Hear about travel to Mozambique as the Amateur Traveler talks to Simon Lewis from TarvelConceptSolution.com about this long thin country in Southeastern Africa.
Simon has traveled to Mozambique twice, once just after the end of the civil war in 1997 and once more recently when he spent a month traveling from the North to the South.
He was inspired to travel to Mozambique after seeing an article in an in-flight magazine that described the capital Maputo as the “Havana of Africa”, which he says “it definitely isn’t”. But he does say that “Mozambique is an amazing country because it’s so different from a lot of other countries in southern Africa. It was Portuguese for one. The only other Portuguese country in Africa was Angola. It had a long Civil War so it’s very under-developed. It has amazing beaches, amazing diving, beautiful archipelagos and islands and obviously a little bit of Portuguese flair in Africa which is pretty cool and amazing.”
Simon takes us to a number of beach locations including Praia do Tofo near the old Portuguese town of Inhambane in the South, Vilankulos with a local archipelago where you can sail on a dhow, Ibo island in the Quirimbas Archipelago, and his favorite the Ilha de Mozambique. While it is still difficult to get around in Mozambique, “people have built nice lodges in remote areas and eco-lodges aimed at diving and beach holidays.”
The Quirimbas Archipelago is old spice trading islands. Simon visited Ibo Island which “is amazing if you like a little bit of old Portuguese colonial culture. It’s basically derelict but they’re nice lodges on the island you can do dhow trips and diving trips and have a nice unique experience.”
Spicy food, old Portuguese lighthouses, beautiful beaches, and gorgeous sunsets make up for bad roads and an economy that is still in recovery.
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Travel Concept Solution
Vilankulos (on TripAdvisor)
Ilha de Moçambique
Nuarro Lodge reviews
Blood Diamond (film)
Mozambican Civil War
Casa do Ferro (The Iron House)
Polana Serena Hotel (Maputo)
Limpopo National Park
Ibo Island Lodge
Ibo Island Lodge reviews
Algeria, Russia’s North Caucuses, Kosovo, Mauritania! Really enjoying the podcasts. Listened to the Sudan, Colombia, Medellin, Panama and Western Sahara episodes this evening. Great insights.
Get ready for it to be HOT if you stay in Moab (a great base for visiting Arches and Canyonlands) in the summer. It was 95+ at 11 PM when we visited in June. Dead Horse Point State Park is between the national parks and it has my favorite view of the Colorado River. No worries about the name: no horses, dead or alive, are in sight but we did see a family of coyotes. The episode was about national parks, but DHP state park is so close to Canyonlands Island in the Sky district that it makes sense to visit both when you’re in the area.
On our way out of Zion National Park, I noticed a pair of golden eagles landing near the road. I stopped to see them and noticed that the eagles were waiting their turn to eat a dead deer. They were waiting for a pair of California Condors to leave. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to expand the condors’ range so they released a pair, with tracking radios, in Zion. Wildlife sightings (elk, deer, coyotes, snakes, birds) are common if you stay alert. As dry as it is, it’s surprisingly teeming with animals.
Chris: Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about lighthouses and beaches, scuba, and the spice trade, as we go to the African country of Mozambique. Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by rover.com, the nation’s largest network of neighborhood pet sitters and dog walkers. Go to rover.com/travel and get $20 off your dog’s first booking. Amateur Traveler, episode 505.
We’ll hear more from our new sponsor rover.com. But first, let’s talk about Mozambique. I’d like to welcome to the show Simon Lewis from Travel Concept Solution who’s come to talk to us about Mozambique. Simon, welcome to the show.
Simon: Hi Chris, how you doing?
Chris: Before we start talking about Mozambique, let’s put it on a map for people. We’re in Africa, but where are we in Africa?
Simon: We are on the east coast of Africa, okay? Just above South Africa. There’s a long thin country about two and a half thousand kilometers long that runs from Swaziland, South Africa to the southern border Tanzania.
Chris: And before we talk about why other people should go, why were you in Mozambique?
Simon: Well I’ve been to Mozambique a couple of times, first in 1997. But I went there about 2 years ago for a month long trip because I was there for a kind of business holiday trip where I spent a month in Mozambique traveling from the north to the south to some of the spots I’ve always wanted to go to. I was inspired to go to Mozambique because I saw and article in an in-flight magazine describing Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, as the Havana of Africa. Which definitely is.
Chris: All right, we’ll get to that a little bit. Why should somebody else go to Mozambique?
