Southern Mozambique : Maputo
Maputo is the capital city of Mozambique.
Maputo has been the capital of Mozambique since 1898. The city was previously called Lourenço Marques until the country's independence in 1975. It is the largest city in Mozambique and the country's most important harbour. It is situated at the mouth of the Santo River in the extreme south, 90 km from the border with South Africa.
In comparison with other sub-Saharan African cities, the urban area feels small and concentrated, with wide avenues and old trees. People are generally out and about in the streets, walking, driving and getting on with life. The vibe is healthy and active, with little begging and lots of street vendors and markets. There is no heavy presence of police during the day.
There are few tourists to be seen and at times the atmosphere is as much South American as African. Buildings range from old colonial palaces to new high-rise constructions, but the dominant architecture consists of Stalinist-looking concrete-walled boxes, generally with badly eroded paint and rusty security bars. Fortunately, these tend to fade into the background, and there are enough buildings with old charm and lush enough gardens (cycads, coleus, flamboyant, jacaranda, bouganvillea, etc.) to give a pleasing if shabby feel. Especially outstanding buildings which shouldn't be missed are the Pancho Guedes creations: Guadiesque, surreal and difficult to find.
The city provides a range of accommodation, from many-star hotels (e.g. Polana, Cardoso, Southern Sun) to comfortable backpackers' hostels (Base and Fatima's) and reasonable options in between (Mozaic Guest House).
Taxis from the airport to town should be around 350 Metecais (approx US$12). Hotels generally send their buses to meet flights, but only if they have passengers on the flight with bookings at their hotel. Local SIM cards can be bought at the shop near the exit from the terminal where there is also a bank.
Rail services to Maputo are slowly improving, altough the lines currently trafficed are of limited use to tourists. An execption is the daily service from Ressano Garcia at the border with South Africa, it is a convenient way of traveling here from Johannesburg and Pretoria as daily trains connects with the city of Komatipoort across the border.
The highway from Johannesburg to Maputo is very good. From Johannesburg, take the N4 towards Nelspruit (about 400 km). From Nelspruit, continue following the N4 to Komatipoort, the last town on the South African side (about 100 km). Just past Komatipoort is the Komatipoort/Ressano Garcia border post. NB: current car registration papers (or good facsimile thereof) are required to get a car past the border. On the Mozambican side, just follow the N4 (now called EN4) for a further 100 km or so to reach Maputo.
Also easy access from Manzini in Swaziland, around 186 km. With minivan/taxi the cost from Manzini to Maputo is around US$8 with luggage (price per October 2006). The drive time, including getting visa at the Namaacha border post, is 4 hrs. The price for visa is US$25.
From Durban, on the KwaZulu Natal coast (South Africa), Maputo is 600 km away and best approached via the Golele border post into Swaziland. The shortest route from Golele into Mozambique is at the newly opened Goba border post.
Komatipoort/ Ressano Garcia Border Control The border control can be very intimidating to new (and even returning) visitors to Mozambique. As you drive into the Mozambican side of the border, you will have many people rushing to your vehicle (some even looking quite official) and then directing you to perform this or that activity. The goal is probably to intimidate you so that you use their services (expertise) to expedite the border crossing, which they do. They will then suggest that you pay them a fee that you believe is fair for all this. In essence, the role of these helpers is to "fast track" your queue through the border control, meaning that they kinda bump the ordinary traveller out of the queue. This is done with the tacit approval of the border officials--implying that they are part of the tactic, and they quite possibly also receive some gain from it.
Depending on your standpoint, it may be viewed as encouraging an activity that is nor entirely legal but expedites your passage, or something you are vehemently opposed to.
If you are a little adventurous, it is possible to cycle by means of a mountain bike from Maputo to Ponta do Ouro. But be warned that you will have to push your bicycle for about 30 km through thick sand. The trip is well worth it, and the look on the locals faces when they find out where you are going is not to be missed. Be warned though that it can be dangerous at times so try to travel in a group.
You can walk the center of the city by day but steer clear of the central business district at night.
Metered (yellow-roofed) taxi longer distances or at night but agree to a fare beforehand as many don't have meters. Ask hotel desks or locals for guidance on reasonable fares (e.g., Hotel Cardoso to Feira Popular or Mercado Central is around Mts 80 - 90,000 (US$4-5).
"Tuk-Tuks" are also a great way to see the city. The driver's are typically more fluent in English as they offer their services as tour guides to the passengers of visiting cruise liners.
A very inexpensive way to get around is by mini-bus or "Chapa" (pronounced SHA-PAA). They work like small busses and have routes that criss-cross the city. All major routes begin and end in the downtown core/market area called "Baixa" (pronounced BAA-SHAA). If you can speak Portuguese, then this is an excellent way to travel, or if you have a local friend to take you. Prices are low, around Mts 5,000 (US$0.20) for most trips and Mts 10,000 (US$0.40) for longer ones (all one way). Even if you don't know which Chapa to take, it's a great way to explore the city, and to get back to the core market area just find a Chapa that goes to "Baixa." Generally asking the navigator (usually hanging out of the passenger side door) if they go to "Baixa" will either result in them motioning you to jump on, or them pointing to where you need to go. Drivers usually cannot get away with overcharging you because you can easily see what the locals are paying, or the locals themselves will object.
While chapas are an interesting and authentic form of transport, they are not particularly safe. Even locals suffer from frequent pickpocketings on chapas, or while waiting for chapa stops. The minibuses are always packed far beyond their originally intended capacity, seats are frequently broken, and many travelers have to stand up while riding, though there are no handrails or appropriate places to hang on like in a larger bus.
