Health, comfort and safety

Inoculations

Inoculations against smallpox, cholera or yellow fever are not required (unless you are coming from an infected area). This may change due to unforeseen circumstances such as disease outbreaks.

Inoculations against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A and T.B. (tuberculosis) may be advisable if you intend to spend more than a month in the country and if you are an aid worker or adventurous traveller who will often come into contact with the general population.

Staying healthy

Consult your travel clinic - in Johannesburg: tel. (011) 807 3132, www.travelclinic.co.za about preventive measures for malaria, dysentery, cholera, bacterial infection and hepatitis. Malaria and polluted drinking water form the main health risks in Mozambique. Malaria, which is prevalent throughout Mozambique, is at its worst during the December to May rainy season. Chloroquine and Pyrimethamine-resistant strains are rife. Consult a doctor experienced in tropical diseases about measures against malaria, bearing in mind that drugs such as mefloquine (Larium) and doxycycline may be more effective than chloroquine. Ask your doctor about their many side effects and try them out well before you go. Wear boots, long clothes and a repellent at night and sleep under a mosquito net.

Mozambique is considered to be a very high-risk country as far as AIDS is concerned so all forms of unprotected sexual contact(i.e. without a condom) should be avoided, as well as any other situations in which exchange of body fluids could take place (for example sharing razors or toothbrushes). It is a good idea to carry your own first-aid kit and emergency medical supplies including sterile needles, syringes, sutures and drip administration sets.

Boil all water if you intend to drink it (or simply stick to tea and coffee), or drink only bottled water (check the seal) - available in most large towns for around US$1 per litre. If travelling away from tourist spots, bring a chemical water-purifier such as Chlor-Floc tablets or a good filter, such as a pocket ‘Katadyn’, as it may not always be possible to buy bottled water or to boil your drinking water. In the cheaper restaurants and quiosques (kiosks) it may be prudent to avoid fresh salads, unless you are sure that they were washed in safe water.  If food arrives cold (frio) send it back and order a different hot (quent) dish. Fruit and vegetables that have been peeled or well cooked are safe.

Meat, fish and poultry should always be approached with healthy suspicion and eaten while still hot or bought fresh (not frozen, as it may have thawed and been refrozen a few times).  Fresh fish, crab and prawns will have bulging, shiny eyes. Boots (most bites occur on the ankles) long trousers and shirts, mosquito nets and insect repellents are your first line of defence against mosquitoes, so bring these along with you.

Medical services

Away from Maputo City medical facilities are gener­ally very basic so carry medical-evacuation insurance like M.R.I. (Med-Rescue International); call toll-free inside South Africa 0800 11 9911. In Maputo the 'Clinic Especial' (Special Clinic) at the Central Hospital on Av. Eduardo Mondlane, tel. (01) 42 4633/1349 and the Clinica de Sommerschield, Rua Pereira Lago, tel. (01) 49 3924 have advanced facilities and specialist physicians, but charges are high, in advance and in US$ cash. There is no reliable general ambulance or rescue service but the above two clinics do provide transport for the patients if requested.

State-run hospitals and pharmacies (farmácias) are usually very cheap if you can afford to wait and are prepared to run the risk of poorly trained doctors, inadequate facilities and unhygienic conditions. Drugs such as antibiotics and anti-malaria tablets are sold without prescription but may have expired.

It is easy to avoid many diseases simply by taking preventive measures such as by drinking plenty of boiled or bottled water and by being careful what you eat. In all warm, wet places insect bites, cuts, grazes and scratches tend to become infected very easily. Avoid getting tropical ulcers (which often lead to hospitalisation) by immediately cleaning and disinfecting every lesion no matter how minor. Don’t walk barefoot on shorelines where there is dried coral on the beach. Even in a First-World medical environment ailments such as malaria, cholera, hepatitis and tropical ulcers can put you in hospital for a week or two.

Medical emergencies should be prepared for by taking out insurance with an evacuation organisation. In Maputo, ‘Clinica de Sommershield’, Av., Kim II Sung, tel. (01) 49 3924/5/6, or the ‘special clinic’ at the Maputo Central Hospital at tel. (01) 424633 offer adequate trauma facilities but admission charges are a minimum of US$300 (SA R2250) in advance.

