Mozambique is a country in southeast Africa, bordered by Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. Its capital and largest city is Maputo, which is inhabited by nearly 1.2 million people. Like nearly all African countries, Mozambique is a former European colony, which gained independence from Portugal in 1975 after nearly 500 years of colonization. Sadly, its tourism industry sharply declined after independence. It’s unfortunate because the country’s natural beauty, beaches, national parks, wildlife reserves, and cultural heritage provide excellent eco-tourism opportunities.
Mozambique enjoys a lengthy coastline fronting the Indian Ocean and it boasts some of southern Africa’s best beaches, renowned for their coral reefs and great surfing, diving and snorkeling opportunities. It also has some of the freshest seafood, which is abundant and cheap. Though not as popular as neighboring South Africa, more tourists are being lured to see what this Lusophone country has to offer. Here are my top 10 Things to Do in Maputo and beyond:
- Visit the FEIMA Arts and Crafts Market. If you’re looking for souvenirs, African art or just somewhere to chill for a few hours, FEIMA is your place. This outdoor market is located inside a relaxing urban park with an abundance of shade trees and tropical plants. Artisans sell batiks, paintings, fabric purses, clothing, shoes, wood carvings and more. There are also two outdoor restaurants on site which serve both western cuisine and traditional Mozambican dishes.
- Be inspired by local art and culture. Núcleo de Arte is an art cooperative, home to more than 100 sculptors, painters, and other artists. During daytime hours, you can meet the artists and watch them at work next door at Cafe Camissa. There are frequent exhibitions and many display pieces are for sale, so bring cash with you. Fundação Fernando Leite Couto, is a cultural center which promotes the country’s art, culture and literature. It’s often the site of live concerts, readings and art exhibitions. Centro Cultural Franco-Mocambicano (CCFM) is another cultural center which has frequent music and dance performances. Check their respective websites for event schedules.
- Shop at the Mercado Central. This market, located in a picturesque colonial building in the Baixa district, is the main shopping hub in Maputo. You can find fabric, clothing, fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables, and many household staples. Prices are negotiable, so don’t be afraid to bargain. But stay alert and beware of pickpockets.
- Visit a museum. Maputo has several modest, albeit unique museums. The Central Train Station is Maputo’s landmark building and a fabulous work of architectural design. It’s an operating train depot, which also houses a museum detailing the history of Mozambique’s railways and communication systems. Inside are several old steamer trains and other historical photos and artifacts. The National Art Museum has a small but respectable collection of Mozambican art, including several large canvases by world-renowned artist, Malangatana. The Natural History Museum (Museu de História Natural) has an interesting collection of stuffed animals and wooden carvings. The National Money Museum (Museu Nacional da Moeda) holds a collection of the many currencies that have circulated in Mozambique’s history; they include barter tokens, gold dust, and current-day bills. Lastly, the Iron House (Casa do Ferro), designed by Gustave Eiffel, architect of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, contains a small display of artifacts from some of Mozambique’s medieval cities and trading posts. The house was originally intended to be the Governor’s home, but because of the all-metal structure it was too hot to live in under Maputo’s tropical conditions. Luckily, now it’s air conditioned.
- Go on the Bairro Mafalala Walking Tour. This 2-hour walking tour takes visitors through the Mafalala bairro, Maputo’s oldest township or informal settlement. Mafalala lacks the affluence of other neighborhoods, but is a source of national pride and rich historical, political and cultural roots. The tour includes a stop at the house of the late Samora Machel, the Mozambican revolutionary and its first president post-independence, a visit with a local curandeiro (healer), and a traditional dance performance. This tour is a must for anyone interested in learning about Mozambique’s history and struggle for independence.
- Enjoy Mozambican music. Mozambican music has thrived since independence and there is no shortage of venues for music lovers. Each Thursday night, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm, a different local band plays live music at the Associação dos Musicos Moçambicanos. The crowd is young and mostly local (with a few expats and tourists tossed in), the vibe is laidback and fun, and the music a mix of hip hop, Afro beats, and reggae. For the jazz fans, the Africa Bar has live jazz on Thursday nights. Chez Rango, a lounge inside the Central Train Station, is the place to go for live jazz on Saturday nights. Nucleo de Arte has a DJ and live bands performing on Sunday evenings. In fact, most restaurants have DJs or live music performances on weekend nights.
