If you’ve been following my adventures for a while now, you know that I just finished my Cape Town to Cairo trip. For anyone planning to make the same trip or just traveling in Mozambique, here are some tips and my itinerary for Mozambique.
Some basic tips:
- Buy a local SIM card if you wish to use the internet. Besides the capital city, wifi is a luxury and finding a proper connection is almost impossible.
- Chapas are the most efficient way to get around in Mozambique. However, be prepared for a very uncomfortable journey in a van where people are packed in like sardines. You also have to wait for the bus to fill up (this could take several hours) and after that, they will stop every few minutes so if Google Maps tells you a trip should take two hours, in reality, it will take you at least six hours.
- There are also some bigger buses doing the main routes, but these are by no means the kind of coaches you’re used to. So far I’ve traveled to 25 different countries in Africa, and Mozambique has been the worst country when it comes to getting around and the quality of the buses.
- Be prepared that people will try to charge you more because you’re a mzungu (white person) and many times I was asked to pay extra for my backpack when taking a chapa. You don’t have to pay extra for your luggage!
- Exchange some US dollars before crossing the border to Mozambique. I needed dollars for the Tanzanian visa (and most of the touristy things have prices in dollars as well), and it was impossible to find dollars in this country. This might be easier in Maputo, but I only realized my need for dollars after I had left Maputo. So do it before entering the country!
- Portuguese is the official language of the country. Learn some basics! It will help you a lot because not everyone can speak English.
- Swahili time starts at 6 a.m. so if you go to a bus station and there’s a sign saying that the bus will arrive at 7 a.m., it will actually arrive at 1 p.m. So always add 6 hours to the time!
- If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ll eat a lot of matapa which is a typical Mozambican dish made of cassava leaves, coconut milk, and spices.
Swaziland – Maputo
I was staying near Mantenga Nature Reserve in Swaziland and getting from there to Maputo was pretty straightforward. I took a minibus to Manzini which is the biggest city in Swaziland. From there I was looking for a minibus to Maputo, but because it was a public holiday, there were not that many people traveling. Luckily, there was a shared taxi driving to Maputo, and the price was the same.
I didn’t have a visa because I had just read on the news that Mozambique changed their visa policies so that it’s easier and cheaper to get a visa on arrival. Well, that wasn’t the case… It was more expensive than I thought and also took quite a long time which made me feel bad because everyone in the car was waiting for me.
Arriving in Maputo:
The car left us in Maputo, and because it’s quite a big city, I took a taxi to my hostel. I stayed at Fatima’s Backpackers which is quite a basic hostel, but good for meeting people and they also have a shuttle going to Tofo. I only stayed two days in Maputo because honestly there’s not that much to do and I’m not a big fan of huge African cities anyway.
Maputo – Tofo
So from Maputo, I took the shuttle to Tofo. It’s not a private shuttle or anything, but they pick you up from the hostel in Maputo at 5 a.m. and drop you in front of the Fatima’s Nest Hostel in Tofo. You still have to wait several hours at the bus station in Maputo for the bus to fill up (like always if you take a minibus in Africa). The price for this shuttle was 900 meticals.
Tofo is a backpacker hotspot with chilled-out atmosphere and besides meeting other travelers and partying, you can enjoy the beach life and do different water activities. I stayed at Fatima’s Nest in Tofo which is quite a basic hostel, but the location is perfect: the hostel is built on sand dunes just meters away from the sea. Another cheap option in Tofo is Pariango Beach Motel.
Tofo is also the best place to see whale sharks, and that’s one of the reasons why I stayed there for so long. Unfortunately, I didn’t spot any whale sharks but I enjoyed scuba diving instead. Check our Liquid Dive Adventures if you would like to dive or do an ocean safari (for whale shark spotting) in Tofo. They are the best diving company in Tofo, and I can really recommend them! They also have a vegetarian restaurant on their site where you can eat a delicious vegan lunch.
