Mozambique Trip Report

A Forum to ask questions and share advice that pertain to self drive, self-sufficient overland safaris to Mozambique. Questions about border procedures, National Parks, Lodges and destinations welcome.
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Hennie
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Mozambique Trip Report

Postby Hennie » Tue Nov 10, 2009 10:24 am

Brilliant !

This off www.mozguide.com: See my response at end.

Mike Slater

"Hi Mike

Thanks again for the help. As promised, here is my trip report:

We have just returned after driving over 4000kms through Joburg/Maputo/
Chongoene/Tofo/Maputo/through Swaziland/Drakensberg/Cape Town!
We were finally able to find a ZA sticker at the Outdoor Warehouse in
Nelspruit and also picked up some mosquito coils there which came in
very handy on the trip. A last stop at Mr Price on the N4 outgoing for
a beach umbrella and citronella candles and we were on our way. The
drive from NEL to Komatipoort/ Ressano Garcia border is very pleasant
and easy. We even saw giraffe on the side of the road!
Last minute provisions can be found in Malelane with all the
supermarkets, filling stations, etc on the N4. At the BP garage just
before the border, we stopped to change some Rands for Meticais and to
buy 3rd party insurance. The exchange rate was 3.6 to 1 at the bureau
de change and while there were many women standing around outside
wanting to change money, we did not take the chance. See note below on
changing money in Moz. The 3rd party insurance can also be bought at a
kiosk (Hollard container shop) or wandering salesmen at the border.

The border was not at all the ‘problem’ it has been made out to be on
some forums. On the SA side we firmly rejected the offers of ‘free’
assistance from the local touts and filled in the necessary forms and
had our passports stamped. Then drove our vehicle across to the Moz
side. The difference is immediately visible. It’s a lot more chaotic
but nevertheless we still had no problems. There are forms which need
to be filled in but which are not to be found anywhere. Here’s what
needs to be done: when facing the immigration building there are 2
doors, the one on the extreme left has a counter next to it that has a
very disinterested guy sitting at. The forms are to be collected from
him and given back to him to sign and stamp. Keep your copy for when
you exit the country. He will also take a small fee (I think it was 17
Mets) from you (for which we did not receive a receipt!). Then have
your passport stamped at the immigration counter and pay a fee
(50Mets) at the counter which says ‘cashier’ (receipt given). Once
done, go outside and give your stamped slip to one of the officials
who may have a cursory look at what’s in your car (in our case it
really was just a scan over what was in the back). That’s it! We were
not asked for our car papers, the 3rd party insurance, nothing!

We also bought a sim card at the mcell container shop at the border
(20 Mets for the sim card and you can spend as much as you want for
airtime). In additions, mcell airtime vouchers can be bought anywhere
in Moz. The vendors with their yellow mcell bibs are ubiquitous
throughout the country.

From the border it is about an hour into Maputo (passing through 2
toll gates which can be paid in Mets or Rands). It was 95 Mets for the
one and 17.50 Mets for the 2nd.

We stayed at the Pestana Rovuma Hotel opposite the Catholic Cathedral
in downtown Maputo and the location was absolutely terrific. It is a
short walk to almost all the downtown destinations (Mercado Municipal,
the Saturday craft market, Gil Vicente, French Cultural Centre, etc).
The hotel has great breakfasts which last till 10h30! Note that the
parking is outdoors in front of the hotel but the security guards
looking after the parking lot are really good.

In Maputo, we parked our car and mostly walked. We twice took chapas
(same as the minibus taxis we have in SA). The chapas were safe and
the driver and his ‘conductor’ were friendly and helpful, telling us
where to get off, etc. At 10Mets a person, this is a really cheap way
to travel. The same trip in a metered taxi cost us 100Mets! To get to
Julius Nyerere Ave (where many of the restaurants etc are), walk 1
block from the hotel to 24 Julho Ave and you will get a chapa
immediately. You will get dropped off at the taxi rank near the museum
and walking down another 2 blocks you will be at Julius Nyerere Ave.
There are also tuk tuks available in some parts of the city and we
took a Larinjinha ride from the Polana down to the Naval Club and back
to Mundos for about 100Mets. The Larinjinha are little scooter/tuk tuk
type vehicles with a pointed roof. Apparently they used to be orange
(hence the name) but they are now decked out in Vodacoms branding (you
will note how much the cell companies spend on branding in
Mozambique!). The drivers are extremely friendly and knowledgeable. We
had a very intriguing conversation with our driver.

Visit the market (Mercado Municipal) for almost anything! We bought
fruit, dried chillies, some piri piri, cashews, peanuts and this is
the best place to change money! The Maputo Shopping Centre has a big
supermarket (called Hiper I think) and you can get everything you need
here as regards provisions. In fact the variety is more than you will
find in any South African supermarket.