Crime

Petty thieving is rife in Mozambique and, although it may be tempting to trust the little fellows who will attempt to befriend you or offer to help you all over the country for a small fee, don’t be too surprised if your penknife, shoes or odd items of clothing go missing. This is usually only applicable in and around the larger urban areas. A few guidelines:

  • Beware of thieves, pickpockets, conmen and bogus policemen, especially at border posts and in Maputo, Beira and Nampula.
  • In the large cities, take a taxi at night and don’t walk along badly lit roads after dark. Carry what you need in a money belt under your clothes.
  • Keep away from crowds as they provide excellent opportunities for pickpockets to practise their trade on the unsuspecting tourist.

Land mines (Minas da terra/ explosivos)

While the laborious clearing operations are progressing, land mines, unexploded ammunition and booby traps remain a deadly serious threat. There are apparently millions (estimates range from 700 000 to 4 million) lying around everywhere, so don’t step off the beaten track, and always find out locally which areas are safe. Assume that all man-made structures outside of the towns, such as ruins, railways, bridges, wells, pylons, lighthouses, pump stations, abandoned vehicles and buildings, footpaths and reservoirs are mined. Keep out of places where the locals don’t go. Land mines may have been cleared from most main and many minor routes, but still don’t go off the beaten track without first enquiring locally.

The overall security situation in Mozambique was satisfactory at the time of writing, but it is still not advisable to travel after dark, due to the presence of people, animals, broken-down trucks and vehicles without lights on the pot-holed roads. Armed hijackings (especially of new 4x4 vehicles) and vehicle thefts are a real threat particularly in Maputo, so park in a secure area and keep your driving to a minimum in this city. On the open road do not stop under any circumstances either to pick up hitchhikers or to assist at accidents or breakdowns (could be a trap).

As of 2015 Mozambique was declared landmine free although caution is still advised http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-34275604

Hygiene

The climate is generally tropical with a correspondingly high incidence of insect-and water-borne disease (dysentery, hepatitis and cholera) so regular hand washing (add a few drops of bleach to the water) is essential. Apart from at the newer service stations (garages) or better restaurants and hotels, toilet facilities are poor in Mozambique, so always carry disinfectant, a toilet roll and carton of wet gauze wipes. Prevent possible skin cancer by wearing a waterproof sun block (especially if taking Doxycycline); long light cotton clothing and a broad-brimmed hat during the day. Make sure that you have sufficient supplies of any medications you use to last the duration of your trip — and a little extra as, other than in Maputo, you may not be able to buy many prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals in Mozambique.

Food

Along the coast there is always fresh seafood on sale at the beach, and vegetarians will never go hungry as long as they are prepared to live on (seasonal availability) potatoes, tomatoes, onions, coconuts, cassava (mandioca), bananas, papaya, pineapples and little else at times. It is surprisingly difficult to find restaurants catering to vegetarians anywhere in Mozambique.  People who can’t survive without their daily slab of tender steak will not be able to venture away from the upmarket lodges or far out of Maputo and Beira, where the more expensive restaurants offer beef imported from South Africa and Zimbabwe.

If you are cooking for yourself and intend to shop at the markets (mercados), carry a small fish scale and selection of herbs and spices. Even if you intend to eat out all the time, many restaurants do not offer a decent selection of condiments, so carry your own salt, pepper and lemon juice. Service is often slow and your well-meaning waiter might regard two hours as a reasonable time to wait for a meal and ignore you henceforth if you complain.

Clothing and culture

Mozambique is economically a desperately poor country which nevertheless has a rich heritage of colourful cultures and wonderfully diverse scenery.

Think along the lines of protecting yourself from the sun by day and from the mosquitoes by night. Although what you wear on the beach is usually entirely your own concern, women should wear skirts or capulanas (sarongs) while shopping, as stallholders at the markets (mercados) are often followers of the Muslim faith and might be offended by immodest displays of feminine flesh. Men should not wander off the beach without first donning a shirt. After dark, dress at restaurants and clubs is smart-casual, while ties and jackets are seldom seen, even at the more elite restaurants.

