With deliciously warm ocean water, wide open (often unspoilt) beaches and a great Afro-Portuguese culture, it’s no surprise Mozambique has made its way onto the bucket list of many travellers.
I’ve been visiting the country for the past 15 years and just returned from almost 3 weeks camping with my family and can confirm that it’s a beautiful, friendly, difficult destination to visit, but it’s worth the challenge if you’re up for an adventure. Here’s my guide to everything you need to know for a self-drive holiday in Mozambique.
Know before you go
Mozambique has a reputation for its notoriously bad roads and corrupt traffic offers, who have been known to fine drivers for non-existent infringements, demand bribes and generally harass travellers. But in recent years the country has seen a large scale drive to clamp down on corrupt cops. In 2018, for the first time ever, we were not pulled over a single time. We received no fines and were not pressured into any bribes. Roads were in a good condition, and with the completion of the Ring Road, we were able to bypass much of the infamous traffic. There are numerous regulations to keep in mind, which I will give more detail on in this post. Be sure to fill up whenever you see a big fuel station, as there can be long stretches without any.
Where to go
There are many beautiful lodges and camp sites along Mozambique’s 3000km coastline, and where you go depends on your vehicle (many places are limited by 4×4 access), how much time you have available and your budget. I’m going to be sharing insights on my personal experiences staying in the holiday accommodations in Bilene, Zavora, Tofo and Morrungulo. These destinations are beautiful, easy enough to access and great for tourists. There are resort towns closer to the border (like Ponta do Ouro) but my family has always been interested in venturing further north.
Weather and when to go
The weather is pretty good year round, with average temperatures around 28 degrees Celsius. Warm but mild in April and September and scorching in December. I’ve had some great winter visits in July too.
Thousands of people die from Malaria in Mozambique every year. Taking malaria medication is a point of contention for many, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I have had several friends contract the mosquito-borne disease while in Mozambique, and it’s always been extremely serious. This time, we took Mozitec. Malaria medications all have side effects, which for me include crazy dreams/nightmares and stomach cramps. They can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual.
There are a few different border posts around South Africa, but the Komatipoort border (the easiest to access from Johannesburg) is by far the busiest. We were travelling just before Christmas 2018, and arrived at the border at 6am to a 10km queue. This will be the case during any holiday season, so be warned.
If you’re travelling with meat in the car, you’ll have to either throw it out or stick it out. Although the Swaziland border is not far and is a breeze to get through, you will need a pre-arranged permit to take meat into the country. My parents finally made it across the Komatipoort border 16 hours after first arriving, while we turned back and went through the Jeppe’s Reef border post at the border with Swaziland.
I’d really recommend this route as it was relatively quick and easy and the drive was beautiful. Make sure you download Google Maps for offline use before you cross the border, and have a basic idea of your route.
Accommodation along the way
It’s worth planning on a 2-3 day drive, even for “shorter” distances. If you’re planning on going any further than 500km into the country, I definitely recommend spending the night at Honey Pot in Xai-Xai (pronounced Shy-Shy). It’s comfortable and central and there’s a restaurant where you can have a bite to eat before you hit the road the next day. You just never know what delays you might face, and you really don’t want to be driving at night.
As always, it’s so important to be aware when you’re travelling. There have been a few incidents of crime during our various visits (tents slashed, holiday accommodation broken into) and it’s not safe to leave your stuff unattended on the beach, for instance. Tourists are always especially vulnerable to crime, and even though I consider myself a pretty savvy and independent traveller, I wouldn’t recommend going alone as a female traveller. It would definitely be best to drive in convoy. Don’t walk home alone from parties at night, don’t take strangers back to your accommodation – the usual.