In terms of eating, Maputo has great food almost everywhere. Mundos
has great caipirinhas and good chicken, the seafood platter at Costa
do Sol was more than sufficient for 3 or 4 people and cost 900Mets,
Piri Piri restaurant at the corner of 24 Julho and Julius Nyerere has
the best service we encountered in Moz and really good chicken and
prawns. For divine pasteis de nata and espressos try Nautilus (next to
Piri Piri or at the Maputo shopping mall food court) or Cristal on 24
Julho. These pasteis de nata took us back to our experiences in Lisbon
immediately. Delicious!!

For live music, Gil Vicente (a short walk from the hotel) or Cafe
Camissa are the obvious choices. Camissa has a really laid back buzz
with live music on a Saturday and Sunday. We heard some great Afro
Latin sounds here on one night and a beautiful songstress on another
night. Cafe Camissa can be found just around the corner from Julius
Nyerere Ave.

Maputo is a really charming old city with great soul! The most
dangerous thing about Maputo is....the pavements! Manhole covers are
missing so just watch your step. Other than this, we felt completely
safe even walking at night.

We spent 3 nights in Maputo and left early on the Sunday morning for
Chongoene (just past Xai Xai). Getting out of Maputo (and coming back
in) on the road to Xai Xai take some patience. It is extremely busy
and very slow. Once you are past this section however, it is pretty
smooth sailing. It’s a beautiful drive with the EN1 being a really
good driving road. We did see many police on the road but were never
pulled over. We passed through many small ‘villages’ which really
consist of a few shops (some open and some not). You know you are
approaching one of these places as the speed limits quickly drops to
80 and then within a few metres drops to 60! We stopped at some of
these places to buy a cold drink or coconut and found the locals to be
very friendly and enquiring. The hundreds of mango trees on the side
of the road are quite something else! They are huge and fully laden
with mangos hanging almost to the ground!

We decided to take a detour to Bilene (about 20 mins towards the coast
off the EN1). In Bilene, we stopped at a restaurant for an espresso
and there seemed to be a fair number of South Africans there. Bilene
seemed like a nice getaway from Maputo if you have limited time in Moz
and want to get to see some of the countryside. Note that it is a
lagoon and so the water is very flat.

Back on the EN1 we headed over the great Limpopo River bridge and into
Xai Xai, a fairly big town. We filled up at the BP at the end of the
town before heading right to Chongoene. From here it is a few km’s on
a dirt road to the Chongoene Holiday Resort. This road can be done by
normal sedan car but just be careful about not being too heavy as
there are some parts where the sand can become a problem. The resort
is situated at a very nice beach although the weather was really
crappy when we got there. There seems to be a lot of South Africans in
this area! The accommodation here was very ordinary. Our car could not
go all the way to the house because of the deep sand and we had to
carry what we needed over a long distance to the house. In addition,
the gas geyser was not operational and we had to get someone to come
and fit a new gas bottle. However, the next morning, we could not have
a hot shower as it was not working again! The electricity was out when
we got there but this was not an issue as we were prepared with our
torches and candles. We ate at the restaurant and it was very very
average. Would we go here again? The answer is NO. There are way too
many South Africans and you could just as well be at Margate or
Boksburg by the sea! Definitely not a real Mozambican experience.

Leaving Xai Xai early on Monday morning we encountered 100kms of road
that is a nightmare! However, this stretch of road is being worked on
at the moment (in conjunction with the Chinese – you see lots of
Chinese workers and even all the vehicles are Chinese with Chinese
number plates and signage!). After this 100kms, it is back to the
great smooth EN1 encountered before Xai Xai. When you get to Quissico
do yourself a favour and drive in past the market to what looks like
the district office. The views from here over the turquoise blue
lagoon into the sea are astounding.

You know you are getting closer to Inhambane as the coconut trees and
sellers become more abundant. On the way, you will pass many roadside
vendors selling bottled piri piri. We stopped to buy some of these and
they were absolutely delicious.

We stopped in Inhambane to buy some pao (bread) and beers (both
available in Tofo so no need to do this!) before heading off to Tofo
which is about a 30 minute drive away. The road is not very bad (there
are many potholes but careful driving will get you there without any
problem). In Tofo we stayed at Paradise Dunes. The accommodation was
superb and the staff who are on hand throughout the day are
phenomenal. From our deck we watched the whales and dolphins while
sipping our coffee at breakfast and it is just a short walk to the
beach, market and restaurants.

Everything is available at Tofo market (fresh fruit & veg, cold beers,
pao, charcoal, fish, prawns, etc) and it doesn’t cost any more than it
would in Inhambane. The craft market however is a lot more expensive
than the Saturday craft market in Maputo and even with hard
bargaining, items still cost a lot more.

