With its Mediterranean-style architecture, waterside setting and wide avenues lined with jacaranda and flame trees, Maputo is easily one of Africa's most attractive capitals. It's also the most developed place in Mozambique by far, with a wide selection of hotels and restaurants, well-stocked supermarkets, shady sidewalk cafes and a lively cultural scene.
The heart of the city is the bustling, low-lying baixa, spreading out northwards and eastwards from the port. Here, Portuguese-era buildings with their graceful balconies and wrought-iron balustrades jostle for space with ungainly Marxist-style apartment blocks. Galabiyya-garbed men gather in doorways for a chat, Indian traders carry on brisk business in the narrow side streets and women wrapped in colourful capulanas (sarongs) sell everything from seafood to spices at the massive Municipal Market.
A few kilometres away, along the seaside Avenida Marginal, life moves at a more leisurely pace. Fishermen stand along the roadside with the day's catch, hoping to lure customers from the constant parade of passing vehicles; banana vendors loll on their carts in the shade, with Radio Moçambique piping out eternally upbeat rhythms in the background; and local football teams vie for victory in impromptu matches in the sand.
Maputo is pricier than elsewhere in the country, especially for imported goods brought in on the toll road linking Johannesburg and the South African economy with Maputo's port and the sea. Yet there's enough selection to make it a good destination no matter what your budget. Getting to know the city is a highlight of visiting Mozambique and essential to understanding the country. Don't miss spending time here before heading north.