Mozambique is my new favourite country.

Before I arrived, I had no idea what to expect from this little-visited Southern African spot and if I’m being honest, I was filled with trepidation. I had zero experience travelling Sub-Saharan Africa and the prospect of taking my first steps into the region (and doing so alone) was intimidating.

Especially because when I started researching travel in Mozambique online, I quickly realised just how few travel bloggers have been to Mozambique, how few trip reports there are, and how, if you venture into forums, you’ll find dozens of people announcing how unsafe it is and how, under no circumstances, should any woman travel there alone.

So I packed my bags and went anyway, because one of my favourite things to do when I travel is to shatter perceptions of a place.

And Mozambique? It’s perfectly safe for women travelling alone. It’s beautiful. It’s exciting. It makes you feel adventurous. It makes you feel alive. The locals are welcoming. The food is delicious. The beaches are out of this world.

The travel may be tougher here, but the rewards are far greater.

I tiptoed into Mozambique, wondering whether I’d be fleeing to South Africa in just a few days, but instead had to drag myself out of the country several weeks later. I can’t wait to return.

This is what it’s like to travel in Mozambique.

Street in Tofo

A sandy street in the backpacker hangout of Tofo. Wander around here in the mornings, when everyone is sleeping off their hangovers, and you’ll barely see another person!

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Confession: I was terrified when I arrived in Maputo.

It wasn’t that I had no idea what to expect, but that I had read so many scary pieces online that I was expecting nothing but danger. Let’s a take a look at some of the quotes I stumbled upon, from articles, blog posts and comments in forums:

Criminals are forceful and ruthless, often work in groups, and carry firearms. Expats and tourists have been targeted in the past, so be sure not to display any signs of wealth: jewelry, running shoes, cameras and purses should be left in the hotel or hidden extremely well.

Women should never walk alone on the beach or take the bus unaccompanied. Unfortunately, attacks on female tourists have been increasing.

I dont think it is really safe for a woman to travel alone anywhere in Africa

Parents, DO NOT let your children travel to Africa!

[On a backpacker who was murdered in Mozambique:] I feel absolutely terrible for the family. But I am sure the Father would have cautioned against such travel but was shouted / nagged down by the over empowered feminist movement, brain-washed females in his family.

I had a very rough start. Within hours of my arrival in Chimoio I was cheated by moneychangers, had my laptop stolen in a hostel, had to abandon a horrid bus where we were squashed like sardines with stereo blasting. To top things off I was unable to get cash since ATMs very randomly accept cards in Mozambique.

I wouldn’t recommend it. I did it a few years ago with my then Girlfriend. In the capital Maputo the hostel had guards on the gate to make sure no-one broke in. Armed guards at the ATM too.

Does that sound like a country you’d want to visit? Yeah, me neither.

So, why did I go? Well, mostly because I’d already paid for my flights and didn’t want to lose money on them. But also because I love getting to show the reality of places around the world. And in amongst the horror stories I found online, there were just as many gushing reports of life-changing trips in a beautiful country full of welcoming locals.

So I went, and you know what? I felt just as safe in Mozambique as I do in many places in the world. I wandered on the beaches on my own and only ran into locals who wanted to show me around. I carried my camera and my phone in a bag and took photos and wasn’t mugged. It’s all anecdotal, sure, but I didn’t feel like I was travelling in some kind of dangerous, lawless country. I felt safe and welcomed in Mozambique — it felt no different to wandering around in Southeast Asia.

I learned a valuable lesson here, in not believing everything you read about a place, and the importance of checking it out with your own eyes before making a judgment. Don’t let the fear-mongering online put you off visiting Mozambique — I felt less safe in South Africa, which is a place most people wouldn’t have any qualms about visiting.

Beach views from my hotel in Tofo

Beach views from my hotel in Tofo

The Visa is Awful to Get if You Won’t Be Travelling Overland

I’ve never written a guide for applying for a visa on this site before, but I’m in the process of finishing up one for Mozambique. Why? Because the entire process was complicated, frustrating, and wholly unclear. It was so bad that I started my application process over a month before my departure date and had my visa approved the day before I left. Man, that was nerve-wracking!

In a typical example of African bureaucracy, you can easily apply for a visa when traveling overland from South Africa. But when you’re flying in, the official stance is that you need to apply for a visa in advance. And to get said visa, you need to have absolutely everything booked in advance and your confirmations printed out, as well as a whole host of other documents and information. I even had to show a photocopy of my residency certificate for Portugal!