Border crossing check list
South African citizens will need:
- A South African passport, valid for at least 6 months after entry with at least 2 empty pages
- Car registration papers and ownership documents. If your car is owned by someone else, they will need to write a letter stating that you have permission to drive it across the border. This document must be notarised and be accompanied by a copy of the car owner’s ID
- A letter from your car insurance stating cross-border insurance
- South African driver’s license
- Third party insurance
- Two roadside emergency triangles
- Two reflective vests in yellow or green (must be visible, so hang them from the driver and passenger seats)
- Black and white ZA sticker (must be visible on the back of the vehicle)
- If you’re towing anything, you’ll need a blue and yellow triangle on both your car and what you’re towing (vehicle: front right bumper, towing: rear). Speaking of towing, make sure you have a breakdown company in mind if the worst were to happen. This applies for any road trip no matter where you’re travelling to. For example, if you’re travelling in the USA, you might contact Towing Less if you were to need some roadside assistance. If you’re travelling in Mozambique, you’ll have to find a company local to the area.
What to expect when crossing the border
Once you get to the border, things might be chaotic. Knowing what to expect will help make the process less daunting if its your first time:
- You will receive a gate pass, with the car’s registration number and the number of people in the car
- You might go through a police checkpoint, but they don’t always stop you
- Park your car in the nearest official parking bay (make sure it’s locked) and head to emigration
- You will immediately be approached by men claiming they need to see your papers and help you through the process. Firmly and repeatedly tell them that you’ve got everything you need and don’t need any help. DO NOT hand over any paperwork, under any circumstances. Even if they look official or have name tags, you don’t need their help (you’ve just avoided being scammed)
- Fill out your emigration forms, make sure all passports and your gate pass are stamped
- Head back to the car and proceed to the Mozambican border, where you’ll repeat the process, but it might be even more chaotic
- If you shop for alcohol at duty free at the border, make sure to store it the boot/trunk of the car
South African service providers charge up to R50 per MB, so be sure to turn your mobile data off as soon as you cross the border. Prepaid South African SIM cards will automatically work until you run out of airtime. There are Mozambique SIM card vendors everywhere, but be careful when you buy your SIM. Movitel has better reception in more remote parts of the country than Vodacom and the data is cheaper – expect to pay around R50 for 2GB of data.
Buying your SIM card from an actual Movitel shop is best, as it needs to go through the RICA process. Don’t be surprised if they ask to take a picture of your passport, that’s normal. Once your SIM is set up, you can buy airtime and covert it to data (200 Mozambican Metcals of airtime will get you over 2GB of data).
Personally, I find it easiest to draw cash from an ATM. Make sure your bank knows you’re travelling, then just swipe for big expenses like fuel (when asking to pay with a card, ask the attendant for the POS (point of sale) as this is what they call the card machine) and draw cash for other purchases. There are FNB and Barclay ATMs in almost all major cities. You can also pay with a card at most restaurants and bars.
Where to stay in Mozambique
Zavora Lodge – 1000km from Johannesburg
This is the first place we ever stayed in Mozambique and we have many happy memories from our holidays here. It’s been many years since my first visit, but what I remember most is the gorgeous beach that stretches for kilometres and kilometres. I remember often seeing dolphins from the beach. There’s a restaurant and bar and a few different accommodation options ranging from campsites to bungalows, but my family always camped. There’s not much to do other than swim in the sea, fish and dive, but if that’s what you’re after, you’ll love it.
Bilene – 700km from Johannesburg
Situated along the clear, calm Uembje Lagoon, Bilene feels like a real resort town. Dotted with hotels, self catering lodges, restaurants and bars, there’s a lot to do in this part of Mozambique. The water is beautiful and within the lagoon itself, you can explore small bays and coves by kayak, jetski or waterski – most of which you can rent. It’s definitely somewhere I’d like to go back to.
Tofo – 1000km from Johannesburg
In the past we’ve spent several happy holidays in Tofo, where there is loads to do. We went back for a couple of nights at New Year’s Eve 2018, but found it so packed that we decided to escape the madness after the first night. It’s a hub for tourists from around the world, and you’re sure to find loads of parties, especially over the festive season – but with that you’re also likely to find lots of crime. Personally I found it too packed, but would maybe go back out of season. If you do find yourself in town, I highly recommend stopping by the restaurant Tofo Tofo for excellent service, delicious seafood and great views.