Many of the tourists in Tofo are there for the diving. We used
Diversity Scuba for our Ocean Safari trip and spoke to people who used
them for packaged diving trips. They were extremely professional and
we would definitely recommend them. The other scuba operator is Tofo
Scuba. We visited them and they also seemed very professional.

The restaurants are all pretty good and one of the best meals we had
was at the hotel. The only disappointment was Casa Comer restaurant
which has a really wonderful atmosphere but really average food. Not
bad but nothing to shout about either. You can buy (or catch) fresh
fish and prawns/langoustines very cheaply and cook yourself. If you
cannot find decent prawns in Tofo, a short drive out to the Bar
Babalaza intersection and you will be surrounded by youngsters with
cooler boxes filled with tiger prawns, Zebra prawns, langos, crayfish,
etc!

We did visit Flamingo Bay, Barra etc and unless you want a resort
experience, these are somewhat isolated from the markets etc.

We tried to visit Paindane for snorkelling but were advised against it
when we stopped to ask for advice from some of the Indian shopkeepers
in Inhambane. They recommended a 4x4 as the sand is very deep in
places. Just as a matter of interest, we were told that there are
about 50 Indian families in Inhambane and the same in Maxixe. Their
shops are easily identifiable by the string of leaves across the
doorways. Try to pop into some of these shops to see the almost
antiquated interiors. These shops are reminiscent of the olden type
shops that we had in SA in the 60’s and 70’s!

From Inhambane, we took a local ferry trip across to Maxixe (10Mets a
person). The ferry ride is about 15mins and you get off at the jetty
on the other side. Maxixe is a small dusty town which is really a
trading post. On the ferry trip back you will inevitably share the
ferry with bulk purchases of rice, oil, sugar, biscuits, etc.

We made great friends in Tofo and will definitely visit again. The
people are gentle and friendly and the water was great for swimming,
surfing, boogie boarding, etc. You will find many young boys on the
beach who are trying to earn a living by selling beaded trinkets for
your wrist or ankle (25 Mets each). Do support them. Their charm and
ingenuity deserves to be rewarded. It is also fascinating to watch
them make these trinkets to your style and requirements.

We left Tofo on a Saturday morning and headed back to Maputo for the
night. In Inhambane we filled up at what I think is the only filling
station in town before hitting the EN1 again. Our next stop was in Xai
Xai at the new Engen garage. Very new, very neat and you can find all
the SA snacks in the shop! It seems like the threat of the American
franchises are not very far away. We saw a sign opposite the Engen
garage saying “new site for KFC”! There is a small “toll gate” (10
Mets) as you leave Xai Xai and expect to be accosted by touts wanting
to sell you everything from cashews (at inflated prices) to cold
drinks.

As mentioned earlier, the last bit of road getting back into Maputo
can be quite slow. We went back to the Pestana Rovuma for our
overnight stop and were greeted with the familiar warmth by the
security guard who wanted to know about our travels in Mozambique. He
spoke very little English and our limited Portuguese made for a very
interesting conversation! In Maputo we did a final trip to the craft
market and Mercado Municipal for last minute goodies (both seem to be
open till about 4 or 5 pm). Over a few drinks at Cafe Camissa we were
told by some local friends about a bad experience they had had at an
Engen garage about 100kms from Maputo the day before. They had stopped
to fill up petrol and could not get started again. It seems they
weren’t the only ones as 2 other cars that had just filled up also
spluttered and died. The petrol station’s tank was apparently
compromised and the petrol was mixed with water! Needless to say, they
had to drain their tanks etc etc and it was another 5 hours before
they could get on the road again!

We left Maputo early the next morning, stopping at the BP garage in
town to fill up and then headed out towards the Goba border with
Swaziland. A last stop for a case of 2M at one of the wholesalers on
the outskirts and then to the Goba/Mhlumeni border which is not very
well sign posted. The border was dead quiet and we were through in a
matter of minutes. Hand back the form that was given to you on your
entrance, passport stamped and you are through. On the Swazi side, it
was the same. Pay R50 for your vehicle pass, stamp passport, tell the
customs guy if you have anything to declare and you are in Swaziland.
Clearing both borders could not have taken more than 15mins at the
most. Compared to Komatipoort/Ressano Garcia, this border is a breeze.
We then drove through Siteki down towards the Lavumisa/Golela border
(about 190kms). The road is mostly good with a few potholes. On the
Swazi (Lavumisa) side of the border it was smooth sailing again. Fill
in a form, stamp your passport and walk across to the South African
side. Here we waited a while in the baking sun as a busload of
tourists had got in just before us and were slowly being processed.
Once we did get to the front though it was relatively uneventful. A
few questions, passport stamped and ‘Welcome back to South Africa’!
Drive through the security checkpoint and you are in KwaZulu Natal.

