Even though Mozambique is a hugely popular holiday spot for South Africans, many local travellers purposefully circumvent Maputo in an effort to avoid the hustle and bustle that always goes with a capital.
However, when Google Africa recently invited Traveller24 for a two-day exploration of the capital, we discovered just how much we’ve been missing out on.
The aim of the #MaputoWithGoogle campaign was to introduce media and influencers from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya to the ways in which the tech company’s various travel apps can assist in exploring, navigating and translating this quirky and complicated African city.
During the 48-hours we spent there, we were whisked from one fascinating point of interest to another and even got to enjoy a full day of beach fun and games on Xefina Island.
I found the city to be completely incomparable to any of its South African counterparts, which is wonderfully enticing to someone who’s always craving elsewhere. With Portuguese being the lingua franca, there’s a touch of Europe everywhere, however, the saturated colours, lilting rhythms and buzzing informal trade anchors it firmly to this continent.
If you love exploring cities, but have never been to Maputo, I can highly recommend a 48-hour adventure at the very least.
Here are a few things to know before you go:
SEE: Quick Guide to Mozambique: Visa-free travel for South Africans
Travel documents: As a South African traveller, you don’t need a Visa. Passports need to be valid for at least 30 days after your return date. Also keep a verified copy of your passport on you AT ALL TIMES – especially if you plan on checking out the city’s nightlife. This is the law and police tend to do random checks, which may result in a hefty fine if you are unable to provide them with identification.
Medical documents: You don’t need any medical documents, it is however a good idea to take malaria tablets before and after your visit, or as prescribed by your GP.
Currency: Mozambican Metical (The South African Rand is widely accepted though). The Rand is currently about four times stronger than the Metical.
Getting there: For the #MaputoWithGoogle trip, we flew South African Airways. There are three daily flights a day from Johannesburg to Maputo departing at 09:45, 14:20 and 20:15. Since the two cities are located less than 600km from each other, the flight is only about 40 minutes long – just enough to enjoy a snack, finish up your most pressing work or read a couple of pages in your holiday book.
Time zone: Same as South Africa.
National languages: After more than four centuries of Portuguese rule (prior to the country gaining independence in 1975), it’s hardly surprising that this is still considered the official language of Mozambique. It is, however, only one of about 43 spoken in the country. Other common languages spoken in the capital include Swati, Tsonga, Chopi, Ronga and Zulu.
- Bom dia (good day/morning) or boa noite (good evening) or olá (hello) and tchau (goodbye)
- Meu nome é… (my name is…)
- Sim (yes)
- Não (no)Quanto é este? (how much is this?)
- Obrigado [masculine], obrigada [feminine] (thank you)
- Bonita (beautiful)
- Delicioso (delicious)
- Meu portugues esta ruim (my Portuguese is bad)
- Você fala inglês? (Do you speak english)
- ó meu Deus! (oh my goodness!)
- Desculpe-me, onde está…? (excuse me, where is ...?)
- Felicidades para você! (cheers to you!)
If you haven’t downloaded the Google Translate app yet, we highly recommend it! There are some super nifty tools to help you communicate in other languages. Read more about.
Public transport: Unfortunately, you won’t find Uber or Taxify in Maputo. But there is Mango! This is the most common and reliable cab service in the city and you will recognise the cabs easily by their green and yellow colouring.
Climate: Maputo has a tropical savanna climate and stays pretty warm year-round. While jerseys came in handy early in the morning and from late afternoon into the evening during our June trip, you can expect to feel slightly sweaty around midday. During the summer months (December to March), however, it’s shorts and t-shirts weather all the time – temperatures rarely dip below 20 degrees Celsius and can reach well into the 30s during the heat of the day.
When to go: If you’re not a fan of heat and rain, it’s best to go between May and November. However, if these don’t bother you, any time of year is great!
Food to try: Prawns, prawns and more prawns. You will find this shellfish served up in a variety of manners at every restaurant you visit. Most often, you will find them served on rice with a generous helping of peri-peri on the side.
Speaking of which, flame-grilled peri-peri chicken with Portuguese rolls and potato chips is another national dish you can’t miss out on! Wash these meals down with 2M or Laurentina, the local beers, or delicious, fruity sangria.
Tips while exploring:
- After centuries of colonisation, several years of civil war and, more recently, growing trade and industry investments (especially from China), it’s hardly surprising that Maputo presents a complex landscape. Among the tropical gardens of the more affluent homes, you will find dilapidated buildings untouched for decades. And because of this, Maputo is a dream come true for anyone who loves photographing unusual urban landscapes. However, be extra careful when whipping out your camera. Snapping shots of official buildings (airports, police stations, government departments and homes of officials) is an absolute no-no. If you’re unsure, a general rule of thumb is not to photograph any building with a flagpole in front of it.