- Eat fresh seafood. If you’re a seafood lover, Mozambique will not disappoint. Maputo’s Mercado do Peixe is the place to go for fresh seafood. From fish, prawns, and lobster to crab, clams and calamari plucked straight from the water, this place has it all. The market is housed in a new waterfront building where seafood is sold by the kilogram and cleaned upon request for an additional fee. If you don’t speak Portuguese, it pays to go with a local who can help you negotiate price. And if you don’t feel like cooking, your seafood and a variety of side dishes can be cooked on site for you. The market’s waterfront patio is the perfect place to sit with friends and eat, drink and enjoy the views. Service can be slow, so don’t go there famished, but it’s a fun time, especially on Sundays. If long waits aren’t your thing, several waterfront restaurants can meet your desire for great seafood, including Campo di Mare, Sagres, Docks, and the Maputo Waterfront Restaurant.
- Delight in the beaches, water sports, and marine life. Mozambique is known for its beaches, but for the best ones you’ll have to leave Maputo. Xai Xai beach is popular with tourists and closet to Maputo at only two hours away. A coral reef running parallel to the shore offers good snorkeling and protects the beach from strong waves. The nearby Bilene beach also offers calm waters and relaxed vibes. Jet skiing, scuba diving, sports fishing, sailing and canoeing are among the many activities enjoyed there. Ponta d’Ouro is known for its great beach, party atmosphere, dolphins, offshore diving, and deep-sea fishing. Tofo is another popular beach town, located about 4 hours north of Maputo and known for its reefs and excellent diving and snorkeling. It is one of the best places to see manta rays, sea turtles, and whale sharks. Vilanculos, accessible from Maputo by a one-hour flight or eight-hour bus ride, is the Mozambican water sports capital. Kite surfing, horseback riding and traditional dhow boat safaris are also popular there. Vilanculos is the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, known for its fabulous beaches.
- Explore the islands. Inhaca island is a beautiful oasis located just 30 miles across the bay from Maputo. It’s suitable for a day trip or weekend getaway. Inhaca’s Santa Maria beach is popular with locals and tourists wanting to enjoy its soft sand and clear waters. Catembe island is located on the southern side of Maputo Bay, about 15 minutes from Maputo by ferry. Though not as nice or as popular as Inhaca, it also offers great views of the Maputo skyline. The ferries to Inhaca and Catembe leave from ferry ports in downtown Maputo. For those willing to explore Mozambique’s northern reaches, numerous islands await you. The Bazaruto Archipelago is comprised of five islands: Bazaruto, Santa Carolina also known as Paradise Island, Benguerra, Margaruque and Bangue. The Bazaruto Archipelago is Mozambique’s only underwater national park and there are several dive sites around the islands. Even further north are the Quirimbas islands, an unspoiled chain of 32 islands, known for its coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and crystal blue waters inhabited by dolphins, whales and endangered dugongs (sea cows).
- Search for wildlife on safari. The Maputo Special Reserve is located about 60 miles southeast of Maputo and includes 350 African elephants, birds, zebra, antelope, crocodiles, hippos, small bucks, bushpigs, baboons, and unique plant life. There are also marshes and two rivers inside the reserve, which are home to a variety of fish life. Gorongosa National Park, in central Mozambique, is home to lions, elephants, buffalo, zebras, bucks, hippos and crocodiles, as well as more than 400 species of birds. Its conservation programs are supported with tourist dollars. Niassa Reserve, in northern Mozambique, is home to the endangered African wild dog, elephant, sable antelope, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and many species of birds. This protected area is twice the size of South Africa’s Kruger Park and boasts stunning natural scenery. Meculas Mountain (4,728 feet high) is located inside the reserve.