July, 2017: Ahh Mozambique….is it just us or does the name alone sound exotic? Steamy forests, colourful villages and golden beaches were all things that sprung to mind when we thought of Mozambique. However, during our time in South Africa and Lesotho we didn’t hear much good of the place at all. From several sources we heard tales of rampant police corruption, a rather sketchy capital and all in all, really nothing special. But, what about Mozambique beaches we asked? ‘Well yes, Mozambique beaches are OK but you’ll find better further north.’ Thankfully we didn’t listen too hard to this advice and in the end, our desire to spend a few lazy days having a Mozambique beach holiday won the debate. What we found was an amazingly friendly country with stunning white sandy beaches, crazy good seafood and prices which were bang on for our overlander’s budget. I mean, what else do you want? This is our mini guide to a Mozambique beach holiday for the budget conscious camper.
A quick bit of background on Mozambique
Mozambique is a long, fairly skinny country which runs the south east coast of the African continent. Tanzania is to the north, South Africa and Swaziland to the south and to the west is Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Like much of Africa it has a fairly dark history dogged by slavery, colonial conquest and then a vicious civil war. From around the 11th century, Arab, Persian and Somali merchants plied their trade down the north coast, mixing with the indigenous tribes and forming a fairly distinct Swahili culture. Then in the 15th century the Portuguese arrived establishing a colony that would last until 1975 when the country would reclaim it’s independence. For the next 20 odd years Mozambique struggled with a vicious civil war, crumbling infrastructure and economic collapse. In 1992 a peace accord was signed bringing the civil war to an end and kicking off the redevelopment of modern day Mozambique.
The Mozambique that we found
As above, we weren’t exactly flooded with recommendations about Mozambique and for the life of us we don’t know why. We ended up spending 10 days there and had the best time. Sure the roads are a bit average, the drivers are a bit crazy and there is crushing poverty. But, the locals are super warm and friendly, the towns have a faded colonial elegance, the food is great and the Mozambique beaches, well they’re awesome. And, thankfully the most police corruption we saw was when a somewhat shy, middle aged policewoman asked if we had any ‘sweeties’ that she could have. We left feeling that Mozambique had been given a bit of a raw deal by those we had spoken to prior to arriving. We also felt that we could spend A LOT more time exploring the Mozambique beaches and eating glorious seafood. About those beaches….
Our Mozambique beach holiday
Arguably Zavora was our favourite stop on the tour. It’s a small little village / beach resort / scuba centra ~15km off the main highway with one of our favourite camp spots in all of Africa at Zavora Lodge. The lodge has a larger camp site sheltered down behind a sand dune but we were lucky enough to get a spot at the smaller camp right above the beach. If you’re not into blustery sea breezes you might prefer the sheltered camp but we were all about getting the amazing view. We were able to park Bertha (our Land Cruiser) facing so each morning we could sit up in bed and look straight at the beach below.
The facilities were basic but everything you want with a barbecue stand, free electricity, a private covered area and warm showers all for a very reasonable MZN1050 per night for the two of us. The resort has apparently seen better days and is a bit shabby in parts but the staff are friendly, the food from the restaurant cheap and delicious and the beer is ice cold. You can also organise scuba trips, sailing trips and fishing expeditions with the guys at reception.
The beach at Zavora is long, golden and empty, stretching from a fishing boat strewn headland at one end to miles and miles of uninterrupted sand at the other. You can buy cheap and VERY fresh seafood straight from the fisherman (be prepared to bargain) to cook on your barbecue or just lie back and enjoy the sun (we did both). All in all, Zavora had everything we wanted for our budget friendly Mozambique beach holiday.