- The same caution goes for photographing people: always ask permission and avoid photographing children. Also, it’s tempting to snap shots of all the beautiful products at the local markets, but it’s just bad manners not to buy anything from the vendors afterwards. So, if you aren’t intending to spend, best just take it all in with your eyes instead.
- Expect to haggle over prices in markets for the best deals. Just don't overdo it. Many of these people make a living by selling their wares. Speak to other locals to find out what they usually pay for a particular good to find out if you'd be making a fool of yourself trying to bargain to a price below what locals pay. Be fair.
- Avoid the tap water. The quality is inconsistent at best and sickness-inducing at worst. Buy bottles or bring a portable filter.
So, now, if you only have 48-hours in the city and want to see its most prominent sites, these should definitely be on your list:
- Maputo Central Railway Station
An architectural jewel in the very heart of Maputo, the Central Railway Station has been named one of the most beautiful stations in the world on several occasions. Designed by Mario Veiga, a government architect at the Directorate of Public Works, along with Alfredo Augusto Lisboa de Lima, construction of the station commenced in 1908 and was finally completed in 1916. The impressive mint green and white façade features an copper dome and a classic analogue clock, as well as ornate columns and balconies all round.
It has been beautifully preserved and still fulfils its original function today, linking the CFM Sul line to South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.
If – like me – you’re a fan of shopping for little mementos to take home after your travellers, the Feima Market is a must-visit.
Here, you will find a colourful array of crafts – from batik artworks to beautiful dresses made from Mozambique’s indigenous Capulana fabric, wooden carvings to 2M t-shirts. My personal favourite part of the market was the wide array of beautiful baskets and woven bags.
Another fascinating architectural wonder to look up in Maputo, is Casa de Ferro aka The Iron House. The building was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, from Eiffel Tower fame) 1892 to serve as the official residence of the Governor. Unfortunately, Eiffel had never travelled to Mozambique himself and – as the name suggests – designed the entire house to be made of metal, which obviously turned out to be unbearably hot in the tropical climate.
Needless to say, the house was never used for its intended purpose, but houses museum offices these days.
If you’ve seen one Natural History Museum, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong! Maputo’s version is particularly old-school and, with its host of slightly creepy stuffed animals, will make you feel like you stepped back into the height of freakshow mania in the 1800s.
One of the most fascinating-slash-unsettling displays in the museum, is a collection of elephant foetuses – ranging from tiny specimens of just a few weeks old to almost fully formed at about 22 months. According to our guide, none of these foetuses were taken from the mothers by force.
If you want to see all of the above, but would like the input of a local guide, I can’t recommend doing a city tour with Dana Tours enough. We had the incredibly informative and charismatic Atalia Silvia Macamo at the helm of our trip – if you can get her to lead yours, you’ll have an amazing experience!
- Dhow cruise to Xefina Island
After a full day of exploring the city, you may want to experience something of Mozambique laid-back beach vibes the next day. This is exactly what we did during the #MaputoWithGoogle trip, setting out for Xefina Island on board Sanjeeda, biggest dhow in the Indian Ocean.
The cruise normally sets out just after 8am in the morning and you’ll get the island by about 10am, if all goes well. However, this depends on weather conditions, so set aside ample time for an entire day trip. The boat has a cash bar and lunch is included.
Getting to the island itself will have you feeling like a castaway, in the best possible manner. A long empty stretch of beach and warm tropical waters will welcome you. Volleyball nets, beach bats and other games are kept on board the boat to keep you entertained. If you’re in the mood for something less active, take a stroll along the lagoons and pick up some of the prettiest shells you will ever lay eyes on.
Find out more about booking the Sanjeeda on Maputo Yachting’s Facebook page.
Where to eat:
Maputo has loads of great restaurants where you can sample traditional dishes. During our stay, we visited the following, which all delivered exceptional service:
Zambi Restaurant – great art deco décor and delicious fish dishes.
Maputo Waterfront – laid-back vibe for a boozy lunch or perfect sundowner setting.
Dhow Maputo – super stylish café, restaurant and décor shop with a Indian Ocean trade route vibe.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Radisson Blu Maputo on Marginal Road, right across from the beach. The hotel’s service is efficient, rooms are comfortable, and views spectacular.
*Nadia Krige is a freelance writer and travel journalist and was hosted by Google SA for the duration of her, including flights, accommodation and activities