This chapter suggests ways of avoiding the possible pitfalls and frustrations of travelling in a country where distances between places of interest are great, public transport is limited, credit cards are rarely accepted, Taveller’s Cheques are almost useless, English is not widely spoken and the risk of contracting malaria is high if the necessary precautions are not taken.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why visit Mozambique?
The more I travel the more I am surprised by the diversity of the landscapes and humbled by the friendliness of the people.
When is it best to go?
Although showers are possible throughout the year, the rainy (and hottest) season is from around December to around May and this is also when the risk of malaria is at its highest. Many routes north of Beira become impassable during the rains, but most resorts in southern Mozambique are accessible year-round.
What bits of advice do you consider to be most important?
By law everyone must always carry some form of identification. To avoid your precious passport or drivers' license falling prey to pick-pockets or bribe-seeking police, make notarised copies of all your documents and then carry these with you instead. Carry spare passport-sized photos - they can be very handy if your passport disappears (see also If your documents are stolen). Government officials and waiters are notoriously bad at calculating or providing change, so carry enough small notes and coins (in Meticais) to be able to pay exact amounts.
What is the best way to prevent malaria and what about the side effects of the tablets?
Short of staying out of Mozambique (the entire country is malarious), you must take a suitable prophylactic. Consult the experts: www.malaria.co.za or tel. Johannesburg (011) 807 3132, cover up dusk to dawn (wear boots – most bites are on the ankles) and use repellent and (most importantly) sleep under a net or in a tent with sewn-in groundsheet. Anti-malaria tablets do sometimes have various side-effects (a side-effect of malaria is death) but each individual is affected differently so take a few doses well before you go to find out what agrees with you best. I use doxycycline, and my 8-year-old son takes Mefliam.
Can I use my credit card and change Travellers’ Cheques?
VISA credit cards can be used at the more upmarket hotels and restaurants in Maputo, Beira, Pemba and at most of the more expensive lodges up the coast to Vilankulo (enquire when booking). As long as you have had a PIN number loaded you can get cash at ATM’s or get a cash advance (up to the equivalent in Meticais of US$500) from branches of the Banco International de Moçambique (B.I.M) in Maputo, Xai-Xai, Maxixe, Beira, Chimoio, Tete, Quelimane, Nampula, Nacala and Pemba. American Express Travelers' Cheques in US$ can also be exchanged at BIM, BUT AT A MINIMUM COMMISSION OF US$50.
What currency is it best to carry?
With the plethora of South African owned lodges and the influx of hundreds of thousands of South African tourists, the rand has just about become the currency of choice in Mozambique south of the Save river. Also in demand is US$ cash in small denominations ($50 and $100 dollar notes can be difficult to change). SA rands easily exchanged from Beira southwards.
Is it cheap to travel in Mozambique?
The present exchange rate is Mt3600 to the SA Rand and Mt24 300 to the US$. Prices of food (at markets), transport and accommodation may be lower than in ‘developed’ countries, but when compared with South Africa, for example, Mozambique is a fairly expensive country. If you are camping, self-catering and/or using public transport, expect to spend about R200 (US$30) per day. If touring in your own car (petrol or gasolina is Mt26 000, diesel or gasóleo is Mt24 000 per litre) staying at self-catering chalets and eating one meal at a restaurant per day, budget on R350 (US$55) per day. For fly-in folk, lodges range from US$100 to $400 per day.
How much time will I need to see the whole country (comprehensively)?
In your own (or hired) 4x4 vehicle, about 4 weeks, using public transport, about 6 weeks. Shorter if you leave out the inland provinces of Manica, Tete and Niassa. You can cover Maputo to Vilankulo in your own car or using public transport quite well in 2 weeks.
Is Mozambique safe?
If you envisage having unprotected sex, taking no precautions against malaria, ignoring local advice about the localities of landmines and insisting on driving over 60 kph at night, then Mozambique is a very risky place. At all times beware of muggers in the bigger cities and petty thieving almost everywhere. Note that it is essential to carry a medical evacuation insurance. South Africa has excellent private hospitals (for trauma you can do no better than the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg tel + 27 11 – 480 5600, www.netcare.co.za)
Can I take a hired vehicle into Mozambique?
Do I need a ‘Carnet de Passage’ for my vehicle?
No, but you will need the original vehicle registration papers (notarised copies usually acceptable) and a letter of authorization from the registered owner. All land borders issue a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) that costs around Mt25 000 – payable in meticais only. Have your documents ready to hand as you may be asked for these by the white-shirted transit police.
