- Our Route
South Africans wanting to visit Mozambique recently have found that it is virtually impossible to obtain reliable travel information. The information that is available is either out of date or unconfirmed and in many cases it has been impossible to reconcile contradictory reports about the state of the roads. Even the Mozambican embassy doesn’t seem able to provide accurate information about road conditions and flood damage. The prevailing view seems to be that the whole country is under water following the spate of cyclones and floods that it experienced earlier this year and that it should be avoided at all cost. As a result, most tourists have opted to cancel trips to Mozambique despite the fact that large portions of the country were relatively unaffected by the floods and have remained open to tourists.
We travelled through Mozambique from Ponta D’Ouro in the South to the Malawian border in the North between 6 and 18 June 2000 and have recorded some of the information that we picked up first hand during our trip. Obviously, this information cannot be regarded as a complete overview of conditions in Mozambique and only relates to the places we visited personally, but hopefully it will assist South Africans in planning trips to Mozambique in the future.
We crossed the border into Mozambique at the Kosi Bay / Ponta D’Ouro border post and the very Southern tip of Mozambique. The road up to the border on the South African side is tarred and in relatively good condition although portions of the road were under construction leaving only one lane open to traffic in various spots. Going is quite slow as you have to keep an eye out for the hundreds of cows and goats that graze on either side of the road and tend to stray into the path of oncoming traffic. The difference between South Africa and Mozambique is vast and is obvious almost immediately after one crosses the border. The tar road literally stops at the border and is replaced by a sandy track that winds its way to the town of Ponta D’Ouro. The road is very sandy and hilly and one would definitely need a 4x4 vehicle to complete the stretch of road between the border and Ponta although we have heard of a taxi service between the border and Ponta D’Ouro, although fairly unreliable.
There is only one campsite in Ponta, the municipal Parque de Campismo (S26 50 39.0 E32 53 22.4) . Camping costs R53-00 per person per night over weekends and R43-00 per person per night for week nights. There are no banking or currency exchange facilities in Ponta so make sure you take lots of cash. The shops all accept Rand as well as Meticash (the local Mozambican currency). The supermarket is dismally under stocked and although you can get consumer goods like canned food and sugar, fresh fruit and vegetables are non-existent. The supermarket does not stock bread but there is a bread stall just next door that has fresh bread twice a day. The bread is baked in the village and brought to the stall on huge trays. Expect to queue for your bread, as it is delicious and very popular. There are a couple of scuba diving operations based in the municipal campsite and the diving in Ponta is superb. The beach is also exquisite.
Ponta D’Ouro to Maputo
As we understand it, the road between Ponta and Maputo was closed for some time after the floods. This road has however been reopened. The road is hilly and exceptionally sandy and going is very slow. The 160km’s to Maputo (S25 57 43.0 E32 35 29.9) took us over 5 hours. There were some graders and bulldozers out on the road trying to level it out but it seemed to us that they still had a mammoth task ahead of them although we understand that the road was never great, even before the floods! The road winds up the coast via Ponta Malongane, Zitundo(S26 43 52 E32 48 11), Salamanga (S26 29 01 E32 38 58), Bela Vista(S26 20 24 E32 39 55) and Boane (S26 02 35 E32 19 55) and is often difficult to find. There are also intermittent portions of tar but nothing to write home about and the road is really just a thick sand track up to Boane where it joins the main tar route running between Nelspruit and Maputo via Komatipoort. This road is in good condition although traffic is heavy. It is possible to take a ferry from Catembe to Maputo which is a slightly more direct route but we opted to drive.
Driving in Maputo requires nerves of steel and the residents of Maputo seem to be intent on redefining the term “road hog”! As one reaches Maputo there is a lot of road construction work on the go and the local authorities seem to be in the process of erecting a series of pedestrian bridges to regulate the stream of people and animals that seem to cross the road at regular intervals. There are a lot of traffic police around so keep an eye on the speed limits, which is 80 km/h on the open road and 50 km/h in town, for 4x4 vehicles and make sure you wear your seatbelts.
There is a campsite in Maputo but it is dingy and looks unsafe. We opted for a guesthouse instead although we hear that the best place to go is a backpacker’s called Fatima’s which is on Avendida Mao Tse Tung. Maputo is vibrant and happening and there are lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Once again, although you can change cash rands or dollars for meticash it is virtually impossible to change traveller’s cheques or draw money on your credit card so make sure that you have lots of cash. The street vendors and markets are stocked with the most gorgeous fresh fruit and vegetables but be sure to bargain otherwise it becomes very expensive.