The most frustrating aspect of the entire process is that there’s no clarity surrounding the procedure. Some people claim you don’t need to worry and can get a visa on arrival; some say they were turned away at the airport. Some people say you just need to fill out a form; others needed to have bank statement, flight bookings, hotel bookings, letters of invitation, proof of residency. Some people have been told completely different things by two people at the same embassy.

If you’re heading to Mozambique, allow yourself plenty of time to get the visa and prepare for multiple trips to the embassy.

This was the view I woke up to every morning in Vilanculos: sandbanks for dayyyyys!

Mozambique is Bigger Than You Think

I gave myself two weeks to explore Mozambique and thought that would be enough time to jump my way all along the coast.

Yeah. Mozambique is actually so much bigger than it looks on maps. The coastline, for example, is more than 1500 miles long, which is roughly the same length as the east coast of the U.S.

That’s a whole lot of land to cover and if you’ll be doing it overland, you can expect to spend days travelling from the south to the north. If you’re hoping to fly, you’ll be at the mercy of LAM, the Mozambican airline. Flights are infrequent and illogical, rarely going from where you are to where you want to be, and especially not on the date you want to fly.

When you’re in Mozambique, less is more. Build travel delays into your schedule and aim to spend three-to-five days in each place rather than one or two. I decided to spend my two weeks exploring the south of Mozambique and will save exploring the north for my next visit.

Bazaruto sandbanks from above

Checking out the sandbanks of the Bazaruto Archipelago from above

Traveling in Mozambique Makes You Feel Adventurous

I used to wish that I’d named my blog How Not to Travel, but now that my incidents have lessened in recent years, I find myself instead thinking of my alternative blog title as The Accidental Adventurer. Because that’s what I seem to have become.

The longer I travel, the less fear and apprehension I experience about places around the world, even if I don’t know anyone’s who’s been and can’t find much information online. With the exception of war zones, there aren’t many places I’d think twice about visiting these days.

It means I’ll rock up to somewhere like Mozambique and realise that barely anyone travels alone in this country. The travellers I met were in awe that I was brave enough to visit solo. People would tell me that I was courageous and adventurous, and I’d be there having no idea that me going to Mozambique alone was a Big Deal.

And while I felt safe in Mozambique, there’s no denying that this was some of the most hardcore travel I’ve encountered to date.

It was having to be super-careful with my DSLR and keeping it hidden away and sometimes only snapping photos when nobody was around or tons of people were surrounding me. It was learning that it wasn’t safe to walk anywhere at night and having to take taxis everywhere in the evenings. It was the public chapas — minivan buses that squeeze ten times the capacity into one sweaty, humid box while you bounce over potholed roads for hours at a time. It was not being able to trust the police, because they’re corrupt AF and always looking for a way to extort money from you. It was the ATMs running out of money or not accepting your card. It was seeing literal piles of trash absolutely everywhere you go. It was having to be fearful of malaria and waking up to enormous bugs in your room, no matter how much money you paid for your stay. It was the security guards outside of hostels and hotels and banks and stores.

In Mozambique, things felt rougher around the edges. The travel was more difficult and less comfortable, but was still worth it. It’s definitely not a destination for first-time travellers, though.

Living that digital nomad dream (looking at a beach but being chained to your laptop and unable to enjoy it)

Living that digital nomad dream (looking at a beach but being chained to your laptop and unable to enjoy it)

TAAG is a Good Way to Get There for Cheap

I scored some bargain flights from Angolan airline TAAG, which made it super-affordable to visit Mozambique from Europe. I highly recommend keeping an eye on their flight prices and making note of when they’ll be having any sales. At around $250 return from Lisbon, Mozambique was cheaper to fly to than many European destinations would have been! And Angolan Airlines, despite sounding terrifying, was actually great. My layover in Luanda on the other hand….

Read more about how I find cheap flights around the world.

Tofo beach

Tofo Beach from above. If you visit in low season, you’ll basically have the entire beach to yourself all day!

Low Season is Slow Season

I was concerned about visiting Mozambique in January, the wettest month of the year, but guess how much rain I experienced? One afternoon in Maputo that lasted for an hour, and an overnight thunderstorm in Tofo. That was it! Just like in Southeast Asia, I learned that the rainy season isn’t actually a terrible time to visit: the prices are cheaper, there are fewer tourists, and the rain isn’t frequent enough to spoil your vacation.