Chapa drivers are notorious for disrespecting traffic rules and taking unnecessary risks with passenger safety to cut a few minutes off the journey.
Beware of the safety issues regarding chapas when you decide whether or not to experience this form of transport as a tourist (or resident).
Nucleo de Arte. Nucleo D'Arte, 194, Rua D'Argelia, Maputo, Mozambique Artist's working atelier that is home to over 100 sculptors, painters, and other artists. Anyone is welcome to visit or to meet the artists next door in the Cafe Camissa. Live music especially on Sunday evenings or on one of the (many) public holidays.
Work is now available to the locals, but if you are a foreigner and thinking about taking a sabbatical, it is a perfectly safe and comfortable place to do it. However, new regulations on expat workers in Mozambique have imposed quotas on the number of foreigners a business can employ, and it is getting increasingly difficult to obtain work permits as a foreigner in Mozambique, in particular with small companies or organizations.
On July 1, 2006 Mozambique officially introduced the second metical, dropping three zeros off the old currency. As a result, all prices you see in this article, or else where on the internet that are in thousands should be converted down by a factor of 1,000. As a result Mts. 10,000 would now be MZN 10. The local abbreviation for the new currency is MTn. As of January 1, 2007 only the Bank of Mozambique will convert the old currency, but only until December 31, 2013.
The local cuisine is a mixture of African, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and Indian/Pakistani cuisine. All these different cuisines are served at various areas in the city.
Any number of small cafes serve simple dishes and juices that are affordable. Unless you are adventurous, stay away from most roadside stalls especially if they are serving meat. Safe roadside fare includes cashews (usually fire roasted without salt served in small paper cones), fried bean cakes called Bhajia, uncut and unwashed fruits (cut and wash yourself with bottled water), and soft-serve ice cream. Expect to pay between Mts 5,000 and 20,000 (US$0.20-$1).
The fruit from roadside stands is usually fine, especially the bananas. They expect to sell the fruit by the kilogram, so be prepared for strange looks if you want just a couple of individual fruits. A couple of bananas should set you back 5 or 10 MTn.
The smaller cafes will have egg sandwiches, fries, grilled chicken, small pastries, and simple hamburgers. Expect to pay between Mts 15,000 and 75,000 (US$0.60-$3).
Do not lose sight of your credit or debit cards or they may be cloned. Rather always pay cash at any restaurant.
Fruit juice is (sadly) usually sweetened nectar and not fresh 100% juice. The usual selections of fizzy sugar water in a bottle (soft drinks) can be found too. Pressed sugar cane juice is available in some markets.
Coca-Cola products are also widely available including Cola, Sprite, and Fanta fruit-flavored pop (Orange and Pineapple are most common, Grape is also sometimes available). "Sparletta" brand fruit-flavoured pop is also widely available. Expect to pay between Mts 7,000 and 10,000 (US$0.25-$0.40). Shop owners are usually very strict when it comes to the empty bottles as they are expensive and reused, do not try and keep one without trying to pay the full price for the bottle first.
The wine selection is reasonably good, and depending on your budget you can get a range of South African, Portuguese and Chilean wines. Most common are cheap South African and Portuguese wines, but you can find nice wines (for a price) in upper-end restaurants and certain bottle stores or delis. Wine by the glass generally comes from a box.
Beer is widely available, with 2M ('dosh-em'), Laurentina (brewed by 2M), Manica, and Raiz being the common selection. Laurentina comes in two varieties, 'Clara' a lager, and 'Preta' a very dark Lager with hints of coffee and chocolate. Locals tend to order the Laurentina varieties simply by saying Clara or Preta, and leaving out Laurentina. Preta is the most expensive beer, followed by Manica and then 2M. Raiz is a newer beer intended for the budget market and is considered a 'cheap' beer. Beer bottles are also expensive and should always be returned or purchased. The beer itself is very inexpensive and reasonably good ranging from Mts 9,000 to 15,000 (US$0.35-$0.60).
Drink water from a bottle, not the tap.
Violent crime does not rise to the Johannesburg level but is still a problem. Occasional pickpocketing attempts do occur and are almost guaranteed on busy streets. At night, it is better not to walk around alone but you are generally fairly safe in the well-lit areas along Avenida 24 de Julho. Regardless of the hour, be smart when walking around: don't carry much around in the streets with you, and if you have a bag, keep it close to you.
If you have a cell phone, do not flaunt it: pickpockets have been known to take cellphones right out of people's hands while they are talking on them.
The local police are out of control and will target foreigners in the area around popular backpacker hostels, bus stations, etc. Carry a certified copy of your passport (not your real one) and a copy of your visa too, so that there is no potential problem with the police (you are legally obliged to carry both at all times).
Also, very obviously, do not carry drugs or knives (penknives) around with you at all. One backpacker arriving by bus from Tete was detained and taken to the police station where he was robbed. Do not expect the police station to be a sanctuary if police hassle you. However, if an officer tries to fine you because he believes something is wrong with your passport, demand to be taken to the Chief of Police. He will almost certainly let you go because usually he is only trying to solicit a bribe.
English (and some Portuguese) language radio transmissions are available from BBC World Service on 95.5MHz.
Embassies and High Commissions
Take the short ferry ride across the bay to visit Catembe. Its relaxed atmosphere is a pleasant retreat from Maputo.