118km north of Zavora and just outside the ramshackle old colonial port of Inhambane is the more touristy town of Tofo. Backpacker resorts sit beside more upmarket boutique type hotels, there are several scuba operations and plenty of restaurants stretched out across a long curving bay. While Tofo certainly had the most western tourists we found in Mozambique there were also plenty of local families enjoying the beach. It had a buzzing kind of atmosphere and if we had more time could have easily imagined settling for a good few days. We had hoped to go diving with whale sharks and giant manta rays at Tofo but alas arrived to sh*tty weather, rough seas and none of the aforementioned mega fauna. Indeed our first dive had to be aborted after strong currents separated our group and we lost our dive master.
We camped at Fatima’s Nest Backpackers which had a fairly large, secure camp ground just back from the beach. While it was another friendly spot with a great backpacker’s bar, the camping facilities were relatively average. The shared kitchen was pretty grotty and the ablution block nothing special and infested with mosquitos. But, at MZN600/night for the two of us, it was cheap and secure. We dived with Tofo Scuba who ran a fairly well organised operation but weren’t that cheap at MZN6400 for a one tank dive (including a small discount for staying at Fatima’s). As usual, dives get cheaper the more you do but I think we wished we had just done one of their Ocean Safaris. This is where you go in search of and hopefully snorkelling with whale sharks and giant mantas. Having said, the ocean was so rough when we were there that an Ocean Safari wouldn’t have been an option any way.
At recommendation from some German’s we kept bumping into, our third Mozambique beach stop was at Morrungulo Beach Lodge. Morrungulo is a lovely lodge set right on a beautiful stretch of beach. There are a range of accommodation options from private chalets, to an upmarket villa plus beach side camping. While the camping area was only metres from the beach and set in a lovely coconut grove, at MZN1560 for an unpowered site we thought it was fairly overpriced. We could have had a site right on the beach with a powered, thatched hut for our own private use but the additional cost was way more than we were willing to pay. On the plus side, the ablution block was nice and clean and the showers were hot. In the end though, we decided it was all too pricey so only stayed one night before continuing on to Vilanculos.
Vilanculos and beautiful Bazaruto
Vilanculos is a buzzing little place and the launching point for tours to the stunning Bazaruto National Park. The Vilanculos beach itself isn’t the most amazing but it does provide a great spot to watch the comings and goings of the locals. Each morning the feluccas (traditional Arabic style, wooden sailing boats) return from a nights fishing kicking off a raucous, beach side fish market. The day’s catch is laid out for all to see and the local women haggle hard for the best prices. As the day wears on and the tide goes out, the boats are gradually stranded in the sand and games of beach soccer and volleyball kick off. We had been warned off Vilanculos due to too many people and too much noise but we loved it. Sure it was a bit touristy and the locals trying to sell you overpriced fish and generic jewellery could be trying, but, at the same time it felt great to be in amongst the locals. In Zavora and Morrungulo we had felt a bit separated from the local culture but at Vilanculos we were right in amongst it and couldn’t have been happier.
Bazaruto is an island set in the midst of an archipelago and national park of the same name a short boat ride from Vilanculos. It’s a paradise of the whitest, finest sand set against the most dazzling shades of blue water imaginable. Beneath the waves are reefs teaming with colourful coral, loads of fish and even the odd turtle. We had read about Bazaruto but were really quite blown away by the reality. It was one of those awesome occasions when the reality far exceeds expectations. Stay tuned for more detail on our awesome Bazaruto tour.
We camped at Baobab Beach Backpackers in Vilanculos and thought it was pretty quality. The secured camp site is set back from the beach in the shade of the giant baobab which is the place’s namesake. Electricity is free and the donkey* fired showers are hot (in the afternoon at least). Camping was MZN800 per night for the two of us. The one down side of the place is it can be a bit noisy. The music at the onsite bar goes to around midnight and we were there on the weekend so various local parties seemed to be raging close by. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed our few nights.
*NOTE: Donkey fired hot water systems are fairly common through Africa. They consist of a 44 gallon metal drum suspended over a wood fire. Cold water is fed in and regulated by a float valve while the hot water is fed into the showers.