Maputo to Xai Xai
We had been told that roads north of Maputo were washed away and that it was not possible to drive from Maputo to Xai Xai (S25 03 25.4 E33 38 44.3 ) . We were however not able to obtain reliable or recent information on the state of the roads, repairs and flood damage. Even in Maputo reports seemed to be contradictory. In the end we decided to drive the 200 odd kilometers to Xai Xai to find out for ourselves what the condition of the roads was like. Getting out of Maputo is relatively difficult but we could not determine whether this was due to flood damage or merely due to the fact that the roads were under construction. General mayhem seems to prevail and there are busses, taxis, trucks and pedestrians all vying for space on the very narrow roads! Once one is out of Maputo, however, the road is in relatively good condition until about 10 kilometres out of Xai Xai and just before the main bridge over the Limpopo where there are several breaks in the road.
Up to this point, however, although, there is a lot of water on either side of the road that still has not drained away following the floods, the road is raised and tarred and has survived remarkably well. There are a couple of patches where the road had been damaged but in most cases a sand track has been cleared making it possible to drive around the damaged portion of the road. It is possible to reach Chissano in relative comfort without running in to too many hassles on the road. As a result, although it may not be possible for South Africans to visit Xai Xai or Inhambane it is certainly possible for them to visit Bilene (about 80 kilometres South of Xai Xai). Bilene (S25 16 00 E33 14 55) is reputedly the holiday spot frequented by wealthy Maputans and has beautiful beaches, restaurants and hotels.
N orth of Chissano the main north/south road to Xai Xai has been washed away in several places just before the main bridge over the Limpopo. In one spot, a low-lying bridge has been washed away and no efforts have yet been made to repair it. The locals have started a bustling ferry service at this point and are able to transport passengers, animals, fresh produce and other goods across the water in small boats. Passengers on busses and taxis running between Maputo and Beira are also transported across the water at this point where they can board another bus or taxi on the other side. There are various options available at this point should you wish to continue up the coast with your vehicle. The safest route is to backtrack to Maputo and Nelspruit and then to enter Mozambique via Zimbabwe. The road between the Zimbabwean border via Vilanculos and Inhambane to Xai Xai is open. We chose not to follow this route, as it would have meant an extensive delay and detour. It would also have meant that we would have had to apply for a second Mozambican visa.
An alternative route has been created to Xai Xai which has been operational for some months and has been heavily used by trucks and busses. The route starts at Chissano (S25 00 49 E33 22 16) and goes via Chibuto (S24 41 13 E33 32 03) , rejoining the main north/south road at Chongoene (S25 00 56 E33 47 18), just north of Xai Xai and is a detour of about 140 km’s. We were told to proceed to Chissano and wait in the long queue of trucks and vehicles to take the alternative route to Chibuto. Because traffic on the route is exceptionally heavy and the trucks have literally destroyed the dirt road, the Mozambican authorities have only been letting traffic on to the alternative route twice a day, in one direction in the morning and in the other in the afternoon. You will therefore have to wait to be let on to the alternative route but will be able to get through this way. Unfortunately, just prior to our arrival in Maputo there had been a couple of days of heavy rain and the alternative route had been reduced to a muddy marsh. As a result the route had been closed indefinitely. We were told that the army did let convoys of vehicles through late at night for a price but that conditions were very muddy and that there were trucks and 2x4 vehicles stuck all over the place. At one stage, there were apparently between 400 and 600 vehicles stuck in the mud on the alternative route (this may however be urban legend – we were not able to confirm it).
The only other option available to us was to drive through the river at the point where the bridge that had been washed away. With the help of the locals we were shown a dirt track running perpendicular to the main road. We followed this track for about 2 kilometres until we were shown a spot where there was no water and the mud was able to be crossed. In those places where the mud was too thick, the locals had dug out the worst of it and laid “roads” of sand that were relatively easy to drive across. We were required to pay “toll fees” for the use of these roads. We ended up paying the equivalent of about R300-00 in toll fees but this proved to be much cheaper than the petrol and visa costs of travelling via Nelspruit and Zimbabwe. If you get stuck there is a tractor to pull you through. We were able to pass through without getting stuck although rather nerve wrecking. There were lots of 2x4 vehicles trying to make the crossing and simply being hauled across by tractors ending up with severely bent chassis.
Although this was the most serious break in the road there were two other breaks in the road before we reached the Limpopo Bridge. Both involved driving through mud and on some serious gradients but we got through without incident. The locals are exceptionally helpful and there is quite a lot of traffic running the gauntlet so the routes are quite clearly marked. We would however not recommend this unless you have a 4x4 vehicle and some 4x4 driving experience. It was quite hair raising.
