Maputo

Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, is located in the southernmost part of the country on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Dozens of sidewalk cafés serve rich espresso and freshly baked bread along the city’s wide avenues, in the shade of the jacaranda trees. Maputo’s architecture captures the history of the city; a walk around town reveals the remnants of Portuguese colonial infrastructure, early 20th century designs, a surge in Art Deco style, and of course, modern day buildings. Unpolished, slightly chaotic and always fashionable, this city is rebuilding itself to meet its pre-war reputation as one of the most sophisticated and fashionable capitals on the continent.

KEY FACTS:

  • Language: Mozambique’s official language is Portuguese; however, English is widely spoken in the tourism industry. Locals speak a variety of indigenous languages in addition to Portuguese.
  • Currency: Metical (M) is the official currency, though established tourist facilities typically accept Rand and Dollars. ATMs are widely available for international credit cards – and work most of the time.
  • When to Visit: May to September is the ideal visiting time, as it is winter in Maputo with temperatures averaging 27 degrees with relatively little rain.
  • Malaria: Prevalent in Mozambique and precautions are recommended for visiting Maputo

HISTORY

Portuguese colonialists settled and developed Maputo – formerly called Lourenço Marques – in the mid nineteenth century, with the intention of creating a major port in Southern Africa. This sparked rapid growth in what was an otherwise small settlement. In 1887, Lourenço Marques replaced the northern Ilha de Mozambique as the country’s capital and by the early 20th century had become a lively and important cosmopolitan city. As is typical of the period, much of the riches and successes we concentrated in foreign hands.

On June 25th 1975, Mozambique won independence from Portugal, and months later Lourenço Marques was renamed Maputo.  Shortly thereafter, the country descended into civil war, destroying much of the country’s and capital’s pre-existing social and economic infrastructure.

MAPUTO TODAY

Following the signing of the 1992 Peace Agreement, Mozambique has worked tirelessly to rebuild itself into its former glory. Individuals worldwide are quickly relocating to this country to take part in one of the fastest growing African economies – Maputo’s diversity and rapid expansion are a clear reflection of this. Politically, the capital and country face new challenges with the discovery of natural gas off the northern shores, while the nation and continent watch tentatively.

When spending time in Maputo, it is ideal to see the city on foot and by tuk tuk, slowly taking in the varied regions and nuances that come with the city’s history. Street names provide a lesson in left wing political theory, while conversations over an espresso with often-talkative Mozambicans are a lesson in daily realities. As the day turns to night, be sure to watch the old colonial train station transform into a high-end club while the city comes alive.

For all the beauty of Maputo, frustrations and growing pains remain. Water shortages and citywide electricity cuts are frequent, and backup generators are sporadically available. ATMs have a tendency to run out of cash, particularly towards the end of the month. And, the heat can become unbearable. It is best to seek out a shady spot between the hours of 12pm – 2pm, since the entire city slows to a crawl to avoid these hours of intense sun.

Approach Maputo with a sense of flexibility and openness and these frustrations will be absorbed into the beauty of an unpolished city. Moreover, should the frustrations become too much, today one can seek refuge at the air-conditioned Maputo Shopping Center or with a drink at the Palona Hotel, overlooking the ocean.

ACTIVITIES

Food

Southern Mozambique is famous for its camarao, frango, pao, expresso and matapa (prawns, chicken, bread, espresso and a local speciality) and its strong Portuguese influence. These items are widely available throughout the city; however, the following locations offer some of the best meals:

  • The Fish Market: Outside the city center towards Costa do Sol on Avenida Marginal is the fish market. Entering the market is hectic as dozens of restaurants compete for business, however once a decision is made the fun begins. Waiters lead their guests through rows of the freshest catches, helping to design the night’s menu. Guest selections are then cooked in one of 20 tiny restaurants surrounding a bustling courtyard as a live band plays. Popular with locals and foreigners alike, Maputo’s multicultural flare feels strongest here.
  • Ali Baba’s: This tiny local spot sits northwest of the city center near 24 de Julho and Alberto Luthuli, opposite Jardim 28 de Maio. Their roast chicken with a side of chips and the soup of the day is worth the work it takes to find this place.
  • Zambi: For a more upscale experience, this seafood restaurant offers top dishes and fantastic service in a modern ocean front building.

With the rapid influx of foreign influence, there is a greater variety of cuisine available. Mimmo’s is very popular with Mozambicans looking for a slight taste of Italy, and Dewar’s is a charming Portuguese restaurant out towards Costa do Sol. Dhow Café also offers great international fare with a beautiful view over Catembe and the channel.

