A sedan, sarong, swimming costume and a few T-shirts and pairs of shorts are all you need for a beach-hopping adventure in Mozambique. Travelling by car is the best way to explore the country’s long and beautiful coastline, which promises deserted stretches of sand, vast swathes of palm trees, steps-away-from-the-ocean beach houses, magical marine wildlife and more activities than you can shake a snorkel at. On the 1 200 km trip from Joburg to Vilanculos, you’ll soak up culture, food and music in Maputo, chill out in Chidenguele, catch some surf in Tofo, and live out your tropical-island fantasies on idyllic Benguerra Island.
Mozambique’s capital is often bypassed by travellers who stick to a beach-bound northwards track. However, the busy, vibrant city has a lot to offer, from lively markets, interesting architecture and delicious food to a wonderful live music scene.
Explore Maputo on foot (guide yourself or join one of several walking tours) to discover architectural highlights such as the 19th-century Casa de Ferro (an unusual metal house designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame), the elegant Maputo Train Station (featured in the film Blood Diamond), and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, a beautiful example of Art Deco.
Stroll through the Municipal Market to see tables piled with fresh fish and fruit and to pick up a bag or two of cashew nuts before shopping for beautiful African-print fabrics such as capulanas (traditional colourful sarongs) from nearby Casa Elefante. Browse for souvenirs at the Parque Dos Continuadores, where you’ll find everything from T-shirts and fabric to baskets, paintings, carved masks and furniture.
Maputo is also the best place to sample Mozambican food, which is a delicious mix of Portuguese, Arab and African flavours. Tuck into classic eats such as prego rolls, crab matapa and spicy piri-piri chicken at one of the many cafes on the city streets (the long-established Piri Piri is a must), or book a table at one of the more upmarket restaurants for gourmet food. Zambi is the city’s perennially popular fine-dining establishment, offering fantastic fish and seafood, while the Dhow Cafe has one of the best locations in the city, with expansive views over the bay. It’s just the place to sit back, drink wine and eat plates of tasty Greek food.
There’s live music on almost every night of the week in Maputo, ranging from jazz and salsa to reggae. The best places to catch bands are Gil Vicente Café-Bar, the Franco-Mozambican Cultural Centre, and art gallery Núcleo de Arte for Sunday-night concerts.
Less than an hour’s drive north from Xai-Xai, Chidenguele is home to a spectacular wide beach flanked by high dunes. Apart from during the South African school holidays, the beach is very quiet, and you may have the huge stretch of sand all to yourself. It’s a great alternative to busier Xai-Xai and Bilene if you’re after peace and quiet. There are just a few lodges at which to stay, and if you’re looking for more action than beaching and swimming, they offer plenty of activities, from snorkelling, kitesurfing, deep-sea fishing, whale watching and sea kayaking to birding walks, horse riding and hiking.
Tip: If you don’t have a 4×4, you can leave your car in the village and arrange a pick-up with the lodge you’re staying at (most of them are not accessible in a sedan).
It’s easy to see why Tofo has long been a traveller favourite. A gently curving stretch of golden sand makes for a postcard-perfect beachfront, behind which sits a laid-back village where you can find a range of accommodation, from budget-friendly backpackers to boutique hotels and luxury self-catering beach houses. And then there are the outdoor adventures. Tofo is one of the best places in the world to dive and snorkel with gentle whale sharks and manta rays, while surfers of all levels will find great beach and reef breaks. There are plenty of other water sports on offer, too, such as stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and kitesurfing. Back on land, you can see beaches on horseback, explore sandy tracks by quad bike, and take yoga lessons to stretch out those sore surfer muscles.
Fuel up in between active adventures with vegan smoothie bowls and veggie burgers at Happi; tasty Mozambican dishes like piri-piri chicken and prawn coconut curry at Tofo Tofo; and with thin-crust pizzas and seafood cooked on lava hot stones at Branko’s.
Leave your car in dusty Vilanculos on the mainland and take the short boat ride across the glittering turquoise ocean to reach Benguerra Island, the second largest of five islands that make up the Bazaruto Archipelago. If you picture the archetypal tropical island, Benguerra is the kind of place that would come to mind: Sugary beaches shaded by palm trees encircled by an ocean as clear as glass.
With only two places to stay on the whole island – both intimate barefoot-luxury lodges of thatched villas set on the sand – Benguerra offers the promise of pure beach escapism.
It would be easy to do very little during your time on Benguerra apart from lying on a lounger, swimming, feasting on fresh seafood dishes and sipping cocktails as the sun sets on the Indian Ocean. However, there are plenty of attractions and activities to lure you away from your beach read, such as sea kayaking and horse riding along the sand. The island lies within a huge marine reserve, and its coral reefs are full of marine life such as dolphins, turtles, reef sharks, rare dugong, and some 2 000 fish species. Head out on a snorkelling or diving trip to experience this underwater world. The lodges also offer island-hopping boat trips to atolls in the archipelago (picture picnics on deserted beaches), and sailing trips in a traditional dhow at sunset.
Where to stay
Southern Sun Maputo
This is the only hotel on the beach in Mozambique’s capital, but ocean views are not the only highlight. Southern Sun Maputo also stands out for its beautiful colonial architecture and elegant decor, palm tree-shaded infinity pool, excellent breakfast buffet, and proximity to the airport. A 2014 renovation added more rooms and upgrades such as an enlarged fitness centre and new dining room.
A top pick for budget accommodation in Maputo, this hotel is situated close to the ocean and next door to the Baía shopping mall. It offers 125 compact but well-designed rooms featuring contemporary minimalist decor, as well as a pool, sun deck and free breakfast. Business travellers are catered for with free WiFi, work spaces and a meeting room.
Tete Ferry Sun
Set outside of the busy city centre of Tete, the Tete Ferry Sun has a quiet location on the banks of the Zambezi River. Spread out on the green lawns are villas of one, two and three bedrooms that each have a lounge, dining area, kitchenette and terrace overlooking the garden or river. It’s a popular choice with business travellers and offers WiFi and conference venues as well as a good restaurant, while the pool, gym and day spa provide space for downtime.