Before 1975, Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, was called Porto Amelia. The residents have dubbed it Mozambique’s papaya paradise, which is fairly apt, as this little port is located on a headland squeezed between a magnificent inland bay and an idyllic beach where tall papaya trees lend their shade.
Although most visitors fly into Pemba on LAM from Maputo or Pelican Air from Johannesburg, the 526km (326-mile) stretch of road between Nampula and Pemba is now passable in an ordinary car.
Seen from the bay, the white, flat-roofed buildings of Pemba’s old town are typical of many of Africa’s original colonial towns. Built on a hill, the town climbs steeply from the quayside to the Art Deco cinema at the top of the hill. Pedestrians are well looked after by flights of marble steps which allow shortcuts across the corners of the ‘switchback’ roads. These begin next to the municipal market (in the Baixa) and climb steeply, crossing half a dozen streets, before ending near the Migração building, where your visa can be extended if necessary.
Pemba’s scenic Marginal (promenade) runs parallel to the mouth of the bay, before swinging right onto the main avenue to the airport and out of town. At a traffic circle overlooked by the Banco Comercial de Moçambique and Hotel Cabo Delgado, a turn up the hill will take you onto Avenida Eduardo Mondlane, the main thoroughfare to Pemba’s more modern uptown quarter (cima). Also on Eduardo Mondlane, you will find an art gallery, two supermarkets, Viatur Travel Agency (offering excursions, accommodation and car hire), a video rental, a hairdresser, a pastelaria (confectioners) and a capulana shop. The governor’s residence is on the left and at the top of this avenue, from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the bay and sea.
Around Pemba (and most large towns in Mozambique) are the bairros, which were referred to as ‘native quarters’ in colonial days. Pemba’s most colourful bairro, Paquite Quete (pronounced ‘pakiti-ket’), sits under coconut palms in a former mangrove swamp between the bay mouth and the docks. Here, in an area the size of a few football fields, fishermen, boat-builders, basket weavers, carpenters, traders, mechanics, smugglers, jewellers, mothers and children go about their business. There are quiosques and mosques, schools and traditional healers, but it is at the bazares (markets), such as Mbanguia, where you’ll find Mozambique’s lively soul (at a negotiable price).
Only about 20 or 30 minutes’ walk away, other bazares worth investigating are in bairros Natite (just off Av. Eduardo Mondlane), Ingonane and Cariáco (on the way to Wimbe beach, before Heroes’ Square), and Wimbe, inland from Praia da Wimbe. Trust a local to show you around and you will venture where few foreigners have been before. Enquire about the esculturos (sculptors) at the Cooperativo Makonde, en route to Wimbe beach just before the Praça dos Heróis, which sports a statue of a Frelimo soldier, crafted from hardwood.
Pack a picnic lunch and head for glorious Chuiba beach, a little way past Wimbe beach. The peaceful solitude and clear water make up for the lack of facilities (a lodge is now planned). The folk at Russell’s Place and the inhabitants of the fishing village nearby are friendly, but petty theft is a problem.
Hire a 4WD vehicle through Kaskazini and tour around the bay, through coastal forests, to Metuge village, and Pangane beach 125km (78 miles) further. You can motor out to quaint Mecúfi fishing hamlet, 35km (22 miles) south of Pemba, or hire a boat from C.I. Divers based at Complexo Náutilus.