What should I do if my car breaks down?
If you have a cellphone (and reception) phone the nearest lodge (I assuming that you have a guidebook such as Globetrotter Guide to Mozambique). If alone with no phone (it is advisable to travel together with other vehicles) take all valuables and immediately hitch or catch public transport to the nearest tourist facility and arrange a tow back. Once occupants and vehicle are safe, see if repairs can be done locally or contact Wessel of Corridor Workshop, Komatipoort, tel. (013) 790 7978, mobile (cell) 082 631 6664 who will arrange a recovery back to South Africa.
What inoculations are required or advisable?
If coming from an infected area a Yellow-Fever Inoculation certificate is required. If you are likely to come into close contact with the local population for long periods, then Hepatitis A, Typhoid, T.B, Meningitis, Polio, Rabies and Tetanus shots could be advisable - ask your doctor.
Isn’t Mozambique full of landmines?
Land-mine clearing operations are continuing, however the number of mines planted appears to have been exaggerated. Do not wander off well-used routes or into the bush on the roadside. Always rely on local advice (take along a local guide when walking or driving ‘off the beaten track’.
Is it safe for a lone female traveller?
A large proportion of travellers using public transport are other local women who will take you under their wing. Mozambican men can be fairly chauvinistic so if you do not have male company expect some stares at restaurants and unwelcome (perhaps) approaches at bars and nightclubs.
How and where do I get a visa, how long does it take to be issued and what does it cost?
Genuine visas are now issued at all ‘Airports of Entry’ and almost all borders. Recently the visa requirement for South Africans was dropped, but everyone else (apart from Malawians) needs a visa to enter Mozambique. Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your date of exit. Service at consulates in South Africa has improved since the dropping of visas for South Africans, but still ranges from disgraceful to adequate so it may be prudent to make use of a visa service. Mozambique has a consulate or embassy in many European countries, the USA and most east and southern African countries, with requirements varying so enquire first. Charges range from £20 (London) to R45 (Johannesburg) for a single-entry 30-day tourist visa, one-week delay. You will usually need photocopies of your passport details and two B&W or colour passport photos. Try Travel Document Systems (TDS) which provides information (not always up-to-date) and assists in obtaining visas: www.traveldocs.com/mz/index.htm
Can I use my mobile (cell) phone?
The GSM900 network now covers the following areas: Ressano Garcia to Maputo, Maputo as far north as Massinga along the main coastal road (the E.N.1), and in and around Ponta do Ouro, Bilene, Inhambane, Vilankulo, Inhassoro, Inchope, Chimoio, Nampula, Beira, Tete, Nacala, Chimoio (and surrounds). There is a roaming agreement between South Africa and Mozambique, as well as with many other countries, so contact your service provider for advice. If you don’t have international roaming buy an Mcel starter pack (Giro – Pronto a Falar) which is sold almost everywhere, even at the most basic of roadside stalls (barracas). For coverage maps see www.mcel.co.mz Vodacom also operate in Mozambique, see www.vm.co.mz for their coverage maps.
Where can I get access to the Internet?
The main service provider is Teledata: www.teledata.mz . Maputo has an Internet Café on Av Julius Nyerere next to Mundo’s called Connection Time: www.connectiontime.com . In other main towns go to the Telecommunicações (public telephone) office as most now offer Internet services. In Chimoio the telephone office is in the Complexo Shoprite on the main road to Beira, just south of town.
Should I pack a tent?
The inner section of most tents makes the most effective mosquito net and as Mozambique is a beach destination, camping is a good, cheaper (and sometimes only) option. Where there is no campsite, ask for the local regulo, chefe or Nfumo, and indicate that you would like to camp – the community will look after you.
Is fuel readily available and what does it cost?
Diesel (gasoléo) and petrol (gasolina) are readily available in the provincial capitals as well as along the main routes. In remote areas diesel is far easier to find than petrol. Where there are no service stations, try at the roadside barracas (stalls) or at the 'mercado' (market) and/or speak to the transport and bus drivers. Fuel is cheapest in Maputo, Beira, Quelimane and Nacala and increases in price with distance from these ports. Diesel costs Mt23 000 (SAR6.40, US$0.95), petrol Mt25 000 (SAR6.90, US$1) and paraffin (petroléo) Mt12 500 (SAR3.45, US$0.50) per litre.
How much should I budget daily?