On the beach, even midsummer evenings can become quite cool, so pack an anorak or sweater, especially if you intend to visit the higher-lying areas around Chimoio and Lichinga where it can drop below 10ºC in winter. 

The law and your rights

While the previously Marxist/socialist economy has been restructured for the better since Samora Machel announced the demise of Marxism in Mozambique in 1985, the same cannot be said for the manner in which the laws of the land are enforced. If you do fall foul of the law, hand over a notarised copy of your passport, not the original, and your insurance (seguros) if involved in a motor accident. Don’t lose your temper and don’t expect a lawyer to come swooping in to your aid. If you are arrested send someone to report your circumstances, as well as the name and ranks of the officers involved both to your embassy and to your family.

If you do get locked up (if you run over someone you probably will be detained for a night for your own protection), you will be at the mercy of the police until someone raises enough money to ‘ransom’ you. For example, if you knock down a child who runs into the road and then do the decent thing by stopping to report the accident to the police, the circumstances will be irrelevant. If you do not have the insurance (seguros) sold at the border, you are likely to be held in custody until compensation to the relatives as well as a ‘fine’ is paid. The safest response to a scenario such as this is (if possible) to seek refuge at your embassy in Maputo and to communicate with the authorities from this sanctuary.

The role of the police appears to be lim­ited to stopping motorists both on urban and rural roads, and pedestrians in towns, with a view to extracting a ‘fine’ (multa) for an imaginative and expanding list of ‘misdemeanours’. These can be lumped together under the heading documentos or papers, i.e. your passport, visa and visitor’s card (cartão do viajante) — not issued at all border posts — and, if you are a driver, your third-party insurance (seguros), temporary import permit (licença da importação) and driver’s licence (carta da condução). Military areas (quartel) and the Governor’s Area in each town are very sensitive zones, so do not stop or take photos here, and walk on the other side of the road if you are exploring the urban landscape on foot.

If you are a motorist and wish to avoid being fined, drive under 50kph (30mph) in and near towns (the cops have radar) make sure your car is roadworthy, carry a red warning triangle, wear your seat belt and don’t drive on beaches. Note that the law requires your vehicle to be equipped with a reflective warning triangle (fixed to your front bumper if towing), and you will be fined if you are unable to produce this. The police are likely to stop you at some stage and, if your documents are not in order, do not expect any sympathy from people who cannot speak your language, but certainly understand the universal language of the mighty dollar. Two options are now open to you: You can either offer to turn around and go back to the border to obtain the missing papers, or you can good-naturedly (anger is pointless) begin to negotiate (use a calculator) how much your fine should be (the official standard speeding fine is Mt1000 000 (R450 or US$60).

The amount you will eventually pay is often inversely proportional to the length of time that you are willing to spend haggling. Chances are good that, if you keep your cool and wait for long enough, the police will wave you on, as they will soon realise that they may be missing out on easier pickings, in the form of some other less patient drivers.

Accommodation

As acceptable accommodation is at a pre­mium throughout Mozambique, attempt wherever possible to make all bookings in advance. You can always move to a more suitable hotel, pensão (boarding house) or pousada (Inn) once you have got your bearings and a room in the establishment of choice becomes vacant.

Note that, unless you are staying in a hotel which has air-conditioned rooms, a mosquito net is an absolute necessity. As these are usually compact and light it is easiest and best to carry your own net with you. 

Attitudes and expectations

Although geographically part of southern Africa, this former Portuguese colony has a history and culture that is more closely asso­ciated with the Swahili of north-eastern Africa, which makes it decidedly different from neighbouring states.

Whether you enter the country overland from one of these six countries (Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland), by boat through one of the many harbours or by air into Maputo, Vilankulo, Inhambane, Beira, Tete, Nacala, Pemba, or Mecula in the Reserva do Niassa (all airports of entry) you will immediately be faced with the challenging and often humorous prospect of communicating with people who may speak very little English. Arrangements for accommodation and transport, bargaining at the markets, exchanging money and border formalities will be exercises in sign language, gesticulation and a chance for you to practise the little Portuguese you may already know.

