The city of Nampula marks a crossroads in northern Mozambique: a stopover point for most travelers on the way to some of the country’s best sight-seeing.
It is also one of the least inspiring cities to spend time in.
Mozambique’s convoluted transportation system for bus and rail passengers means most travelers will overnight in Nampula unless they have their own wheels. Having spent a fair bit of time in Nampula recently, waiting for the next bus out of town, I set out to come up with a list of things worth doing.
1. The Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Fatima
I had to chuckle at a Trip Advisor review for Nampula’s cathedral (read the original review here). A pre-trip Google search of things to check out on my holiday found another traveler’s description of the Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Fatima: “great…if only there was something else in Nampula”. This list is an attempt to show the other options.
The cathedral is certainly worth a visit, although it won’t take long. The clean exterior of the building sets it apart in the middle of a chaotic and dirty city, but the inside offers nothing more than a modern church interior. For a harried traveler, however, the calm and quiet pews might offer the moment of peace you’ve been looking for.
2. The Museu Nacional de Ethnologia
The Museu Nacional de Ethnologia is a highlight for Nampula as well as for the entire country of Mozambique. A leisurely stroll through the exhibits won’t take more than thirty minutes, but this collection of cultural artifacts is well maintained and includes Portuguese and English interpretive panels. This museum is hands-down winner for the “Most Informative and Interesting” prize of all the museums I visited in Mozambique.
3. Shop for traditional crafts
Photo by Rachel Robinson
After visiting the museum, pop into the museum’s backyard to check out the Makonde Collective. This group of local artists makes and sells an excellent collection of traditional carvings, jewelry, and some clothes and woven baskets.
4. Check out the market
While the Nampula municipal market isn’t as large and chaotic as markets in some other Mozambican cities, it does have the most extensive selection of live chickens that I saw at any market in the country. That alone, in addition to the market’s mountains of fresh produce, earns it a place on this list. Find it on Avenida de 3 de Fevereiro.
5. Ruby’s Backpackers
Photo by Jen Hoyer
Long an institution on Ilha de Moçambique, Ruby Backpackers has opened a location in Nampula in the last year. Two dorms and two private rooms are tucked into a cosy house only a ten minute walk from the train and chapa stations. Even if you’ve booked accommodation elsewhere in Nampula, their lovely wrap-around porch provides a tantalizing place to spend your afternoon with an ice-cold beer from the friendly bar. Find them on Avenida Daniel Napatima, just off Avenida de 3 de Fevereiro.
6. Visit the Centro Comercial Nampula
It seems a bit ridiculous to include a shopping centre in a list of key attractions, but there you have it: Nampula doesn’t have a ton on offer.
The Centro Comercial on Avenido Eduardo Mondlane, occupying the ground floor of Hotel Girassol Nampula, has a fantastic coffee shop, the best bookstore in town, a reliable internet café for sending “I’m still alive in Mozambique” emails to friends and family, and a well-equipped computer store to re-stock memory cards for your camera.
If you’re not in Mozambique to eat, what on earth are you doing there? Check out Getaway’s list of the 10 best things to eat and drink in Mozambique.
In northern Mozambique, there’s one other important delicacy to check out. Look for Frango Zambeziana (Zambezia chicken) on the menu of any local restaurant; this tasty northern dish is a nice alternative to Mozambique’s standard piri-piri flavour (but if you’re loyal to piri-piri, check out this authentic Mozambican sauce recipe.)
8. Get out of town
Photo by Justin Fox
Nampula is most frequented as a stopping point on the way to other places: if you’ve come from southern Mozambique, continue north to Pemba, Ibo, and the Quirimbas Islands.
My top recommendation out of Nampula is directly east: Ilha de Moçambique, only a three-hour chapa ride away (here’s why Ilha de Moçambique is a historical must-see.)
The brave and adventurous traveler will buy a ticket for the train west; this trip is reputedly one of the most uncomfortable train journeys but bestows great travel bragging rights, and it’s an easy way to head from Mozambique to Malawi. The train travels directly from Nampula to Cuamba, at which point buses are waiting to take you to one of several border posts.
If you’re coming to Nampula from one of these locations and haven’t yet visited southern Mozambique, get in line for a bus ticket towards the southern beaches of Vilanculo and Tofo. (Read our blog post on Things to do in Tofo and Inhambane Town, and spur your imagination with Coconuts and Cashews: A Mozambique road trip in photos.)