The present exchange rate is Mt3600 to the SA Rand and Mt24000 to the US$. Accommodation (including camping) and meals are more expensive than in South Africa, Zimbabwe or Malawi. Campers (backpackers) should expect to spend US$30 (R200) and campers (own vehicle - including fuel), US$50 (R350) per day eating, sleeping and drinking. For basic accommodation: huts(palhotas) add US$15 (R100) and for mid-range chalets (casas) add US$20 (R150) per person per day. Hotel prices (cities only) and lodges range from US$35 (R200) - $350 (R2275) per person per day.
Once in Mozambique can my visa be extended?
Tourists can spend up to 90 days per year in the country, but you will have to have your 30-day visa extended at an Imigração office in a provincial capital and many large towns.
Is the water safe to drink?
Municipal tap water should be avoided so drink bottled (Mt15 000/litre) or boiled and filtered water in cities and towns. Most tourist lodges and campsites pump water from boreholes and this should be fine but ask the management first.
What should be in my first aid kit?
Anti-malaria and treatment (quinine and fansidar) tablets, mosquito repellent, antihistamine cream, antibiotic cream and tablets, diarrhoea pills, de-worming pills (vermox), fungal cream, baby powder, plasters, scissors, eye-bath (and sterile water), tweezers and a clinical thermometer (to be used whenever you feel down, as fever may be your first sign of malaria). If heading for very remote areas where outside assistance will not be available or accessible, take along a comprehensive medical kit such as that supplied by Lottering Medical Kits: www.lottering.com, tel/fax: South Africa (+ 27 53) 861 3521.
What to take home
While parts of Mozambique are still the best spots in the world to buy prawns, a very limited shelf life (2-3 hours) makes old prawns good for nothing but attracting flies. Cashew nuts are a better bet if you need to nibble to sustain you during a long bus journey or as a present to impress your family and friends with. Although available throughout Mozambique, best value for money is obtainable at the cashew-processing factory at Monapo between Nampula and Ilha de Moçambique.
Arts and crafts have certainly attracted increasing attention in Mozambique since the return of tourists to this country in 1993. Coming to Mozambique and leaving without a colourful capulana, a Makonde statuette or a Malangatana painting (if you can afford it) would be like visiting Italy and not eating pasta. Although the Makonde group originates from a very limited area straddling the Rovuma River in Cabo Delgado province and Tanzania, Makonde co-operatives have been set up in Maputo, Beira, Nampula, Pemba and Mueda (the Makonde ‘capital’). Prices depend on the fame of the artist, the quality and size of the piece of wood used and the degree of intricacy inherent in the sculpture.
Mozambican painters are producing works that are presently highly coveted by some of the world’s art collectors. Although brightly coloured romanticised depictions of local scenery are enthusiastically produced by amateur artists even in the most unlikely corners of the country, watch out for names like Malangatana, Fatima (at Pemba or on Wimbe Beach), the Fundação Chissano Gallery at Matola near Maputo, Jorge Almeida and Luis Souto at the Co-operativa Alpha in Maputo, Conde and Paulo Soares at the Muséu Nacional de Arte, Maputo.
Beautifully woven baskets, bags, hats and furniture are sold on many of the main national routes, in the parts of towns most frequented by visitors (e.g. next to the Café Continental and close to the Hotel Polana on Av. Julius Nyerere in Maputo) and at the mercados – Inhambane has excellent woven products.
Silver jewellery is crafted by traditional smiths on Ilha de Moçambique in the crowded bairros) and Ilha de Ibo (in the fortress and in a house near the main market [mercado]). The genuine article (much is in fact made from nickel and tin) is made from melted-down, old Portuguese coins.
- 1 JANUARY: New Year’s Day
- 3 FEBRUARY: Heroes’ Day (death of the first Mozambican president, Eduardo Mondlane)
- 7 APRIL: Women’s Day (the date Josina Machel died)
- 1 MAY: Workers’ Day
- 25 JUNE: Independence Day
- 7 SEPTEMBER: Victory Day (the date of the Lusaka Accord, when the Portuguese agreed to independence)
- 25 SEPTEMBER: Armed Forces Day
- 19 OCTOBER: Samora Machel Day
- 10 NOVEMBER: Maputo Day (in Maputo only)
- 25 DECEMBER: Family Day (Christmas Day)
Easter and Boxing Day (26 December) are at present not official public holidays, but this may be changed. Islamic holidays, although not officially recognised, are observed by Muslim communities (who make up the bulk of the retail sector, so many stores may be closed).
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