This important southern Indian Ocean port lies less than 100km (60 miles) from neighbouring Swaziland and South Africa. With its subtropical climate, beautiful sheltered bay and blend of Portuguese architecture, African spontaneity and Indo/Portuguese/African cuisine, Maputo (formerly Lourenço Marques) has retained much of its colonial mystique. Nightclubs swing to samba rhythms until dawn and a host of quiosques (kiosks) serve galinha piri-piri (chicken piri-piri), matapas (a cassava-leaf dish), bacalhau (dried cod) and some of the best batatas frita (fried potato chips) in the world. Hundreds of salões (sidewalk cafés), dozens of nightclubs and the odd suitably sleazy strip joint complement the vibrant atmosphere of this capital city that feels more Latin American than African.
Modelled on Portuguese harbour cities such as Lisbon and Porto, Maputo’s wide avenidas (avenues) are lined with pavements inlaid with black-and-white stone mosaics. Laid out in a grid pattern in 1847, the ‘long’ avenues extend at right angles to Avenida da Marginal while the ‘short’ avenues traverse Maputo Hill away from the bay. By car, you will enter the city via the large traffic circle on Av. 24 de Julho, and proceed for 5km (3 miles) before reaching Av. Julius Nyerere, the heart of the cima, or upper city. Visitors arriving at Maputo International Airport will enter the city via Av. de Acordos de Lusaka. This becomes Av. da Guerra Popular on reaching the high-rise area, runs downhill to the baixa – the lower city – and ends at the massive ‘peace goddess’ statue in the centre of the square opposite the Maputo Railway Station.
Chief Maputa’s capital
When the first Portuguese explorers landed on this coast over 500 years ago, they came into contact with an indigenous people ruled by Chief Maputa. Consequently, the area from Maputo Bay south to Lake St Lucia in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province was, and still is, often referred to as Maputaland. Mozambique’s original capital for 200 years was the town of Mozambique, on a little island (now called Ilha de Moçambique/Mozambique Island) about 1500km (932 miles) northeast from Maputo. The Portuguese virtually ignored their little fortified settlement at Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay) until the British and the Boers began to show serious interest in the area. The MacMahon Award of 1873 eventually resolved the territorial dispute in Portugal’s favour, resulting in a swiftly developing settlement. The Portuguese named it Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) and it inherited the status of capital from Ilha de Moçambique in 1897.
Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Conceição
This squat red-sandstone fortress, built between 1851 and 1867, stands on the site of the original mud-and-pole stockade. Once a museum glorifying Portugal’s colonial conquests, it is now the State Historical Archive and houses the remains of Ngungunhane, last great chief of the Nguni tribe, who ruled the Gaza region until British and Portuguese expansion led to friction. He was captured and paraded through the streets of Lisbon before dying in exile in the Azores.
The Streets of Maputo
As in most poor, third-world cities, parts of Maputo are home to the destitute and homeless. Street children are always on hand to guard your car or help you with parking. Yet a daylight stroll through the city centre will reveal sights ranging from tailored trees in Jardim Tunduru Botanical Gardens to the elegance of the Hotel Polana. Downtown Maputo’s central market is clearly not a place to flash your wallet or video camera. Here the elite and the public mingle, as they haggle over tobacco, traditional medicine, papaya and prawns.
The Street of Sin
As in all port cities, sailors (and thieves) prowl Maputo’s streets at night, heading for Rua do Bagamoio, the so-called ‘street of sin’. For a night to remember, leave your valuables behind and start at the historical Hotel Central on the corner of Mesquita and Bagamoio streets. Then head down Rua do Bagamoio to the Luso nightclub where strippers should be ready (first show at 23:00) to do justice to the area’s reputation. From here, let your designated driver (or taxi) ferry you to Feira Popular for ‘sun-uppers’ from a bamboo rooftop pub overlooking the bay.
Maputo’s Magical Markets
- Mercado Central: On Av. 25 de Setembro; in existence for over 100 years. Frozen fish, Nampula cashews, Inhambane baskets; mind your pockets.
