10 Good reasons ( Mozambique )

1. GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK

A decade ago, Parque Nacional de Gorongosa was a recovering warzone. Most of the elephant, buffalo, and antelope had been shot to feed the warring armies and the few animals that had survived the war were elusive.

Gorongosa — one of Africa’s magnificent game reserves of the colonial era — has a long way to go but there is much to be hopeful about. Game numbers are increasing steadily, if slowly and the philanthropic Carr Foundation, which is co-managing the park, will invest an estimated $40-million into the operation over the next 30 years. New chalets have already been built at original Chitengo camp and the park is open for business.  R448 per person double, camping R50 per person.

2. HORSING AROUND ON BAZARUTO

Riding horses in the dunes might not be the first thing one thinks about on an island in the Indian Ocean, but if you ever visit Bazaruto, you should consider it. Indigo Bay Island Resort ($300 per person sharing per night) offers a horseback patrol of the surrounding dunes on rescued boerperde, as quiet and well-mannered ponies as you will ever meet, and plodding to the top of the dunes – the highest island sand dunes in the puts the Bazaruto Archipelago and Mozambique Channel in the right perspective.

3. ADRIFT ON LAGO NIASSA

Lago Niassa, or Lake Malawi, fill an 500km-long gash in Africa’s Rift Valley with some of the sweetest, clearest water on the planet. Some say this is Mozambique’s better coast. It is certainly much less trodden and a lot cheaper. The best way to see it is from a kayak, or at least from a wide sandy beach. Nkwichi Lodge ($380 double), in the Manda Wilderness area, is a low-impact eco-tourism operation near the town of Cobue, about halfway up the lake. The lodge has been built into the rocks and around the trees of one of the lake’s most beautiful and unpopulated bays. The easiest way to get there is to take a charter flight from Lilongwe in Malawi to Likoma Island where lodge staff can collect you. For more of adventure, hop on the MV Ilala lake ferry from Monkey Bay which calls at Likoma once a week.

4. STAY COOL AT PIRI PIRI CHICKEN

This stalwart restaurant café has survived both the war and the ensuing peace and is still one of the best restaurants in Maputo. The grilled chicken, doused in the world’s best peri-peri sauce, is unfailingly excellent, as is the prawn curry. It’s an excellent place to sit at a pavement table and watch the city’s people go by. And after all these years, it’s still cheap. Piri Piri is at the top end of Av 24 de Julho, near the intersection with Av Julius Nyerere.

5. SNORKELLING OFF PARADISE

Mozambique’s diving and snorkelling is reckoned to be the best in Africa. Just about any beach in Mozambique offers some kind of snorkelling opportunity but the setting of Paradise Island, or Santa Carolina, in the Bazaruto Archipelago is hard to beat The waters are shallow, warm and sheltered, and visibility is usually excellent. The reef isn’t particularly big but it has a healthy population of reef fish, rays, eels and a couple of Black Tip Reef Sharks. The ruined hotel on the island itself - a fascinating, if melancholic, diversion – is currently being refurbished by Rani Resorts.

6. ECHOES OF EMPIRES ON ILHA DE MOÇAMBIQUE

Ilha de Moçambique is a crumbling colonial masterpiece — a fort and ornate villas lining narrow streets. In its time, Ilha has hosted Arab and Chinese traders but it was Portugal’s explorers who built the first church in the southern hemisphere. The little Chapel de Nossa Senhora de Baluarte survives today, as do the original cisterns from which the island still gets its fresh water. The island is a Unesco World Heritage site and the government has taken steps to restore some of Ilha’s dignity. A good place to stay is the atmospheric O Escondidinho ($36 single )from which you can explore the colonial relics, the beaches and take dhows across the bay. 

7. RAILS ACROSS THE NORTH

Until recently, Mozambique had a couple of ramshackle railways, run by loyal workers on little more than ingenuity and a bit of oil. The ailing steam locomotives are long gone, and so have many of the trains, but up north, a passenger train runs daily each way between Cuamba, near the Malawi border, and Nampula. It’s hard, crowded travel and don’t bother trying to get on if you don’t have a ticket – booking the day before is essential if you want a seat. The best place to watch the passing show as the train picks its way through the greenery and granite outcrops is from the one and only second-class saloon on each train. Take plenty of drinking water – it gets hot in there. Fares are $4 in third class, $10 in second.

8. SEAFOOD OF THE GODS

Costa do Sol, the art deco restaurant and hotel at the end of the beachfront road out of Maputo, is an institution. On weekends, people make the trek from all over the city to eat seafood on the terrace and watch the palms sway in the breeze. And it’s easy to see why: the food is bang-on brilliant, every time.

9. SAILING ON THE BAY OF DHOWS

Inhambane is the prettiest town in Mozambique. Tourists tend to head for the beach resorts on the other side of the peninsula and ignore the town. It also has probably the greatest collection of dhows in the country. The dhows are the centre of Inhambane’s life — they are the ferries across to Maxixe, they carry cargoes across the bay and they bring in the fish. The best thing to do is to hire a boat and crew for your stay. Just head down to the beach, find a good boat and make a deal with the skipper. Take a day. Or a week. Then, cast off, under an old sail and drift around the bay, racing other dhows, chasing dolphins and drinking coconut juice out of the shell.

10. AND ONE FOR THE BEER

In 1993, the local beer was called Impala and it came in big, brown bottles with no labels. It was sweet and potent, and the bottoms of the bottles were lined with an impacted debris field of mud and sometimes twigs. People talked of Laurentina but we could never find it. Now, of course, you can buy it in Jo’burg but it’s not the same. Time and place is everything in matters of taste, which is why a Laurentina Preto — the dark lager with the silver label — drunk in the open-air restaurant on the Vilankulo Airport roof feels like drinking gold.

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