Moçambicanos value good manners and courtesy very highly, so a friendly, relaxed and unhurried attitude is the secret to gaining co-operation from officials and making friends with the people.

While poverty remains an obvious fea­ture of society in Mozambique and you can expect to be pestered by beggars and street children in the towns and cities, trust the right people to be your guides or interpreters and you will soon be accepted as a friend to be protected from unwelcome advances or harassment.

Bear in mind that some streets (mainly in the cities of Maputo and Beira) are the domains of the homeless and if you adopt an aggressive attitude towards them your stay is likely to become an unpleasant and perhaps dangerous experience.

Please be aware that Mozambican officials are extremely poorly paid, have little understanding of tourism and may be intimidated and a little suspicious when confronted by well-heeled travellers. Remember that to them your possessions represent huge wealth, and rather than attempting to extract heavy bribes, officials are often simply curious or hoping for a cold drink or cigarette when they ask to look inside your vehicle.

If your documents are stolen

Always carry a notarised photocopy of all your essential documents (passport, drivers' license, vehicle papers, etc) with you in a different place from the originals. If the original should be stolen, take the photocopy to a police station and ask for a declaração or written statement that the originals (same word in Portuguese) of the relevant copies have been roubados or stolen by a ladrão(thief). Take this declaração to the Immigration office where, so long as you have a passport-sized photo of yourself, you can be issued with an emergency travel document. This declaration, as long as it is stamped, will be accepted at roadblocks and border posts and will also facilitate the speedy reissuing of your passport. 

What to bring with you

WATER:        Tap water is not considered to be safe in Mozambique (many tourist resorts have safe borehole water). Bottled water is fairly expensive, so bring along your own supply if you are travelling by car. Boil all water and add purification tablets or Miltons (bleach), if you can stand the chlorine taste.

FOOD:           Bring along powdered or long-life milk, tea bags, jam, honey, breakfast cereals, dried fruit, condiments, cheese, soups, chocolates and sweets. Outside of Maputo and Beira, all processed foods are in short supply or are very expensive if available.

CLOTHES:   The summer (September to May) weather is usually warm enough for you to be comfortable with a thin sweater even in the middle of the night, so leave behind your bulky down sleeping bag and get yourself a light cotton sheet. Temperatures can drop down to single figures in winter so be prepared. The cyclone season is from November to May; the uncomfortably hot (unless you are on a beach) season from October to May and the mosquitoes reach their peak along the coast between January and June.

The sun is very fierce, so bring along a bucket-load of sunscreen, particularly if on doxycyline anti-malarial which causes very uncomfortable photo (light) sensitivity. It can get quite cold in parts of Niassa province or around the Chimanimani Mountains, so if you might end up in these areas, carry warm trousers and a coat.

Lightweight cotton clothing is most sensible, with the addition of a raincoat for summer and a warm jacket and tracksuit for the winter. Many visitors require nothing but their swimming costume and capulana (elsewhere known as sarong, kikoyi, kanga and zambia) during the day. Slip-slops (thongs or sandals) and a beach umbrella will be useful and do bring along a few semi-formal outfits for the nightclubs and more exclusive restaurants.

MEDICAL: Anti-malaria tablets, mosquito repellent, mosquito net, antihistamine cream, antibiotic cream, diarrhoea pills, fungal cream, air-freshener (for some of the loos), baby powder, plasters, scissors, tweezers and clinical thermometer (to be used whenever you feel down, as it may be the first signs of malaria).  If heading for very remote areas where outside assistance will not be available, take along a comprehensive medical kit such as that supplied by Lottering Medical Kits: www.lottering.com, tel/fax: South Africa (053) 861 3521. 

REFUSE BAGS: There is a shortage of dust-bins around Mozambique and in rural villages litter is simply thrown into the bush, so bring your own refuse bags along with you and drop off your refuse in the towns.

