Occupying a great bend of East Africa, where the tropical heart of the continent slowly becomes the temperate south of the continent, the vast nation of Mozambique certainly has its fair share of touristic draws. Along the coast you’ll find alabaster-white sands with a fringing of palm trees; you’ll spot curious manatee-like creatures in the company of blooming coral sponges in the warm Indian Ocean waters. And as the interior takes over – a patchwork of swaying savannah grasses and baobab forests – the habitats of the famous Rift Valley begin in earnest.
There, it’s all about the hopping gazelles and the elephants, the sculpted highlands of Zambezia, and the earthy tribal villages of the native folks. And who’s forgetting Mozambique’s enthralling capital? That Maputo is a pulse of life, beating with jazz and reggae and flavoured with just a taste of Portuguese charm. (After a lengthy civil war, hopes were high that the nation would stabilise and open for good, but recent upheavals have wobbled expectations – so be sure to check ahead for FCO warnings and the like.)
Lets explore the best places to visit in Mozambique:
1. Bazaruto Archipelago
There’s nothing quite like the Bazaruto Archipelago. A speckling of elongated isles in the Indian Ocean, they are a patchwork of shimmering, aquamarine seas and coral gardens, windblown sand dunes and ochre-hued coastal hills that come peppered with scrub and swaying coconut palm groves.
The largest island of the area (called, simply, just Bazaruto) is a place of open sandy bays patrolled by galumphing dugong, while the inland is carved through by karst hills and boulder stones. A little to the south and you’ll find the paradisiacal reaches of the Ilha de Benguerra, where luxurious honeymoon hotels poke above the white sands in a medley of swinging hammocks and sunning decks.
Mozambique’s handsome capital is a lesson in all things colonial. It was raised to the place of first city after the Portuguese drained the surrounding swampland.
Then it was just a case of building the grand, imperial likes of the railway station, the pretty Casa do Ferro (courtesy of one Gustav Eiffel no less!) and rings of wide boulevards peppered with palm trees a la the Algarve – bingo you’ve got yourself a small enclave of Europe in Africa! However, Maputo has long been reclaimed by the locals here, and today the town is known for its enthralling bazaars that pulse with chatter and burst with East African batik, its raucous hip hop bars, and that mouthwatering fusion of Keralan and Arabic foods in the eateries!
Pemba crowns the tip of its very own peninsular on the coastal reaches of Cabo Delgado.
Known for its gorgeous colonial architecture and pretty Portuguese-style frontispieces, it does well to conceal the more industrial areas that have popped up here of late.
However, the city never really was the pull.
That honour goes to the strings of pearly-white African beaches that run along the shoreline nearby.
These magnetise huge crowds with their tropical sun and swaying palms, while the shimmering (and naturally deep) waters of Pemba Bay have become a mecca for SCUBA divers.
You can also come and visit rustic fishing villages between the coves of Ibo Island, hit the beautiful Quirimbas National Park, wander between forests of great baobabs, or see the sobering remnants of the slave trade at Ponta Romero.
4. Gorongosa National Park
Marking the deep southern reaches of the East African Rift Valley, the dry and dusty landscapes of the Gorongosa National Park occupy the very heart of Mozambique.
In fact, the rolling savannah and grassy hills here have been a designated reserve since the days of Portuguese rule, when they were a private game reserve for the colonial luminaries of the day.
In the 60s the spot was converted into a fully-fledged national park, and now it’s hailed as perhaps the finest safari destination in the country.
Head here to seek out bouncing bushbuck, elephant herds, waterbucks, crowned cranes, wild warthogs and more!
A wide and sunny arc of powdery beige sand carves its way along the shoreline to the north and south of tropical Tofo.
Meanwhile, the turquoise-blue rollers of the Indian Ocean buffet the bays, snorkelers and swimmers whiz through the shallows, and bobbing fishing skiffs house smiling locals.
Laid-back life mixed with the heady after-dark atmosphere of the half-Rasta beach bars of Tofo town make this all nearly irresistible for travelers in search of sun, sand, sea and relaxation.
It’s no wonder the popular town on the coastal bends of Jangamo District is being touted by some as the next Goa!
6. Quirimbas National Park
The Quirimbas National Park is the great natural jewel of Cabo Delgado Province.
It spills down from Mozambique’s northern mountain plateaux and into the waters of the Indian Ocean.
Along the way there are great swathes of montane forests, savannah plains and endless mangroves, not to mention some sparkling coral reefs ringing the shoreline where the reserve extends into the sea.
The unique duo of inland and coastal habitats makes Quirimbas a great place to come and spot the likes of African leopards, elephant herds, and crocs, all in the same day as seeing the large dugong and schools of multi-coloured fish from the tropics!
7. Island of Mozambique
Believe it or not, this tiny speck of land that languishes out in the shimmering waters of the Indian Ocean was once the very epicentre of Portuguese East Africa.