Xai Xai itself was badly damaged during the floods. The town of Xai Xai has almost been completely destroyed and all that has survived are those suburbs that are slightly elevated. There is a large presence of soldiers and aid agencies in Xai Xai, all helping with the massive clean up operation that is underway. There is a campsite at Xai Xai as well as a petrol station and market. We did however not end up staying in Xai Xai and pressed on to Inhambane.
Xai Xai to Inhambane
Once one is passed the devastation of Xai Xai, the road north is in good condition. There are a couple of spots where the tar has been damaged by the rain but on the whole the road is fine. It is about 250 kilometres from Xai Xai to Inhambane (S23 51 54.2 E35 23 23.0 ). There is not much accommodation in the town of Inhambane but there are two gorgeous spots about 20 kilometres out of Inhambane at Barra Beach and Tofu Beach (S23 51 57 E35 33 19). We elected to stay at Barra Reef (S23 47 27.0 E35 30 21.8 ) at Barra Beach which is highly recommended. Camping cost R30-00 per person per night for a spot on the most pristine of beaches. There is also camping at the Barra Lodge. The sites are not as beautiful and it is slightly more expensive at R70-00 per site per night. Both Barra Reef and Barra Lodge have a bar and restaurant and scuba diving operations. We did our diving though Barra Reef Divers and paid about R150-00 per dive (inclusive of equipment and airfill) for three dives. It is of course more expensive if you do fewer dives.
There is a fairly organised bank in Inhambane town (BCM or Banquo Commercial de Mozambique). Once again it is impossible to change traveller’s cheques and drawing cash on your visa or MasterCard will take the better part of the day. It is however possible to change cash rands or dollars to meticash without too much trouble. There is no queuing system in the bank (or anywhere else in Mozambique for that matter) so you literally have to fight your way to the front waving your dollars above your head.
There is also a market and bakery in central Inhambane where you can get fresh bread and veggies. In general, the Mozambicans do not provide you with your groceries in packets so take a basket along for your shopping. A case of 12x550ml 2M beer (brewed in Maputo) costs about 110 000 meticash (about R55-00) if you have bottles as a deposit. Otherwise it is about 145 000 meticash. There is also petrol and diesel available.
Inhambane to Vilanculos
The road from Inhambane to Vilanculos (S21 59 30.8 E35 18 06.5 ) is tarred and in good condition. The only problem comes just before you reach Vilanculos town itself. The road has been washed away at this point but a fairly decent dirt detour has been cleared and does not pose any problems. In general it is not advisable to go off major routes or tracks into the bush in Mozambique. It has been recorded that there are some 2 million unexploded land mines still buried in Mozambique and no one seems to know where they are. It seems that mine fields are only discovered when someone actually steps on a mine and sets it off. Also, it is reported that after the floods, some of the known mine fields have moved and some of the previously cleared areas are no longer safe. Keep an eye out for signs demarcating mine fields (usually a skull and crossbones on a red back ground). Known mine fields are usually cordoned off with red and white tape. We did spot quite a few of these areas on our journey from Inhambane to Vilanculos. The mine fields do not seem to bother the locals however who seem to coexist quite happily with them and live in kraals and villages between the demarcated areas. There is an organisation called Handicap International that seems to be putting in huge efforts to locate and remove these mines. You will see their camps and Land Rovers all along the road north of Inhambane. Unfortunately they are fighting quite a losing battle however as it is reported that although a land mine costs less than US$3 to manufacture it costs more than $US1000 to locate and remove. The mines are not generally a problem to tourists but just bear in mind that they are there and be sensible about the paths that you take off road.
Vilanculos town is very spread out and not the greatest of tourist destinations although it does have a superb coast line and provides easy access to the islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago. There is camping available in town at the municipal campsite on the beach front. We were advised not to stay there however as the security is dodgy at best. In the end we ended up at a place called Blue Waters (S22 03 10.8 E35 19 27.4) which is about 20km outside Vilanculos (take the turn off to the airport before you get to Vilanculos town). Camping at Blue Waters costs US$5 per person per night and the place is run by a cool Zimbabwean called Brian. They also offer meals and have a relaxed bar. Ablutions are basic and there is no hot water. Next door to Blue Waters there is a place called Paradiso that has accommodation and a dive school.