Architecture, Museums and Art Galleries

A pleasant day in Maputo would consist of slowly touring the city and stopping at the numerous museums and art galleries while taking in the varied architecture. This can be done either through a guided walk offered by most hotels, or independently with the aid of a guidebook and a sense of curiosity. Highlights in the city include:

  • The National Art Museum: This beautifully designed gallery is home to an excellent collection of Mozambican art and sculptures from the pre-colonial period through to modern day.  This gallery is best viewed with a guide who is able to explain the intertwining of art and political history shown through the displayed work.
  • Núcleo de Arte: This art co-operative features art by emerging Mozambican artists, as well as the opportunity to watch them work in their studios.
  • Train Station: Designed by an associate of the architect of the Eiffel tower, this charming station has intricate detailing, an impressive dome, a small art gallery and transforms into a club at night
  • Praça da Independência and Cathedral of Nossa Senora da Conceição: A large cathedral (popular for weddings), neo-classical government buildings, and a significant statue of the country’s first president, Samora Machel, encircle this large place of independence.
  • Municipal Market and Casa Elefantes: Long aisles of vendors at Maputo’s primary market stock everything from local fish and produce to pirated DVDs and plastic basins. Continue shopping across the street is Casa Elefantes, which sells some of the best capulanas in town.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Beaches

Mozambique is world renowned for its beaches, and while the crystal blue waters do not begin until about 300km north of the capital, there are some pleasant beaches to stroll along while in town. Within Maputo Central, the port largely consumes the coast. The city is making efforts to tidy this waterfront through the construction of a pleasant walking route, a mosaic and a few restaurants. However, the beach is just north of the city in Costa do Sol is more enjoyable.

Tourism and expatriate infrastructure is rapidly developing in this area, with new restaurants and complexes opening each month alongside the local vendors grilling chicken beachside. On Sundays, Costa do Sol becomes a hot spot for Mozambican youth looking for a quick escape from the city and a cold beer. It is worth noting that very few locals choose to swim in the ocean off Maputo due to waste and port run off. It is advised to stick on the beach and refresh in a hotel swimming pool.

Inhaca Island and Catembe also offer beautiful coastline, and are both accessible by ferries leaving from the Maputo harbour. Both locations are best experienced on an overnight visit at a minimum, since transport to and from can be time consuming.

Parks

While jacaranda and acacia filled boulevards make up the majority of Maputo’s nature, there remains one slightly worn out park worth visiting near the Praça da Independência, called Jardim dos Namorados. With lots of greenery and decrepit structures from a bygone era, this park offers a pleasant pause from the bustle of the city and the sidewalk dust. It is a welcome reprieve midway through a self-directed walking tour of the capital.

South of Maputo is the Maputo Special Reserve, which holds a population of nervous elephants and other wildlife. While animal sightings are challenging due to poaching, the park’s landscape is spectacular and makes for a perfect weekend escape from the city. Spend a day driving through deep sand and around various lakes before arriving at the coastal camping area. Note that there are no tourism facilities within the park and visitors must be entirely self-sufficient, unless you are with a tour.

NIGHTLIFE

Maputo’s nightlife is earning a very good reputation across southern Africa. From beachside bars to high-end clubs, there is an activity for every desire in the evening. Consistently popular bars include the downtown Africa Bar and the beachside Coconut Club. Nucléo de Arte, the artist cooperative, also transforms in the evening to a great place for a few drinks. As with any city, the hot nightspots are constantly shifting. In Maputo, there is always a party or a show somewhere and it is worth asking around at your hotel for more current advice.  Fatima’s Backpackers (Avenida Mao Tse Tsung) is also a great place to get the latest on upcoming weekend activities and live music. Plan to stay awhile for a drink or two in Fatima’s well-traveled and pleasantly shady courtyard.

ACCESS AND TRANSPORTATION

Visitors can easily access Maputo by road, domestic or international flights. The city has a series of consistent bus and airlines that service the city daily from South Africa and other international locations.

  • Airport: The airport is roughly 20 minutes from the city center by taxi or longer if you take a chapa (local mini bus). It is serviced by the Mozambican airline, LAM as well as South African Airways, Ethiopian Air, Kenya Airways and a handful of others
  • International Bus Routes: Several international bus companies have routes running to Johannesburg and to major cities north of Mozambique. Most long distance busses arrive at the junta 7km outside the city but a few companies depart within town so be sure to check

Chapa Stations: Local minibuses are a quick and cost-effective way of accessing smaller towns and moving around the city. Departure locations vary depending on destination, but many depart from Avenida Albert Luthuli next to the stadium.
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