Raised to greatness by the European traders and merchants that came its way around the cape, it became an important hub for commerce and admin during the 16th century.
Consequently, there’s now a clutch of interesting colonial builds, like the old town fortifications, a charming whitewashed hospital and the Church of Santo António.
Mozambique’s own character pops up too, with the thatched town of Makuti and the gorgeous tropical beaches.
The whole place is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – not to be missed!
8. Inhaca Island
Facing the capital of Maputo across the waters of Maputo Bay, the small fragment of land that is Inhaca Island is a curious little treat, and a perfect choice for day trips to escape the heat of the city.
Not too long ago (just seven millennia or so) it was actually a part of the East African mainland, while today it flounders out between its blooming gardens of corals.
There are sloping beaches of yellow sand too, along with windy clusters of palm trees to wander.
Remember though: Inhaca Island is truly undeveloped (thanks largely to its place as a marine research center), so it’s not the easiest of places to get to and explore.
9. Ponta do Ouro
Ponta do Ouro is a breath of fresh ocean air, located just 10 kilometers by road from the South Africa border and butting up neatly to the deep-blue Indian Ocean.
A sleepy fishing town at heart, the place beats with the energy of some local tavernas and bamboo beach shacks.
These draw a small but uber-friendly crowd of swimmers and snorkelers and surfers during the high season.
However, Ponta do Ouro is also becoming famous for its most elegant marine creature: the dolphin.
Excursions out to see the pods flipping and twisting through the waves out at sea are now one of the most popular activities!
Vilankulo is worth a mention if only as the gateway to the aforementioned beauties of the Bazaruto Archipelago.
But not only for that either, and if you come here to linger a little before hopping aboard one of the bobbing dhows that wait on the shore, then you’re in for a laid-back treat.
Yep, this chilled seaside spot is also home to a clutch of its own campsites and leaning bamboo shacks, a lively local marketplace and beer bars.
Add to that a smattering of deserted Indian Ocean beaches close to the town, where the horizon melds from golden yellow sand to cobalt-skies, and it’s easy to see why Vilankulo’s on the up!
11. Lake Cahora Bassa
The vast lake waters of Cahora Bassa extend all the way from the Zambia border to the very heart of Tete Province in western Mozambique.
Covering a whopping 2,700 square kilometers in total, they represent one of the largest freshwater lake systems in all of Africa.
At one end stands the colossal Cahora Bassa Dam – a massive wall of concrete and steel that clocks up 171 meters in height and 303 meters in width: definitely worth the journey if you like your breathtaking engineering projects! And all around the banks of the reservoir there are now interesting fishing lodges and a smattering of houseboats, not to mention the occasional baroque church in testimony to the erstwhile Portuguese presence.
12. Niassa Reserve
Thanks to a series of interconnected reserves that run from the meanders of the Ruvuma River in northern Mozambique all the way to the famous Selous Game Reserve of Tanaznia, the Niassa Reserve now plays a part in one of the largest international conservation areas on the planet.
That also means that the vast area of miombo woods and rugged rock bluffs is home to some serious biodiversity, with the likes of the African lion, the African elephant and packs of wild dogs all roaming the breathtaking landscapes.
A clutch of eco lodges and ethical tourism camps are now popping up here, attracting safari-goers eager to see the frontline of African preservation.
Surrounded by swathes of spiny pine trees and firs, Lugela of the Zambezia highlands is hardly the sort of place you’d expect to find in the tropical reaches of East Africa.
But that’s precisely the sort of climactic shock Mozambique is known for, and folks heading to this station under the great colossus of Mount Mabu can expect a unique experience of the country.
Hiking and trekking through the savannah habitats are possible nearby, while the mist-topped reserves of the Mabu Forest (thought to be some of the largest remaining swathes of primeval highland forest in Africa) are home to some seriously weird and wonderful fauna: pygmy chameleons; rare bush vipers; critically-endangered birds.
14. Limpopo National Park
The Limpopo National Park has all the fascinating biodiversity and landscapes you’d expect of a protected reserve that’s contiguous with the legendary Kruger National Park of South Africa.
Feathering out from the bends of the Limpopo River, it’s home to some of the most coveted of African game, which all now roams freely across the border thanks to some ahead-of-their-time international agreements on conservation.
Safaris are – of course – the main draw and countless tourists come in to hit the grassy plains by 4X4 to seek out lions, elephants, waterbuck et al.
Long ago, Inhambane attracted traders form across the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
Spices, silks and other exotic goods would drift into its wide bay on the southern reaches of modern day Mozambique, only to drift out again laden with coveted East African goods.
Later, the bustling mercantile town and its favourable natural harbour became a favourite of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, and those who followed made sure that Inhambane flourished under colonial rule.
That means there are plenty of charming baroque builds lining the streets, along with some great museums and a cemetery that could easily be plucked from the hills of Lisbon.
Oh yea, and Tofo – that picture-perfect beach resort – is also nearby!