From Vilanculos you can arrange boat trips to the islands. There are not many budget options for accommodation on the islands although we heard that there was a place called Gabriel’s on Benguerra that was run as a backpackers. There is of course the snazzy (or so we hear) Marlin Lodge. We opted for a day on Bangue Island (S22 02 16 E35 26 57) – a tiny Robinson Crusoe type island. The snorkeling is quite good although the area has been badly emptied by the locals who trawl fishing nets behind their dhows destroying the sea life. We hear that the best place to dive or snorkel is a place called 2 Mile Reef or the Aquarium. If you decide to go out to the islands, make sure that you arrange your trip through a recognised operator as the bay is very shallow and can change rapidly with the tides and currents. We opted to try and do it on the cheap and almost got stranded out at Bangue as our skipper was very inexperienced and had no knowledge of the tides and sandbanks.
There is a market in Vilanculos and diesel and petrol are available.
Vilanculos to Beira
The road from Vilanculos to the Save River (S21 07 26.1 E34 33 45.8) is in relatively good condition. This portion of the road is still part of a toll road complex that runs between Inhambane and the Save River and so is relatively well maintained. North of the Save River however, the road deteriorates dramatically. Although the road is tarred it is punctuated by many potholes which make the going exceptionally slow and tedious. The road improves dramatically, however, after it joins the main route from Harare to Beira (part of the so-called “Beira Corridor”). This road is tarred and in good condition, it also has decent verges which make overtaking easier. There are a lot of trucks on this road is it forms the main access route from the Beira harbour to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.
We were told to give Beira (S19 50 08.9 E34 50 25.4) a skip as it is dismal and run down, but we decided that we wanted to visit it to see for ourselves. We really should have taken the advice and headed north to Malawi directly. Beira is a hell hole and I would not recommend visiting it. The city has gone to ruins and is filled with litter and muck. There is no where to camp – unless you are prepared to stay in a scrap yard! The hotels are seedy, run down and look suspiciously like brothels. Our guidebook recommended the Miramar hotel – avoid it like the plague! It is terrible. The grand old Capital Hotel no longer exists and has been taken over by squatters. In the end our only option was the overpriced Embaixador hotel where a room cost US$66 and was generally run down and tatty. The only reason we stayed there is because we arrived too late to push on to Chimoio.
On the up side, Beira is a major Mozambican harbour and so there are lots of consumer goods, diesel and petrol available. There is a Shoprite that stocks all the good old South African standards from Mrs Ball’s chutney to Tastic rice! There is also a new Mobil and a BP garage with excellent service, relatively cheap diesel and petrol and a shop. Fruit and veggies are also available at the markets and fruit sellers and are dirt cheap.
Beira to Chimoio (Casa Misika)
The road from Beira to Chimoio (S19 06 58.4 E33 28 51.0) and on to the Zimbabwean border and Harare is in excellent condition. It is tarred and in good condition. Chimoio is quite a large town and diesel, petrol, food and banking facilities are available there. A much better bet than Beira. We did not stay in Chimoio itself but pushed on in the Harare direction to a place called Casa Misika. Casa Misika (S19 02 24.6 E33 03 53.7) is situated approximately 40 km’s (S18 59 57.7 E33 04 55.2) from the juncture of the Tete road and the Harare road (in the Zim direction). It is a superb spot on a lake and there is some excellent bass fishing to be done. The camping costs 30 000 meticash per person per night (about R15-00). The ablutions are rudimentary but there is hot water. There is also a restaurant, bar and swimming pool. Definitely worth a visit. You will however need to buy all your groceries before getting there, as there is no shop.
Casa Misika to Cahora Bassa
From Casa Misika we headed back the 40 or so kilometres to the Tete road and then headed north to Cahora Bassa. Once again, this road is in good condition and is tarred. There are some pot holes but nothing too bad. The road is however very narrow and there are not proper verges which makes overtaking difficult. En route, we did find diesel at Catandica (S18 04 30.9 E33 11 03.1).
The road to Cahora Bassa turns off the Tete road about 20 kilometres from Tete. The road is tarred and in good condition up to the village of Serongo (S15 35 52 E32 43 58). From there it winds steeply down to the dam. There is an alternative route via Estima(S15 43 51 E32 44 57) that is less steep and easier to drive. The dam is well worth a visit as it is spectacularly beautiful. Our visit coincided with the 25th anniversary of the hydro electric scheme at Cahora Bassa. We would not recommend camping at the dam though so make sure you have enough time to push on to Tete or the Malawian border. There is only one place to camp, the Tiger Lodge (S15 37 00.9 E32 42 05.1), which is situated on a beautiful spot along a tributary river. Unfortunately, the lodge is run by some of the most mean spirited South Africans we have come across. The lodge is still under construction and we could only camp in what looked, to us, to be a building site (pity as the rest of the area is exquisite). The ablutions are non-existent. For this privilege we were charged US$20 for the night. We balked at the price but the owners/management were not prepared to entertain a discount even though we slept in a construction site filled with workmen and were unable to sleep because of the incessant droning of the generator. The next morning we were informed that they had made a mistake and that the rate for camping was actually $US25 but we absolutely refused to pay the additional $US5 as we had had such poor service. The whole experience left a really bad taste in our mouths and we would not recommend camping there.
