane (Tel: 23-323555, 82-385 7660) which is around 35km away, near the estuary. Biques (Makuti beach, Tel: 23-313051) is not the most up-to-date camping ground, but its sunset views still make it very popular. If you do not want to camp the Hotel Miramar (Rua Vilas Boas Truao, Tel: 23-322283) offers cheap rooms, either with or without a private bathroom, but it is slightly out of town. A more expensive choice is Pensao Moderna (Rua Alferes da Silva, Tel: 23-329901) but this is located much more centrally.

Ilha de Mocambique
Casuarina Camping (lenavie@hotmail.com) is a two-minute walk from the bridge and has camping on the beach, bungalow-style rooms, bucket-style showers and meals on offer. Casa de Dona Kero (Contracosta, Tel: 26-610034) has small rooms with no fans but offers a contintental breakfast. Residencial Amy (Avenida dos Herois) is located near the park and has small rooms, most without exterior windows.

Tofo Beach
Fatima's Nest Backpackers (Fatima@virconn.com) offers bungalows, camping sites and permanent tents. This is the party spot of the beach, with local music being performed and the bar staying open until late many nights of the week.

Bamboozi Backpackers (Tel: 29-329040, infobamboozi@tdm.co.mz) is a much quieter spot, located further up the beach away from the main action. Dorms, huts and chalets are available, but bring your sleeping bag as some of them are exposed to the wind and can be cold at night.

Health care issues

Malaria is rife in Mozambique and, as in other East African countries, many malaria tablets have become ineffective. Make sure you see your doctor before you travel to find out which protection will work. Medicines are not impossible to get hold of, but it is worth carrying a well-stocked first aid kit and you may wish to bring clean needles if you are going to be travelling off the beaten track, as the HIV risk is high. For this reason also, do not have unprotected sex. Only drink bottled water, or you may wish to bring water purifying tablets if you are going to remote places as you may not be able to buy bottled water here.

In Maputo the two best health clinics are Clinica 222 (Cnr Avenida 24 de Julho and Rua Augusto Cardoso, Tel: 82-000 2220, 21-312222, 21-313000) and Clinica de Commerschield (52 Rua Pereira do Lago, Tel: 82-305 6240, 21-493924/6) which has a lab and a doctor on call. Advance payment will be required.