We then decided to drive through Vryheid, Dundee and into the
Drakensberg where we spoilt ourselves with a night at the Drakensberg
Sun. Absolutely delightful! The next morning we left the Drakensberg,
diving through the Golden Gate National Park (a stunningly beautiful
drive!), past the Maseru turn off eventually getting to Bloemfontein
and the dreaded N1 to Cape Town. It took us 15 hours from the
Drakensberg to Cape Town but we reached home safe (& very tired)!

A few notes:

Money: It is best to change money at the Mercado Municipal. We were
given the best rate for changing dollars here and it was very safe.
The rate for changing dollars at the market was about 30.8 as compared
to 26 at the hotel and 29 or 30 at some shops. In Inhambane or Tofo,
the best rate you will get is 28 or 29. Rands are readily accepted and
if you want to change then again Maputo is the best as you can get 4
as compared to 3.5 or 3.6 elsewhere.

Police: We were hassled on 2 occasions. The 1st was while walking in
Maputo where a policeman stopped us and asked for our passports. We
showed him certified copies which we had with us. He asked for the
originals and we told him it was in the hotel. He then asked why the
copies were not certified and we pointed out that they were. He said
there was a fine to be paid because we did not have our originals. We
said “no problem, let’s go to the police station”. This seemed to
throw him off his guard and after a few more words when he could see
we were not going to budge, he gave up! The 2nd occasion was when we
driving on our last night in Maputo. We took a left turn in the centre
of town and were immediately pulled over by a policeman. He demanded
to see my licence so of course, I showed him my certified copy. Again,
there was a request for the original which I said was in the hotel. He
then told me I had to pay a 1200Mets fine because I was not allowed to
turn left. His English was not that good and he then handed me over to
a more English fluent colleague. The same procedure again! I was asked
for my original licence and the car papers. I told him it was in the
hotel. I was then told to step out of the car. He then told me that
since it was a Saturday, if we went to the police station they would
impound the car and my case would be heard on Monday morning. In
addition there would be a 1500Mets fine. However, he said,” why don’t
we resolve this as friends” and just give him a 1000Mets to make the
problem go away! I told him I didn’t do bribes and he said it was not
a bribe but that we just be resolving the issue! I then pulled out my
camera and said I would - the other cars that were turning left and
asked why they weren’t being pulled over. He replied that one is
allowed to turn left but that I had made a very wide left turn which
wasn’t allowed! I climbed back into the car and told him I wasn’t
going to pay him anything and that we should go to the police station
or I will sit in the car for as long as it took. I also asked him to
show me his badge with his name and force number which he should have
been wearing because I would be calling the Mozambique Anti-Corruption
Unit to report him. He refused and I refused to budge! He then told me
to go on my way and never do it again! Hah! Moral of the story: Always
have certified copies of your documents, never hand over the
originals, don’t be intimidated and have an unhurried approach.

Beer: the further you get away from Maputo, the more expensive the
beers become! However they are still relatively cheap. Lots of beer is
drunk in Mozambique however we never encountered drunken loutish
behaviour anywhere.

Petrol: It may be a good idea to carry a clear bottle in which you can
first fill a bit of petrol to check its quality before filling your
tank, or stop to fill at the busy petrol stations.

People: Even if Mozambique did not have the breathtaking landscape,
amazing beaches, delicious cuisine and tropical weather, we would
still go back just because of the people. They have the warmest
smiles, the friendliest of dispositions and are simply fantastic. They
are a very proud nation. We encountered very few beggars and found
most people trying to sell something (even it is a coconut for 2Mets)
to make an honest living. The country is mostly clean and people take
great pride in their homes. We always felt safe and we interacted with
as many locals as possible. We found all of them (aside from the
police!) to be warm and friendly and as helpful as possible when this
was needed.

Muito obrigado....we will be back!!! "

My response:

Amazing! If we had a prize for best trip report, best attitude, best
visitor to Moz and best argument for the old adage that we are our own
worst enemies (I refer to the travellers who have only bad
experiences), you would get them all.

You, and I, mate, are united in our approach to dealing with our
fellow humans: never be in a hurry, treat allcomers in a dignified
(but assertive) manner and rejoice in diversity.

And to those of you who still manage to have nightmare trips (wherever
you may roam), it surely can't ALL be your own fault, just most of it.

Thanks Farhaad, you now have lifelong free membership of the 'nice
example of carbon-based-life' club. (Been trying to get mine for
years).

Mike Slater

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