Simon: Well, it depends what you’re looking for. But Mozambique is an amazing country because it’s so different to a lot of other countries in Southern Africa. It was Portuguese, for one. You know, the only other Portuguese country in Africa was Angola, of course. They had a long civil war, so it’s very underdeveloped. It has amazing beaches, amazing diving, beautiful archipelagos, an island, and obviously a little bit of Portuguese flair in Africa, which is kind of cool and interesting.
Chris: Now, I should have asked: what did they mean by the Havana of Africa, first of all?
Simon: It was interesting because like Maputo when it was called, was rated as one of the most beautiful cities in the world many years ago when it was called Lourenço Marques before the civil war. Because it was Portuguese, it has that sort of Portuguese, European flavor.
Simon: So it’s very run down, but it does have some nice architecture and some nice buildings and things like that. But I would definitely not call it the Havana of Africa.
Chris: Not some place to go for a good cigar.
Simon: No, definitely not.
Chris: And what kind of itinerary would you recommend for someone going to Mozambique?
Simon: Well, it’s a big long country which is difficult to travel around. So it really depends on what you are looking for. You know, to get to Maputo, for example, from Johannesburg, you can obviously fly. If you were to go across land, there’s a good bus service from Johannesburg to Maputo. If you wanted to drive you can get to some very nice beaches in the southern part of Mozambique within 12 hours drive of Johannesburg. Bribery and corruption is very prevalent in Mozambique, so driving is not always the best option.
Chris: Especially driving on your own, I would assume.
Simon: Yeah, driving on your own wouldn’t be the best option. The general rule is in Mozambique to avoid the police if you see them because they will stop you and ask for money.
Chris: So Maputo in the very, very south, easier to get to. It’s such a big country, it’s such a long country. Is there a particular region that you would say if you are going to be in Mozambique and you don’t have time to do the whole thing, north to south, south to north, is there one region you would say that’s the region you want to see?
Simon: Well, the very, very south which is even further south of Maputo, that’s very popular for diving and sort of water sports, holidays, and fishing trips, and things like that. If you go about 5-6 hours north of Maputo, you can go to an area called Playa De Tofo, which is a nice beach and is close to the town called Inhambane. And Inhambane is an old Portuguese town. It’s got some sort of art deco architecture, the beach, Playa De Tofo, is very nice for diving, holidays. You can do whale watching there, just beach holidays, and enjoying a little bit of beach holidays in Africa.
Chris: Okay. And you say that’s north of Maputo?
Simon: That’s about 6 hours. By bus, local bus, it will take 5-6 hours to get north of Maputo.
Chris: And you mentioned the diving, the diving in Mozambique being very good?
Simon: It’s very good in Mozambique. There is another area a little bit further north of Playa De Tofo called Vilanculos [SP]. That has a very nice archipelago as well of islands where you can go on dhow trips, which is the local sort of sailing boat around the islands and things like that to these beautiful untouched islands. But generally traveling in Mozambique isn’t that easy because there are great lodges to go to. But the public transport isn’t great. Often you will have to connect to the lodge to shuttle you from a bus stop or something like that. Or basically have your whole trip planned by a travel company.
Chris: Now I am going to guess that you didn’t decide that the first time you were going to go to Africa you were going to go to Mozambique.
Simon: No, no.
Chris: So you had been in Africa before.
Chris: For a significant period of time was my impression.
Simon: Well, the first time I went to Mozambique was in 1997. That was a few years after the civil war ended. And things don’t happen quickly, so it was still very war-torn and there were lots of potholes in the streets and things like that. Over the last decade or whatever, people have built nice lodges in remote areas and eco lodges. Think diving and sort of beach holidays and things like that. But also, the country of Mozambique is basically split into two halves. There’s the north and the south. If you want a completely unique experience in the very far north, you could fly into Pemba, which is the biggest town in the far north.
Chris: We’re almost up in Tanzania at that point.
Simon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then you can connect with sorts of lodges or on a small boats that takes into amazing historical islands, on the Quirimbas Archipelago. And these islands were old spice trading islands. There’s one particular that I visited called Ibo island, I-B-O island. That is amazing if you like a little bit of old Portuguese colonial culture. It’s a very old island, it’s basically derelict, but there’s nice lodges on there and people stay on the island. And you can do dhow trips and diving trips and things like that and have a really unique experience. And then further south from Pemba, there’s the famous island of Ilha de Moçambique.
