Mozambique beckons with its coastline and swaying palms, its traditions, its cultures, its vibe and its opportunities for adventure. This enigmatic southeast African country is well off most travelers' maps, but it has much to offer those who venture here: long, dune-fringed beaches, turquoise waters abounding in shoals of colorful fish, well-preserved corals, remote archipelagos in the north, pounding surf in the south and graceful dhows with billowing sails. Add to this colonial-style architecture, pulsating nightlife, a fascinating cultural mix and vast tracts of bush. Discovering these attractions is not always easy, but it is unfailingly rewarding. Bring along patience, a tolerance for long bus rides, some travel savvy and a sense of adventure, and jump in for the journey of a lifetime.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Mozambique.
This1400-sq-km park protects the five islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago, plus surrounding waters. Thanks to this protected status, and to the archipelago's relative isolation from the ravages of war on the mainland, nature bursts forth in full force, with dozens of bird species, including fish eagles and pink flamingos, plus red duikers, bushbucks and, especially on Benguera, Nile crocodiles.
The Maputo Special Reserve – about a two-hour drive south of Maputo – is the closest place to the capital to experience Mozambique's bush. The pristine and stunning wilderness scenery and birding are the main attractions. With luck, you may also see elephants and smaller wildlife.
Though Gorongosa’s infrastructure is still being rehabilitated after the ravages of the civil war, and animal populations can’t yet compare with those in other Southern African safari destinations, the wildlife here is making a definite comeback: you’re likely to see impalas, waterbucks, sable antelope, warthogs, hippos, crocodiles and perhaps even elephants and lions. Another major attraction is the birdlife, with over 300 species, including many endemics and near-endemics and abundant waterbirds in the wetlands to the east around the Urema River.
The Quirimbas National Park contains most of the southern Quirimbas islands (including Ibo, Medjumbe and Matemo) along with a large tract of coastal mangrove and forest on the mainland. In all it covers 7500 sq km. While there are some hard-to-spot big fauna on the mainland, the park is better known for its myriad bird species, rich marine life, gorgeous beaches and scattered coral islands that have recently sprouted a small selection of – so far – sensitively planned, ecofriendly luxury resorts.
This imposing terracotta edifice – the former governor’s residence and now a museum – dates from 1610. The interior hosts the recently refurbished Museu de Artes Decorativas, which gives a remarkable glimpse of what upper-class life must have been like during the island’s 18th-century heyday. In addition to household items from Portugal, Arabia, India and China, there are many pieces of original furniture, including an important collection of beautifully ornamented Indo-Portuguese pieces carved by Goan craftsmen.
Don't worry if you haven't the time or energy to summit Mt Namúli. Equally memorable is the 8km (one way) hike to the cascata (waterfall) in the hills north of town. Take a picnic, carry plenty of water and allow an easy day for the excursion. A guide isn't required, as you'll encounter plenty of local villagers and tea pickers along the route.
The island’s northern end is dominated by the massive Fort of São Sebastião – the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Saharan Africa and, arguably, the finest military building on the continent. Construction began in 1558 and took 62 years. The fort has withstood numerous Dutch, British and Omani bids to diminish it. While the structure remains in a pretty unkempt state, with little explanatory information, it size and aura, along with the views from its battlements, are awe-inspiring.
Rising up from the hills about 15km northeast of Gurúè are the mist-shrouded slopes of Mt Namúli (2419m), from which flow the Licungo (Lugela) and Malema Rivers. If you find yourself in the area with time to spare, it makes a scenic but challenging climb for which you’ll need a good level of fitness and lack of a fear of heights (as there are several near-vertical spots where you’ll need to clamber on all fours).
The subject of renewed attention in recent years, this 200-sq-km reserve was gazetted in 1972 to protect the mangrove ecosystems, dune forests and marine life of the Pomene area, including dugongs and turtles. Entry fees are collected at a gate about 35km to 40km off the EN1 en route to the main beach area. Fees are per visit (not per day); save your receipt until after you leave.