- Mercado Xipamanine: In the heart of Mafalala district. Get a local to take you to see the bizarre array of traditional medicines.
- Bazar Artesanato: Toys sold on the Praça 25 de Junho every Saturday. Makonde sculptures available.
- Mercado Janet: End Av. Mao Tse Tung. Best selection of local fruit and vegetables.
- Bazar do Peixe (Fish market): Opposite the abandoned hotel on Av. da Marginal on the way to Costa do Sol. Watch out for a few fresh prawns placed on top of the rotten ones underneath.
Echoes of Past Grandeur
Already majestic from the outside, it is the interior of the neoclassical Civic Centre that is really rewarding. There are magnificent crystal chandeliers, intricate tile mosaics of Portuguese ships, Louis XIV fittings and furniture. Beside the marble staircase in the reception hall are beautiful scale models of the historic buildings of old Maputo.
Tranquil Tropical Gardens
Laid out in 1883 by English landscaper Thomas Honney, who created similar parks for the King of Greece and the Sultan of Turkey, Maputo’s Jardim Tunduru Botanical Gardens today offer a splendid escape from the bustle of the city. Hundreds of colourful shrubs, hedges and flowering plants are shaded by towering indigenous and exotic trees. The murmur of streams and the splash of fountains complement the feeling of peace. Don’t miss out on a visit to the conservatory (obtain permission at the nearby office) filled with cycads, ferns and conifers, among which statues of water nymphs hide.
Known to the locals simply as ‘Feira’, this fairground is an authentic Mozambican place to party the night away. Although rides operate only over weekends, the numerous pubs, clubs, kiosks and restaurants are open nightly. They range from reasonably priced Portuguese family restaurants like quaint O’Coquero to O’Escorpião, one of the city’s most popular restaurants.
- Museu de Revolução: At 3003 Av. 24 de Julho. Mainly exhibits of historical interest; emphasis on the struggle for independence.
- Museu de Geologia: On Av. 24 de Julho. Interesting Manueline architecture; collection of precious stones and minerals.
- Museu da Moeda: On Praça de 25 de Junho, opposite the Banco de Mozambique. Oldest intact building in Maputo; houses currency and barter items from around the world.
- Museu de Arte: On Av. Ho Chi Min. Displays of local paintings and sculptures.
Eiffel’s ‘House of Steel’
Paris may have its Eiffel Tower, but Alexandre Gustave Eiffel’s fame is not restricted to France. Born in Dijon in 1832, he first suggested the use of steel braces and girders to support the 485m (1600ft) Garonne bridge. This innovation was of good use to the sculptor Bartholdi, whose Statue of Liberty would otherwise probably not have been able to withstand the gales in New York Bay. Another of Eiffel’s prefabricated steel structures was bolted together to form a two-storey house. The Casa do Ferro, next to the Jardim Tunduru Botanical Gardens, was to be the residence of Mozambique’s governor general during 1892. However, the building proved too hot for habitation as it wasn’t insulated. Today it houses the Department of Museums.
In Maputo, as in the cities of Portugal, most businesses are closed from 12:00–14:00, some until 15:00, and many don’t bother to open at all in the afternoon. Citizens while away this siesta period sipping espresso in the shade of one of the city’s flamboyant trees (it is often too hot and humid to do anything more energetic anyway). Av. 25 de Setembro boasts quaint cafés, such as the Continental, Rua da Argelia has the wonderful Café Camissa, while Av. Julius Nyerere offers Nautilus and Café Maputo.
Restaurante e Esplanada Mbuva.At 2641 Av. da Angola(the airport road) in Xipamanine. Good, cheap food and the best place in Maputo to meet the local crowd without feeling like ‘just another tourist’. Live Afro/Jazz on Sundays when Maputo’s ‘Celebrities’ and characters come out to listen, to dance and to share the huge pot of ‘Matapa’ (Spinach, Cashews and Prawns or Crab).