Simon: And it’s only 500 kilometers south of Pemba. And I’ve been experienced to traveling around Africa and I thought that 500 kilometers would be very easy to do on local transport. It actually isn’t easy whatsoever, but Ilha de Moçambique is the reason I went back to Mozambique. And back in 1997, you can imagine the history. You know, this is pre-internet. So people were just telling me about this amazing island called Ilha de Moçambique. And this island is where the oldest Portuguese building exists outside of Portugal, right? And it was the island the Portuguese settled in to start their trading routes with India. When Goa was a Portuguese colony, they used to govern Goa from Ilha de Moçambique. And the king of Portugal never went there, but they built a palace for him on the island. And the island is like 200 meters long, it’as got very old Portuguese architecture. A lot of it is being rebuilt because this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s just magical. Ilha de Moçambique, it’s not very easy to get to, there is not a great deal to see there. But it’s one of those things if you like a little bit of colonial history like me that is really really amazing. It’s easy to get to from land because it is about 150 meters off the coast, so it’s connected by a bridge. There is an amazing bits of architecture and culture on the island. So that is definitely a highlight.
Chris: It wasn’t easy to get to the first time you over there and then you went back, it still wasn’t easy.
Simon: Yeah, that’s what I mean. Things in Mozambique don’t happen very quickly. You used to hear about this mythical island in the far north of Mozambique called Ilha de Moçambique or Mozambique Island. And the fact from the south it would take 4 days to get there by road, but now it still takes 4 days to get there by road. There is one main road that goes right up the coast of Mozambique. And this was confirmed to me a few months ago that there’s about a 120k’s of this main road that you can only travel about 20 kilometers an hour because it’s that bad. So yeah, Mozambique isn’t an easy destination to travel to. But if you like something a little bit different in Africa, there’s lots of cool things to see if you’ve got time.
Chris: And I’m curious. With the 2 different trips that you did, what surprised you the first time you were there, and then what surprised you when you came back?
Simon: Well, what surprised me the first time was that I’d traveled around southern Africa quite a lot. And what surprised me was that a lot of the southern African countries are very, very similar because of the colonialism in Africa. But when you cross the border into Mozambique, you realize you’re somewhere different because everybody speaks Portuguese. English is not widely spoken whatsoever.
Chris: Other than the language, though, were there other differences that you saw? I mean was the diet the same, the scenery the same?
Simon: The scenery is pretty similar, but the beaches are a lot more tropical. White sandy beaches, clear blue waters. In 1997 when I first got there, one of the things that you would buy off the children on the beach was raw pearls that they would literally pull off the beach. Yeah, so they like spicy food. So you’ve got lots of seafood and spicy chicken. Yeah, so you get a really nice Portuguese mix of Africa.
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Chris: And then when you back, bigger surprise?
Simon: When I went back the biggest surprise was it hasn’t changed much.
Chris: That’s what I was guessing. I got the impression that that is what you were going to say.
Simon: On my second trip, I really wanted to travel like from the north to the south and see all of things like that and these amazing places where you can go to are still very hard to get to. I went to a very nice lodge in the north close to Ilha de Moçambique and it was a 150 kilometers to Mozambique, but it took 4 hours to get there because the roads are that bad. It’s called Nuarro lodge, N-U-A-R-R-O, something like that. But when you get there it’s amazing eco-lodge in the middle of nowhere. And you can dive straight off the beach. And there’s a lot of places you can dive straight off the beach, but literally 20 meters off the beach there’s a ledge and you just walk-in in your diving equipment and you can dive. And what even makes it more amazing that in whale season, whales come right into the beach because it’s so deep there. Nobody actually knows how far this ledge is. So wherever you go, you see a little bit of Portuguese architecture in lighthouses and things like that. Because the way these Portuguese colonized in Africa was that they set up trading points rather than the way that the British did it. So you know that’s why Ilha de Moçambique has such old buildings on there because that’s where the Portuguese kind of like set up base there and governed their colonies from.
Chris: Well, my impression was that they stayed more to the coast typically. Did you get a chance to get further inland in Mozambique, or were you mostly along that coastal route?
Simon: I have been along the coastal route, but I have been inland as well because if you cross from Zimbabwe to Malawi, there is a road which goes through a town called Tete, T-E-T-E. And so it’s called Tete corridor, because during the civil war there, its was the only protected road. So the first time I went there, there was still tanks on the side of the road and things like that. But that’s just like a hot dust bowl and the town was set up to start the trade of ivory out of the Zambezi to the coast so the Portuguese could ship it back to Europe. But there really isn’t any main settlements on the inland of Mozambique. It’s a very narrow country and everything goes along the coast.
Chris: Okay. And then you mentioned that you did not get the impression of Maputo that it was the Havana of Africa.