Tofo – Vilanculos
This is the first leg of the journey when it becomes a bit more complicated. From Tofo, take a chapa to Inhambane. This should cost around 20 meticals. Then take a ferry to Maxixe (12,5 meticals). In Maxixe you’ll have a few options to get to Vilanculos. I took a big bus because I was traveling with few other backpackers who I met in Tofo but I wouldn’t recommend this for several reasons. First of all, the big buses are all coming from Maputo, and they won’t be in Maxixe before 1 p.m. We left early in the morning, so we had to wait several hours in Maxixe. The busses are also full when they arrive, meaning that you have to stand in an aisle for several hours. They also don’t drive directly to Vilanculos but instead leave you on the main road in Pambarra, and from there you have to take very a painful and fully packed pick-up truck to Vilanculos and just hope you won’t fall out. For the bus I ended up paying 300 meticals, a chapa should be cheaper.
After diving so much in Tofo, I really wanted to do continue it in Vilanculos. That’s why I decided to stay two nights at Casa Babi – a boutique hotel with an onsite diving center. Casa Babi is the best-rated hotel in Vilanculos, and I really recommend you to splurge for a night or two and stay here. You should book it in advance on Booking.com because they are usually fully booked!
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t good for diving while I was there (and actually everyone in Tofo kept telling me that you shouldn’t be expecting to go diving in Vilanculos because the conditions need to perfect so that you can do it, but I enjoyed the facilities at the hotel instead. They have a swimming pool with a view, and all of the rooms are facing the ocean too. And the breakfast was one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve had with fresh fruits and homemade jams!
A cheaper option for accommodation is Baobab Beach Backpackers just next to Casa Babi, and I stayed there as well. The location is just as good by the beach. They offer dorms, private rooms, and camping.
While in Vilanculos, take a boat trip to Bazaruto or other nearby islands. It’s impossible to go swimming in Vilanculos during the day because of the low tide, so a boat trip is a refreshing choice. But like with diving, the weather might not be suitable for boat trips so be prepared for that.
Vilanculos – Chimoio
Most of the travelers I met, only traveled to Tofo and Vilanculos. Only a few continued north from there, and there’s a reason for that. The transportation options get even worse from there because of the political tensions. There have been a lot of armed attacks on vehicles, and I could see all of these cars still laying along the main road when I continued north from Vilanculos. Because of this, most of the larger bus companies have stopped their routes. When I was there, the situation had been stable for a few months, and I think it still is, so hopefully, there will be more transportation options in the future.
My plan was to travel from Vilanculos to Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island). This turned out to be a three-day journey, and I also experienced some of the worst bus rides of my life. I started the journey in Vilanculos by taking a pick-up truck to Pambarra. All the big buses leave from Maputo so they won’t be in Pambarra before afternoon (and you would need to stand anyway because they are full) so the next option was a chapa. There were no chapas though so I ended up hitchhiking. In Africa, you’re supposed to pay to the driver so don’t expect to get a free ride. I hitched a ride from a truck which was the slowest one ever. When I finally made it to Inchope, it was already dark, and I still had to find a chapa to Chimoio.
This is where I made a huge mistake. I traveled to Chimoio because there was a hostel and I called them beforehand trying to ask about the bus connections to Nampula. They ensured that there was a big bus leaving from Chimoio to Nampula and I didn’t have to travel back to Inchope to catch the bus. My other option was to go from Vilanculos to Beira, and I regret that I didn’t do that because the people at the hostel were lying and the only big bus going to Nampula, was leaving from Beira. If you have to choose between Inchope and Chimoio though, stay in Chimoio because Inchope is just a nasty roadside town and I wouldn’t recommend staying there (especially as a solo female traveler).
Chimoio – Nampula
Anyway, I made it to Chimoio when it was almost midnight, slept two hours and continued traveling again. You can buy a bus ticket to Nampula at the bus station in Chimoio, but that means you’ll have to take chapa to Inchope again (included in the ticket which cost 1500 meticals) and then wait for the bus from Beira. And because the bus left from Beira, it was, of course, full when it reached Inchope. It was a big bus but still just as full as chapas, meaning that there were people sitting and standing wherever they could. This whole trip ended up being the longest and most painful bus ride I’ve ever had. A 16-hour journey in a filthy, crowded bus and I was standing for the first 8 hours of it. By the time I made it to Nampula, it was midnight again, and I checked into Ruby Backpackers.