Carry with you

IN A POCKET: A small amount of meticais and a notarised (at a local Mozambican office) copy of you passport

IN A DAY BACKPACK: Guidebook, map, bottled water, toilet paper, pen and paper, calculator (to aid in bargaining and exchanging cash), flashlight and a small scale for weighing fish when buying them on the beach.

IN A MONEY BELT (only if you cannot leave them anywhere safer): Foreign currency, traveller’s cheques, passport, driver’s licence and keys. Wear your money belt under your clothes at all times.

Remember that cameras, bags, backpacks and bulging pockets attract attention from thieves, so beware in crowds and badly lit or deserted areas. Never leave your possessions out of your sight, particularly in the cities of Maputo, Beira and Nampula.

 

Eating and drinking

Food is usually more spicy in Mozambique when compared with other countries in southern Africa. The compelling combination of Arab, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese dishes allows the visitor interesting choices when it comes to filling a hole in the stomach. With a coastline that is over 2 500 kilometres long, seafood naturally forms a major part of the local diet and freshly caught fish is sold on the beaches and at the markets of all the coastal villages and towns. The availability of fruit and vegetables is dictated by season as well as by regional climatic influences and soil type.

From Inhambane northwards coconut groves dominate the landscape, while Zambezia province is famous for its pineapples, Manica for its Mangos, Nampula for its cashews, Niassa for its beans and Cabo Delgado for its papayas. As a general rule, the prices of food increase the further south you go, while the variety increases in the opposite direction.

Delicious freshly baked white bread (pão) is available even in the most out of the way places; so, as long as you always carry something tasty to spread on that warm loaf, you need never go hungry.

Mozambique imports almost all of its manufactured and processed goods and food, making these more expensive than in neighbouring countries. Sugar, tea, breakfast cereals, milk and other dairy produce, fresh meat, sweets and chocolates, plastic bags and containers and disposable nappies (diapers) are usually in short supply or very expensive.

There are well-stocked but expensive supermarkets (supermercados) and shops (lojas) in the larger towns, while the open-air and municipal markets (mercados) sell a surprising array of imported and local products.

Although prices at restaurants and cafés are generally reasonable, it is much less expensive to purchase fresh produce at one of the many markets (which are far cheaper than supermarkets) and to prepare meals for your self. Alternatively, try some of the wholesome simple dishes on offer at small quiosques and barracas at the market places.

If you are cooking for yourself, all meat, poultry and fish should be bought alive, cleaned, and then well cooked to avoid stomach bugs. Fresh fish will have eyes that bulge and are shiny, and look out for cysts in meat. Remember too that shellfish, fruit vegetables and salads that are cleaned in infected water can be responsible for transmitting hepatitis and cholera. Locally produced fresh milk must be boiled, as usually it is not pasteurised.

Carry your own cooking pot, plate, mug, tin opener and eating utensils if you are planning to travel away from the larger towns.

If you consider that the average wage in Mozambique (for the few who have jobs) is Mt200 000 (R87, US$12) per month, you will realise that, if cooking for yourself, it must be possible to manage on a food budget of around Mt25 000 per day.

Municipal water in Maputo may ‘officially’ be safe to drink, but it is still good practice to boil all water, or to buy bottled water, which is slightly cheaper and much healthier than having to drink cool drinks incessantly. Inquire locally outside Maputo as some resorts may supply boiled or chlorinated drinking water and many villages have sealed wells with a hand-pump. Beer and cool drinks are available everywhere - there is scarcely a corner of the country where you won’t find small boys selling cold cans from cooler boxes.

Tinned coldrinks cost Mt10 000 (R4, US$0.60)) upwards, while the locally produced bottled refrescos are cheaper but can be more difficult to find and cannot be taken away. The word for beer in Portuguese is cerveja and locally brewed brands ( 2M (dois em), Manica and Laurentina) are cerveja nacional.

Prices for a 340 ml can or bottle of beer range from Mt15 000 for Laurentina Export at the Hotel Central near the Maputo railway station, to U.S.$3 for a Castle Lager at the Hotel Polana on Av. Julius Nyerere.

 

 

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