Simon: It’s definitely a very cool city, it’s famous for its nightlife and food and architecture. The movie Blood Diamond, there were some shots…they were supposed to West Africa that were filmed in Maputo. There’s a famous train station. If you can Google Maputo’s main train station really old glorious style Portuguese train station. That’s something that always people go to visit. And the fish markets where you can have lunch and dinner and things like that.
Chris: Well, it’s interesting when you were talking about the architecture and you mentioned that there was art deco architecture, I forget that colonization went that late, that it was relatively recent that it was in my father’s lifetime that all of Africa was still colonies. And I just forget that, but that sort of put that into context knowing that that was an early 1900s architectural style.
Simon: Of course, yeah, because you’ve got to be remember like the war in Mozambique only ended in the early 90s. And it was a 30-year civil war.
Chris: Oh my, I didn’t realize it was that long.
Simon: Yeah. And a lot of the south wasn’t damaged till the very late part of the war. And the story was, you know, you have to Google this and not quote me, but the story was that the Portuguese who was still there were ordered over the radio to leave. There was a radio announcement to leave, so they just left, and they left everything. It’s a very cool city to hang out in. You know, being in an African city, it’s a relatively safe city. You can walk around, it’s perfectly fine to walk around, it’s a lot friendlier than a lot of other places. But people are going to struggle if they don’t speak Portuguese or Spanish. You can obviously get by with a little bit of Spanish.
Chris: Are there sites that you would recommend that people see for instance in Maputo?
Simon: There a building that was created by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the guy that created the Eiffel tower.
Chris: Oh sure, Eiffel.
Simon: Yeah, Eiffel. There is a building he created in Maputo, the train station is pretty impressive, the fish market to go and eat your prawns and your spicy seafood is very good. There’s the Polana 5 star hotel, which is this old colonial style hotel, which is in perfect condition. Overlooks the beaches and things like that. But Maputo is just a reasonably cool city to hang out and experience the nightlife.
Chris: Okay. Favorite market?
Simon: The fish market, definitely.
Chris: Okay. And then any great ways to come in contact with the culture or the arts?
Simon: I haven’t got any real information on that, to be honest.
Chris: Okay, no problem.
Simon: The best source of information for budget traveler for Maputo is Fatimas Backpackers.
Simon: That’s like the oldest backpackers in Maputo, and they handle all the transport.
Chris: So, it’s a hostel.
Simon: Yeah, it’s a hostel. Lots of people use that place as just a stop over because all the transport runs very early in the morning to the north. So they handle all that transport for you.
Chris: Excellent. The best day you had in Mozambique?
Simon: Ilha de Moçambique, by far.
Simon: Ilha de Moçambique or the Quirimbas Archipelago in the far north because you know sailing around the Quirimbas Archipelago on a dhow was just amazing. Seeing all the ancient Portuguese ports and things like that.
Chris: A dhow is a sailed vessel?
Simon: Yeah, an African dhow was like an Arabic style sailing boat with the big white sails and things like that.
Chris: Like a felucca?
Simon: Yeah, yeah. Similar, yeah.
Chris: Got it, okay.
Simon: If somebody’s traveling out of Mozambique and they want to go back to southern Africa, you can easily get a bus to either like I said a mainline bus, like a sort of American-style greyhound to Johannesburg. Or you can also get like a local bus to Swaziland and that’s very, that’s just like two hours from the border.
Chris: Right. Well, it’s right up against Swaziland, right. The other thing I was curious about is I see that you know one of the best know national parks in South Africa, Kruger National Park, basically continues over into Mozambique as an national park. Did you had a chance to get up and see any of the wildlife?
Simon: I’ve been to Kruger National Park many times but only on the South African side. The Mozambiquian side apparently doesn’t have as much game.
Chris; Oh, interesting.
Simon: It’s basically just a protected area because of poachers coming into South Africa as fr as I know.
Chris: Sure. Okay, excellent. Well, this is going to be a little bit of shorter show. So before I get to my last questions, anything else we should know before we go to Mozambique?
Simon: Before you go, take US dollars.
Simon: Practice your Portuguese. You need to obviously get a visa for Mozambique, which you can get at the border. So be prepared for that. And the currency is Meticais. So don’t try and get Meticais from your local bank, but you can use US dollars and change everywhere. The best beer is 2M. Which is the number 2 and an M.
Chris: Okay. And then last four questions. You are standing in the prettiest spot you saw on Mozambique. Where you are standing and what you are looking at?
Simon: I am looking at the sunset of the coast of Ilha de Moçambique. My favorite place by far.
Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say only in Mozambique.
Simon: All the spicy food and the terrible roads. You don’t get a lot of spicy food in Southern Africa amongst the African communities. But in Mozambique, it’s all spicy food.
Chris: Got it. Because of the spice route. Sure. It makes sense.
Chris: Finish this thought. You really know you’re in Mozambique when, what?
Simon: You really know in Mozambique when somebody walks up to you and says [something in Portuguese]. It’s so strange when you go over the border and it’s everybody speaks Portuguese. That’s the real culture shock.
Chris: Okay. And if you had to summarize Mozambique in just three words?
Simon: A magnificent beach country and amazing Portuguese culture.
Chris: And I think that was possibly more than three words, but we’ll hold you to magnificent beach culture there.
Simon: Magnificent beaches and spicy food.
Simon: There you go.
Chris: Excellent. Now, Simon, I don’t believe you have travel bloggers. Is there any place you write about your travels?
Simon: I don’t write about my travels, I’m more of social media, Instagrammer. So you can get me on twitter simlewis. And we do have a blog on travelconceptsolution.com.
Chris: Okay. And we didn’t say Travel Concept Solution being a marketing firm that works in social media.
Simon: Yeah, we’re a creative marketing firm. We work with online media, social media. We’re based in South Africa, but we work in other countries, South America and Europe as well.
Chris: And you made a reference to it when you said you were doing a business-pleasure trip, but the business part of that being trying to figure out how to promote things in Mozambique.
Simon: Yeah, the business trip that we did to Mozambique was for Ibo island lodge in that’s famous island in the top. We were there to sort of create some social media content for a festival they were having there. And also we looked at, they just got new Wi-Fi, so we wanted to promote that. And we actually looked at having a Google hangout on the island to promote the island but that never worked.
Chris: You mentioned festival actually. I didn’t ask you about festivals. Best time of year to go to Mozambique or best festivals?
Simon: Best time of year to go to Mozambique is actually in the African winter, European summer. Because it’s still very hot, but there’s no malaria and the rainy season is February/March.
Chris: Okay. And then festivals.
Simon: Festivals, of the top of my head I can’t remember the name of the one that I went to, but it was an old festival just for the people of the islands. It was very small.
Chris: Excellent. Well thanks, Simon so much for coming on the show. Our guest again has been Simon Lewis from Travel Concept Solution. Thanks for coming out and sharing your love of Mozambique.
Simo: Thanks, Chris. Enjoy Mozambique. Cheers!
Chris: In news of the community, this week I heard from Iman on the Facebook group, the Amateur Traveler Facebook group that is, who said Algeria, Russia’s northern Caucasus, Kosovo, Mauritania, really enjoying the podcasts. Listen to Sudan, Colombia, Medellin, Panama, and Western Sahara episodes this evening. Great insights. I am just exhausted listening to that whole list, let alone listening to all those episodes. Glad you’re enjoying it, Iman. I heard from Kent about the episode we did recently on Utah. I just listened to episode 503 which was about the national parks in Utah. I made several trips to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, most recently in December 2015. I keep going back because the land is so beautiful and different from my home in Virginia. I have some comments. Get ready for it to be hot if you stay in Moab, a great base for visiting arches and canyonlands in the summer. It was 95 plus at 11 pm when we visited in June. Dead horse point state park is in between the national parks and it has my favorite view of the Colorado River. No worries about the name. No horses, dead or alive are in sight. But we did see a family of coyotes.
The episode was about the national parks, but Dead Horse Park, state park, is so close to canyonlands, island in the sky district, that it makes sense to visit both when you’re in the area. On our way out of Zion National Park, I noticed a pair of golden eagles landing near the road. I stopped to see them and noticed that the eagles were waiting their turn to eat a dead deer. They were waiting for a pair of California condors to leave. The US fish and wildlife service is trying to expand the condor’s range. So they released a pair with tracking radios. In Zion wildlife sightings, Elk, deer, coyotes, snakes, birds are common if you stay alert. As dry as it is, it’s surprisingly teeming with animals.
And Kent I didn’t even think to say that it would be hot in Southern Utah in the summer because I just assumed that everyone knew that. But yes, especially at some of these places, quite hot. Not quite as hot in places like Bryce which are up at altitude. But that is something to think about. That’s why I did my trip in October. With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. Don’t forget to check out rover.com, rover.com/travel. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com. Or better yet, leave your comment on this episode at amateur traveler.com. And you can follow me in all the usual places on social media, or join Iman and I in the Facebook community, facebook.com/amateur traveler. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.