Nampula – Ilha de Moçambique
The last part of this painful journey was pretty straightforward. Just walk to the chapa station, and everyone knows where you want to go because all the tourists are going to Mozambique Island anyway. You might have to change chapas, but in total this should cost around 200 meticals. The chapa doesn’t take you all the way to the island, but you can take a pick-up truck for the last leg with 10 meticals.
In Ilha de Moçambique, I recommend staying at Ruby Backpackers as well. The location is perfect in the heart of the old town, and they have a beautiful rooftop where you can watch the sunset.
Ilha de Moçambique used to be the capital of colonial Portuguese East Africa and the architecture is a mix of colonial Portuguese and old Swahili buildings. You could spend days exploring the old Stone Town and taking pictures! This place should not be missed if you travel to Mozambique!
Ilha de Moçambique – Pemba
If you want to travel to Pemba, take a chapa to Namialo and either wait for a big bus (I didn’t have the patience for it, and I was almost 100% that it was going to be full anyway, so I just took a chapa).
In Pemba, stay at Russell’s Place (also called Pemba Magic Lodge) which is a hostel offering dorms, camping, and private rooms. It’s located just next to the beach but a little bit outside the city center. This is the best place for getting information about the transportation and Russel itself was very friendly and eager to help whenever I had questions. I sorted my travel plans and exchanged money there (I needed to get dollars for the Tanzanian visa). This is one of the few hostels in Mozambique you can book online on Booking.com.
At Russell’s Place, I met this motorcycle guy who scared the hell out of me and told me that I shouldn’t cross the border from Mozambique to Tanzania. He had just done the border crossing himself and told me that it’s very dangerous and I should change my plans. I had already traveled so far, and there was no turning back. I’m glad that I didn’t listen to him because the border crossing wasn’t so bad after all. I mean… it was painful, uncomfortable, and you’ll get wet and dirty. But dangerous – I don’t think so.
Pemba – Palma
After listening to the horror stories of the border crossing, I still decided to cross the border and continued to Palma – the last town in Mozambique before Tanzanian border. I took a big bus early in the morning to Mocímboa da Praia and then chapa to Palma.
In Palma, I stayed at Palma Residences which is an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Just a few years ago there was nothing in Palma, but then the gas industry boomed, and many hotels were built. Most of the guests at Palma Residences are there for business, but if you’re planning to cross the border to Tanzania, this is the best place to stay before that. You can recharge yourself and get help organizing transport to the border.
Palma – Mtwara (Tanzania)
The border crossing was an interesting experience and definitely an adventure. I don’t recommend crossing the border during the rainy season like I did, but if you have to do it anyway, prepare to get wet and dirty. It rained the whole day when I did the border crossing.
My first car got stuck in the mud and then broke down, so I had to hitch another car driving to the border. My travel companion in this car wasn’t the best because no one spoke English and for some reason, the driver hated me. The road was very very very bad, and at some point, there was no road at all – just water. But we made it to the border! However, we had to walk the last part (about 1 km, maybe more) to the boat, and it was pouring rain, and my shoes were just sinking into the mud.
You have to cross the border by taking a boat to the other side of the river, and this was the most exciting part of the border crossing! The boats are old wooden boats, and you have to know what time to cross the river because if it’s a low tide, the boat can get stuck. The motorcycle guy I met in Pemba had gotten stuck in the middle of the river for three hours! We only got a little bit stuck, and at one point everyone had to get off the boat and walk to the other side of some kind of a sand island where the boat came again to pick us up. I also saw lots of hippos and crocodiles in the water which of course is not something you would like to see when you’re in a boat like that. But hey – a free safari!
After crossing the river, you’ll hop onto a dala dala (a chapa in Tanzania) and cross the border. Make sure to have $50 for the visa. The dala dala will take you to the nearest town called Mtwara where you have to spend at least one night before continuing traveling the next day.