The rainy season definitely puts off many travellers in Mozambique, though, because there weren’t many at all. In Maputo, I wandered around for six hours and didn’t see a single white person (not that I’m saying all tourists are white, but y’know, there weren’t very many tourists that looked like me.) In Tofo, I would head down to the huge beach each afternoon and find myself sharing it with maybe… three other people. When eating at restaurants in Vilanculos, my group of friends and I would often be the only people eating in the restaurant.

It sounds kind of boring, but it was actually cool. Imagine going to somewhere like Koh Phi Phi and having the entire place to yourself. In Mozambique, it’s possible!

Empty beach in Tofo, Mozambique

Tofo Beach, which, fun fact, is actually pronounced Tofu by the locals.

Take Your Anti-Malarials

I’d never taken anti-malarial tablets until I went to Mozambique, for the simple reason that none of the countries I was visiting were deemed high-risk, and dengue was more of a problem in them, for which there is no prophylaxis. Given how much time I’ve spent in mosquito danger zones, I’d have most likely ended up taking anti-malarials for years at a time, which wouldn’t have been great for my poor liver. So whenever I was in the tropics, I would make sure to use bug spray, cover up, and attempt to avoid getting bitten as much as possible.

Well, Mozambique is high-high-high risk for malaria. Like, it’s one of the top five countries affected by malaria, with its prevalence ranging from 46% for children in rural areas to 17% in the cities. 26% of hospital deaths in Mozambique are due to malaria and every single local and expat I spoke to had contracted it a dozen times or more. And when I was researching early malaria symptoms, a significant amount of the people commenting in forums had contracted it in Mozambique.

The risk of malaria is real in Mozambique and you can die from it. Anyone who says anti-malarials are worst than malaria itself has never had cerebral malaria, which is a complication of the specific malaria parasite that is most prevalent in Mozambique. Take anti-malarials! Malarone and doxycycline are both effective in Mozambique and I’ve never experienced major side effects with either.

It’s One of the Best Places to Dive on the Planet

Mozambique is all about the megafauna, with tons of whale sharks and manta rays visiting Tofo year round, and dugongs popping up every now and then near Vilanculos. I even got to swim with humpback dolphins on an ocean safari on Tofo!

Let’s be honest: I’m definitely not a diver, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but the vast majority of visitors to Tofo are there for the diving, and everyone I met couldn’t stop gushing about how mind-blowing it was.

For me, I settled with some snorkelling in both Tofo and Vilanculos, and the latter was some of the best of my life. I got to swim with an octopus, trumpetfish, parrotfish, stonefish, and a bunch of other colourful fish that I couldn’t identify but ogled at nonetheless.

Maputo

Welcome to Maputo!

Maputo is a Dump

Oh god, I despised Maputo. I can’t think of a single city in the world I’ve felt this strongly about.

I hate saying that I hated a place, but I really hated Maputo.

I gave myself three days in the capital city, something that drew nothing but winces from fellow travellers when I shared this fact. Quite frankly, it was two days too long, as the vast majority of tourist sites can be seen during a day of wandering. I’d hoped to go to the Maputo Elephant Reserve, but no tour companies would take solo travellers unless I paid double, which would work out to be around $400 to spend half a day driving around. I wanted to take a walking tour of the city, but the tour guide didn’t reply to my email enquiry until after I’d left Maputo.

So, that was fine. I told myself I’d just wander around the city and try to find its heart in amongst the trash. Because damn, Maputo has the worst trash problem I’ve ever experienced. Guys, I’ve spent a lot of time in developing countries and trash doesn’t even bother me — it’s something I rarely notice — but in Maputo it. was. everywhere. On every single street I walked down, even the most popular ones in the centre of the city, it was piled up everywhere. Literally, piled.

The harassment was real and intimidating. Men would drive their cars alongside me, shouting at me and calling me baby, then pull over, get out of the car, and follow me down the road! Practically every single man I passed on the street would call me sister or mama or baby or click his tongue or hiss at me. My guidebook said that walking along the red light distract during the day was safe and interesting, but it resulted in nothing a bunch of prostitutes screaming at me.

The most touristy things to do in the city weren’t even that great, which made the sightseeing boring. Basically, I ended up feeling like there was nothing of interest to see, the harassment was intimidating, and I spent most of the time hiding and recovering in my room.

If you go to Mozambique, aim to spend no more than a day in Maputo. The best parts of the country are elsewhere.

Beach in Vilanculos

Beach in Vilanculos at low tide.

The Beaches are Spectacular

Mozambique has some of the best beaches in the world, and the absolute best thing about them is that on most of them, you’ll have them all to yourself!

