Mozambique may be regarded as an unlikely tourist destination by many people, but in recent years it has seen significant changes that have made it an attractive option for travellers who want to discover a destination that remains largely untouched by consumer tourism.
As more and more of the country become accessible thanks to good arterial infrastructure development, a growing number of visitors are discovering the splendid treasures of its wild coastline. Mozambique is best regarded as a traveller’s destination rather than a tourist destination. Eco travellers, back packers, campers, adventurers, outdoor types, nature lovers and socially contributing travellers will easily take to it.
Marine life of outstanding universal value
Already, Mozambique has gained a reputation for excellent game fishing and offers scuba diving experiences second to none. Recently, UNESCO has identified two large marine zones with the potential to offer humanity outstanding universal value, whilst another study has shown Mozambique’s coral marine life as the second most diverse on the planet – diversity that constantly astounds divers not expecting to see as much soft coral along African shores as they may for instance expect to see in Indonesia. One of the zones identified by UNESCO is situated in the Province of Inhambane, stretching from Tofo in the south to the Bazaruto archipelago in the north.
Inhambane – Land of Good People
Inhambane (pronounced In-ham-bahn), the provincial capital, is a small but very tidy and orderly town situated on the banks of Inhambane Bay – a large stretch of lagoon roughly 60 kilometres in length. Surprisingly, Inhambane’s coastal promenade is filled with outstandingly preserved homes in the Art Deco style. If you look quickly, you may be forgiven for thinking you’re on Miami’s South Beach. Only really quickly though, as then the ancient mosque with its ornate masonry patterns and the lack of traffic and built-up areas remind you that you are actually in an old Arab slave trader’s port.
Barra – Neptune’s doorstep
About 15 km away, the beach resort of Praia de Barra beckons with an unbelievable sandy beach that seems to carry on for ever, awash to the one side with lush mangroves and to the other with a sea that beckons one to take delight in the splendours of Neptune’s doorstep! Barra is full of self-catering lodges that fill up with diving and game fishing folk for good reason. Right on its doorstep lies no fewer than nine reefs that draw a variety of marine life so rich and varied you may be forgiven for thinking you’re in Neptune’s very own courtyard.
Tofo – dive, fish, surf, contribute
Nearby lies the seaside village of Tofo(pronounced Toh-foh).
The town has a wild reputation amongst revellers and during the festive season fills up to the brim with local travellers trying to escape the hustle and bustle of Maputo, only to bring it to a town the size of a little seaside hamlet – allegedly enough to even make the local traffic authorities give up and join in on the fun. But Tofo is not just a major destination for the Maputoese; our underwater friends also like to frequent these warm, crystal clear waters.
Boasting its own set of about nine reefs, the waters from Tofo to Bazaruto much further to the north is what researchers at the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Megafauna identify as one of about nine hotspots around the world where whale sharks ggather. What distinguishes Tofo from these other hotspots is that it is also a hotspot for giant manta rays, thus divers here stand an almost guaranteed chance to observe at least two elegantly large fish species in one place.
During mating season from late June to early October, the seas around Tofo become a draw card for whale watchers out to spot humpback whales, whilst giant sea turtles and what UNESCO describes as “the most significant and well-known population of Dugong” are amongst some of the 2,000 fish species and 500 molluscs species in the region.
During the southern winter months, Tofo becomes Mozambique’s top surfing destination. Just around a bend of beach dune from Tofo’s main beach lies Tofhino (little Tofo), which has a great reputation amongst surfers of all levels.
Where to stay in Tofo
Overlooking Tofhino Beach are the Tofo Beach Cottages, from where surfers can roll out of bed, down the dunes and into the sea, so to speak. As basic as it may be, it seldom gets better than this! With great views of the sea, the casas offer both privacy and position, making for an ideal local choice. Just up the road lies Turtle Cove, Tofo’s legendary home of surfing, also popular amongst yoga practitioners from as far afield as Cape Town who choose to escape there on exotic yoga retreats. Right next door is the sassiest back-packers joint called Mozambeat Motel, where you will find the best liquor milkshakes in town and whose visitors jokingly refer to the other backpackers as the rat packers.
Making for a day trip of a different sort, Sing With Me Happily is a British registered charity offering socially contributing travellers an opportunity to volunteer for a day or two helping out with educating children and orphans. Eco-travellers wanting to contribute to the local community will no doubt find good reason to support the work of the Bitonga Divers, who teach unemployed locals to become internationally recognised, self-supporting, master diver instructors; who teach unemployed locals to become internationally recognised, self-supporting, master diver instructors; whilst divers, spoilt for choice with dive operators, may wish to recognise Peri-Peri Divers for offering free logistical support to the research efforts of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, by selecting them as their dive operator. Regardless of who you dive with, surely anyone will want to adopt a whale shark or manta ray!
Travellers who choose to visit a relatively poor country accept that there will be a lack of comforts, goods and services regarded as common back home and in that acceptance, inevitably open themselves up to new experiences that bring them joy and fulfilment.
Mozambique has its fair share of challenges, but it has come a long way since the dawn of democracy there. With the recent discovery of off-shore natural gas reserves, savvy travellers who love going back to basics and connecting with friendly people will do well to explore the natural, tropical beauty the country has to offer, before developers bring the bad along with the good. Mozambique is a malaria prevalent destination and travellers must take suitable pre-cautions to inform themselves of other travel risks.