Morrungulo Beach Lodge – 1100km from Johannesburg
We just spent over two weeks camping under the palm trees at this lovely campsite. It’s situated right on the beach, shaded by the trees, with a cool breeze (well, as cool as it gets in Mozambique) blowing off the ocean. The beach was never really very busy, and we spent hours and hours in the surf. The lodge has a swimming pool with a stunning view and restaurant and bar, where we had some of the best Portuguese chicken of our whole trip. There are also beachside chalets, which are lovely!
The accommodation gets booked out a year in advance, so don’t expect to just arrive and find a spot. There’s electricity from 7am-11am and again from 3pm-10pm. It’s really a family campsite, so there’s nothing to do besides chill and swim. There is a big Shoprite in the nearby town of Massinga, where you can get your groceries and alcohol, which means you don’t have to drag it all from South Africa!
Things to do in Mozambique
- With water this warm, you’ll want to spend a lot of time in the ocean. Make sure to reapply and reapply your sunscreen as the sun is extremely harsh even at 9am
- Eat local. The food is fresh and delicious and you’re sure to find a great Portuguese chicken wherever you go. We found the seafood situation quite dire, with less seafood on offer than ever before. The ocean is struggling, but so are local fishermen, who are catching less and still have hungry mouths to feed. Please support them responsibly
- Our day-trip to Bazaruto was one of the highlights of my trip! We booked with Sunset Dhow Safari (our trip was in a speedboat not a dhow) and the guys who took care of us were great. To be honest, the boat was really over-full, so it made the experience of getting off and on the boat on the reef quite challenging. But the lunch on the beach was excellent!
- For great food, head to Stop Snack Bar in Maxixe and Tofo Tofo in Tofo. But really, you can’t go wrong with local food as it’s all pretty good
- Visiting the market in Inhambane is a cool experience, but be prepared to be overwhelmed. It’s nice for souvenir shopping though!
- Diving and fishing are both huge activities, and you’ll find dive centres and boat charters all over with a quick Google search. The boats are all brightly coloured and they looked amazing whilst out at sea. When we arrived, we saw them all stacked up on the metal racking systems. They looked great! If you’re wanting to try some fishing out for yourself, many people forget about the anchor when they venture out on their own apparently, so make sure to look at something like this solid anchor guide before doing so!
General travel tips
- For loads more info and support, you can join the DriveMoz group on Facebook. They have daily updates from members and a members-only vault of files that contain info about everything you could possibly need to know.
- Always obey the speed limit, which is 100km/hour on national roads, and 60km/hour when driving through towns and villages
- Respect the ocean and don’t support over-fishing by purchasing poached seafood
- You’re not allowed to take any beers into Mozambique – support local and drink the famous Mozambican 2M (pronounced “doish em“)
- Remember to keep your travel documents with you in case you’re pulled over
- Mozambican people are friendly and kind
- I found it quite pricey, with food and drinks prices sometimes even more expensive than Cape Town. Expect to pay R20 for a beer and R100 for a toasted sandwich in some parts
- Bazaruto Island is well worth a day trip! We booked with a boat tour with a local company which included snorkelling on the reef (snorkelling gear included), bbq lunch on the beach on Bazaruto and a swim in the stunning waters of Benguerra Island
- For another day-trip idea, head to Maxixe (pronounced Masheesh) where you can have a delicious lunch at Stop Snack Bar (find it on Google Maps) and board a traditional Dhow to sail across to Inhambane, where you can visit the traditional market to shop for handcrafted items and fresh produce
- Service in general is really slow, so be prepared to wait for your food and drinks. Just take it easy and enjoy the African pace
- It’s best to take lightweight towels, like Turkish towels, as it takes ages for anything to dry
Disclaimer: In general, I found the trip quite daunting. I wouldn’t recommend going alone or as a couple, and was relieved that we were in convoy. I found food, activities and fuel quite pricey with fuel peaking at R25 per litre and food and drinks more expensive than Cape Town! It’s really far and if I was looking for an easy, relatively budget-friendly destination with tropical waters, I’d choose Reunion Island over Mozambique. But if you’re looking for an adventure, to explore another African country or you just love camping, you’ll have a great time in Mozambique.