Cahora Bassa to the Mozambican/Malawian border
From Cahora Bassa we headed north to Tete (S16 09 49.1 E33 35 26.5) and then on to the Mozambican/Malawian border at Zobue. Once again, the road is tarred and in good condition. We had been cautioned on more than one occasion that the traffic police in Tete were particularly bad and would not hesitate to stop us for any traffic infringement. The speed limit in Tete is 30 kilometres per hour (as opposed to the 50 kilometres per hour in other towns). We literally crawled though the town making sure that our speedometer did not exceed 30 km’s per hour. We did spot lots of police with radar and were happy that we had adhered to the speed limit scrupulously. We met a German tourist who had been fined US$1000-00 for travelling 37 kilometres in the 30 kilometre zone. The problem with Mozambique is that you are required to pay your fines before you leave town which can prove to be a huge problem. Also make sure you wear your seatbelt and that there are no obvious problems with your vehicle. Tete is a large town and quite a commercial centre so you will be able get diesel, petrol, fruit and veggies, bread and you should be able to change money should you need to.
The road from Tete to the border crosses the Zambezi River (there is a huge suspension bridge) and is in good condition. There were only a couple of difficult stretches close to the border where there were some road works on the go and one lane had been closed. There was nobody to control the one way traffic system so it was difficult to pass.
If you are proceeding to Malawi, there is a town just after the border on the Malawian side called Mwanza where you can fill up with diesel before heading for Blantyre. Diesel is slightly cheaper in Malawi so you may want to wait to fill up until you have crossed the border. Getting hold of Malawian Kwatcha is no problem as there are literally hundreds of informal currency changers on both sidesw of the border. The rate that they give is not excellent but not terrible – just be careful not to get ripped off! You will need some Kwatcha to buy insurance at the border and to pay a handling fee at customs so make sure you have some available. Make sure that you know what the bank exchange rate is before you attempt changing money on the street. At the moment the exchange rate is about K56 to $1 US and K8 to R1.
The Mozambican/Malawian border post (S15 34 33.1 E34 26 21.8) is a very crowded affair as there are hundreds of busses and trucks waiting to cross. The traffic along this “Tete Corridor” is really heavy. Expect to wait to have your passport processed. Once again, the Mozambicans have no idea of queuing so you have to be quite pushy.
Summary of GPS points mentioned:
|S26 50 39.0||E32 53 22.4|
|Zitundo||S26 43 52||E32 48 11|
|Salamanga||S26 29 01||E32 38 58|
|Bela Vista||S26 20 24||E32 39 55|
|Boane||S26 02 35||E32 19 55|
|Maputo||S25 57 43.0||E32 35 29.9|
|Bilene||S25 16 00||E33 14 55|
|Chissano||S25 00 49||E33 22 16|
|Chibuto||S24 41 13||E33 32 03|
|Chongoene||S25 00 56||E33 47 18|
|Xai Xai||S25 03 25.4||E33 38 44.3|
|Inhambane||S23 51 54.2||E35 23 23.0|
|Barra Reef||S23 47 27.0||E35 30 21.8|
|Tofu Beach||S23 51 57||E35 33 19|
|Vilanculos||S21 59 30.8||E35 18 06.5|
|Blue Waters||S22 03 10.8||E35 19 27.4|
|Bangue Island||S22 02 16||E35 26 57|
|River Save||S21 07 26.1||E34 33 45.8|
|Beira||S19 50 08.9||E34 50 25.4|
|Chimoio||S19 06 58.4||E33 28 51.0|
Casa Misika turnoff
|S18 59 57.7||E33 04 55.2|
|Casa Misika||S19 02 24.6||E33 03 53.7|
|Catandica||S18 04 30.9||E33 11 03.1|
|Serongo||S15 35 52||E32 43 58|
|Estima||S15 43 51||E32 44 57|
|Tiger Lodge||S15 37 00.9||E32 42 05.1|
|Tete||S16 09 49.1||E33 35 26.5|
|Moz/Malawi Border at Zobue||S15 34 33.1||E34 26 21.8|