My favourite beaches were in Vilanculos and the Bazaruto Archipelago. This part of Mozambique is all about the sandbanks, and at low tide, you can walk out across them for hours if you wanted. It’s like being on another planet.

vilanculos island

Beach wanderings on a private island close to Vilanculos

You Can Get By Without Speaking Portuguese

I was concerned about my lack of Portuguese language skills beyond the restaurant Portuguese I use in Lisbon, but I needn’t have worried. I encountered zero language barriers within the country and 95% of the people I ran into spoke great English.

It’s supposedly harder to find English speakers in the lesser-visited north of the country, but if you stick to the south, you won’t need to worry about learning more than a few vital words.

baobab backpackers

The hut I stayed in at Baobab Backpackers, in Vilanculos

Chapas Will Make You Cry Sweat, But There are Alternatives

Imagine a humid minivan with terrible suspension, bumping its way along pot-holed roads on a thirty degree day. Now imagine filling it with 10 times more people than the recommended capacity, until you’re all packed in the back like sweaty sardines. Maybe throw a child on your lap and some smelly food in there, too. Now, get the driver to rip you off on the price and have the local men start calling you baby and asking if you can take them back home with you.

That’s a chapa and it’s the easiest way to get around the country. They are also awful, so don’t be surprised if after your first ride, you swear off them and opt for flights and private transfers to get around. Which is exactly what I did.

sunrise in mozambique

Catching the sunrise on my final morning in Mozambique

It’s Pretty Affordable

I wasn’t sure what to expect for affordability in Mozambique, as Africa isn’t the most inexpensive of continents, but I ended up pleasantly surprised.

Accommodation is where most of your money will go in Mozambique, unless you’re cool with dorm rooms. For a basic room in a guesthouse in Maputo, I paid $32 a night, for a fancy resort stay in Tofo that was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in, I paid $63 a night, and for a private room in a backpacker hostel in Vilanculos, I paid $28 a night, although they had dorms there for as little as $9 a night.

Transportation varies depending on your level of comfort. If you wanted to travel between Tofo and Vilanculos, you could pay $3.50 to take several chapas and a ferry, $100 to hire a private driver to take you there, or $80 to fly there. Some people opt to hitchhike in Mozambique without a problem, but I didn’t try it while I was there.

And food is cheap, cheap, cheap! You can expect to pay around $2-3 a meal, or $10 if you’re in a fancy, sit-down restaurant for tourists. A beer is a couple of dollars.

Activities can be pretty pricey, depending on where you book them and how many people you’re traveling with. I had to turn down a lot of activities I was excited for because as a lone traveller, I was told I’d have to pay double to take any tours. It’s therefore best to stay in hostels and take their tours if you’re travelling alone. For a snorkelling ocean safari in Tofo, I paid $35, and for a day in the Bazaruto Archipelago, I paid $50.

It’s Safe for Solo Women Travellers

I really wasn’t sure what the demographics of travellers to Mozambique would be, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a mix of ages, travel styles, and races. And while I was one of the very few solo female travellers in the country, it was easy to make friends and I felt as safe as I do in Southeast Asia (very). I will say that I felt least safe in Maputo, even though nothing bad happened to me there, but the levels of harassment were intense.

What you can expect as a solo traveller in Mozambique, especially if you’re white like me, and especially especially if you’re blonde, is a lot of attention. For the most part, though, it’s totally harmless, and most dudes just want to chat and flirt with you.

Stay tuned for an entire post dedicated to solo female travel in Mozambique!

You’ll Still Want to Get Good Travel Insurance

All I can offer is anecdotes, but even with my fantastic experiences, Mozambique is still more of a hardcore travel destination and there are horror stories online.

For the first time since starting travelling, I shelled out for the most expensive travel insurance option with World Nomads that I could buy. I also, for the first time ever, paid to cover some personal items, as I was going to be travelling with both my Macbook Pro and Sony A7ii camera, and didn’t want to have to pay to replace them. For most travellers, the worst that will happen in Mozambique is that they’ll be robbed, so I do recommend covering your personal items with travel insurance if you’re going to be travelling with a lot of technology.

Mozambique: One of My New Favourite Countries!

I love, love, loved my time in Mozambique and I’m already planning my return trip.

The beaches are wonderful, the locals are friendly, the food is delicious, and did I mention the beaches? It’s worth going to Mozambique just for them.

 

Have you been to Mozambique? If not, would you like to go one day?